Every Record Tells A Story Presents: A Blog You Can Listen To:
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With racial tensions, recession and mass unemployment affecting entire communities and everyone sporting long frizzy hair, the eighties was a totally different time to 2020’s tolerant, prosperous and well-trimmed society.
Oh, wait…perhaps not.
We may have swapped Thatcher and Reagan for Boris and Trump, Rubik’s cubes for VR headsets, the Walkman for the iPhone and tutting at the National Front in the high street for tutting at the EDL on Twitter, but some things haven’t changed.
1980 saw the debut of the Donington Monsters of Rock festival and the debut album from new band Iron Maiden, which hit #4 in the U.K. charts. Maiden’s success spearheaded a new movement, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM as it was phonetically described by almost nobody until documentaries thirty years later.
That same Iron Maiden were all set to headline Donington festival this year, before other events conspired.
Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Motley Crue and Whitesnake had all sold millions of records by the end of the decade. If you had laid all the hit records produced by eighties heavy rockers end to end you would have reached the ozone layer, except all the hairspray they used had made the ozone disappear. Oops.
But buried underneath all the gold records were some perhaps overlooked gems. Records that sold in the hundreds or thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.
Records such as Hanoi Rocks’ second single “Tragedy”, released in 1981.
Hanoi Rocks came from Finland, had a hot blonde lead singer called Michael Monroe, a guitarist called “Nasty Suicide” and blended punk with glam rock, sowing the seeds of glam metal (or hair metal as it became known twenty years later) in the minds of LA based bands such as Motley Crue.
It’s a bit unfair to say this, but they were almost the heavy metal equivalent of the band in that Kit Kat advert being told by a record company executive: “You can’t sing, you can’t play, you look awful. *pause* “You’ll go a long way…”.
After their third album Hanoi Rocks sacked their drummer, Gyp Casino, for his drug addiction, depression and suicidal thoughts. (Mental Health apparently wasn’t something people took seriously).
They hired Razzle as his replacement, but tragedy struck in late 1984 before the band had achieved any major breakthrough when Razzle – a passenger in Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil’s car – was killed when Neil crashed while driving drunk.
In 1981 Joe Perry was struggling with drink and drug problems, combined with his estrangement from his former band, Aerosmith. His first Joe Perry Project “solo” album “Let The Music Do The Talking” was a modest success, but it’s follow up “I’ve Got The Rock n Rolls Again” was not, apparently buried by record executives keen to see a reformation of Aerosmith. The LP contained some killer tunes, including the peerless riff of “No Substitute for Arrogance”. After one more JPP album, Perry rejoined Aerosmith in 1984, taking his “Let The Music Do The Talking” song with him. The re-recorded version remains part of Aerosmith’s repertoire today.
Mama’s Boys consisted of the three Irish McManus brothers. They played electric fiddle and guitar (Pat), bass (John) and drums (Tommy), recorded their first album in just four hours and earned a support slot on a Hawkwind tour. Their self-financed second album produced a 1982 hit single in Ireland, “Needle in the Groove”. The success of this record led to a major record deal, and a top 100 US hit with a cover of Slade’s “Mama Weer All Crazee Now”. They recorded more albums, toured extensively, even recruiting a new lead singer in an ill-fated attempt to fit in with the market created by Bon Jovi in 1987, but “Needle in the Groove” perhaps remained their best song. Sadly Tommy suffered from Leukaemia and died in 1994.
The Godz were fronted by biker Eric Moore. His band was never the critics’ darlings, despite winning a support slot with KISS without even having a recording contract. The 1983 Rolling Stone Album Guide gave them the most miserable review since Spinal Tap released “Shark Sandwich”, the entire entry reading “Miserable hard-rock quartet from Columbus, Ohio, epitomised the most wretched excesses of Seventies rock.”
Their 1985 album’s title track “I’ll Get You Rockin’” was a fine retort benefiting from the deft deployment of a horn section, and The Godz supported Metallica on the latter’s Master of Puppets tour.
In 1989 Tesla, a rock band from Sacramento, hit the top ten on the Billboard charts in the US with “Love Song”. Their debut album, “Mechanical Resonance”, released two years earlier, contained a cover of a song by ‘80s one-hit-wonder PhD, called Little Suzi. It wasn’t a hit for either band (it reached #91 on the Billboard charts for Tesla), but is a great song, and the album it came from is a minor triumph.
The eighties were littered with what we might call “landfill metal bands”, many of which were introduced to the world on compilation albums such as Metal Massacre alongside Metallica and Ratt. One such band was Portland, Oregon’s Black n Blue. They moved to LA, and like so many other bands supported KISS. Gene Simmons was interested enough to produce their “Nasty Nasty” album from which came the shimmering slice of pop-rock that is “Does She or Doesn’t She”.
Asia was a supergroup which formed in 1981 featuring vocalist and bassist John Wetton of King Crimson, Steve Howe (Yes), Geoff Downes (Yes/Buggles), and Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Their debut album, Asia, released in 1982, was a huge success, but even #4 US hit “Heat of the Moment” doesn’t quite reach the melodic heights of the song “Did It All For Love” which John Wetton sang for Phenomena II – another supergroup formed by Tom and Mel Galley (the latter being a former Whitesnake guitarist). The Galleys liked the idea of releasing a series of concept albums featuring different musicians, and enlisted Glenn Hughes (who had just left Black Sabbath) and Ray Gillen (who had awkwardly just taken Hughes’ place in Sabbath). Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and others also assisted for the second album in the series. The rest of the album is more straight up classic hard rock, while this is a superior slice of AOR.
As ZZ Top enjoyed huge success, their bass player Dusty Hill’s’ older brother John Rockford “Rocky” Hill quietly released his own blues rock LP in 1988 on the Virgin label. It sank without trace, and bears a very ‘80s production, but was a fine effort, with songs about playing with Jimmy Reed and in album opener “HPD”, a brief vignette describing an encounter with the Houston police with two killer blues riffs in just one song. Hill had formed a prototype of ZZ Top with his brother and drummer Frank Beard before the latter two joined forces with Billy Gibbons.
They called themselves American Blues and were the backup band for Jimmy Reed and Freddie King in the late 60s.
“We wanted to be like Clapton, and then we read in the paper that Clapton wanted to be like Freddie King,” he said. “We were like, ‘You mean that guy we’re backing up…’ We didn’t think he could be anything because he was from where we were from: Dallas.
Someone else influenced by Clapton was Chris Goss, who formed Masters of Reality in 1981. He partnered with Tim Harrington on guitar, Googe (bass) and Vinnie Ludovico (drums) and in 1986 sent a demo tape to up and coming New York producer Rick Rubin. One of the first bands signed to Rubin’s Def America label, their debut LP Blue Garden heralds the origins of what would become “stoner rock”, with the title track and “John Brown” being two highlights. Goss later joined forces with former Cream drummer Ginger Baker for an excellent (and very Cream sounding) 1992 follow up MoR LP, and produced Kyuss’ Blues for the Red Sun – Josh Homme’s first band.
It is difficult to imagine now, but in the mid eighties Black Sabbath’s stock could not have been lower. Every eighties band wanted to sing like Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, or play guitar like Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, but no-one, not even its former members, wanted to sound like Black Sabbath. Sabbath’s critically reviled 1983 LP “Born Again”, featuring former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan saw to that. In 1985 Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi recorded a solo album, with another former Deep Purple vocalist Glenn Hughes, but the record company worried no-one knew who Tony Iommi was. The solo album, they reasoned, would sell more copies if they called it “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”. 1986’s “Seventh Star” sounded very little like Black Sabbath, but had some great soloing and decent tracks including “Heart Like A Wheel” a grinding, bluesy, epic. With a few notable exceptions, it would take the onset of grunge for people to drop their tunings and sound like Black Sabbath again.
Kings X came from Houston, Texas, and were unlike any other ‘80s hard rock band. For a while, their drop-D tunings, Beatles melodies and Hendrix stylings made them a hot bet for “the future of rock” (indeed some credit them as influential to a generation of grunge bands), but they never progressed beyond cult status. From their debut LP “Out of the Silent Planet”, the ballad “Goldilox” has been described as the “Yesterday” of heavy rock and is now sung entirely by the audience at every Kings X gig.
The success of Guns n Roses took everyone by surprise. Originally viewed as Aerosmith wannabes, it took until a year post-release for their modestly successful 1987 LP Appetite for Destruction to go stratospheric. In their wake, every band playing LA’s Sunset Strip allegedly got a record deal and extra promotion, with names like Faster Pussycat, Bang Tango and Tigertailz. The sub genre “Sleaze Metal” was coined. One such band had their demo produced by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett and their self-titled debut LP produced by Appetite for Destruction engineer Mike Clink. Sea Hags had a strange choice of name, but their album was none more GnR, including the excellent “Three’s A Charm”.
After being fired from Hawkwind for “taking the wrong drugs”, Lemmy Kilminster had closed the seventies by inventing speed metal with his band Motörhead’s double kick drum technique on 1979’s “Overkill”. The 1981 live LP “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” was important as it showed a band could top the UK album charts without compromising their heavy sound. However, by 1983 Motörhead had fallen out with their record company, Bronze, and they were struggling to get a record deal. Said Lemmy “..Elektra passed. MCA passed. CBS passed. Epic passed. Chrysalis passed. Everyone passed. Hell, I wish we sold as many albums as we do T-shirts.”
It took until 1986 for Motörhead to release a new album. Although somewhat overlooked nowadays, Orgasmatron contained many classic tracks including the title track and the pleasingly silly “Doctor Rock”.
The decade had begun with a new wave of metal seeing off the old wave, and ended with a newer wave showing the new wave they were really as out of date as the old wave. Thrash metal had its roots in NWOBHM and in Motörhead’s pacy tunes, and spent most of the decade in the underground. By the end of the decade however dozens of bands were making a huge impact, none more so than Metallica. Their 1987 “$5.98 Garage Days Re-visited EP” was released by a grieving band following the tragic death of founding member Cliff Burton in a coach crash just as the band were making their first breakthrough into mainstream success. It consisted of cover versions of NWOBHM, metal and punk tunes that had inspired them. Metallica’s cover of Welsh rock band Budgie’s 1971 single “Crash Course in Brain Surgery” acted as a crossover for any straggling metal fans who had yet to embrace their thrashier sounds.
Our final tune comes from a former member of Metallica, Dave Mustaine, and his band Megadeth. Another of the “Big Four” thrash bands of the eighties, 1986 release “Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying” is everything you would want from Megadeth. Sneering, sarcastic vocals and lyrics, a chugging riff, and a final magnificent race to the end.
The eighties was the decade in which rock divided into factions. New wave, old wave, thrash, speed, glam, sleaze, poodle-haired, cock-rock pop-metal, it was all on show and often in the charts. As Billy Joel once said, “it’s all rock and roll to me”.
It all came to a crashing halt thanks to a new scene developing in Seattle…so next time, we will explore how the nineties unfolded….
Until then, enjoy listening on the Mixcloud app by clicking the link above.
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