I Hold Def Leppard Responsible For Hair Metal

Back in 1980, I started to hear bands who were lumped together under the banner of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. When I first heard these bands, I honesty could have cared less. After living through Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, KISS and all sorts of other hard rock/heavy metal bands, I was just plain sick and tired of the sound. To my ears, next to the sound of country music, heavy metal has got to be the most conservative of the genres. To prove my point, all I have to do is remind my metal brethren that Metallica cut their hair in the Nineties, and they all go crazy.

Back in 1980, I was personally embracing what was once known as punk rock and new wave. I loved the idea of bands getting back to the basics of a three-minute pop song. So, when I heard Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Mötörhead for the first time, I simply yawned and said that I had heard that all before. Sure, the first two used two lead guitars, but so did every Southern Rock band after Lynyrd Skynyrd’s three-headed guitar attack. Then, Lemmy’s band was sort of cool since their drummer used a double kick to speed up the song’s tempo, but Rush would do that too from time to time for art’s sake.

Then, something happened. Some metal bands began to incorporate pop structures to their songs, as well as dressing like they were part of the old early Seventies English glam rock scene. So, these hair metal bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crüe, Bon Jovi and Quiet Riot began popping up. Since they were essentially bubblegum versions of heavy metal bands, they started selling records by the busload.

Hair, or glam, metal first came to prominence in 1983 when Def Leppard released their epic Pyromania album. The album rocketed to the Number Two position on Billboard’s Album Chart, being held out of the top position on the chart by a little album known as Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Still, Pyromania coughed up three hits songs, a metal record at the time, which the Leppards themselves would break with their new album, Hysteria. Now, the record companies had a commodity that could sell decadence in a “clean” manner to the youth of the Eighties: hair metal.

The pop potential of hair metal was realized when Def Leppard’s first single off their Pyromania LP, “Photograph” was released and hit Number Two on the Hot 100. It is a perfect pop metal song, as they travel down the hard rock road in one song by beginning with a Van Halen opening, that seamlessly moves into a Loverboy-like verse, and ends with a type of Journey chorus, nothing of which will alienate girls from the boys’ testosterone-driven guitars, basically becoming a song that is everything to all people. The only thing is that it sounded contrived to me.

But once Def Leppard unlocked the code, the hair metal bands climbed out of the woodwork. Little did we know that Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood was crawling with dudes who were teasing their hair as big as their girlfriend’s hair, while playing this water-down version of Van Halen I. By the end of 1983, Quiet Riot became the first “metal” band to have a number one album. We also had the privilege of the Crue’s second album being purchased by the masses, along with Ratt and Twisted Sister having hit singles. In 1984, Bon Jovi joined the parade with their first Top 40 hit “Runaway”. Now, music fans were being subjected to a new era of the pop single, only being advertised as heavy metal, when, in fact, most of the music of the mid- to late-Eighties was really just poor imitations of the great metal and hard rock of the Seventies. Yet, some of the members of those bands might even looked better than your girlfriend or wife.

Things appeared bleak, until Metallica and Guns N’ Roses popped up to save the day for good metal music. We could go as far as passing on some credit to Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth for ushering an era of metal that hearkened back to its roots. Looking back, hair or glam metal went the way of new wave. When it first started being heard, the sounds were exciting and new. Then, the record companies produced a glut of one-hit wonders and other crappy bands, until the scene was picked clean and died off.

I will give Def Leppard credit for discovering the formula, thus paving their way for future induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Additionally, I hear Jon Bon Jovi is upset that his band has not been inducted. Really!?!? I’m sure they will get in, but not because I back them. But, they have nothing to whine about! I bet I can name 50 artists who deserve induction before Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard is one. I just was never a fan of hair metal.

And, don’t get me going about power ballads…

Author: ifmyalbumscouldtalk

I am just a long-time music fan who used to be a high school science teacher and a varsity coach of several high school athletic teams. Before that, I worked as a medical technologist at three hospitals in their labs, mainly as a microbiologist. I am retired/disabled (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome), and this is my attempt to remain a human. Additionally, I am a serious vinyl aficionado, with a CD addiction and a love of reading about rock history. Finally, I am a fan of Prince, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Hall & Oates, Springsteen, Paul Weller & his bands and Power Pop music.

2 thoughts on “I Hold Def Leppard Responsible For Hair Metal”

  1. Man, Keller, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts but you kind of lost me on this one.

    Def Leppard responsible for “hair metal”?

    Guess we have different definitions of the genre. I’ve always considered them “pop metal” if I have to put a label on them (though in the name of full disclosure there are no genres in my digital library and my ideal music stores are those arranged alphabetically by artist rather than divided into genres so maybe I am not one to speak on genres) and you make a great case for “pop metal” without actually mentioning it by name. And you failed to mention the band’s not so secret weapon, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The sound of their first EP and album (On Through The Night) are noticeably different from the three Lange-helmed albums that followed: High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania and Hysteria.

    If I had to define “hair metal” from my personal perspective and slightly few less years listening than you (and knowing both Rolling Stone and Allmusic disagree with me) it would be those performers of “pop metal” who wore heavy make-up and flashy clothes, bringing back the androgynous look associated with “glam rock” from a decade prior. Def Leppard dressed somewhat “normal” in my high school world at the time compared to the likes of, say, Mötley Crüe, Ratt or Cinderella – apparently, Def Leppard and I both shopped at Chess King as we were all wearing parachute pants, ripped jeans and sleeveless tees in 1983 yet none of us were wearing eyeliner, high heels or satin & lace that I recall.

    I’m not disparaging “hair metal”, far from it – I bought just as many “hair metal” albums and attended just as many “hair metal” concerts as I did “pop metal” ones back in the day – though I never felt the need to dress like any given band or genre I was digging. The previously mentioned parachute pants and sleeveless tees just happened to be what my local Chess King was selling when I landed my first job in 1983; merely a coincidence, not a conscious effort to replicate Elliott’s look on my part. (After Chess King’s demise, I reverted back to plain colored tees and 501 shrink-to-fit button-fly jeans after a brief flirtation with Don Johnson’s Miami Vice look before moving on to my current cargo shorts and colored tee fashion template – sometimes augmented with a hoodie – after gaining more than 100 pounds over the past twenty years.)

    Speaking of concerts, those shows provided another fine distinction between my definitions of “hair metal” and “pop metal”: compared to the other heavy metal concerts I have attended, both sub-genres brought out female fans by the droves though the women would noticeably dress differently for each genre. The girls at “hair metal” shows dressed more revealingly – exposed breasts and fishnet stocking were not uncommon sights – while the very same girls when attending a “pop metal” show, dressed more conservatively though still in impossibly tight jeans and midriff-bearing tops, leaving more to the imagination but nonetheless titillating. The women I witnessed at the Bon Jovi and Def Leppard shows – the “pop metal” shows, to be clear – I attended in the Eighties were some of the finest-looking I’ve ever seen and I’ve been married to one of those sexy girls for nearly thirty years now.


    1. That entry was all over the place. My ADHD made that blog poorly written, with my ideas scattered everywhere. But, to be honest, outside of Def Leppard, who was more influenced by the Glam Rock scene of the 1970s than anything else, I really did not care much for the whole hair metal thing. I was way more into the college rock scene with R.E.M., Replacements, Husker Du, The Cure, The Smiths, et al. I have seemingly always been more into the less commercial artists, although I always LOVED gooey, sugary pop music.


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