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…