Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hair Metal: The Unforgiven

In Sam Dunn's Metal Evolution TV series, the presenter covers every type of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal you can think of, plus a few you can't. He shows enthusiasm for almost all of them: Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Shock Rock, even Grunge. All apart from one. At the start of the episode of Hair Metal he confesses that it's a form of Metal that we was never able to warm to. And he's not alone.

The first I heard of what would come to be Hair Metal was 1981 or so when Tommy Vance played songs from an album called Too Fast For Love by some American band called Motley Crue on his Friday Rock Show. They had been getting mentions for a while in Kerrang! and this must have been one of the first times they were played on the radio in the UK. God almighty, I thought to myself, this'll never catch on.

The thing is, I should have liked Hair Metal. After all, I was a fan of most of the genre's major influences. I loved the 70s Alice Cooper and Kiss records. (still do). I also liked Van Halen and Aerosmith. So, yes, I should have been a fan really. So why did I end up hating the bloody thing?

I think the main reason was the sound. Hair Metal records sounded really terrible with all that compression. Those thudding snares. Those squawking lead guitars. Perhaps the records were mastered to sound effective on FM radio (or on MTV), but there's something cold and shrill about them. And they don't sound any better thirty years on either. I've become quite forgiving about a lot of 80s music these days (I even own a copy of Rio by Duran Duran). But Hair Metal leaves me as cold today as it did back in the day.

Of course, the irony is I became a fan by proxy. So many of my friends became fans of these bands in the mid 80s that it was pretty much impossible not to become familiar with the latest David Lee Roth, Poison and Cinderella releases. I knew them all. And of course if you listen to any genre enough you'll find something you like. so the track below is from the only Hair Metal album I've heard that I think is really any good, Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation. To me, it's a collection of good songs that are strong enough to withstand Bruce Fairbairn's 80s production. the follow-up Pump was pretty good too, though after that I lost interest.


  1. Are Aerosmith hair? Hmmm.
    Anyway, you and me both. A genre that is rotten to the core. As a thrasher I was conditioned to detest anything featuring hairspray and make-up.
    As Dave Grohl said recently "How was I supposed to identify with a bunch of jerkoffs riding down Sunset Boulevard in a limo full of strippers?"

    1. They were at that point. Aerosmith, Kiss and Alice Cooper all went Hair Metal in the 80s. Which led to me having to continually say to my school friends that "I liked their 70s stuff", which made me sound like an old man at the age of 16.

      The funny thing is, i think the very worst offenders may have been British: I can't think of many Hair Metal records that are more annoying than Def Leppard's Hysteria or Whitesnake's 1987. I can understand why people like "Livin' on a Prayer" but what on earth did people see in "Armageddon It" or "Pour Some Sugar on me"?

  2. They may have been British bit where did they sell records by the truckload? I saw Whitesnake in their 'hair' period at Donington. It was being broadcast live on Radio 1 and Coverdale was admonished from the side of the stage for his obscene language. The only other thing I remember of Whitesnake that day was Steve Vai's amazing disappearing guitar. Aerosmith were on directly before ver 'Snake, they introduced Jimmy Page onstage as a guest just as Concorde was taking off from East Midlands Airport. I always thought that was quite neat, although no doubt completely accidental.
    I've always enjoyed Leppard's Animal but have never taken it as anything more than a great pop single. But why they got so much coverage in the metal press remains a mystery to me.

    I keep meaning to order Metal Evolution but never get round to it. To be honest, much as it's a rotten sub genre of metal, it did sell loads so I can't exactly see how they can leave it out.

    Would you class WASP as Hair?

  3. I'm sure you'd enjoy Metal Evolution. The episode on Thrash in particular is strong, partly I think because it was Dunn's first love, and he goes into some depth into it and has some good interviews as well. It made me seek out the early Metallica stuff on Spotify. I'm still not entirely convinced but I'm more sympathetic.

    I'm not sure about W.A.S.P. to be honest, it's a good question. My heart says Hair, but they were a bit different than Bon Jovi. Shock Hair Metal? I remember reading Kerrang! in 1984 or so with Blackie Lawless on the cover holding a plastic skull covered with ketchup. I looked up and noticed my dad was staring at the magazine in utter disbelief. I don't think our generation gap was ever wider than that moment.

  4. Blackie Lawless is responsible for one of my favourite metal anecdotes though: after his exploding codpiece 'backfired', a hospitalised Lawless was quoted as saying "If I could write better songs I wouldn't need to do this shit"

    1. You know, you've actually highlighted one of the aspects about the whole era that I do miss: the showbiz aspect of it all. Dio'd dragon, Thor blowing up the hot water bottles, Tommy Lee's rotating drum kit and all the rest seemed silly and OTT at the time, but I think I prefer them to all arms-in-the-air stuff from Bono and Coldplay that came afterwards.