Sunday, April 14, 2019

All Hail the Hair!

Hair metal — you know you love it. If you grew up in the 80’s like I did, you lived it. The glam, the glitz, the gobs of hair spray. The soaring vocals, screaming solos, and pompous power chords. The lumpy spandex, scrawny arms, and boots made for girls. Hair rock ruled radio for over a decade. And if not for Kurt Cobain, its reign might’ve lasted even longer. 

It’s a category that gets a bad rap, unfairly belittled by self-proclaimed aficionados. It’s the red-headed stepchild of the rock n’ roll world. And I think that’s bullshit. Some of the best musicians and vocalists to ever step on a stage came from this under-appreciated genre. 

Let’s take a look back, shall we? There’s so much hair flying everywhere it’s hard to know where to start.

Before we get too far, I want to clear things up about some bands wrongly labeled as hair metal: Van Halen, Guns N’ Roses, The Cult and Def Leppard. Nope, not hair metal. None of them. I don’t care what you say. Van Halen? Not even close to hair rock. More like best-guitarist-to-ever-walk-the-earth rock. GNR? No sir. They were more grit than glam, even when Axl wore makeup. The Cult? No way. These guys were way ahead of the hair game and way too talented to lump into a single category. And Def Leppard? I don’t think so. Listen to those first three albums again and tell me if you still think they’re a hair band.

So, now that we’re all on the same page, let’s have a quick conversation about some real hair. 

There’s so much more to hair metal than just hair and metal. In fact, the label itself is weak. This was a much more diverse category of music than given credit for. 

There was the hair with a side of snarl. I’d throw Mötley Crüe, L.A. Guns and Skid Row in this crude pile of badasses. These bands had an edge that so many others back then lacked. The early Crüe albums were a raw, punk punch in the mouth. L.A. Guns sounded like they needed a bath and a shot of penicillin — and that’s what made them so good. And Skid Row was more thrash than hair — seriously, Slave to the Grind is some heavy shit. Damn, what a great album. 

If you preferred to use your brain when you banged your head, then the thinking-man’s hair metal was probably your go to. No  band fit this niche better than Queensrÿche — they were hair-metal bombast with prog-rock talent. Lead singer, Geoff Tate, could’ve easily side-gigged as a broadway star. 

If you liked your rock no assembly required, with the occasional cheesy ballad included, there were more than enough rockers ready and willing to deliver. Slaughter, Whitesnake, Warrant, White Lion, Cinderella — these dudes knew who they were and didn’t try to be anybody else. And that was just fine, because they put out some good shit. Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” sounds just as good now as it did in 1987. And White Lion’s “Little Fighter” gets me fired up every time I hear it. 

Then there was the hair metal made for the radio, and girls. Bands like Bon Jovi, Poison and Winger — marketing geniuses who knew what their target market wanted to hear, so they gave it to them. Even if it sometimes sucked. I’ll admit it. I’ve seen all three of these bands live — more than once. So what. 

And last but not least, the hair metal you might not know, but should. Some of the best music of the era came right at the end of the era. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were on their way to becoming household names and a change was coming. But Lynch Mob, D.A.D., Dangerous Toys and Sleeze Beez didn’t give a shit. They were like Rogaine, doing everything they could to keep the hair alive. These bands were so late in the game I had their albums on cassette and CD — and played the crap out of them. 

I have many fond memories of the hair metal years (I also have many fond memories of my own hair) and I think we should all give this influential time in rock history a little more love. Listen to it for what it is. Don’t overthink it. Just turn it up, really loud, and let it flow. Go ahead, put on those spandex pants if they still fit. Hell, put ‘em on even if they don’t. We don’t judge here. 

Let’s rock.


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