Can I write an article about hair metal withour mentioning Steel Panther?
Let’s give it a go.
I can see the lights flicker as a million internet users switch off at the phrase hair metal. My laptop screen has just been sucked inwards as a vacuum replaces the space where WordPress used to be, but wait a moment . . . You have no idea how pervasive, how all-encompassing hair metal became in the 1980s. Even James Hetfield permed his hair!
It consumed everyone and everything. Saxon’s Biff Bifford wore a suit with the sleeves roled up in their cover version of Cristopher Cross’s Ride Like the Wind. Only Lemmy and a few tossers with no access to MTV escaped the evil.
So where did it come from and why did it take hold with such an uncompromising grip? Some say the New York Dolls paved the way, others blame Hanoi Rocks. Me, I couldn’t care less. Without it I would never have seen George Lynch wringing the life out of his ESPs.
At its peak hair metal was responsible for 94% of worldwide music sales, and was the sole cause of the hole in the ozone layer from the overuse of hairspray. (Greenpeace estimated that Sunset Strip in Los Angeles emitted four hundred thousand tons of CFC particles every weekend when Motley Crue were in town.) And if you believe any of that you’ll believe any old horse shit.
At one end of the hair metal spectrum where the likes of Crue, Poison, Ratt, TNT, Winger, Vixen (who were unusual in that they were women who looked like women), running all the way along the spectrum to long haired yobbos like Dave Mustaine and an incredibly tassled Lars Ulrich. They might have been thrash, they might have gone round kicking people’s teeth in for wearing sparkly bandanas, but, whisper it: they looked a bit glam!
Nowhere on earth was safe. Even the Germans succumbed. The Scorpions had Mathias Jabs in technicoloured jackets. Bonfire and Victory started wearing stone washed denim. Only Udo Dirkschneider from Accept found himself immune. Like the solitary survivor in an inverted zombie film, where the zombies are made up to look like Christy Turlington, Udo was a squat response to the beautiful people. He even sounded as rough as a bear’s arse, just in case anyone was still in any doubt.
In Japan the likes of Earthshaker and Vow Wow adopted the look. The contagion spread and in Britain, where heavy rock was usually soaked in Watneys Red Barrel, everyone was wearing coloured spandex and adding huge amounts of reverb to the snare drum. Sales of synthesisers went through the roof.
Spare a thought for Bon Jovi. As he crawled up the charts with You Give Love A Bad Name and Living on a Prayer, he was all set to reach number one when a load of pompous upstarts from Sweden beat him to it with The Final Countdown. Joey Tempest was momentarily a household name in Britain until a tooth-scratchingly embarrassing interview with Paula Yates on The Tube put the mockers on Europe’s plan to invade the country.
Ozzy Osbourne, the so-called Prince of Darkness, stopped biting the heads off everything and had diamante material glued to his microphone. W.A.S.P made sure the disgusting dog on the cover of Animal (F**k Like A Beast) was properly shampooed, and David Coverdale ordered everyone in Whitesnake over the age of fifty (which was most of them) to suck their cheeks in for publicity photos.
Kiss removed the make-up so that they could put on new make-up. David Lee Roth inspired a million gigolos to go for the Vince Neill look and every other band was called White Something Or Other.
It couldn’t last, of course. The party would eventually come to an end, but it wasn’t a shortage of hair gel that nobbled it all. It was a greasy haired left handed guitarist from Seattle with a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit. And then a raucous bunch of drugged up halfwits called Guns n Roses joined in to form a pincer movement, which cut off the hair metallists from the hair salons, depriving them of oxygen. Like Samson going bald, the movement was neutered. The ESPs fell silent. The world entered a new Dark Age.
Now everyone wanted to kill themelves. Everyone walked with a hunch and the zombies looked like zombies. The 1990s attacked. The flamboyance and hedonistic euphoria of the 80s was replaced by a nihilistic self-destruction. Ultimately, we would arrive at nu-metal and the war on terror and no one would be happy anymore. Nirvana and Guns n Roses together destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the entire human race.
Did you spot what I did there? I interjected a bit of hyperbole, a slither of exaggeration; a frisson of ‘over the topness.’ Hair metal lives! It hasn’t gone away. It lies dormant in all of us, yes even you growlers and moshers and Nordic church burn-downerers, you metalcorists and death/gloom/satanic/technocore/whatsit metalheads. Ye shall suffer the sins of your ancestors. Ye shall carry the strain in your genes for a thousand generations because the gods of hair metal did decree it will never die. As long as Don Dokken has the strength to form a fist every time he sings the punchline to one of his choruses hair metal shall live on in all of us.
Problem is, a lot of the old hair metallists are almost as bald as eggs and have skin like four day old custard. They didn’t age well. All that sun and foundation cream. Blocked the pores, you see. The men finally look like men and the women have their women’s fashion back where it belongs. In the women’s section of the clothes shop.
If you’re still reading this you are either a) an original fan of hair metal, b) very very bored, c) astonished at the sheer brazen confidence to write about one of the most embarrassing periods of hard rock’s history, or d) Udo Dirkschneider overjoyed to find his name used as a keyword in a blog post.
Disagree at your peril.
(And no mention of Steel Panther. Get in there!!)