War Hero: Hair Metal

October 14, 2008 | Comments (0) | by Rich Funk

What happened to rock and roll?

Seriously, where did it go? And when is it coming back?

Most of what passes as "rock" today makes me shudder in disgust. Sure, anyone getting played on the radio is making much more money being a musician than I am (which is $0), but it doesn't mean I can't make myself heard. A quick look at the top rock songs in America comes up with a bunch of bands that are "just glad to be here" and will be forgotten in 5 years. Hinder? Saving Abel? Trapt? These are the guys making millions of dollars and touring the country?

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick with my hair metal bands from the 80's.

Now it may seem hypocritical of me to slam a lot of the current rock acts as mindless clones of one another without any staying power while at the same time throwing my support behind such timeless acts as Stryper, Winger and Ratt. After all, weren't most hair metal bands mindless clones of one another?

Well, yes. But at least they had personality.

When you compare the great hair metal bands of the late 70's and early 80's with most of the nu-metal/emo rock of today, hair metal comes out on top in every category. Both kinds of music may seem equally crappy to the untrained eye (ear?), but a closer look at why hair metal is so awesome will reveal why it is head, shoulders and hair above all other kinds of rock.

1. The Excess

Hair metal could not exist and flourish in any other time than the late 70's and 80's, when excess was king. If you didn't live at the time, go read American Psycho or watch Wall Street to really get a feel of why excess was king during those years. More was better, and nothing reflected this better than hair metal. Your band dresses funny? My band is going to dress even funnier. You use 3 bottles of hairspray a night and wear tight leather pants? My hair will be bigger and my pants will be even tighter! Hair metal was all about taking what other bands were doing at the time, and not just one-upping them, but sometimes 5-to-10-upping them. It was all about who could play the longest solos, who could fingertap the fastest, who could play the longest setlist.

And the action wasn't confined to just onstage. Bands would become legendary as stories spread about how many groupies they could bang or how many drugs they could ingest without dying (or if they did die, how long they could be 'legally dead' before being revived by the paramedics). All of this sound good to you? Pick up The Dirt if you haven't already. It takes a lot to make me feel queasy, but just reading about the amount of drugs Motley Crue ingested in their heyday was enough to make me feel ill a few times during this book.

2. The Live Shows

So who wins from this constant game of "Anything you can do, I can do better"? The fans, of course! With live shows getting more and more outrageous just to keep up with the times, fans would pack arenas and not know exactly what they were going to see, but having a pretty good idea that it would probably blow their minds. And they were right most of the time. From pyrotechnics and flame jets 3 stories tall to levitating and spinning drum kits to epic drug-fueled 20 minute guitar solos, you could go to 50 concerts a year and conceivably see something you've never seen before at every one of them.

With a lot of these bands taking so many drugs, there was always a decent chance they would take the stage late, if at all. And yet people would still fork over their hard earned money and wait in line for days to see these bands because their live shows were just that good. Most of the time, the live performance and spectacle was more important than the actual music being played.

3. The Mystery

There was no internet in every house in the 80's. There were no social messaging sites and no text/video messaging. So word about rock stars had to float out through mostly-underground rock magazines. More often than that, word would get around through word of mouth, which was like a giant game of telephone. And with the amount of depravity and excess going on anyway, some of these stories could get out of control fast. "I know a guy who goes to school with this guy who's dating my cousin and she said that this guy went to a Poison show 2 weeks ago and said that Bret Michaels set their drummer on fire during the encore. And the dude kept playing!" With these mythical stories of debauchery and anarchy growing and growing as weeks went on, people would love their favorite bands even more. They'd shell out more money to fan clubs and buy posters and wait in line for days longer just to get into their shows and see if this was all true. There was no TMZ.com to give you the truth. Most of these artists you saw only in posters and music videos, which is when they look the most badass.

4. Not Just For The Boys

While young males age 12-25 were probably buying up the most hair metal albums at the time, there were a lot of females that had posters of David Coverdale, Nikki Sixx and "Diamond" David Lee Roth on their walls. One of the biggest differences between rock music in the 80's and now is that modern rock music is stereotyped as being "just for boys". In this day and age, even female fronted rock bands like Flyleaf and Evanescence are seen as inferior bands, largely because they have girls in them. Remember The Donnas, the all-girl rock band from earlier this decade? They were dismissed as nothing but a joke by most even though their ability to rock was actually better than most of their contemporaries.

But in the 80's, not only were female rockers accepted, they were HOT! If you're anything like me, the first name that just popped into your head was "Lita Ford". Not only could she rock out, but she sang songs about partying, smoking and drinking just as much as anyone else, which made her the object of obsession by many a hair metal fan. If someone like that came out these days, they'd probably be lumped in with country music. Likes to drink and smoke? Loves to party? Acts like "one of the boys"? Sounds an awful lot like Gretchen Wilson to me.

The point is, in the 80's, it was more commonplace not just to see female rock artists, but female rock fans. I'm sure it had a lot to do with 80's metal band members being thought of more as sex symbols than modern rock artists. Guys and girls could enjoy taking in a Van Halen show.

Who's going to take their girlfriend to a Three Days Grace show these days?

5. Hair Metal Was More Fun

It just was. These days, rock songs are either all emo and whiny or dark and depressing. During the 80's, you had nothing but a constant stream of songs all about letting loose and having fun, sober or not. Pop in Poison's Nothing But A Good Time and give it a listen. You know what it's about? Having a good time! There are no hidden messages. There are no secret lyrics to a girl that broke up with you years ago. it's about going out and having fun with your friends. And even if you've spent all your money, you shouldn't worry because things will work out. Right now, just get drunk and have some more fun!

6. No Distractions

Another huge difference in the staying power of 80's hair metal bands versus today's rock bands is how people listen to their body of work. One of the things that always irks me about today's music industry is iTunes. I love how iTunes lets people get music instantly, but it's pretty much killed the "album" for many people. If you like a 3 Doors Down song, chances are you'll just buy the 1 or 2 songs you like off of iTunes, especially if you aren't familiar with a lot of their music. You might really like 3 Doors Down, but you'll never know because you only bought a track or two.

But in the 80's, if you liked Cherry Pie by Warrant, you had to go out and buy the Cherry Pie album. And if you've got the whole album, chances are you're going to listen to the whole thing. And let's not forget that these people were listening on records and cassette tapes. There was no track skipping, so chances are you'd be more inclined to listen to a whole lot of songs instead of hitting 'skip' after the single you wanted to hear was over.

The fact that 80's hair metal lives on today is a great sign. The people secretly yearn for it to make a comeback. Remember when The Darkness had that huge hit a few years back? Have you seen how many copies of the heavily-hair-metal-influenced Guitar Hero video game have been selling? People will continue to love Ratt, Warrant, Skid Row, Scorpions, Van Halen, WASP, Poison, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister for years and years to come.

And for the rock music of the 2000's? I doubt we'll be seeing Dave Draiman of Disturbed on any VH1 reality shows any time soon. And that's the true measuring stick of success.