Rockbrat Remembers: Being a fan of hair metal in the late 1980s – guilty as charged!

I’d like to think that I’ve always been into cool rock n roll. Yet its admission time. There was a slight blip on the radar there in the late 80s where I slipped up and was buying LP’s by (gulp) Poison, Warrant, White Lion, and others of the so called ‘big haired variety’. There, I’ve admitted it. Good to get that off my chest.  Hindsight is indeed – a wonderful thing. With the benefit of hindsight, we would not have done certain things right ? With the benefit of hindsight, and indeed being a little more discerning  or judicious, there is no way I would have been into any number of, what is now termed as ‘hair’ bands. So how did it happen? It was the time right? These bands were massive, and like a flash flood, it was easy to get swept along. Before I knew it, I was swept along. Interestingly, I was never, ever into Bon Jovi.

Pucker up. No its not Carlotta. CC of Poison looking every bit the drag queen….

The other day I was watching the four part documentary about Heavy Metal called ‘Heavy’, and it raised some interesting points about the late 80’s LA sunset strip period and the big haired metal excess. In the documentary, Dee Snider, accurately I think, blamed bands like Mr Big, Extreme and the like for going ‘unplugged’. Combined with the power ballad, (which all labels insisted on releasing as the 2nd single, after the hard-rocking anthem first single. This was a successful formula, yet by the early 1990s audiences lost interest in this approach) this sounded the death knell for the genre that was best defined by bands like Priest in say 80-82, although if you look at stuff like Mr Big, someone had lost the blue print to how it was originally meant to be. By the way, if you haven’t seen the series, it’s on You Tube so check it out.

So now I’ve fessed up , let’s examine this a bit more.  Mr Rockbrat and I always loved shock rock, and certain bands who had a glam lineage: ie: The Dolls, Ki$$, Sweet, T-Rex etc were cool – but these late 80’s Sunset strip dudes took it to a whole new level. But it wasn’t just Poison and Warrant. It was bands like the god awful Roxus, Winger, and any number of bands with the big hair. So how does it happen? In 1985, (pre Bon-Jovi ‘Slippery When Wet’ mind you, which is, as I’ve often stated, the line in the sand for the whole sugary hair metal thing), I knew what was cool – it was stuff like Dio, Scorpions, (pre Hysteria) Leppard, Boss, Maiden, Ozzy, Keel, Priest, Motley Shout/1st album etc, and then two or three years later, I am buying and listening to rubbish like the W bands – Winger, White Lion, Warrant, the nauseous late 80’s version of Whitesnake with all their posing, and the extremely hard to listen to Vinnie Vincent Invasion etc. Being blues/Zep influenced, I suppose Great White were the obvious exception and I must admit to liking Frisco’s Vain,  although when I saw them live they were as limp wristed as the hand shake I got from the band’s main man Davy Vain.

Roxus: Australia’s answer to Bon Jovi? Not quite. Cliches aplenty and zero originality

I quickly figured out how lame it was though. Live, witnessing both Poison and Warrant was observably underwhelming. Lamentably, yes, I saw them both live. Molly’s mates Roxus were typically, capital L for lame (and who the hell are you Juno Roxas to flame Dave Evans? Your band  were nothing more than a pre-fabricated boy band with long hair and volume. You friend, paid no dues and were gifted with these international supports), yet people could see through the facade from a bunch of try hards without decent material, which is why Roxas never became Australia’s version of Bon Jovi. Fact. BB Steal were a way better band)  A truly forgettable evening of sufferance with light weight, thin sounding, shallow, low calorie hair rock of the worst kind. Is it still too late to ask for a refund? With interest ? Thankfully, I saw how banal these bands were – and I’d moved back to the Australian hard rock/indie guitar rock scene (Hitmen, Tribesmen, Dubrovniks) which was way more comfortable and without the pompous carry-ons of wannabe’s like Juno Roxas. This territory was real, and very familiar.

I knew what was cool, and in 2016, where lately I am spending time listening to all the legitimacy/realism of artists like Gary Moore, Gwyn Ashton, Rory Gallagher, James Gang and Steve Earle – it’s like this blip on the rock radar never occurred. But deep in the back of my mind – I know it did. Fashionably robed in attire of the time including black Faberges and white denim jacket, exist it did. At least I had the sense to never wear tassels. Thank God.

Retrospectively, the English ‘hair’ bands of the late 80s, (and I hate using that capture all tag), were WAY better than the collective LA Sunset strip shooting match (and that includes Guns N Roses, a band who audaciously aped Hanoi Rocks and Rose Tattoo and weren’t fit to string Pete Wells’ guitar. The only one worth his salt in that line up being Izzy Stradlin). You know why? Cos bands like the Quireboys and the Dogs D’Amour and even Thunder were rooted in the best of the UK early to mid-70s fare – T Rex, Faces, Bad Company, Mott The Hoople etc. I loved the Quireboys and Dogs. Yet I should have stopped there.

Cowboy Col looking out at Hollywood 1993. Where did all the hair bands go?

I look back on that whole LA late 80s thing with a kind of voyeuristic curiosity. By 1991, the Sunset Strip was bursting at the seams with hedonistic, homogenised copy-cat bands who all looked and sounded the same. The scene was littered with hordes of B and C grade bands whose presence only necessitated a faster death to the whole scene. The genre lost mainstream interest in the late 1980s as the excesses of hair / glam metal created a backlash against the genre. It was fat, boring, stale and needed a quick death, which as has been well documented, grunge took care of. Penelope Spheeris‘ film Decline Of the Western Civilisation accurately captured the scene in all its overblown ugliness. I remember seeing this film in 1989 and walking out void of feeling thinking, “what a bunch of poseur wankers”, and shaking my head at the whole emptiness/shallowness of the LA scene. The music had become lame. The bands lame, the guys looked like women. It was all too much. Mediocrity like Nadir D’ Priest was given a voice, believed his own hype and genuinely thought he was a star. Musically limited bands like Motley Crue were bestowed upon them the status of Gods. (let’s call a spade a spade, with the exception of say ‘New Tattoo’ and ‘Hooligan’s Holiday’, Motley have been musically redundant since Dr Feelgood. Think about that.

It’s hard to register why major labels were still releasing product by these hair bands in 92 and 93. You think bands like the aforementioned W bands or Poison etc were lame? Have a look at the LAMER bands that rode on their sequined coat tails. Remember bands like the irritating Trixter, Roxy Blue, Baton Rouge, Bangalore Choir, Baton Rouge, Steelheart, Banshee, Casanova etc. The horse had bolted, but nobody bothered to tell these jokers. Death came swiftly not long after…..It needed to be killed off.

It’s not surprising that the one band to emerge from the 1980s heavy metal period as the perennial did not come from the hair metal genre – and that includes Bon Jovi. It was Metallica. Now a universally known word, a brand name as common as Coca Cola. Scores of kids in the late 80s turned off the glam stuff and headed to Metallica territory cos it was real. It was authentic, and they could relate to it – as opposed to a man wearing lipstick and mascara and cowboy boots, prancing and pouting and telling you to party hard dude.

So there you have it.  Here is another article penned about Poison in Sydney 1989. Makes you wonder how many kids will look back in twenty years’ time and kick themselves for being into the retarded dork band that is Seven Seconds of Summer.  Cut your losses now kids. Who will save rock n roll ? Nobody. The old girl has seen better days. Largely, it’s just going through the motions.

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