Shafted! #2: Hair Bands
I'm not the biggest fan of hair bands - never was. When Whitesnake, White Lion and Great White were all topping the charts, I was listening to Danzig and Metallica. These hairsprayed poseurs looked like chicks and were affront to metal itself. They were spitting on the legacy of Sabbath and Priest. Bon Scott was spinning in his grave every time "Cherry Pie" was played.... or so I thought.
With the perspective of time, I see that it wasn't metal blasphemy at all - just another brand. Perhaps hair bands shouldn't be considered "metal"; but that's just semantics. The real question is whether they deserve the derision they've garnered since their heyday. I think they do not.
Every phase of rock music is identified by a type of rebellion - without a rebellion of some kind, it simply isn't rock. The onset of rock and roll via Elvis and The Beatles was obviously a cultural rebellion - Baby Boomers breaking free of social restraints imposed by the older generation.
Psychedelia was a transcendental rebellion - seeing beyond the ordinary, reaching a transcendent state of mind. In contrast, the rock of the seventies was largely a rebellion of debauchery. There was no philosophy behind it - just lots of drinking, sex and drugs.
Once it grew too big (i.e. Styx, Boston, Journey) and lost its rebelliousness, punk entered the scene and staged a rebellion of destruction. By its very nature, the rebellion of destruction couldn't last long, and morphed into radio friendly new wave. And it's here that hair bands come on the scene to earn their rightful place in the legacy of rock and roll. This time it was a rebellion of hedonism.
By the mid eighties, things had gotten rather clean. Huey Lewis & the News was all over the airwaves, Randy Rhodes had died, KISS had lost the makeup, David Lee Roth had gone solo, and Richard Marx was about as loud as it got on the radio. Rock needed another good rebellion - and what better to rebel against than the squeaky clean 80s. Yes, a rebellion of hedonism was definitely the way to go.
And it didn't get much more hedonistic than the glam rock coming off Sunset Boulevard. Androgenous costumes, lyrics about nothing but sex and partying, spandex that left nothing to the imagination, and a lifestyle that would've made Caligula blush.... this is what rock and roll needed!
But what about Maiden, Motorhead, AC/DC, Scorpions, and Def Leppard? They were great, but let's face it - their time had long since past. We needed something to cut through "Let's Hear It for the Boy" and "Breakin' My Stride" on the ol' radio. Plus, it came by its style honestly - its roots were firmly planted in the glam rock of Bowie, T. Rex, New York Dolls and KISS. It wasn't always gritty and smelly like AC/DC was (although, Slash could get a little gamey), but that was never it's intention - it was all about flair.
And then came Nirvana. Once the hair bands lost their rebellion and got too commercial, it was time for another rebellion.... but this time it was different. This time it was nihilism. It was as if Generation X got up on the peak of a giant hill and stared back at the history of rock music and found it lacking. It was like punk but it had no agenda. It wasn't rebelling against anything; it was just a sort of death knell.
Nowadays, what is there to rebel against? You can't use any sort of rebellion of decadence or debauchery - the popular culture is too immune - we've seen it all. You can't give us anything we can't find on cable. The obvious rebellion would be against materialism and commercialism.... but to do that you'd need to be NON commercial (i.e. indie) and thereby not on the radio or any of Viacom's subsidiaries. And so, the only thing left to rebel against in essence ensures that it will not occur. So, enjoy your Justin Bieber with a cameo by the oh-so rebellious Ludacris, that's as good as it's going to get.
So, I've taken a long way to say it, but, the fact is, the much derided hair metal was actually rock and roll's last stand. May it rest in peace.