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.


  1. I see where your argument is but I don't think hair metal's death knell was Nirvana and the plaid grunge brigade; I think it was the underground hardcore and thrash. It had been languishing in the shadows while hair metal was still going strong and when that wave crested, it was the late eighties, early nineties and things got much heavier.
    Also, I don't think a single musical movement had toppled hair metal off its pedestal. By the time bads like Megadeth, Metallica, and Overkill (to name a few) came onto the scene, hair metal as a whole was so bloated and decadent, most of them didn't know they were over until it was too late. (can you tell I'm passionate about heavy metal? :D)

  2. You make a good point. Warrant's lead singer has said he knew it was over the minute he walked into the record exec's office and there was an Alice in Chains record framed on the wall, and his Cherry Pie record had been taken down. I know it's an anecdote, but it's by someone in the middle of it all.

    To me, the Nu Metal thing (Korn, Limp Biskit and all that) had nothing to do with any sort of dynamic change. It sounded cool when you first heard it, but got old super quick.

    And Metallica had already been around long before... Ride the Lightening, Kill Em All, And Justice for All, Master of Puppets all were before Poison, Warrant, Extreme, Tesla, Winger, etc. So, I don't think it really toppled hair metal considering most of the bands body of work was released well before hair metal's decline and fall.

    Nothing is black and white - it surely was not ONLY grunge that did it in.... but it was the primary culprit IMHO.

  3. Oh come on! Your starting to sound like an old fart! Every generation thought that their rebellion could never be topped and it was all over. There is a rebellion going on against Viacom et al. Its happening all over the internet. Its akin to when jukeboxes and radio pulled the carpet out from under live music promoters. Do you think record companies would be suing 12 year old kids for hundreds of thousands of dollars (that they KNOW they can never get) if they weren't running scarred?

    PS: Love the blog.

  4. Speaking of Warrant and "Cherry Pie," they hated that record. But the record execs felt they didn't have a single on the album, so made them record it. And it became their biggest hit.

    But what's the next big wave? I'm holding out for "Snuff Metal"

  5. Didn't I just say something like this?

    Even at the time, I called Hair Bands, Lite Metal. Doesn't mean I don't like them, Though many could be simply awful in mediocrity. Mostly they were fun to listen to.

    You left our Rap/Hip Hop. I wouldn't know what to do with it either.

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  7. My big 3 as a teen in the '80s were AC/DC, Maiden, and Metallica, and I loathed nearly all the hair/pop metal that existed at the same time.

    But as I get older, I'm finding myself not only tolerating, but enjoying a lot of the hair metal I shunned back in the day. Not sure why. Is it because I'm opening my mind a bit, or because there's absolutely nothing else out there metal-wise these days to compare to what was going on on metal's heyday, no matter the sub-genre (hair, glam, thrash, death, etc.)?

  8. thomas - Viacom vs. (insert any band here) - my money's on Viacom.

  9. I was never a hair metal fan back in the day, prefering Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio and others of their ilk. But now that the hairspray has been put away and the pink spandex retired to the closet I can now hear these bands for their music and have found some great music amidst the fluff. Cherry Pie is STILL as awful as it ever was, though.

  10. I'd argue, Gilligan, that much, if not all of the rebellion you speak of rings hollow when espoused from a mainstream band getting paid by major label corporate execs to sound "edgy." Moreover, you seemingly dismiss the rebelliousness of the "indie" scene, despite the fact that underground music communities are where all such counterculture movements start, and all of the (at the risk of sounding pretentious) "legitimate" ones remain. The only thing the mainstream is an accurate measure of is "fad power," as no genre ever really dies (though some go through stark transformations that may render them unrecognizable to the uninitiated). It's also worth noting that "grunge" is not a real musical genre, but a loose knit term concocted by a media that didn't know any better. Most of the WA-based bands that were haphazardly tossed into that category were previously labeled "stoner rock," "indie," or "noise rock;" all of which are well-established (though often contentious) musical classifications.

  11. Here is a whole post dedicated to the reasoning behind this. Just one person's opinion though.


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  14. Metal Mark - I read your post and the comments - it's a fascinating topic. Good diagnosis.

    mr. - your point about the impact of indie music is well taken. It is true actually - if anything's going to bring down the formulaic corporations and usher in something fresh and REAL, it will be something from "underground"... someone NOT wanting a cameo by Ludacris or Emenem in their songs.

    However, I don't really see your point about grunge. Who cares what it's called - call it stoner rock, call it noise rock - whatever it's called, it put the final nail in hair metal's coffin.

  15. I agree with your comments. Good blog entry.

    Unfortunately, most music genres have the A, B, and C squads.

    The A squad are the originators, but generally don't have a ton of true musical talent. This would be the early pioneers such as Judas Priest and ACDC (I might get a ton of flack for calling these guys talentless hacks).

    The B squad are the true marketers and make all of the money. This would be all of chick friendly bands like Bon Jovi and Poison. (Dear God I absolute HATE these types of bands).

    The C squad tends to be truly talented as musicians, but are too little too late. This would be bands like Shotgun Messiah and (believe it or not) Winger.

    Good blog!


  16. Interesting theory, braxton. However, I think we'll have to agree to disagree on some of it. Judas Priest had amazingly talented guitarists (Tipton and Downing) and ACDC created some timeless metal that will still be played a hundred years from now (Back in Black, Highway to Hell, etc.)..... and Winger? Kip was a good lookin' fella' I guess, and mighty fine ballerina, but I'm not sure I'd put him above Priest and ACDC. Interesting thoughts, though. :-)

  17. Oh I loooove hair bands. Really good blog btw.

  18. I was merely pointing out a (music nerd) technicality. In essence, it wasn't one individual genre that superseded hair bands in the corporate music world, it was several.

  19. OY, don't get me started on that nu-metal. WELL...SOME of it is fine. The ones who don't rap or wear clown makeup are fine, plus the one who strive to do something else besides whine about high school.