When I was in the 7th grade I entered the world of band for the first time. My band instructor was a little pushy, his name was Mr. Hall, for some reason or another he really tried to get me to play the saxophone. I tried it out for the back to school parade and I hated it, I couldn’t get any sounds to come out of that thing that any reasonable human would consider pleasant. So I switched to percussion. He was against this because, in his views, percussion was easy and only lazy kids wanted to play drums. It was true the majority of the drum line in our school were lazy, pot-smoking good for nothings, myself and one friend being the exceptions. Still I quickly fell in love with banging the trap set and begged him to put me on the pep squad so I could play fight songs at the sporting events. We started out with a classic easy rock n roll tune called Rock N Roll Part 2, aka “the Hey song!”
Over the years I fell away from drumming despite my very strong desire to keep going. I would bang my drumsticks on anything I could, cardboard boxes, pots and pans, trash cans, whatever it took. I was able to cobble together a make shift drum set when I was 14 using money I earned throwing newspapers at people’s houses. Once I firmly got into my teen years I was clamoring to form my own heavy metal hair band with my friends.
Glam Metal, Hair Metal, pop metal, call it what you want, the 80’s took the fully established hard rock genre and took it mainstream. What memories I do have of the 80’s largely consist of hair bands rocking out to their various anthems.
Def Leppard- Pyromania
As a drummer, it would be my duty to pay homage to the band world-famous for having the “one armed” drummer. Okay so they have some good music too, especially Foolin, by far my favorite heavy metal ballad, if you can call it that, and Rock of Ages, among many other rock hard tunes. It might be their best work, it might not, but by the time Pyromania lights the metal world on fire, the hair bands have firmly become the norm.
As someone whose initials spelled RAT, and whose nickname was “THE RAT” all through school, this was a band I had to check out. I instantly fell in love with Lay it Down and Round & Round, their two biggest hits to the best of my knowledge. I was able to get one of their greatest hits CD’s and discovered the draw of power rock. They might be tame by some standards but their music was just hard enough to keep throw coals on the hair metal fire throughout the 80’s. Too bad it all died suddenly when Nirvana crawled out of bed and said with a shrug, eh, entertain us.
Nothing was more instrumental in bringing heavy metal to the forefront of American pop culture than the budding MTV and it’s constant rock videos bombarding the youth with images of hot babes, fast cars, and loud guitars. This was the era where Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees were gutting teenagers with hair metal blasting in the background to set the mood.
If you really want to trace the rise of metal music, look no further than the introduction of the rock music video and the video stars that would soon follow. By the end of the decade every metal video was just trying to be more outrageous than the last, eventually leading us into the 90’s where music videos took on a more artistic approach with the rise of shock rockers Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.
I have written extensive articles both here and in college on the importance MTV had on American youth culture so I will just say dust off the VCR and pop in the VHS copy of Hot for Teacher if you want a reminder of what the decade was all about.
Van Halen vs. Bon Jovi
Musically the two aren’t that similar. But if you were alive in the 80’s you know the impact they had on your sisters sexuality. These two bands were the symbol of heavy metal rock stars as sex symbols, pushing the mantra of sex, drugs, and rock n roll deep into the minds of American teenagers. Van Halen was edgier with their music, while Jovi was more of a showman in their concerts. Both bands came out of the other end of the 80’s relegated to relic status, while Jovi made an attempt to make a come back in the 90’s alternative infested airwaves, Van Halen were all but forgotten by the mainstream.
One thing the two bands did was really help push the divide between the hard rockers and the glam rockers. Bon Jovi appealed more to the masses while Van Halen stood as a symbol for the troops to rally behind. The core metal audience was splintering into sub-factions by this time and these two bands were among the dividing forces.
Megadeth vs. Metallica
Here comes another fork in the road. The rise of “thrasher” metal is largely credited to the formation of these two bands, whose DNA is very inbred in some respects. The bands both kept taking metal music to even darker places with Metallica being able to cross over into mainstream success while Megadeth remained a reminder of the hardest rockers of just how heavy, heavy metal could get. There were other dark bands of the time, Dio, White Zombie, a few others, but these two stood up and carved out their own little corner of the market, then started a metal war whose repercussions were felt throughout the entire rock industry.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Hard Rock gets a vagina. Okay that might be a little crass, but hell metal music is all about tits and ass so suck it up, whiners. Joan Jett was one of the early punk rockers with her band the Runaways, and she emerged among a world of male metal bands to be the lone wolf woman warrior for the female power rock of the decade. Sure you had rock n roll bands comprised of woman leads before, and after, namely the Go-Go’s, Heart, Hole (yeah an all female band named themselves hole and I get flack for making a vagina joke) and Garbage. The list goes on. Still, Joan Jett was able to prove women could be hard rockers too.
Everyone remembers her anthem “I Love Rock N Roll” it’s a rock classic. I enjoyed her music with the Runaways more, which yes I discovered thanks to a certain movie. Still, she had the balls to stand up to the men who dominated metal music and I gotta respect her for that, to some degree. Not to mention her music wasn’t half bad.
Live shows and stadium rock
In the early days of hard rock, metal was a fringe movement. It was born out of the punk rock scene where the bands were making a statement. That statement was make noise and have as much fun as you can while disrupting the establishment every chance you could. By the 80’s metal bands had risen to become the dominant rockers selling out arenas all across the globe. Sure new wave bands like Devo, Duran Duran, and the like, would emerge in the 80’s to slow some of that fire trying to keep rock music in the center of the pop world, but it was still the decade where arena rock finally became a real thing. There were bands selling out arenas in the 70’s, sure, but they weren’t the bands playing this new, harder sound, not as as much anyways.
Once the live shows became a mainstay bands had to resort to theatrics to keep concert goers happy. This was the period where pyrotechnics were quickly becoming staples of the rock concert. Costumed bands like KISS lead the way, groups like Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue and Guns N Roses would take on the mantle before passing the torch to Manson and his spooky kids in the 90’s.
By the time you get to the end of the 80’s heavy metal is starting to wane. Mainstream America has started to discover a new, edgy sound in the form of gangsta rap, which would soon supplant heavy metal as the go-to sound for the counter culture of the teenagers looking to piss off their adult role models. Sure heavy metal was loud, it was flamboyant, and it glamorized a darker lifestyle, but hip-hip had guns, pimps, and thugs rapping about killing cops, raping hoes, and cooking crack. Times were changing, and the two were bound to merge sooner or later. Enter Rage Against the Machine and the rise of Rap Metal…