I outlined before the first part of my journey through life with music a few weeks ago. It’s time to get to the next step in that process. I left off in the mid-1980’s where I was starting to assemble a bit of a cassette collection.
Well, what did people rock out to in the mid- and late-80’s? Come on, you know.
It was the glory days of hair metal.
Yes, hair metal. The saccharine love ballads and railed out rockers performed by androgynous men in very tight-fitting clothing and great make-up. They ruled the airwaves back then and there was no escaping it. For a semi-sheltered, naive kid growing up in the Midwest, nothing shouted out to me louder than the bombastic party culture of the 1980’s hair metal rock star. It was the polar opposite of life as I knew it.
Hair metal was everywhere. It was all over MTV, on the radio, on magazine covers all over grocery store media racks. People far and wide adopted styles based on the scene – big hair, acid washed jeans, blinding and garish accessories. It was a fast, loud and eye-catching time.
For me it was what shaped me as I entered double-digit age and approached that all-important mark of adolescence. All the cool kids in grades above me at school were all-in on hair metal and they were setting the stage for what I’d be when I got there. They would move on and pass the torch to me and my crew and we’d live forever in glourious hair metal harmony.
As for what exactly I got into, well, it was everything. You couldn’t leave your house without tripping over some new hair band’s tape. Every day a new hard rocker or sappy ballad would premeire on MTV. I didn’t really keep track of what was what – I just consumed, as all good ’80’s kids were programmed to do.
I wasn’t really exercising any quality control. I was too young for that, just put in the tape and jam out, you know? Thankfully for all of us, the record labels also weren’t exercising any quality control. Gainful employment in the late ’80’s involved somewhat being able to play an instrument and sing about driving fast or liking girls.
It doesn’t mean that good music didn’t exist back then. I can go back today and check out stuff like Cindarella, Tesla, Ratt and Skid Row and find some great music. I can just as easily find a million copycat bands and less than stellar efforts, but even today there is room for curating high-level hair metal music.
And yes, I realize the very definition of hair metal can be questioned. Who is or who isn’t hair metal? Is Tesla really a hair band? I don’t really think so but in all reality it’s hard to seperate every corner case from the larger scene of that time period.
Everything would culminate in one album purchase, one band who would put a stamp on everything for me at the end of the ’80’s. The very band who started this whole hair metal mess in the first place released their 5th album right as I was turning 12 and getting ready to enter the 1990’s.
Motley Crue were the ultimate bad boys of hair metal. They were the ones who brought this music to life and turned the Sunset Strip into ground zero for ’80’s music. They were larger than life and apparently stronger than death. They put out the songs that defined the era and were the act that most everyone aspired to be.
I wound up getting Dr. Feelgood on tape as a gift for some thing or another and that was the moment when I became completely obsessed with music. I played that damn album over and over and over again. I played it when we vistied relatives out of town, I played it when I was at home, I played it everywhere I could play it.
That was what changed everything for me and sent me into the ’90’s ready to be a complete music junkie. That’s exactly what would happen, but of course that’s another story for another time.
As for hair metal, well, it definitely lefts its impression on me. The goofy, slight kid with some bleached jeans, high-top shoes and a jean jacket with a Poison patch on it really did enjoy his time with that scene. I wasn’t exclusively into it, hell I was already listening to Iron Maiden at this time and was on a crash course to the heavier end of the spectrum. But in that place in that time, I was all about that oft-derided hair metal scene. From now to Ragnarok, make mine hair.