In On The Scam – Rip Offs for Live Tickets and Records

The past few weeks have seen an uptick in the dark art of scamming, and some of it relates to music. The worlds of live ticketing and record buying have both been hit with a flood of scams, mostly related to the modern age of electronic payments and digital goods.

In today’s world many concert tickets are digital codes. Simply show the QR code on your phone to the door person, they scan the code, you’re in. Physical tickets do still exist but the COVID era has seen a huge rise in the amount of paperless ticketing going on.

And with that comes the scam – a person on a Facebook group (where a lot of this is going on) says they have tickets for a show, at a decent price compared to the predatory resale market. Someone agrees to buy the tickets. The buyer pays the seller through PayPal or Venmo (same company, btw). The seller gets the money then vanishes into the ether, leaving the buyer hanging for tickets that never truly existed.

I’ve heard about this happening with concerts but I’ve personally witnessed it in the sports world – St. Louis has a new Major League Soccer team and it’s been a hot ticket so far with a massive resale market. Scammers have popped up in Facebook groups offering non-existent tickets quite a bit the past few weeks. It’s the only stuff I’ve really seen, but I’ve heard these same scammers are floating around with fake concert tickets too.

The easiest way to not be scammed like this is obviously not to buy from an untrusted source, which is tough if you want decently price resale tickets. Using the Goods and Services option through PayPal does provide a measure of protection, it is an absolute red flag if a seller asks for payment via the Friends and Family option, no one should ever make a PayPal purchase through that unless the person selling is a family member or friend. But buying from some random poster on a Facebook page is not really the way to go, even if legit sales do happen.

This will continue to be a thing as concert tickets go digital. I don’t know what real solutions are for this, the digital ticket market kind of lends itself to needing an official resale outlet- which is just what the few companies who engage in that trade want, of course. It used to be pretty easy to buy a paper ticket from someone who needed to sell, now it’s a whole other ballgame.

The other realm seeing scam activity is the secondary vinyl market, and specifically on the Discogs site. Discogs has become the premier place to catalog records as well as sell them. It’s a mostly convenient site for doing anything vinyl-related, though the scam bug has infiltrated it as of late.

Most of the information I’m using here comes from the Discogs subreddit. There’s been a lot of discussion about scammers in the past while, though there’s also been some misplaced hysteria over it too.

The Discogs scam goes like this – someone lists a record for sale, usually a hot item that goes for a few hundred bucks. For awhile the going price on these scam listings was around $80. A susceptible buyer jumps on the deal, then the seller disappears and the money with them. Even with word getting around about this type of scam, it appears plenty of buyers have fallen for it.

Discogs offers a few degrees of protection that the concert ticket thing does not. There is a seller and buyer feedback system, though the scammers are usually long gone by the time feedback means anything. There is also a reporting system for suspicious listings, and it seems to have some effectiveness. The typical method of payment is also PayPal Goods and Services, which provides PayPal’s own protection that often favors a spurned buyer. A seller seeking payment through means that circumvent PayPal G&S is an auto red flag and also against the Discogs terms of service.

There are a lot of if, and’s and but’s about this whole thing. Discogs themselves issued a message about scamming on Friday, April 28th to all users. They are going to take action on the matter, including a waiting period for new sellers. It’s a good move but it also affects me, since I am getting ready to sell on the platform. But I can’t really bitch since they are taking active steps to stem the scamming tide.

The actual email Discogs sent outlining their response to scamming

One bit BUT to this is the issue of user feedback. The feedback is essentially a score on Discogs, and in all honesty it doesn’t work out that great. I’ve only been a buyer on the platform to this point and all of my transactions have cleared without issue, about 50. I have a 24 score in feedback, all positive, and all on the buyer side. That’s less than half of what I’ve truly bought on there. Many sellers have reported getting less than 50% feedback on successful transactions as well.

The mitigating factor is that you don’t need a massive buyer score. Mine is 100% and is totally fine, even if it doesn’t represent half of my actual purchases. For a seller? Discogs feedback is massively important. A new seller might ship off three records to three different buyers and get dinged on one for some odd reason. The 66% seller feedback rating is a killer for them. To add in new metrics that affect new sellers is another hurdle to clear that sometimes isn’t practical.

The big issue which is sort of in the background here is the scammers and their accounts. No one should buy a cheap record from a new account, that ought to yell out scam to anyone. But – scammers have also been hacking accounts of established sellers and pulling this same crap. I don’t know how often it’s happened but there has been a bit of talk about it on the reddit forum.

Some have wondered just how much scamming was really going on through Discogs. Some feel the issue is overblown, while others point to a fair amount of clear scam listings as well as testimony from people who got ripped off. And an official response from the site itself would indicate it’s a big enough issue, at least in perception, to make official policy around it.

There are a mess of other issues entwined in this – what about the person who actually wants to sell a record cheap? Some personal collectors do fire sale their stuff because they need money pretty badly. Selling below the Discogs median will still net far more money than what most local shops will pay. These scams have been far below the price line so hopefully it won’t catch up anyone truly needing to make a buck or the lucky person who scores a nice haul out of it.

And yes, buyers do scam too. One common one is to pretend the item never showed up and get a refund. Another is to order a clean, nice condition record, request a refund and then return a damaged record to the seller. This is a thread I intend to pick up in a separate post.

In the case of Discogs scams, the easiest way to protect yourself is to not buy listings that are far below the median price. No one is selling a rare Cure record for $200 less than its median price. PayPal does offer its usual degree of buyer protection, but it’s still far easier to not get caught up in the scam to begin with.

This issue will likely crop up again, as it’s clear that the digital money age has lent itself to a whole host of predatory people. I don’t know how the live concert/digital ticket market will shake out, that one is kind of a frontier. I do expect the Discogs saga to relent some but that’s just a gut feeling, I could be totally wrong about that. Either way, be careful out there with your money, it’s a shark tank.

Train Of Consequences – The Sad Tale Of Megadeth Cryptocurrency

It’s a mini-saga of my own making that I’ve talked about a few times over the past year, and now it’s time to put it to bed once and for all. Here’s the final word on my misadventure in cryptocurrency “investing,” or the time I put $10 into the Megadeth crypto coin.

I talked about it originally in February after I made the purchase and I think I made a small update a bit later as the coin was on its way down but I haven’t got back to it since. As it stands today, my $10 of Megacoin is now equal to about 19 cents. The coin itself is valued at a whopping $0.008, not quite a tenth of a cent.

None of this is shocking – the crypto market was going on its freefall around the time I made the purchase. And, this was at best a boutique “currency” anyway. $Mega was not going to be the new Bitcoin, it was some crap for the fan club and not much more.

I was trying to get some other perspectives on this whole ordeal so I set out to find the place where Megadeth fans were discussing the currency. I “joined” the Cyber Army as a free member but got no access to any forum that would tell me anything. I found the band’s official Discord and there is a locked-away section for coin holders, of which I am, but the process to verify everything and join it was too much for me to bother with. I already blew my money on this trash endeavor, I wasn’t going to waste more of my time with it too.

Not getting into these forums kept me out of any discourse that people who actually hold this coin were having, but I can live without it. I also never figured out what the associated rewards were for having the coin – I’ll assume those are kept behind lock and key on the same forums that you need to have verified access for.

There hasn’t been any more publicity about the coin either, only the initial announcement and most everyone making fun of it. Megadeth did offer some NFT’s a while later and that was ridiculed into the ground, as the NFT was the source of a lot of scorn before the crypto crash.

And I figure this will be the final word on the fiasco of the Megadeth cryptocurrency. From 10 bucks to 19 cents is quite the freefall, and there’s only a bit of down to go. I can’t see any conceivable reason why the coin would suddenly shoot back up – even if crypto as a whole rebounds, there are a ton of silly currencies that were dead on arrival and I’m sure $Mega is one of those.

I am reminded of something I said in my initial post – it was something about “wiping my own ass with my money” or something like that. The sad truth is this – if I would have wiped my ass with the ten dollars I spent on Megadeth crypto? I’d still have the ten dollars.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Let’s go way back in time – to 2014 and recall a fiasco that’s been making the news again due to an upcoming memoir.

The memoir in question is from Bono, the singer of U2. And the fiasco is the 2014 deployment of the U2 album Songs Of Innocence, which saw the iTunes platform distribute the album for free to all users. What seemed like a great idea to Bono turned out to be a complete shitshow, as many iTunes users flipped out over having something distributed to them without them asking. In cases where users had automatic downloads set up, the album would load on devices and even start playing without the users knowing about it until it was too late.

As it turns out, the “gift” of the U2 album wasn’t free – Apple actually paid U2 for it. And all of this was at the suggestion of Bono. This Ultimate Classic Rock article outlines what Bono stated in his book about the incident – he pitched the idea to Tim Cook, who was against the concept of giving away music. Somehow, Bono got Cook to agree to actually buy the album from U2 and then send it out to all users for distribution. It’s not certain exactly how much Apple paid for the album but that was a clever idea on Bono’s part to pocket a bit of cash out of the deal.

The album’s release did not go over well. People were mad – some were upset purely at the thought of having a U2 album on their devices at all. Others hit on what was the likely core of the issue – the idea of tech companies just pushing out whatever they want to their users. While the U2 album may not have been a massive breach of privacy by big tech compared to other stuff, it did raise flags with many people.

Artists were also unhappy about the push – they felt that the album distribution devalued music. It was the same argument Tim Cook initially made. It’s an interesting thing to look at, especially in the wake of streaming taking over the concept of buying digital music. It was a big argument at the time, but the idea of the digital marketplace was about to be obsolete anyway.

In retrospect, Bono has used the opportunity afforded in his memoir to take responsibility for the album snafu. While greater sins have been committed for sure, this didn’t wind up being good PR for U2 or Apple when it happened. I doubt Bono’s contrition really matters much in the end, the issue is eight years old now and a lot has happened since then, but it’s cool he can own up to it.

And it’s worth noting that not everyone was mad about it – plenty of people gladly took the freebie, and over the years people have told stories of getting new Apple devices and playing the only thing in their libraries, which was this album. There was some measure of success in the distribution method.

For me personally the U2 album wasn’t a big deal. I think the band’s ’80’s stuff is cool and all but I’m not really a true fan of the band and I haven’t listened to them in a dog’s age. I did use iTunes at the time and I simply left it in my library, not downloaded to my PC or iPod. In truth I have never listened to anything on the album until I played the video for the song posted below, which was about ten minutes before writing this post.

I do understand why people had reservations about a tech company pushing stuff on people like that. But it really wasn’t my battle. On a scale of things that have happened before and since with “big tech,” the U2 album doesn’t move the needle for me. At worst, some people had an album they didn’t know or want auto-play and scare them.

It was fun to see this controversy pop up in the news again. I honestly hadn’t thought about it since it happened, and recalling the angst over the promotion is pretty cool. It’s a nothing burger in the end, at least to me, but it sure did get people stirred up.

Bono’s memoir Surrender – 40 Songs, One Story releases Tuesday, November 1st.

Heaven Can Wait – Would Iron Maiden Replace Bruce Dickinson (again)?

This is a kind of “current events” post I’m not all that into doing, but the topic at hand is significant enough to warrant my interest. It involves my favorite band and I just talked about them on Monday, so when this bit of news dropped the same day it certainly got my attention.

Iron Maiden’s legendary singer Bruce Dickinson recently gave an interview to UK tabloid Daily Star. The interview’s contents are transcribed via this article. In the interview, Bruce gets at the (dark) possibility of not being able to perform to his usual standard as age wears on. He is on board with the band finding a replacement singer, with Bruce perhaps making small guest spots. It would be a situation like what Glenn Tipton does with Judas Priest, making spot appearances here and there as his battle with Parkinson’s disease keeps him from touring full-time.

In the abstract I honestly don’t see anything wrong with the sentiment. I get the thought here – if I can’t do it the way it needs to be done, get someone else who can. I’m generally not opposed to a band going out without a key piece for whatever reason – it is a job and if you can function as a unit with a replacement, go for it.

But we’re not in the abstract. This is Iron Maiden, and this is Bruce Dickinson. People don’t want a replacement for Bruce because it would be insanely tough to even find one, and because we’ve been down this road before. Bruce was replaced in the 1990’s by Blaze Bayley, who found rough footing behind the mic and took a lot of heat for his tenure. While a lot of Maiden’s backslide during the 90’s isn’t the fault of Blaze at all, it is true that he had a difficult time with some of the band’s classic material. With the band unwilling to step down in tuning to help, it left Blaze hanging at times in the live department. It was one oft-cited complaint from fans of that era.

Casting someone else in the role of Bruce Dickinson just isn’t going to work. There are some very talented singers out there, but is anyone really going to replace Bruce? Even if it was limited to being a touring vocalist, I just don’t see it happening.

And Bruce doesn’t see it happening either – he flat-out says “this will never happen” in the interview, referencing both being replaced and the idea of a hologram tour. And this is what leads to the speculative but curious part of the interview – if it isn’t happening at all, why discuss the topic with the media?

I have to begin with this thought – the Daily Star is a tabloid and one with a not-always sterling reputation. While I doubt there was any deception involved here, did the paper simply lead Bruce into this line of questioning? I don’t have access to the paper itself so I didn’t see the whole interview, and we know that media types know how to lead interview subjects into lines of questioning that provide sensational headlines. I can’t say either way but it’s a possibility.

The interview sent Maiden fans into a bit of a tizzy. One possibility discussed was that Bruce was foreshadowing – maybe he knows something we don’t and that his time as Maiden’s air raid siren is nearing its end. Of course we have zero evidence of this, and also the band is presently on tour and Bruce doesn’t sound like Jon Bon Jovi, er, someone who needs to step down from his duties. I doubt this is the case and I also hope it isn’t. Bruce has survived throat cancer and was able to return to the stage, and is presently in fine form on tour.

Some fans are speculating that Bruce is talking in code here – that he is in favor of replacement of a member who can’t continue, and that the rest of the band is against it. While it’s a wild theory that leads down a few rabbit holes, it’s also purely based on speculation about things we have no information on, so I’m going to leave it at that. I don’t see enough based in reality to commit more words to the series of ideas and I don’t think that’s what Bruce is doing here.

At the end of the day I’ll take the part where Bruce says “this is never happening” as the gospel from the interview. He could very well have just been making conversation or talking off the top of his head, who knows? It gave me and others pause, but after looking at it a bit there’s probably nothing of real concern here.

Someday, of course, Iron Maiden will ride off into the sunset. That day is closer than it ever has been, but it’s also not happening tomorrow or anytime soon. They have this tour to finish, they have a planned tour to air out the Senjutsu album in its entirety, and there has been talk about new albums and other things. This lineup of the band has remained in tact for over 20 years and the band has cemented its legacy as one of metal’s greatest acts in this time. Hopefully when they do call it a day, it will be with this lineup bowing out.

Crypto Sells, But Who’s Buying?

This is barely even about music, it’s mostly just about one of those dumb things I did on purpose not too long ago. At least I did this one on purpose.

So in this day and age cryptocurrency is a big deal. Some people have made millions off of it, plenty of people have money in it, and many others are extremely skeptical of it. I don’t, like, really have money in any form so crypto isn’t a huge issue to me one way or the other.

One band made a few headlines and a lot of jokes back in December when they decided to wade into the crypto waters. Megadeth, the veteran thrash outfit who have at times been forward-thinking about how to use the Internet, launched their $MEGA cryptocurrency on the Rally platform.

Megadeth have offered NFTs before, those being the vilified current trend in crypto. But going in one’s own currency is a whole other matter. Major currency like Bitcoin has a lot of money behind it, and silly stuff like Dogecoin has essentially memed its way into swings that have made people a few bucks. There are a lot of others around that have done, well, whatever. I don’t follow the stuff closely at all.

The Rally platform seems to be a layer between a content creator and cryptocurrency. I don’t know the inner workings of it but it seems to hinge on a central currency known as Rally coin. Each artist has their own crypto that offers perks, much like a Patreon subscription or a fan club. There are several forthcoming perks outlined for the Megadeth currency but to date none seem to have come about.

When I saw the $MEGA thing being pounded into dust in the court of public opinion on Twitter I decided to take a different approach. I opened my mind and my wallet to the idea and bought a princely sum of the cryptocurrency representing one of my favorite bands. I put down an astonishing $10 on $MEGA.

My $10 investment yielded me 21 Mega-coins back in early December. Today as I type this post, my 21 Mega-coins are worth $5.14. I’ve lost my ass, clearly. Even after factoring in a small amount of Rally coin given as a weekly reward for investing on the site, I’m at $7 total of two currencies that are worth about 25 cents per coin.

I have not had any communication as yet about any perks for being a $MEGA coin holder. I don’t know if I’m supposed to join the fan club to see these perks or not. I’m not personally interested in joining, but I would think that if there were going to be perks available to all coin holders, that the site hosting the coin operation would be the forum to communicate that as opposed to the optional fan club. Again I don’t know anything at this point so this isn’t an outright criticism, it could be the band is waiting until their upcoming album release to offer perks, I don’t know.

It could also be that this Megadeth cryptocurrency is tanking and landed like a wet fart in church. It got laughed off of Twitter and there is almost no serious discussion of it. It is, and should be treated as, a fan perk as opposed to some way to get rich quick or whatever, but it’s still cryptocurrency. There is a LOT of resistance to crypto in all walks of life right now and I didn’t see any favorable interpretations of Megadeth’s offering. Talk is dead at this point beyond me typing about it and taking up blog space with it now.

I know several people who read my blog are in my general age range. That is, we all remember what it was like to buy albums before the Internet was around. I’m sure all of us made blind purchases based on the cover or just some random blurb we heard or read. We bought the album and played it, the immense disappointment coming when we realized we were better off wiping our asses with the money we spent on the record.

That’s kind of like what this $MEGA crap is like, except that I wasn’t making a blind purchase. I knew going in that I would have been better off using a $10 bill as toilet paper. It’s been funny watching my investment crater. I mean, losing a ten spot won’t put me in the poor house but I didn’t really gain much from this experience other than this kind of pointless post.

In the end I learned my lesson about wasting money on intangible things like cryptocurrency tied to metal musicians, though I knew that before I dropped the money. That’s money I could have wasted on Iron Maiden action figures or who knows what else. This doesn’t diminish my view of Megadeth any – this was just a dumb thing and hopefully their new album kicks ass. Maybe I’ll get a discount on it for being a proud $MEGA coin holder, but I won’t hold my breath.

The Social Media Abyss – Damon Albarn and Songwriting

A bit of drama from last week came up, well, at least before Neil Young and Spotify wiped the floor with the news cycle.

The battle was this – Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, said some stuff about Taylor Swift not writing her own songs. Taylor said stuff back, as did a lot of other people, and here we are days later.

Albarn was in Los Angeles to perform his only booked US concert of 2022 and did an interview with the L.A. Times while we was in town. In that interview, Albarn went into a conversation about songwriting and had this to say about Taylor Swift:

Not a very flattering portrait of Swift’s songwriting prowess, to be sure. This portion of the interview quickly took flight on social media and Taylor used Twitter to address Damon:

Taylor got a lot of support from people who have worked with her as well as others in the general music community. It wasn’t a good look for Damon, who made a Twitter apology to Taylor then played his solo show in L.A. Damon did acknowledge the snafu by dedicating Blur’s Song 2 to the writer of the Times piece, stating that the writer requested it before casting Albarn in the the “social media abyss.”

The crux of the issue is songwriting. Is there some higher plane of existence for someone that writes their own songs as opposed to a performer who either doesn’t write or has help doing so?

It does depend on genre. In country and pop, two areas that Taylor Swift has operated in, it doesn’t matter. Both openly source songwriters for the process. In rock music it’s more muddled. It’s often a sign of authenticity and credibility to write one’s own songs. It can be looked down upon to use outside songwriting help, though many of rock’s bigger acts have done so and benefitted from it.

In this instance the songwriting argument really doesn’t matter. Taylor Swift is known for a lot of things, and one of those things is writing her own music. That’s been a known thing since Taylor came on the scene and detractors began pushing back against her. It dates back to before 2010, when she was a huge force in country music and traditionalists were upset with her. She’s been accused of a lot of things, fair or not, but not writing her own music hasn’t really been one.

I don’t know where Damon was going with his train of thought in that interview, and in reading the words I don’t see where he got “clickbaited.” Nothing was deceptive in the interview, and the interviewer even seemed to try and steer Damon away from what he was saying. And of course the piece ran with that portion of the interview – not really clickbait, but more so offering up the thing that more people are going to read.

Had Damon Albarn not said anything disparaging about Taylor Swift, this interview would have gone unnoticed by anyone who doesn’t follow Damon. The Britpop nostalgia audience and Gorillaz fans would have seen it and it would have then been lost to the ether. Instead, Damon’s name was all over socials for a few days. He might not have intended for that and I would give him the benefit of the doubt there, but he did dig his own hole.

On the topic of songwriting – I used to be one of those people who hemmed and hawed about musicians writing their own songs. I have been primarily a metal and rock fan, and that “authenticity” is held up as a debate point against the excesses of pop music. But over the years I’ve learned to quit caring. I’ve gotten into genres like country, where songwriting is as much a factory as an art. I’ve also quit caring about arguing such points at all. No one really cares on either side of the argument and it just pisses people off. I gain nothing from the argument and fans of musicians who hire outside writers aren’t going to alter their music tastes based on someone condescending toward them about it.

I do think this is a bit of an odd turn for Damon Albarn. He’s normally a pretty likable guy and isn’t one to often put his foot in his mouth. I don’t know what he gains from trying to throw Taylor under a bus. His stature in music is pretty well set – Blur’s legacy is almost 30 years old and the Gorillaz have been a thing for over 20 years. He isn’t going to score points with anyone, especially when what he said about Taylor doesn’t hold water.

This is the part right before the conclusion where I had space reserved in case one of the Gallagher brothers chimed in on the ordeal. Noel has been mum and Liam said little about his old adversary Albarn. Instead, Liam appears to be a Taylor Swift fan and offered nothing to fan the flames of this drama.

I don’t have much more to add to the discussion of Albarn versus Swift. Taylor clearly “won” the argument that she didn’t ask to be a part of in the first place. Damon Albarn pulled off his Los Angeles show with a bit of egg on his face and will probably be fine as time moves on. And while Swifties likely won’t be happy with him for a long time, Damon can thank Neil Young for knocking his name out of the trending topics list a few days later.

Who Killed Hair Metal? Part Four

So far I’ve issued several verdicts in the case of The People versus Whoever Killed Hair Metal. I’ve found grunge, and by extension alt-rock, guilty. Guns N Roses too is guilty, having set the bar too high for anyone else to attain. And Metallica, of all people, is certainly also guilty of providing another alternative to the stale and washed up format of hair metal. Here are links to my previous rundowns in the series.

Part One – Grunge

Part Two – Guns N’ Roses

Part Three – Metallica

But in the end, we all know who is truly guilty of killing hair metal.

And no, it isn’t hair metal.

It’s ok, I’ll give you a second to process that. But you know I’m right, if only technically.

Suspect Four – The Record Labels

No, hair metal did not kill hair metal. Sure, quality control was noticeably absent in the early 1990’s just before the death knell rang from Kurt Cobain’s guitar. It can be said that hair metal was a watered-down mess that was nearly unrecognizable from the form it began on in Motley Crue’s early recordings. It couldn’t even hit the high notes of the late 1980’s, struggling to keep pace with choice recordings from the likes of Cinderella and Skid Row.

It just wasn’t there anymore. Sure, some recordings of various merit came out. The last gasp of hair metal saw acts like Slaughter, Trixter, Firehouse and Winger generate interest while also seemingly flailing against the inevitable. The party was just about over on the Sunset Strip, at least for all but the few biggest acts who had transcended the genre in various ways. Skid Row would go on for a few years of touring success. Guns N Roses had big hits with their double albums in 1991. And Motley Crue seemed poised to take on a new decade with the excellent cut Primal Scream from a greatest hits collection, only to implode in band turmoil a year later.

Everyone else was left to either die off immediately or slowly flail away. White Lion split when guitarist Vito Bratta had enough of the music industry, totally unwilling to this day to return. Poison tried their hand replacing CC DeVille with up and coming guitarist Richie Kotzen. The move produced some worthwhile music but personally backfired for everyone involved in an extramarital affair.

But Poison had a bigger name and therefore more capital than most, and were able to reestablish themselves as a worthwhile nostalgia act years later. Many other of the hair bands would fall off a cliff in terms of notoriety. Small but dedicated fanbases would turn out for shows at far-flung clubs or state fairs, but hair metal had fallen and wasn’t getting back up.

Rock music as a whole had changed. The sound that grunge ushered in led way for rock’s alternative base, something aired on college radio in the 1980’s, to truly take over and redefine the sound of rock music. The sound of late ’90’s rock was more akin to a CW TV show theme song than a big party anthem. Even legacy rock acts like the Scorpions and Def Leppard, bigger than hair metal but not immune to its movements, had to take time to readjust as their favored sound faded away. It seemed like everyone in rock music, with the exception of Aerosmith, felt some kickback from the demise of hair rock in 1991.

It wasn’t the bands that killed hair metal. No one on Earth would kill their own livelihood. The bands might be complicit in recording drek that got worse as time went on, but it wasn’t really under their own direction.

No, music is a business, and it was the record labels who were milking the hair metal cow dry. Hair rock was a fad – the gaudy fashion, the good times and fast women, the massively excessive image and music was not going to last forever. Nothing last forever in music. Those acts who see longevity have pivoted over the course of years and decades. They languished at times and then resurged when the moment was right.

The record labels were living large in the 1980’s on piles of money from overpriced albums and hoarding of profits off the backs of its artists. They churned out act after act in the course of business, without considering the artistic effects this assembly line of hair rockers was going to have.

And it wasn’t hard to find willing acts to keep the hair metal machine going. Who doesn’t want to be a rock star? Hair metal represented the zenith of excess for rock stardom. Women, parties and drugs were the order of the day. Sure, every other genre of music sees its stars indulge in the same, but hair metal put the show front and center. Take the record company’s money and head out in search of the stars. Never mind the terms of that contract and the severe unlikelihood of reaching those stars…

No, hair metal did not kill hair metal, at least in a sense. The music had gotten derivative to a point of being parody of its earliest incarnation, but the bands themselves aren’t to blame for their demise. It was the record labels, in their perpetual avarice, who truly killed hair metal and shoulder the lion’s share of guilt in the case. The entity that brought the hair metal movement to light was the same one who killed it.

It has now been 30 years since the death of hair metal. Rock music shifted course forever after 1991. There still is that “old rock” sound to be found, many legacy acts and even newer bands born of inspiration from the old days abound, though mainly in the independent scenes. While I don’t necessarily yearn for the glory days of hair and makeup, I do sometimes miss the rock music that was the underpinning of the hair metal movement and I’m glad some old school folks are keeping that kind of rock around. But modes of music distribution and information sharing have changed so much since the 80’s that there is likely no way to truly bring that scene back into existence. Things are just way too different now.

This stands as my final testament to who and what killed hair metal. The record labels bear the blame in my eyes. There is no appeal to a higher authority regarding my verdict – my judgment is final. It’s time to move on to other scenes in music for a bit, and to have nothing but a good time while doing so.

Who Killed Hair Metal? Part Three

It’s on to part three of this exploration of who killed hair metal. I’ve already rendered verdicts on grunge, the prime and obvious suspect. I’ve also convicted Guns N Roses of killing their own scene by being better than it. Check out the links below to see all that in action.

Part One – Grunge

Part Two – Guns N’ Roses

Grunge, and specifically Nirvana, get the lion’s share of blame for killing hair metal. It’s warranted, as I already went over in part one of this series. But grunge didn’t just kill hair metal. The truth is that heavy metal in all its forms was very much hurt by grunge’s influence.

Record labels weren’t only signing hair bands left and right – they were out to get on the next cash cow, and the next-heaviest thing that seemed logical to take off was thrash. The offshoot of punk had come in hard in the early ’80’s and was the polar opposite of its bastard cousin hair metal. Major record labels stocked up on thrash acts in order to be ahead of the curve and be there when thrash broke big.

The only problem was that thrash didn’t enter the music mainstream. Well, except for one band, and that band turned their back on the thrash that they helped invent and instead conquered every music chart known to man. I submit for consideration as a suspect in the murder of hair metal one of music’s most significant acts who made their own mark on 1991 – Metallica.

Suspect Three – Metallica

Metallica could have killed hair metal very early on. Lars Ulrich has told a story of his band wanting to fight Motley Crue in the streets in the early ’80’s, when both bands were getting their starts. Lars set out to find Tommy Lee and teach him a lesson on who is the bigger badass in music. Unfortunately for Lars, his 5’6” frame didn’t quite measure up to Tommy’s 6’2” stature, and Lars wisely chose to disengage.

Metallica might not have beaten up hair metal way back when, but they got to put their own nail in the coffin a decade later, even if Motley Crue themselves would outlive the death of the genre they founded.

The story is simple – Metallica arrived on the scene with an intense thrash record, they then refined their approach through songwriting and combined heavy with tasteful. They entered the 1990’s looking to do something different and hooked up with Bob Rock. The resulting record, the self-titled affair known as the Black Album, took over the world and is one of music’s best-selling records ever. The record has sold 31 million copies since release and served to catapult Metallica into the upper echelons of rock stardom, an unlikely feat for a group of nasty, long-haired geeks who cut songs like The Four Horsemen starting out.

As a whole, heavy metal did not do that well in the 1990’s. A few exceptions are noted – a brief movement from the early half of the decade loosely categorized as “alt-metal,” including Danzig and Type O Negative, saw some time in the Sun. Pantera rose to mainstream prominence as a pretty harsh act. Extreme metal bubbled toward the surface as thrash fell by the wayside, with black metal being the vanguard sound by decade’s end.

But heavy metal in the 1990’s largely belonged to one band. Metallica took over the world, one platinum certification and sold-out arena show at a time. While their sound was not the same as what they cut their teeth on, there is no denying the massive impact they had on all of music when they stole the show in 1991. Their influence lasted longer and was more far-reaching than grunge, and Metallica have sales records that outpace almost every album released in the decade, even industry titans like Shania Twain couldn’t keep pace.

But what does Metallica and their 1991 advent to superstardom mean in terms of hair metal? Hair metal was already on life support before Nirvana dealt the fatal blow that September. That summer, hair bands were already reshaping their music videos to be more plain-dressed, an effort to keep up with groups like Alice In Chains who were taking over airwaves. Gone were the gaudy shiny leather outfits and make-up of the decade prior, the bands left were scratching for a bit of relevance and a hope of lasting through the record contract they just signed.

Then Enter Sandman hit MTV on July 29, a few weeks removed from the Black Album’s release. It was a whole new ballgame the second that riff fired up. Rock could be menacing, dangerous and yet still accessible and catchy. There is no doubt that Enter Sandman is one of the catchiest songs in history. It might have been overplayed, sure, but that fatigue came later and detracts from its immediate impact on the music scene.

What did a person about to enter their freshman year of high school want to be caught dead listening to – some 12th generation hair band that was dead in the water before the first single released, or Metallica? If someone wasn’t on the grunge hype train, they’d better be sporting Metallica gear. No one could argue with that, even if Metallica had pared their sound down from the pioneering thrash days.

Metallica was a safe haven for the rocker who was caught with his bleached jeans down as hair metal made a quiet exit stage left. Was Nirvana too incomprehensible and dissonant? Check out Sad But True! Still need that feeling a good ballad generates? Nothing Else Matters and The Unforgiven scratch that itch. Metallica were just as big as hair metal – bigger, even – eventually eclipsing the mark that even Guns N Roses left on the music.

It might be something of an abstract link, but Metallica deserves some share of the responsibility for killing hair metal. It’s only fitting that the band throws darts at a picture of Winger in the Nothing Else Matters video. Metallica themselves irrevocably altered the face of rock and metal music while bands like Winger were left churning in the wake. It was the combination of a heralded reputation and the fusing of metal with accessible sounds that made Metallica one of music’s biggest bands, and that commercial likability helped give people a lifeline as they fled the sinking ship of hair metal. The alternative music wasn’t for everyone and heavy metal’s biggest act came to save the day.

Tomorrow – we deliver the final verdict on who really killed hair metal, in case anyone actually didn’t already know.

Who Killed Hair Metal? Part Two

Yesterday I opened my courtroom and began cracking the “cold case” of who killed hair metal. I visited the prime suspect, that being the grunge scene, and my findings indicated that Kurt and company were in fact culpable in the death of hair metal.

But the fact is this – they didn’t act alone. While the death of hair metal wasn’t a grand conspiracy, there were multiple assailants on the scene. And one of those assassins was born and bred in the same scene hair metal came up in – the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles.

What if hair metal didn’t really kill itself (again, we’ll get to that on Friday) but what if it was killed by itself? It begs questions of what hair metal really was and wasn’t, but there’s no doubt that a late ’80’s band left such a mark on the rock scene that it would leave other bands incapable of topping it.

Suspect Two – Guns N Roses

The biggest of the LA bands would hit in the late 1980’s with the monstrous Appetite For Destruction album. While a bit slow to catch on, this collection of tunes would eventually set the world on fire and propel GnR towards “biggest band on Earth” status. The album has gone on to sell over 30 million copies worldwide and is often found on “best album ever” lists regardless of genre.

Guns N Roses were a product of the Sunset Strip and Appetite… certainly was a hard rock/heavy metal document. It is debatable whether the band fits the “hair metal” term, though. They certainly do in general sound and geography, but their brand of rock snarled and snapped a lot more than even the most weighty hair metal offerings.

Many critics and fans do not include GnR on the hair metal roster. This seems to be often fueled by hair metal being seen as a negative term, and bands who are “better” than the moniker are left without having to wear it. It’s the same argument metal fans make when they say someone like Limp Bizkit isn’t metal, but in reverse – spare the band from the term in the case of Guns N Roses, rather than the term from the band.

I can’t really look at things that way, though. I do think Guns N Roses fits the “hair metal” scene and sound. I look at hair metal for what it is – a music scene in a place and time. Sure it has both positive and negative connotations, but the scene can be explored on a semi-objective basis.

It isn’t really fair to classify every mid- or late-80’s band as hair metal, but in the case of Guns N Roses I do think they fit the bill enough. They had the sleazy look and the party hard attitude that went with the scene. Axl Rose wasn’t just a primadonna, he was the absolute head of that table. The band brought with it chaos and drama that other acts could only hope to get a portion of.

The issue at the end of the day is music, of course. Is Appetite For Destruction a hair metal album? I can see the argument either way. The music is bigger than a lot of hair metal and the songs are bounds above the standard fare rock of the time period. The tunes move in a very aggressive direction not often found in the hair metal hordes. Even their “ballad,” Sweet Child O’ Mine, is a much more rounded song that a lot of formula-ridden hair ballads of the day.

And therein lies the point. Appetite For Destruction was such a hard rock monster that it couldn’t be replicated or even contended with. Whether or not it is a true “hair metal” album doesn’t matter – it is adjacent enough to the scene that every band out there had to contend with it. It was a juggernaut incapable of being touched, even by Guns N Roses.

And barely anyone came close to even touching the surface of GnR’s success. Motley Crue would have a hit with their 1989 record Dr. Feelgood, but that album was something of a victory lap for the band and did not approach Appetite’s greatness in any way. Of anyone, perhaps only Skid Row even scratched the surface with their 1991 effort Slave To The Grind. It was another ferocious album that bent the genre and established the group as having prime chops, but that record still did not threaten to unseat Guns N Roses as having made the biggest statement in hard rock.

Guns N Roses themselves would not touch Appetite For Destruction again. Their proper follow-ups were the Use Your Illusion albums – some great songs and clear marks of the excess of rock music, but also very bloated records that tend to crush under their own weight. (For more of my thoughts on those albums, revisit my series on them starting here.) The band would splinter apart in the mid-90’s and only reunite a few years back as a quasi-nostalgia act, with seemingly little new to contribute.

I do feel Guns N Roses is guilty of contributing to the death of hair metal. There was just no way anyone else was going to top Appetite For Destruction. Whether or not the group was really “hair metal” themselves isn’t relevant – maybe it was an inside job or maybe they were just close enough to the scene to take what worked about it and amplify that a thousand times over. Either way, the band are especially guilty of setting the bar so high that the scene they were born of could not cope.

Tomorrow – a suspect not often discussed but one that looms large over the crime scene.

Axl looks like the dude from Soul Asylum in this vid

Who Killed Hair Metal? Part One

Music has been rife with death. Many songs are about death, many great players have died, and many scenes and movements have also passed on. Hell, there’s a whole metal subgenre about the subject, started by a band with the very name.

But this isn’t about death metal. No, this is about the death of a scene in rock and metal. 1991 marked the effective end of a distinct sound from the 1980’s, that oft-maligned but still beloved entity known as hair metal.

My purpose in this series is to examine the factors that led to the demise of hair metal. There are multiple issues at hand and different angles to look at. While a lot of ink has already been spilled on the matter, I wanted to go back 30 years after the fact and cover a few points that don’t always get brought up.

This will be a 4-part series, each one with its own “suspect” in the brutal death of hair metal. Our first look will be at the prime suspect, and the next 2 parts will cover suspects that maybe slide under the radar a bit.

And yes – any of us who were around then know exactly who killed hair metal. That’s part 4 of my series coming on Friday, so please air a bit of patience while I build up to the extremely obvious answer to the question that everyone already knows damn good and well.

We have a crime, a victim and a murder scene. Now it’s time to get into it – who killed hair metal?

Trixter tried warning everyone to get on the flannel bandwagon. Their call sadly went unheard on Sunset Strip.

Suspect One – Grunge

If this were a game of Clue, the answer is simple – Kurt Cobain with the guitar in the MTV lobby is what killed hair metal. The video premeir of Smells Like Teen Spirit on September 10, 1991 is as good of a time of death as any for hair metal – Nirvana was the figurehead that shifted music forever and rendered a lot that came before them obsolete. Nothing was the same after Nirvana hit the airwaves.

Of course, grunge doesn’t actually begin with Nirvana. There were a “big 4” to grunge, just as thrash metal has its big 4. And two bands were already making early waves before 1991 – both Soundgarden and Alice In Chains were quietly gaining momentum on MTV and radio before the actual “death” of hair metal, with AIC having a long-running hit single with Man In The Box and its album Facelift going gold before grunge really even “took off.” Seattle mates Pearl Jam would join in the popular explosion of grunge, releasing their debut in August 1991 and it taking off to untold heights in the next year.

Grunge rewrote the rules for how bands should look and how music should sound. Hair metal would suffer greatly under the weight of the new regime. Grunge fashion was flannel shirts and whatever else might be laying on the bedroom floor, a far cry from the leather and diamonds glitz of hair metal. And the sound was rough, unpolished and about heavy and vulnerable topics – a world removed from hair metal’s celebration of party life, sex and ballads about love (and sex). The worlds could not be more different, even if the instruments were the same.

I do think it’s fair to use Nirvana’s ascent as the symbolic end of hair metal, even if doing so obscures several truths. It’s a quick and easy place to point to without having to raise too much fuss. I will be going far beyond Smells Like Teen Spirit in this series, but that moment was a very stark turning point in the course of music in 1991.

I don’t think it’s entirely fair to only “blame” Nirvana, or even the others of grunge’s big 4. There always was a different strain of rock music playing out long before grunge hit. Some of the acts influenced the grunge movement and others became huge stars on their own terms, free of ties to any particular movement.

The fact is this – grunge ushered in the age of alternative rock, and alt-rock subsequently took over and became rock music. But it must be noted that alternative rock was going for a long time before grunge captured the scene. College radio was filled with alternatives to the hair bands, and MTV ran the 120 Minutes progam that showcased a large variety of alternative artists before the term alternative really became a thing.

The idea of having something else besides hair metal was already there. Honestly, I’m not sure Nirvana was even necessary in the equation. That doesn’t matter, of course, as history is what it is. But the apparatus to overthrow the excesses and poor record label decisions in regards to hair metal was already in place.

Grunge itself would die a death not totally unlike hair metal. Bands that came after the Seattle legends would be derided for riding coattails by critics, although fans flocked to the likes of Stone Temple Pilots and Bush without issue. And the acutal death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 threw the grunge scene into chaos. Pearl Jam would transcend the grunge label and go on their own way, while Soundgarden and Alice In Chains would go on long hiatus (the latter also fueled by death).

The death of grunge did not lead to new life for hair metal. The bands who defined the 1980’s Sunset Strip scene were not the same as they were before. Many members had quit or died, bands went on their own hiatus and even the return of Motley Crue did not serve to reawaken the hair metal beast. Rock music had moved on and hair metal would become a movement relegated to state fairs and legions of rights disputes and multiple lineups of the same band performing at clubs all over the land.

The cultural shift of 1991 was not just a change in sound – it marked the end of ’80’s excess and ushered in a new age of self-awareness and discussion of tough issues not normally given air in conversation before. It was the true defining mark of Generation X, a group sometimes lost in today’s “civil” discourse but still very much responsible for the need for change still felt today.

I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but this is my courtroom, and I do indeed find grunge guilty of the murder of hair metal. But I don’t stop at Nirvana, or Soundgarden or the others. I find the whole of alternative rock just as guilty. Alt-rock would supplant the norms of rock music before it, both hair metal and AOR and reshape what radio and TV played. The late ’90’s saw a whole new host of bands redefine rock, and then the early 2000’s saw the advent of who has become rock’s biggest band in the modern era. As maligned as they are, there is no doubt that Nickelback took a sound and sent rock music into a direction far away from the hair and makeup glitz of the 1980’s.

Yes, grunge and alt-rock are responsible for the death of hair metal. Sometimes the obvious answer is obvious because it’s simply true. Hair metal died on September 10, 1991, having lived barely a decade. It really was Kurt Cobain in the MTV lobby with the guitar that did hair metal in, even if he had tons of assistance.

Sure, grunge had its role to play in this “murder,” but grunge was not alone. Tomorrow I’ll cast light on a different suspect – was the death of hair metal an inside job?