Something every teenager needs in his life is heavy metal. As soon as I hit my teens I started buying Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and other rock magazines. The first that struck me was the imagery. All that leather and make-up, fake blood and bad attitude. There was something alluringly dangerous about it all. And it also fit nicely with my budding horror fascination.
In the mid-late late eighties there was an explosion of cock rock. Acts like Bon Jovi, WASP, Skid Row, Poison, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Whitesnake, and many others became regular fixtures in the UK Top 40. Rock stalwarts like Alice Cooper and Kiss re-emerged, and even the Scorpions and Winger’s of the world were having hits. For a few years it was like living in heavy metal heaven.
Some of my favourite albums of the time were Who Made Who (AC/DC, 1986), Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi, 1986), So Far, So Good, So What (Megadeth, 1988), Appetite for Destruction (Guns n Roses, 1987), Hysteria (Def Leppard, 1987), Girls, Girls, Girls (Motley Crue, 1987), Justice For All (Metallica, 1988), Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith, 1987), and 5150 (Van Halen, 1986).
If you’ve read this far, I’m pretty sure I just named at least two of your all-time favourite albums. Heady days, indeed.
Even if Justice For All sounded like it was produced by an eleven-year old, it mattered little as even that was soon eclipsed by the awesome beast that was Metallica, Black Album, or strictly-speaking, the album that had no name. This was the album that defined the era, though it really shouldn’t have been a hit. It was released in 1991, after metal’s heyday, had no title, limited PR, and no cover art, save for a small barely-visible coiled snake on the front. What it did have, though, was power.
Around this time I developed a penchant for limited edition collectors items. Picture discs, coloured vinyl, poster-sleeves, that kind of thing. Like millions of others, I fell right into the record company’s trap. You see, some of these ‘collectors items’ had extra b-sides or remixes and stuff, making them must-have’s for every self-respecting fan, so often you bought multiple formats just to get the extras. Or even just because they looked pretty. Style beat substance every time.
You didn’t even mind spending the money, safe in the knowledge that your limited collector’s edition Rush Prime Mover 7-inch white vinyl would only increase in value over time. You came to think of your record collection, bloated with all its fancily-packaged collector’s items, as some kind of investment for the future. A kind of nest egg. The big record labels tricked you into believing that you were actually being responsible by going out and spending all your disposable income on records every weekend.
But how many people have actually gone to the trouble of painstakingly valuing their record collection, item by item? I have. And I can tell you it was a truly depressing experience. Because what the record companies didn’t tell you at the time was that they produced these ‘limited collector’s editions’ in such bulk, and distributed them so well, that everybody had them. If you happen to have any of these half-forgotten gems gathering dust in your attic, my advice is to leave them there for another couple of decades. Apart from the odd exception (Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast 7-inch red vinyl, anyone?) they are probably worth less now in monetary terms than what you paid for them all those years ago.
Metal is one of those intriguing musical genres made up of dozens of different sub-genres. Apart from the aforementioned cock rock, there was (or has been) black metal, speed metal, thrash metal, death metal, nu metal, rap metal, funk rock, Christian rock, Adult Oriented Rock, progressive rock, glam rock, and industrial rock, to name but a few. The tragedy is that after a certain amount of time has passed, regardless of previous genre, all these bands get lumped together in the all-encompassing ‘classic rock’ category. There’s a line in a Bowling For Soup song… “When did Motley Crue become classic rock?”
That’s a damn good question.
I remember buying Guns n Roses’ Appetite For Destruction as if it was yesterday. I can’t believe it must have been the summer of 1988, which would make it almost 25 years ago. I bought the vinyl LP, in the sleeve featuring the robot rape scene that was later banned. I got the record on holiday in a Welsh seaside town called Porthcawl. We were staying in a caravan. That meant there was no record player, so all I could do for a solid week was stare at that sleeve, read the lyrics, and lovingly caress the record trying to imagine what it would sound like when I was finally in a position to play it.
Interesting sidenote on collectibles… I was one of the lucky few who got the album in its original sleeve featuring the infamous robot rape scene, just before Sweet Child O’Mine turned G N’ R into global megastars, Axl Rose disappeared up his own ass, and the original sleeve was withdrawn due to a public outcry.
In those days, if you were going to be a metalhead, you had to dress accordingly. My uniform during my teens comprised of a pair of black cowboy boots, ripped jeans, and heavily ‘customized’ t-shirt. One of my favourites was a black Madonna t-shirt, which I ripped down the middle and held together with safety pins. I would like to say it was a statement against the evils of pop music, but I wasn’t that deep back then. I just liked the image. The look was topped off with a black leather jacket complete with tassels on the sleeves (yep, tassels), a string tie featuring a stag’s skull, and a single, black, fingerless leather glove, which I wore everywhere. Oh, and before I started having real tattoos, I used to draw them on with a biro. I must have looked like a complete prick. But I thought I looked cool, and maybe that was all that mattered at the time.
I never had long hair. The furthest I ever got to having long hair was maintaining a mullet for a while. This was the eighties, and mullets were still socially acceptable. Having long, flowing, blonde locks never really appealed to me. It would require a lot of maintenance, and I’d probably wake up most mornings with a mouth full of my own hair. Not something I aspired to!
But then, as the eighties gave way to the nineties, something called grunge happened, having the same effect on hair metal as that massive blazing meteorite had on the dinosaurs. Almost overnight, rock and metal virtually ceased to exist.
Well, that isn’t strictly true. Most bands struggled gamely on for a while. Some even lasted long enough to make comebacks years later. But in the immediate aftermath of grunge, most rock and metal bands just looked confused by it all and walked around in a daze struggling to understand how they had gone from playing football stadiums to grimy rock clubs in the space of a few short months and nobody bought their records any more. It was painful to watch, and it also meant the end of the heavy metal clobber. Kurt Cobain has (had?) a lot to answer for.
Coming soon: A Musical Odyssey Part 3!