Unpopular Opinion: Don't Call It "Hair Metal," Just Call It Rock 'N' Roll
Cinderella on the cover of Night Songs, aka their glory years
Following up from my Hall and Oates essay, I decided it was time to talk about another musical “guilty pleasure” for those not quite cool enough to abandon the idea of guilty pleasures. I’m talking about what the common folk call “hair metal,” but what has alternately been called glam metal, sleaze metal, or pop metal. In the words of Tesla, “Call it what you want/It’s all music to me.” I just call it rock 'n' roll.
It’s bizarre to me that people are walking around listening to the Stooges or the New York Dolls but are incapable of appreciating so-called “hair metal.” The riffs on your typical Cinderella or Ratt song are pretty indistinguishable from the Stones licks that Johnny Thunders built his career on stealing. The main difference lies in production, and on this, poodle rock definitely got the shaft. At the risk of being “that guy,” some of those records sound like total dogshit on CD — but when you play them on wax, they really come to life.
When talking about hair metal, you need to talk about the two bands that simultaneously defined and transcended the idiom. The movement kicks off with Mötley Crüe and pivots into ridiculous levels of mainstream ubiquity with Guns N’ Roses. Thus, we see the movement separated into two different waves. The first remained relatively underground, had more grit, and lacked much in the way of polish. The second was full of grinning, neon-clad pretty boys who ultimately led the genre to its over-saturation and demise.
I’m not even sure one is better than the other. The first gave us the criminally underappreciated Kix, Dokken (who allegedly were told to eschew glam in favor of grunge by their management and felt really stupid sometime around 1992), the deliciously dirty W.A.S.P., and the thunderous Twisted Sister, who, perhaps more than any band besides the terrible twosome of GnFnR and Crüe, successfully straddled the line between punk and metal, albeit in a very different way than bands like the Plasmatics or Charged GBH.
The second wave, while much more polished and commercially accessible, gave us a ton of killer riffs from classic bands like Poison; Warrant (in my personal opinion, the undisputed non-Guns kings of the second wave); also-rans like Danger Danger and Tesla, who absolutely slay; noted composer Kip Winger’s mononymous, prog-inflected project; and Dr. Feelgood, the best Crüe album since Too Fast for Love.
In short, “hair metal” isn’t a guilty pleasure or a joke — it’s as indispensable a part of rock history as proto-punk, '60s garage, or the New Wave of British heavy metal. Those who laugh at it only show the world how ignorant they are about what makes for good rock 'n' roll.
A relevant epilogue: One of my favorite memories of Los Angeles is hanging out outside the Roxy, smoking cigarettes and talking about obscure '70s prog-rock bands with a longhair. He then brings up playing with Faster Pussycat.
“You were in Faster Pussycat?”
“I am Faster Pussycat.”
Point of the story being, Taime Downe was as comfortable talking about some flute-rock shit from Canterbury as he would be Exile on Main St. or the Dictators or a million other rock 'n' roll bands. Because that’s what happens when you’re a fan of good rock. You’re able to appreciate all of it.
By the way, if anyone from AC/DC is reading this, you might want to go with Tom Keifer if Axl doesn't work out. Just a thought.
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