G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1, Episode 51, “Cold Slither”
Original airdate: December 2, 1985
Written by: Michael Charles Hill
We all know that the people in charge of our pop culture like to take (and subsequently take a giant shit all over) anything and everything in the underground that they deem marketable, often with hilarious results. One excellent example of this is an episode of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero from 1985. Entitled “Cold Slither”, the episode finds world-wide terrorist leader/all-around incompetent boob Cobra Commander broke, and in debt to the tune of $200 million dollars, payable within 48 hours, thanks to some key intelligence and skillful maneuvering on the part of the G.I. Joe team.
Destro and the Baroness devise yet another patented Diabolical Cobra Scheme (patent pending), and after procuring a briefcase full of money (one million dollars, to be precise), they set off through the swamps, along with Cobra Commander, into the lair of Zartan and the Dreadnoks, where the Baroness explains the meat and potatoes of “Operation: Cold Slither”. Cobra Commander will give Zartan one million dollars (which Zartan promises to pay out to his Dreadnoks at “$5 per hour”) if he and the Dreadnoks form a rock and roll band called Cold Slither and pretend to record an eponymous hit song, along with a video of the same song. Destro will then insert subliminal messages into the song, which will put the listeners into a trance, and make them mind-slaves of Cobra. I can’t find a single flaw in that DCS.
“The only union they should be concerned with is the one between their heads and their shoulders.” – Cobra Commander
While no character actually refers to Cold Slither as a “heavy metal band”, the lyrics to the song do make mention of it, though it is difficult to hear over the sounds of the Dreadnoks wreaking havoc on the video set.
“Cold Slither”, as performed by Cold Slither
We’re Cold Slither
You’ll be joining us soon
A band of vipers
playing our tune
With an iron fist
and a reptile hiss (note: it sounds very much like they say “erectile hiss”)
we shall rule!
We’re tired of words
We’ve heard it before
We’re not gonna play the game no more
Don’t tell us what’s right
Don’t tell us what’s wrong
Too late to resist
Cause Cobra is strong
We’re Cold Slither
Heavy metal machine
Through the eyes of a lizard
In you will dream
When the venom stings
A new order brings
The song naturally ends up in the Top 20 within 3 days, and white kids all over the local school are disturbing their square old teacher with all that heavy metal racket. Meanwhile, back at G.I. Joe HQ, Shipwreck, Breaker, and Footloose fall under the spell of Destro’s subliminal messages (although a perusal of the lyrics indicates that someone maybe doesn’t really understand the meaning of “subliminal”), causing them to go AWOL to the “sports arena”, along with thousands of unwitting teenagers, to watch an electrifying performance by Cold Slither. At this point, we become privy to Cobra Commander’s true intent: after getting the sold-out crowd good and brainwashed, he surrounds the stadium with HISS tanks, and announces to the parents who happen to be watching television at that particular moment that their children are being held hostage. Their release is contingent upon payment of $100 billion, due in two hours.
Lady Jaye comes up with a scheme of her own – she, Cover Girl, and Scarlet go undercover as “fans” (groupies) and infiltrate the Dreadnoks’ dressing room, where they beat up the blundering dummies, learn the location of the command center, and knock the Dreadnoks out with some gas disguised as perfume. They bust into the control room, where Cobra Commander, Destro, and the Baroness wonder why the ladies weren’t hypnotized by the music. Lady Jaye removes her earplugs to find out what the villains are discussing, prompting Destro to ask, “So you knew about the subliminal messages?” “No,” says Scarlet, “we knew your taste in music.”
Cobra Commander proceeds to incapacitate the Joes by pressing a button that unleashes a terrible sound, shattering the windows to the control room, through which he escapes, along with his cohorts. The crowd comes out of their trance and, prompted by Shipwreck’s parrot, Polly, begins shouting that they want music. Rock ‘n’ Roll (the Joe team member, not the music) suggests that since the people came to see a concert, it’s not really fair to send them home without one. “Are you thinking what I think you’re thinking?” Duke says. Breaker then introduces to the audience “the greatest rock ‘n’ rollers in the land, the Average Joe Band”. They launch into a poppy version of the G.I. Joe theme song, which is so bad it makes you want to hear “Cold Slither” again, and then the credits roll.
What can we glean from this so-bad-it’s-good episode of one of my most beloved TV shows as a child? Well for one, it makes me assume that episode writer Michael Charles Hill was a very out-of-touch old man who had never actually heard a rock ‘n’ roll song, let alone a heavy metal song.
Looking at the episode in a cultural context brings some interesting things to light. First, the original airdate of the episode was December 2, 1985, which was just over one year and one month after John McCollum shot himself in the head with his father’s gun while listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s debut solo album Blizzard of Ozz (1980) in his bedroom. McCollum’s suicide prompted his parents to deflect responsibility for their son’s actions toward a song on that album called “Suicide Solution”, which they claimed contained “hidden lyrics” which drove their son to take his own life (“get the gun and try it, shoot, shoot, shoot”), but which was actually about a person slowly taking their own life with drugs and alcohol.
Also of interest is that 21 days after this episode aired, James Vance and Ray Belknap got drunk and high, “allegedly listened to Judas Priest”, then shot themselves. Belknap died instantly, but Vance survived with a mangled face for three more years before dying from an overdose of painkillers. The parents of these two dummies claimed that Priest’s cover of the Spooky Tooth song “Better By You, Better Than Me” (from Stained Class – 1978) contained a backward message (“Do it.”) which prompted their sons to take their own lives. Who could guess that the writers of G.I. Joe had their collective finger so firmly on the pulse of America?
I also find it interesting when we consider the state of heavy metal in December 1985: Iron Maiden was on top of the world, thrash metal was beginning its explosion out of the underground, the opening shots of crossover thrash had been fired, glam metal was less than one year away from becoming what most people would forever think of when they hear the term “heavy metal”, and Pantera was still more or less a KISS cover band. Also, just over two months before “Cold Slither” aired, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister testified (very intelligently) before the PMRC Senate hearings, regarding censorship in rock music. And while it was not entirely related to heavy metal, the United States was mired in the throes of the “Satanic Panic” at this point in its often absurd history.
And with all this going on, Michael Charles Hill thought that Cold Slither was what a heavy metal band might look and sound like. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
Stay heavy, y’all.