A couple of days ago, a co-worker asked me about my opinion of the “hair metal” genre, and I replied with the gusto which is the norm when anyone asks me what I think about pretty much any genre of music, which is to say, I believe he may have regretted asking me. Continuing along the usual path of such an occurrence, here we are over 48 hours later, and I’m still giving the question entirely too much thought. This leads me to believe that I need to write it out, because it’s a good way to elucidate my thoughts and it’s a good way to get it all out of my head, and, perhaps most importantly, because if I’m not gonna write in this blog, what’s the point of keeping it?
I’ll start by saying that I’ve always disliked the terms “glam metal” and “hair metal”, because when people hear those terms, they think of bands like Poison, and regardless of your opinion of Poison, you have to admit that calling them “metal” is about as accurate as calling Taylor Swift “country”. Both are obviously examples of pop music – perhaps metal-influenced pop when talking about Poison (and that’s on their very heaviest stuff), or in the case of Ms. Swift, perhaps country-flavored pop, but at their cores, Poison and Taylor Swift are clearly both pop acts. I’ve heard the term “cock rock” in the past, and although I am a sucker for a good rhyme, I don’t entirely like that term. My wife refers to the stuff as “butt rock”, and so far that’s the term I’ve preferred, so from here on, this is the term I’ll use.
I have no interest in giving a history lesson on the origins and early days of butt rock, but it’s worth noting that the New York Dolls, Kiss, and Aerosmith were all early influences on the auditory, visual, and theatrical stylings of what we’ve come to know (and love?) as butt rock, as was Van Halen, with EVH’s blazing guitar wizardry/wankery and DLR’s high kicks and soul-shattering wails. Def Leppard began to bring in poppier elements on their second album (High ‘n’ Dry – 1981), Twisted Sister released their debut album Under the Blade in 1982, and Quiet Riot released the first butt rock-tinged album to reach number one on the Billboard charts (Metal Health) in 1983, but they were all musically much heavier than what would begin to surface a few short years later.
Ratt and W.A.S.P. followed with heavy-ish albums (Out of the Cellar and W.A.S.P., respectively) in 1984, and in 1985, previously heavy sleaze rockers Mötley Crüe released their pop-slathered third album, Theatre of Pain, and soon the floodgates opened, with the likes of Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Poison, Stryper, and, eventually, Firehouse, Britney Fox, and (shudder) Winger exploding to top of the charts. Established, reputable hard rock and metal acts like Whitesnake, Scorpions, Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne began to incorporate elements of butt rock into their sound and image, and soon, 9 out of 10 people in the United States of America thought that “The Final Countdown” was a heavy metal song.
More directly to the original question, re: my opinions on butt rock, I like some of it, because I have ears and I’m not dumb (even if I did just misspell “dumb” four times), and because I was a kid when it was huge, so, nostalgia. I will rarely listen to Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” or Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” on purpose, but when I do (or if they come on when I’m somewhere else), I will enjoy the fuck out of them. I am especially a sucker for a well executed power ballad – Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” and “Without You”, Enuff Z’nuff’s “Fly High Michelle”, Mr. Big’s “To Be With You”, and Extreme’s “More Than Words” are a few butt rock slow jams which I am unashamed to admit that I find to be particularly sweet. It’s important to remember, however, that not a single one of these bands is a heavy metal band, nor are any of these songs heavy metal songs, no matter what Chuck Klosterman thinks.
Looking beyond individual songs, though, there are a few bands found under the “glam metal” umbrella that I legitimately enjoy. I absolutely adore Faster Pussycat’s second album, Wake Me When It’s Over (1989), and I consider Cinderella to be the Deftones of the “hair metal” genre, in that both bands are much, much more talented than a majority of their peers in their respective genres. Cinderella’s second album, in particular (1988’s Long Cold Winter) is a beautifully crafted piece of work so deeply steeped in the blues that I sometimes get a little bit sad just thinking about it. I also really enjoy everything from Def Leppard up to and including 1987’s Hysteria, even if that album is as absurdly overproduced as it is absurdly multi-platinum, and I enjoy a few of the songs that came after that.
And it should go without saying that I love Guns ‘n’ Roses, but I’ll mention them here anyway, because even though they transcended the genre from the very first notes of “Welcome to the Jungle”, they still often get lumped in with shit like Warrant and Slaughter (both of which have songs I enjoy), but Appetite for Destruction is obviously one of the greatest albums released by any band or artist in the 1980’s.
I don’t know what else I can really say about the genre as a whole that hasn’t already been said in a more educated and intelligent manner somewhere else [see the “Glam Metal” episode of VH1 Classic’s excellent 11-part series Metal Evolution, for starters (part 12, “Extreme Metal”, was too extreme for VH1 Classic, and is available to purchase online, which you should do as soon as you finish reading this piece)], so I’ll just share some of my favorite butt rock songs with you, the reader.
I’ll begin with a few of the bands and/or songs mentioned above.
Faster Pussycat had a couple of hits off Wake Me When It’s Over, both of which are great (“Poison Ivy” and “House of Pain”, the latter of which is a sort of “Cat’s in the Cradle” for the MTV generation, and boasted a video directed by a young Michael Bay), but it’s two of the deeper cuts that really make this album stand out. “Cryin’ Shame” is inspired by the true story of Ricky Kasso, a Long Island teenager who murdered a friend because Satan told him to (it’s also from whence the title of the album comes), and “Tattoo” is more straightforward butt rock, but it’s a really fun song, about an overly obsessed old flame who shows up in town with “my name tattooed on the backside of her frame”.
Cinderella released four singles from Long Cold Winter, with “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” being the biggest (unless you’ve been deaf since May 20, 1988, there’s no way you haven’t heard it), and “Gypsy Road” being the most like their more raw debut, Night Songs (1986), but “Coming Home”, which reached number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, is definitely my favorite song from this album. The title track is also great, and feels especially relevant right now, with much of the United States getting absolutely blasted by shitty winter weather.
With no added pomp, because Def Leppard requires none, here are a couple of my favorite Def Leppard songs, “Photograph”, from Pyromania (1983), and “Animal”, from the aforementioned Hysteria.
And just because I think that too few people know these songs, I’ma share “New Thing” and “Fly High Michelle” from Enuff Z’nuff (who are so much better than their name and appearance would understandably lead you to believe). Both videos are utter shit, but I dig the songs quite a bit, especially “Fly High Michelle”.
There are a few songs that fall under the “power ballad” tag that I can not imagine getting tired of. First and foremost is “Wind of Change” by German hard rock juggernaut Scorpions. Hearing this song causes a memory flood so fearsome that I can barely stay afloat. It literally does not matter what I might doing or who I might be talking to, if I hear “Wind of Change”, I can guarantee you that the song is getting more of my attention than anything or anyone else around me.
White Lion was/is a total cheesefest, but “When the Children Cry” gives me goosebumps. Part of that is no doubt linked to memories of my sixth-grade friend Amber, who really loved the song, and who was killed in a car accident during our senior year in high school. Amber was a rad person, and she always stood up for me when the dummies in our class told me the music I listened to was satanic. We drifted apart during grade 7, but she’ll always have a place in my heart, and I’ll think of her every time I hear White Lion, and especially this song.
Rest easy, Amber.
I’ve accidentally made myself sad, so I’m gonna wrap this up. I didn’t really know where it was going anyway. What do you think about butt rock, power ballads, and the songs and bands I’ve mentioned? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments.
Thanks for reading, and remember, to stay heavy, even when you’re listening to “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn”.
P.S. Modern butt rock revival acts like The Darkness and Steel Panther can all fuck off.