You Know I’m a Dreamer, But My Heart’s of Gold: A Thing About Butt Rock

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.

Not metal at all.

So many dudes thought these chicks were hot the first time they saw this album cover.

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.

Old-Ass VHS Review, Volume 2: My Headbanger’s Ball Tape

In the interest of full disclosure: I’m a packrat.  Some people might call me a hoarder, but I think there’s a line that separates the two that I haven’t crossed (yet).  I come by it honestly; my grandpa on my mom’s side was a packrat, and he accumulated so much weird shit over his lifetime that he had to build a shed in his back yard in which to house said weird shit.  He passed away when I was 2 years old, so I never got to know him, but I still remember the utter fascination I felt when I’d go into that shed as a kid, before it was torn down.  The walls were lined with license plates that he’d collected from all around the country, and there were Mason jars filled with nails, nuts, bolts, and all manner of other things that “might come in handy some day”.  One of my biggest goals in life is to have my own yard so I can build a shed to keep all my weird shit in.

The point of all this (for every now and again there is a point, you see) is that one of the things I own a lot of is Old-Ass VHS Tapes filled with things I’ve taped off TV over the years.  When I made the Big Move back to Bloomington from Austin, Texas in 2006, I actually left behind two pretty big boxes full of tapes, due to space restrictions, and although for the most part I’m not sure what was on those tapes, I miss them terribly.  I do know that one of them contained a fantastic episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but that’s a matter for another venue.  I did bring back two slightly smaller boxes of my Old-Ass VHS Tapes, and a few of them will be making appearances here sooner or later.  One of them much sooner, like right now.

As I’ve stated before,  I grew up pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and we didn’t have cable TV, so whenever I got a chance to spend a Saturday night at my cousin Nathan’s house, I almost always jumped at the chance.  I was willing to risk having to attend Sunday morning church services with my aunt and uncle just so I could watch Headbanger’s Ball on MTV.  They certainly played their share of stupid, barely-metal bullshit, but I found out about a lot of great bands on Headbanger’s Ball – Pantera comes to mind right away (I can clearly see myself standing in that living room, watching the “Cowboys From Hell” video, mouth agape, knowing that everything would be different from that point on), but there were many others.

Many of my Old-Ass VHS Tapes are filled with the most random shit, much of which I could not begin to understand why I bothered to record.  I recorded an episode of Headbanger’s Ball in 1990, and proceeded to watch the ever-living fuck out of that thing over the years, but I also recorded a lot of weird, random shit over portions of it, and what follows is the review of the Headbanger’s Ball (HBB from here on) portion of the tape.

headbangersballlogo

The Basics:

The case that the tape is kept in has a large piece of masking tape on it, which attempts to catalog the contents therein (this is a rarity for my Old-Ass VHS Tapes – most of them are a total crapshoot, which can be frustrating, but also makes for some exciting viewing every few years or so).  Here’s what the label promises:

– “Part of ‘Headbanger’s Ball’…1st Ep. of ‘Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien’…Ice-T on ‘Conan’ (very jumpy)… Slaughter live for some reason…Top 10 Lists and Viewer Mail…Carson/Leno (Kentucky Headhunters)…Metallica vids (others, too)…Bill ‘n’ Ted cartoon…’Garfield Gets a Life’… SNL w/ Rick Moranis…Springer ‘Cat Fights’…11/90 ‘Fresh Prince – Pilot, Full Song”

The tape starts out with Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted” video, but with no volume.  Keep in mind that I was 13 years old when most of this tape was made.  Immediately after, “Hard to Handle” by the Black Crowes comes to an end, then the opening sequence for HBB begins.  Host and Douchemaster General Riki Rachtman kicks things off by being a douche*, and telling us that coming up, we’ll be visiting Suicidal Tendencies on the road.  Immediately after this, the first episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien begins (from September 1993).  This is a solid episode, with John Goodman, Drew Barrymore, and Tony Randall as guests.

As soon as the episode ends, HBB cuts back in with Rachtman introducing the video for “In My World” by Anthrax.  This is followed by Suicidal Tendencies’ “Send Me Your Money”, from their excellent 1990 album Lights…Camera…Revolution.

Slaughter follows with “Spend My Life”, and then the undisputed low point of the episode, “Can’t Get Enough”, by Winger.  Side note: Eddie Trunk, radio DJ and host of VH1’s That Metal Show, has publicly complained that he believes that Winger was unfairly maligned by metal fans.  Lead singer and “bass player” Kip Winger spends almost the entirety of this video either staring lustily into the camera or doing the same spin move over and over and over again, only bothering to pretend to play his bass once (and then, one-handed).  Contrary to what Mr. Trunk believes, Winger has not received nearly enough hate over the years.  The video does have some pretty hot ladies in it, in various states of undress, so I assume that’s the reason it has managed to stay on the tape all these years.

kipwinger

Kip Winger staring lustily into a camera, circa 1990

After a commercial break, we get a road report from Mike Clark and Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, then the tape cuts into a segment from Late Night with Conan O’Brien with Ice-T as the guest.  As promised on the label, this is followed by “Slaughter live for some reason”, and it is an absolutely wretched performance by a band that was only ever mediocre at best (although I did dig “Fly To the Angels” at the time – don’t judge me, I was young!).  This is followed by the very end of a Stryper video (“Two Time Woman”)(Eddie Trunk also thinks Stryper got an unfair shake)(seriously), then footage of Suicidal Tendencies rehearsing, followed by footage of Suicidal Tendencies live on stage at L’Amour in Brooklyn, then the “#2 Skull Krusher of the Week”: “Shelter Me” by Cinderella (a band that did kind of get an unfair shake, even if their last album was  not nearly as good as their first two – but that’ll be a matter for further discussion another time).

The third hour of HBB kicks off in grand fashion, with the debut of Iron Maiden’s “Tailgunner”,  the first song off their criminally underrated 1990 album No Prayer for the Dying, followed immediately by Slayer’s “War Ensemble”, the first song off their last great album, 1990’s Seasons in the Abyss.   Because it was MTV, another commercial break follows those two videos.  After the break, Rachtman talks half-heartedly for a moment about fanzines, then introduces the debut of a video by a band called The London Quireboys.  The video for “Hey You”, which is a decent-enough Faces/Black Crowes-esque song, features a couple of scantily-clad dancers doing a lot of pelvic thrusts, so that’s pretty cool.  After that, Rachtman does a recap of the first four of the Top 5 Skull Krushers of the Week: coming in at number 5 was Poison, with “Something to Believe In” (which I’m sure Chuck Klosterman thinks is one the most metal songs of all time), followed by AC/DC’s “Money Talks” at number 4, “Touch of Evil” by Judas Priest at #3, and the aforementioned Cinderella song at #2.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen, the Number One Skull Krusher of the Week (for the second week in a row) was “Tease Me, Please Me” by the Scorpions.  This video is notable for two reasons.  First, a split-screen effect is used properly for once, by showing the band playing on one half of the screen next to the female lead in the video story getting slowly out of the swimming pool on the other half (too often, split-screen effects are used to show two or more members of the band playing at the same time, which is unnecessary and distracting).  Second, when the flames of passion finally overtake the rich, undersexed housewife and the poor, muscular maintenance worker (i.e., when the “teasing” finally becomes too much), they end up fucking (or “pleasing” each other) on top of a piano.  Well played, Scorpions…well played.

After more goddamn commercials (I still know almost every word of the commercials from this episode), Rachtman tells us that the last 30 minutes will be dedicated to “newer Headbanger’s Ball videos and bands”, including bands called Funhouse and Rhino (both of which I must not have liked, as they no longer exist on this Old-Ass VHS Tape).  He kicks off this segment by playing a video from Death Angel (who at the time had just changed their name to D.A. for some reason), “A Room With a View” from the awesome Act III (1990), which was the last album the band released until they reformed in the early 2000s.  The quality of this video is horrible, as I’ve watched it probably a hundred times or more over the years.  After that, the tape wanders off into some footage of Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman, Rita Rudner on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (absolutely no clue why I would ever have recorded that), Damn Yankees performing “Coming of Age” on Letterman, the same episode of Headbanger’s Ball restarting, then into Garfield Gets a Life, bringing my Old-Ass VHS Tape of Headbanger’s Ball to an end.

The Extras:

If the first episode ever of Late Night with Conan O’Brien isn’t enough of an extra for you, I don’t know what could possibly make you happy.

The Highlights:

The videos I shared above, plus the videos for “Tailgunner” and “Seasons in the Abyss”, plus the Conan O’Brien segment with Ice-T are all pretty great.

The VHS-ness:

The quality here is terrible, overall.  The age of the tape, as well as the repeated viewings, have made both the video quality and the audio quailty suffer drastically.  The notable exceptions are the Late Night with Conan O’Brien episode and Ice-T segment, as they were recorded 3 years after the episode of HBB.

The Bottom Line:

I would only recommend this tape to my cousin Jason, with whom I watched it almost every weekend (sometimes more than once per weekend) throughout the early 90s.  However, as in my previous Old-Ass VHS Review, if you want to come to my house and watch it with me, that’s totally cool.  Just BYOB, please.

That’s it, true believers.  Stay heavy.

*Note: Riki Rachtman was (and probably still is) certainly a douche, but at least he knew something about the music he was introducing, unlike original Headbanger’s Ball host Adam Curry, who only got the job because he had long hair.