Why did you listen to Poison?
June 10, 2011 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Heavy metal hair band music. What made it popular? What was it -- musically -- about Def Leppard, Poison, Motley Crue, Ratt, Warrant, Cinderella, etc. that made it hyper attractive and super popular for its time? What were you listening for, exactly?

It's been more than twenty years since Nirvana killed the hair band, and there hasn't been an expected resurgence in that particular style, but its direct predecessors (Zeppelin, KISS, etc) continue to be considered classics.

So, what was it that made it popular?

Was it the power chords? All three of them?
Was it the lyrics? "♪ Do you take sugar? ♪ One lump or two? ♪"
Was it the relentless 4:4 beat? Used in nearly all rock music everywhere?

Was it just MTV?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
What were you listening for, exactly?

Personally, as a 12-13 year old, I was listening for anything on the radio that sounded even remotely as angry, hopped up, and horny as I felt.

Once a friend's older brother turned me onto Black Sabbath and The Cramps, though, I almost immediately lost interest.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:03 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

High energy, wicked guitar solos, some extreme musicality. A dash of nerdy fantasy in many of the bands.

It kind of came back though. The Darkness and DragonForce were mainstream, and there are certainly lots of successful metal bands if not all as glitzy and glam as some from the 80s.

If I need to get excited about something, nothing beats Rock of Ages by Def Leppard or almost any DragonForce song. Like stop a bus with my bare hands and fly my prototype armor suit at mach 3. Thank you, metal bands.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:05 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a child of the '80s, but this was never exactly my favorite kind of music. I think the video format, which was not exactly brand new but which the network Friday and Saturday night video shows in the early '80s and MTV took to a new level, certainly made the visual presentation more important, and these bands had that.

So I don't think it was *just* MTV (after all, KISS was popular in the late '70s), but it certainly helped - I think it took that particular genre and made it arguably the dominant teen music for a while.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:09 AM on June 10, 2011

I think it had more to do with the look than the music. Girls thought all these long haired guys were hot, and teenage boys thought they looked tough. Plus, most of the music consumption at the time was via MTV so you had over the top videos with these hot, tough guys doing all sorts of crazy antics and kids eat that shit up.

The music really followed a formula so most of the songs were "good" enough pop songs that anyone falling for the look would like the music enough.

I hated those hair bands, so when Metallica came on the scene and they were just guys in jeans and t-shirts it was kind of awesome. They eventually succumbed to rockstardom, but for a while they felt very genuine.

I saw Poison open for David Lee Roth and they were HORRIBLE, but they said stuff like "I can't think of anywhere better than Boston to play this song for the first time" or "NOBODY ROCKS HARDER THAN BOSTON" and they won over the crowd, even with shitty music.

Also, if Joe Eliot heard you include Def Leppard in that category he would probably want to fight you.
posted by bondcliff at 11:13 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

High energy, wicked guitar solos, some extreme musicality.

Don't forget the ballads though. Most of the big hair metal bands had at least one power ballad single (like Heaven by Warrant or Is This Love by Whitesnake) and it a lot of cases that ended up being more popular than their normal metal songs. I think that aspect of what hair metal was about carried over into the 90s with bands like Creed and Nickelback, or nu-metal bands that put out acoustic ballad singles.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think a lot of it had to do with quality pop songs. Motley Crue, for example, had some really great hooks and quite a few of the big hair hits from that era are memorable.
posted by josher71 at 11:21 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do Def Leppard and Poison really have much in common? Def Leppard is usually considered NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) and Poison was pure glam. Def Leppard has more in common with Iron Maiden than the gals in Poison.

And we will not discuss Motley Crue.

I wonder if a significant part of it was that the girls liked these bands and the guys liked them because the bands sang about boobies and there would be girls at the concerts. Musically they weren't up to much, so I'm assuming the theatricality of it was a huge draw.

And did you actually write the phrase "Zeppelin, KISS, etc". That like writing "Bob Dylan, Justin Bieber, etc" or "George Carlin, Dane Cook, etc". Are you trying to start a fight?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

Accessibility, maybe? If I bought the right clothes, and fixed my hair the right way, and learned a few chords, I could be these guys, in a way I could never be Zeppelin, KISS, etc. I mean, they weren't great, musically, and not the best-looking guys, or great dancers or anything, not any better than me, you know.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2011

One of the few things I (sometimes) watch on TV is late night Metal Mania on VH1, which is mostly 80s hair metal. A lot of the songs are (still) crap, but it's wicked fun to look at. The spandex, the mullets, the silk scarves, the strutting and the pouting.

So yeah, I think it was mostly the visual appeal. In my experience, when I mention some of those bands, people will remember what they looked like but not their songs as much.
posted by monospace at 11:23 AM on June 10, 2011

I don't think it's quite right to lump Def Leppard or Ozzy in with Cinderella and Motley Crue. They're fairly different musical styles and subjects and very different presentation.

For starters, Def Leppard had two lead guitarists and featured keyboards and complex arrangements much more prominently. Iron Maiden wrote songs about books (The long distance runner), Poems (Rime of the ancient mariner) or history (Aces High). Metallica had these long operatic songs dominated by deep, dark themes - again referencing literature (For whom the bell tolls, Call of Ktulu) or mental illness (Sanitarium, Master of Puppets).

Motley Crue's biggest hit was "Girls Girls Girls" which yeah, any teenaged boy could get behind - but really Van Halen did it better and with a lot more style.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:24 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

The over-the-top looks and antics of those guys sometimes serves to obscure the fact that they were seasoned professional musicians.

I'm not necessarily a fan of those types of bands, but when 70's prog and Steely Dan and all those crazy players in the top rock bands of the time got destroyed by punk music and music anti-intellectualism, rock musicians with chops of the 80's turned to hard rock and metal in its various forms.

Listen to the actual music sometime, you'll hear how carefully put together it is. Listen to how precise the bass lines are. Metal's level of musicianship is very high, and not just because of shredding. Metal bands compose their music, even hair metal bands. Each pick squeal, every thudding quarter note from the bass, every screech and scream and vibrato, every note of the guitar solo. It is all scrutinized and the most metal option chosen.

If you think that is soulless, you think Beethoven is soulless.
posted by TheRedArmy at 11:26 AM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, consider the competition. If I remember my summers right, the summer of Pour Some Sugar on Me was the same year as Cocomo, Red Red Wine, and Parents Just Don't Understand (along with even worse options). It was one of the options with more feeling and intensity, speaking as a lay person radio listener.
posted by salvia at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Go listen to Motley Crue - Home Sweet Home. Tell me that shit isn't awesome.
posted by empath at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Because it was fun.

In the 80's, you and your high school friends got together and hung out by the pool and plugged in the boombox and you put in your Def Leppard tape and you turned the volume way up because 80's music was the soundtrack to a good time.

You and three or four of your pals piled into your car and headed out to beach for a weekend of fun. You rolled down the windows, drove fast, turned up the volume, and you put Poison on the stereo because driving fast with the windows down to the sounds of loud raucous rock and roll is fun.

80s music made you feel good.

Kurt Cobain and his unshowered legions of flannel-wearing mope-rockers came along and suddenly it wasn't cool to have fun any more. Instead of being fun and making you want to drive to the beach for a weekend of fun, rock music made you wish it would rain so you could hitchhike to Seattle and work at Starbucks. You didn't listen to music to feel good any more; you listend to music to feel bad. Nirvana and Pearl Jam were force multipliers that turned garde-variety bad moods into bullshit overblown teenage angst.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:29 AM on June 10, 2011 [32 favorites]

They were the rocking thing on the radio at the time. You may not believe me, but try listening to the competition. Top 40. New Wave (most of it). Sting. Dire Straits. Peter Cetera. The competition, in terms of people making rock songs, wasn't heavily available.
posted by furiousthought at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Parents hated it.

I mean, honestly, isn't that the real reason any music becomes popular?
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dude, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Talk Dirty to Me" are FUN. And sexy/naughty, in a high-schooler kind of way. Drive around, windows down, summer kind of music.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:34 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should absolutely read Fargo Rock City by Chuck Kolsterman which directly addresses this, and many other musically related questions. Plus, it's hilariously written. It will provide more explanation that you thought possible.
posted by Rewind at 11:35 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

People liked Hair Metal because it was fun, raunchy, and a bit naughty. It satisfied the need for something less anodyne than standard chart pop but while still remaining firmly within the bounds of accessibility, i.e. it was 'heavy' and therefore got the adrenaline going, but not 'too heavy'. It was anti-intellectual (GIRLS! BEER! MOTORBIKES! PARTIES! STICKING YOUR TONGUE OUT AT THE CAMERA!) which always has mass appeal. It didn't take itself too seriously. It was fist-in-the-air sing-along anthemic music for people who wanted to rebel but weren't brave enough or clever enough to actually rebel properly against anything. It has just the right level of macho (sleeveless vests, biceps, tight jeans, posturing guitar solos).
posted by The Discredited Ape at 11:36 AM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was right about 13 when I was totally in love with Joe Elliott (of Def Leppard). My stepsister (same age) loved Bret whathisname from Poison. I think we liked the energy of rock music, but most of the other frontmen of rock groups were ... not attractive (whatshisname from AC/DC, for example). So, hot guy + fun music = good time.
posted by desjardins at 11:38 AM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hair metal was the ridiculous pop music of its time, wasn't it? It was ridiculous and entertaining and catchy and oh my god, how our parents hated it.
posted by elizardbits at 11:40 AM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Hair metal took the rebellion of punk, made it more fun and less dangerous, and commercialized the living hell out of it. I would argue that it was really Guns N Roses that killed hair metal though. GnR played similar music, but they were dangerous. They had more in common with the Rolling Stones in the early 70s than with Poison. With hair metal, there was always this sense that the guys in the band may OD on something, but otherwise they were essentially harmless. GnR was dangerous. They changed the vibe of popular music.
posted by COD at 11:41 AM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Good point on ballads above. "Give Me Something To Believe In" was the Poison single I bought.

You didn't mention Bon Jovi or Guns & Roses, but those were the gateways to these bands for me. I only listened to Cherry Pie and Love In An Elevator after wearing out my Bon Jovi and GnR tapes. The other options that summer were like Depeche Mode, EMF ("It's unbelieveable!"), Boys 2 Men (which I only appreciate in retrospect), New Kids on the Block, and Extreme's "More Than Words."
posted by salvia at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2011

Ooh one more thing. Being in a heavy metal hair band was the height of a particular sort of aspiration: all the money, all the women, all the wild parties. The rock star lifestyle. You saw that post about Led Zeppelin's jet? That. Sure, Bono probably made more cash, but he wasted his time caring about stuff. If you wanted to be on top of the adolescent world, imagining yourself in a heavy metal hair band was where it was at. Every one of them was like their own Jay-Z.
posted by furiousthought at 11:46 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

what made that stuff popular? I would it's SIZE - the production was big, the hair was big, the tours were big -- big, big, big. The bigger the better, even when it was clearly "over the top" -

- i remember LAUGHING with my friends over the audacity/pompousness of this song:
Still of the Night, but we still cranked it. -
posted by mrmarley at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was the fashion, and the people performing it seemed to be having an excellent time with lots of hot women, and it was just as overblown emotionally as the later Seattle stuff - which was a good thing, 'cause it meant you got to have lots of melodramatic teenage feelings going on while listening to power ballads or whatever. Or it was just rock, and at the time everyone looked so cool.

I don't know, it was the eighties. America needed music to accompany the idea that excess was a good thing. It was a moment.

Plus, parents fuckin' hated it, which is as much an endorsement of any music as any teenager needs.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:01 PM on June 10, 2011

Remember that this was before the internet...and IIRC correctly before CDs, before CD burners, etc etc. Before amazon and grooveshark and filesharing and CD burners. If you couldn't drive and didn't live in a city, what was on your [mediocre] radio station was pretty much your range of choices for music, along with the very limited selection of more interesting stuff at your basic suburban/mall record shop.

A lot of folks couldn't afford cable, among them my family.

In my early teens in a provincial suburb, the choice was pretty much hair bands or boy bands or the absolute mendacity of stuff like Rick Astley. It was a huge deal to go to a record shop and find, say, a late Pogues record like Peace and Love.

And information was scarcer. I listened almost entirely to terrible, terrible music until I was about 15, when I started going out with a boy who liked Pink Floyd a lot. I never liked Pink Floyd at all, but he was allowed to drive and could take me to our edge-city version of an alternative record shop, plus he actually knew a few things about music.

My other big moment with music - one among the arty disaffected crowd (who were all allowed to go into Chicago and thus had more resources) had scribbled some Smiths lyrics on the wall at school. Who were these "Smiths", I wondered, and why were their lyrics unlike the other things I listened to?

I had fairly esoteric taste for my provincial suburb, and by my late teens all I'd accumulated was Clash albums, the Smiths, the Mekons' later work, the Pogues, Gang of Four and some bits and pieces of Chicago industrial music. That's all there was unless you knew about tiny record labels, zines and mail order.

I don't think I even heard any non-parody/non-TV-commercial level rap until I was at college.

And that's why I, briefly, liked hair bands.
posted by Frowner at 12:07 PM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Though I have since moved on, when I was 13 I couldn't get enough of the glam/hair metal, Crue, Poison, Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz, Cinderella, Bang Tango tons of others you have never heard of. If you listen today to the first Crue album, Too Fast for Love, and you can't hear the hunger, energy, aggression, balls of those young men at that time in their lives then nothing anyone says in this thread is going to make sense.

90% of that glam metal ooze appears in hindsight today to be absolute crap but there are a few gems (like Too Fast For Love) that serve as an example of what was going on and why it was attractive.

I think Guns' Appetite for Destruction is the pinnacle of this, take all the energy of the glam/hair metal to that point and then replace the hornyness with paranoia and fear and you have Guns N Roses, which served as very much a bridge between that 80's hair and the 90's flannel.
posted by Cosine at 12:14 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I couldn't stand hair metal in the '80s -- truly, I was its sworn enemy -- and I always loved Def Leppard (even though I felt the need to hide my Def Leppard records, being the new wave chick that I was) and then Guns n' Roses. Entirely different class of music from fourth-rate Dolls knock-offs like Poison, etc.
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on June 10, 2011

Was it the power chords? All three of them?

If you were a guitar player, you'd know how foolish this statement is. Yes, there were a number of (very popular) 3-chord hair band songs, but those were not what the average fan of the genre was listening to -- they're just the songs that were radio-friendly enough to get airplay and attract the top-40 crowd's attention.

I liked the music because it was just about the only thing being written at the time that had any level of musicianship. Listen to Queensryche, Dokken, and yes, even (sometimes) Poison and Skid Row. Not only was the music aggressive, which appealed to me the same way the Dead Kennedys and other punk (so much of which really IS 3 chords) did. But it gave me something to strive for musically, and was a gateway to SO MUCH other music. It had interesting elements of jazz (David Lee Roth Band), classical (Iron Maiden, Yngwie), and blues (Whitesnake, Cinderella) that were totally lacking in most 80's pop-music like Madonna and Janet Jackson. The vapid lyrics were a smokescreen to what was going on musically underneath.

And, of course, there's the fact that being one of the few long-haired metal guys in a school of U2 fans got me laid a lot.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by buzzman at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

Fun is a good word.

But also, a lot of metal bands were classically trained.. so there are a lot of classical musical influences. The guitars were doing things that never had been done before. Band like Leppard, Maiden and Tesla (how could no one mention Tesla yet?) each had two amazing guitarists that could actually play in synch with each other over impossible riffs.

With the mention of Dead Kennedys and punk, look at how different punk is (from Clash to Kennedys to Go-Gos to Black Flag, etc etc). the same sort of runs through metal - from AC/DC to Motorhead to Poison to.. and so on.

But the question was originally about HAIR metal bands.. so you'd really have to clarify that. Is it any long-haired thrash band, or are we talking glam (Motley, Poison, Cinderella)? Would KISS qualify because they wore makeup? Guns N Roses to Europe to Slayer to Anthrax are all metal, but none are glam, and Europe would be the closest to 'hair metal' in that vein.
posted by rich at 12:36 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why is anything popular for a short amount of time? Ex. Grunge in the 90s? Hair bands were a product of the times.

- The 80s were a time of excess. If big hair was great, bigger hair was better.

- MTV came along. Visuals were everything. Stage shows got huge, and hair metal bands led the way.

- The PMRC came out in the mid 80s. Shout at the Devil sounded rebellious.

- The songs were easy to play, the hooks were easy to learn. All of a sudden every teenage boy (or girl) felt they could pick up a guitar, learn a few chords, and become famous.

And others are right, you're lumping a lot of music into one genre. There were differences, but there were more similarities and that's a few of them.

The over-the-top looks and antics of those guys sometimes serves to obscure the fact that they were seasoned professional musicians.

That's not really true. Some were. I remember a well known producers said Motley Crue was the tightest band they'd worked with. But others were nothing more than your average musician that got a lucky break (by average I mean the guy teaching guitar at the local music shop). I remember Warrant's guitarists being particularly mediocre and quickly taking more lessons to deal with their new fame.

Also, if Joe Eliot heard you include Def Leppard in that category he would probably want to fight you.

Then he shouldn't have released Pour Some Sugar on Me.
posted by justgary at 12:54 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Heh. I went to HS (and was in a garage band) with one of the guitarists in Faster Pussycat, so I was never able to take that sort of music with even a casual nod towards "seriousness". He was a nice guy who moved to LA to pursue his dream of being a guitarist in a band and did pretty well, considering he wasn't even the most talented member of our garage band. But good God, did he have great hair!! And The Right Look™ -- he looked like he should be in a hair metal band, even back in high school.

None of which answers the question, CPB, but like others have said, I think for most of these bands it was much more about looking dangerous than actually being dangerous, and the attitudes conveyed seemed to be more of the girls, booze, and more girls variety than the existential angst that came out of the grunge scene a few years later.

Also, FWIW, I think the movie Hot Tub Time Machine did an excellent job of capturing just what the mood was towards this sort of music.
posted by mosk at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hair metal was big because every guy in the 80s wanted to be Eddie Van Halen and every girl in the 80s wanted her guy to be Eddie Van Halen. But no one could play guitar like Eddie Van Halen except Eddie Van Halen so much compensatory hair-teasing went on.

(Also, the idea that Nirvana killed hair metal is simplistic at best -- Nirvana may have delivered the finishing blow, but it was smart thrash like Metallica and Testament and Megadeth that eroded it from the inside. Because once you heard "MAster of Puppets" or "The Legacy", you were never going back to Whitesnake.)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:04 PM on June 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

Then he shouldn't have released Pour Some Sugar on Me.

If he hadn't released that song, Def Lep would just be a footnote in musical history. Hysteria was bombing. The first 3 singles had gone nowhere. They were millions in the hole to the record company. Pour Some Sugar On Me was not intended to be a single. It was a last ditch desperation release after the 3 chosen singles on the album had flopped in the US.

Then the album went on to sell 20 million copies.
posted by COD at 1:05 PM on June 10, 2011

You might be interested in the 16 minute documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot.
posted by theodolite at 1:13 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was 6 and didn't really know any better.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2011

I liked Aerosmith, Guns and Roses, and even some Bon Jovi because they were funny, loud, ridiculous, and -- like others have said -- over the top. They rocked.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:35 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I still love pretty much every band mentioned in this thread -- Def Leppard's "Hysteria" is my #1 album of all time. And yes, as someone who grew up with it, I mostly liked it because:

a) it didn't sound like the utterly boring drivelly crap that was New Kids on the Block (seriously, that band was the beginning of the end, along with Vanilla Ice), and some of it, like Iron Maiden, had actual content, and a lot of it tried to have serious content on the level of social conscience, cultural critique, etc -- think Queensrÿche's "Operation Mindcrime," or Poison's song "Give Me Something To Believe In" (hahahaha, yes that song is terrible. but it rocks!).

b) it was strongly working-class identified (I might not have phrased it that way then, but yeah, essentially it was the poor kids' music); it felt more authentic than most other things, and it sold itself as authentic (watch any of the endless movies made detailing bands' histories to see this in action). And I mean authenticity on every level -- they were authentic musicians (they wrote their own songs), they were authentic friends (the members of Def Leppard reacted in horror when people assumed they'd replace Rick Allen after his accident), and they were really from shitty neighborhoods (at least, growing up on Long Island, I assumed that guys from New Jersey were basically from where I was from).

c) I am a total sucker for that thing where all the instruments are playing and the singer is singing and then everything except for the singing and maaaybe the drums stops, and it is all dramatic and stuff -- which happens at least once on every album in this genre I've ever heard,

d) my sister, who is a musician, would frequently pull me over to hear a new band and say things like "he just held that note for 237 seconds!" or "Kip Winger is a classically trained musician!" or whatever. She was impressed by something, and it sure wasn't any of the things I've listed so far. So I cling to the belief that there is serious musicality in there -- and am buoyed in that belief by the fact that all the people I know who are serious musicians like at least 5 bands in common with me that fall into the (admittedly vague) category you're describing.

e) I love the sound of electric guitar. Satriani is high on my list, and Steve Vai, Nuno Bettancourt (from Extreme) and Slash (GnR) are also pretty damn amazing. But I'll take anyone making a noise, really. And I do love the energy, the speed, the volume, the range of emotion you'd find on any given album (seriously -- as a teenager it makes perfect sense to go from, for example, on Skid Row's first/eponymous album, someone gunning for your heart to your badass sister to a love anthem to a friend's accidental imprisonment for life to getting a blow job (?) to being all crazy and shit 'cause we're young to a frank acknowledgment that you're messed up over this girl to a nostalgic ballad -- all in 40 minutes. And I skipped a couple of songs).

f) like every genre of everything, there's good and bad. No, I don't wake up in the morning and think "I'm going to listen to "Open Up and Say... Aah" this morning!" because these days I acknowledge that Poison does kind of suck, even though I saw them in concert twice in the early 90s alone and loved them to bits. But on the other hand, no DJ was going to play Metallica at any of my high school dances, whereas they probably would play "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Which felt like some kind of vindication to the six of us dressed in all black, pointedly not dancing in the corner. Well, until that song came on :)

g) a scary number of people in this thread are suggesting that people listened to this genre because they had no choice. I agree that the internet has given us more choices, but I had plenty of choices as a kid -- my parents were into folk and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and Clapton and whatever, and most of my friends were into rap or boy bands, and we all learned classical music in school, at least to a certain extent, and there's always musical theater and soft rock and oldies... I mean, I had plenty of choices and I chose hair metal based on the fact that *I liked the way it sounded*. That's pretty much a taste thing.

h) Oh, and one of the reasons I still love Hysteria today is because I imagine it being re-recorded by my equally imaginary lesbian band, and the lyrics suddenly make *so much sense*. Which they don't otherwise, in case that's not clear.
posted by obliquicity at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Well, I think that, beneath all the costumes and the posturing, it was just basically kinda boring accessible rock music. I mean, you had your ballads, you had your rockers, you had your solos. You had relatively simple melodies. And all the posturing was way too over-the-top to actually be threatening. So, for all its swagger, it was essentially "safe".

I mean, I listened to it because I was 13-14, and it fit the definition of what I was told "badboy" rock music was supposed to be. I mean, yeah, I didn't know any better. It was radio-friendly, rock-pabulum mush. And parents didn't even bother to be offended by it, because anyone who was 30+ in the early 90s knew what actual disturbing music was like. I mean, it wasn't rap, which actually was disturbing to white suburban parents.

So yeah, I'll say that hair metal was popular (and profitable) because it was boring, accessible, and ultimately friendly to the music industry. Which is exactly why nobody cares about it now.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:57 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you ever seen how high someone gets after using an entire can of Aquanet in an enclosed space like a bathroom?
posted by loquacious at 5:37 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

More serious bonus answer:

Besides the fun/camp and just rock and roll and accessibility that lots of people liked, there used to be an entire market/industry of hair metal in LA (and I'm guessing NYC and a few other big cities) that's not unlike how mainstream hip-hop turned after a decade of MTV with all the focus on image and the appearances of money.

So (mostly in Hollywood) you had things like hair metal salons where you could get your hair extended and all frizzed out and bleached to get the right look, or clothing shops where you could actually buy, say, torn up neon green fishnet leggings and iridescent purple pants and a bullet belt or utterly destroyed denim of the sort where it's not really a pair of pants anymore. The back pages of music mags like Mean Street were for a few years filled with ads for all these places, stores, recording studios, band and headshot photography, etc, so you could get the right look.

There were a couple of very hair-metal centric clubs that at the peak of the hype to evolve to a sort of pay-to-play model. One of the larger clubs was known as Gazzarri's. So, you had to be seen playing in Hollywood to get local A&R to notice you, and it was more about who was the most marketable to kids by way of freaking out their parents.

A few years after the peak of this madness in the late 80s a heavy rock/metal dedicated radio station in LA known as KNAC went off the air much to the dark dismay of millions of headbangers and hessians. The hair metal scene sure died on it's own before that but I'd imagine the two events could be linked.

So, yeah, there was a fairly large and active marketing drive behind it, but it was less about MTV than it was a lot of people trying to be the next Van Halen (or next Poison or Stryper, really) and sell a gazillion records to kids by having the freakiest album cover or outfits that were sure to annoy the parents. See "Twisted Sister".

(Not to devalue any actual rocking going on, music being what it is. Hair metal sure isn't the only music genre to cultivate an image or market.)
posted by loquacious at 6:00 PM on June 10, 2011

People don't believe me when I say this, but hopefully there will be some N.Y. based 80's metalheads who will confirm this. Anthrax, at least in N.Y. was almost as popular as Metalica. Not for as long, but for the first few years.
posted by DTHEASH1 at 6:52 PM on June 13, 2011

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