Released: 2006, Feral House
Hard Rock and Heavy Metal have always been very visual musical genres and there have been quite a few books published that examine the visual side of the music. This month I'm doing a set of seven reviews about that particular type of book; specifically, art / illustration / photography style coffee-table book and comic books. They include AMERICAN HAIR METAL (photography), BLACK METAL VOLS I &II (comics) HOLLYWOOD ROCKS (coffee table/art) WORLDS AWAY (art) THE LAST TEMPTATION (graphic novel) and ALL ACCESS (the art of backstage pass!) Please feel free to read the other titles in this book review feature.
Hair Metal. What a stupid name for a genre. Slayer has hair. Mastodon has hair. Are they hair metal too? Many of the 80's rockers are going bald so does that mean they are no longer considered to be hair metal? Despite the inherent flaw of naming an entire musical genre after a universal (non-musical) feature, the name has stuck because most people identify a particular sound and era with the term, so I guess we are stuck with it. AMERICAN HAIR METAL tries and succeeds in capturing the 'look' that, rightly or wrongly became associated with the 'sound'. After all these years many music fans still listen with their eyes, or more commonly stated, judge a book by its cover.
Speaking of the cover the band Nitro make the cover of Stephen Blushes collection of photography. The band, following in the footsteps of Poison, wanted to create an image so outrageous that they would be remembered through the ages. Well, it worked! Despite putting out only two (great!) albums, Nitro 20 years later are still being looked at and talked about as evidenced by Blushes choice to have them grace the cover.
AMERICAN HAIR METAL is essentially a coffee table book loaded with photos of glam bands. The book itself is probably one of the more colorful books you will ever see! Every page is bursting with color, on nice glossy paper. The layout and design is deliberately made to look like an 80's magazine like Hit Parader or Circus. It includes some scattered commentary by Blush and he makes a few good points saying that bands that attempted to wear flannel and cut their hair wasn’t going to impress anyone, which rings true as most (if not all of them) that tried to concede to grunge have gone back to doing what they did (and still do) best, just rocking out. The book is littered with quotable quotes by crazy young men, saying dumb things to get attention, some of them are very amusing and many of them will be sure to offend liberals, puritans and feminists.
The costumes! Man, some of the outfits those guys would wear…it takes a lot of balls (of steel) to wear those types of clothes and speaking of balls of steel, I’m not sure Joey DeMaio of Manowar would appreciate having his picture in here, considering his whole ‘False Metal’ thing of the mid-80’s! Diamond Dave still has the best costumes but some of the bands gave him a run for the money. It all looks like fun, in almost every picture everyone is smiling. Looking back at these pictures is a real trip bringing back fond memories of the big hair, big videos and big guitars. All the suspects are here, Ratt, Poison, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Britny Fox, Cinderella, Quiet Riot and dozens more, nice to see shots of Loudness and EZO too!
I was watching an episode of Sam Dunn's Metal Evolution TV series a while back and AMERICAN HAIR METAL had a brief cameo, being seen on a table in the lobby of the office of some Grunge record label in Seattle. Sam noticed it and cracked a joke and that one brief scene alone reaffirmed my long-standing belief that the joke is still being played on the humourless fans of the grunge generation. They never got the joke and likely never will, likely preferring to view this book with some sort of pretentious, smug (and misguided) sense of irony.
The fact is that most of the grunge bands and labels that were supposed to 'kill' the American Hair Metal scene are long gone, wallowing in obscurity or struggling on poorly attended reunion tours. To make the joke all the more delicious, virtually every one of the bands featured in AMERICAN HAIR METAL (37 of the 41 listed) are still writing music, recording albums and touring the world. I guess they who laugh last, laugh best. Now the original pioneers of American Hair Metal have their own snapshot-scrapbook to immortalize an age (not a bygone age) but a point in time when sleaze, art and crass commerce collided in a brilliant and unholy union that lasts even to this day. The fact that a copy of AMERICAN HAIR METAL sits proudly on display at the Grunge record label office makes the joke all that much sweeter.
I can't wait to read AMERICAN HAIR METAL II featuring the whole new generation of bands that keep the glam banner held high. Until then this collection is just fantastic fun no mater how you choose to view it, good, bad, & ugly or probably a bit of all three. If you grew up in the 70's, 80's to mid 90's (the era when was rock was fun) and are a fan of any of the bands I mentioned, you should be proud to have this book. I am.