Released: 2014, Voyageur Press
I don’t like the term ‘Hair Metal’. I never have, I never will. It’s dumb. I like the word Metal, but not adjective 'hair'. It is a descriptor that serves no use. Slayer has hair, Gorgoroth has hair why aren’t they hair metal? Describing an entire genre on something as common as hair serves no purpose. However, everyone who grew up in the 80’s uses it and knows what type of music it refers to, so there is nothing I can do about it, but I don’t have to use it or like it! It’s a very North American term while I prefer the more European term of Melodic Hard Rock or Melodic Metal.
Martin Popoff has just issued his 40th something book. He churns books out so quickly that I’m starting to suspect that he is not merely a self-employed writer working quietly away in his office at all, but in reality he is an evil-overlord who has an army of slave-writers toiling away in a sweatshop somewhere in South-east Asia cranking book after book after book while he reaps the profits. Either way, he is damn prolific!
THE BIG BOOK OF HAIR METAL (the full title) is a style that Martin has not always worked with before, namely a blend of timeline and oral history. Teaming again with Voyageur Press, now the undisputed champions of Metal coffee-table books, this newest coffee-table book is about 220 pages, printed on nice glossy paper, full colour of course. The book is VERY colourful, essentially because of the art and of the album covers of the time and the stage gear of the bands of the era. The design also is intended to mimic some of the old Rock magazines of the era, Hit Parader, Circus, Creem and so on, and succeeds admirably. Many of the visuals include ads from the era, some memorabilia and the aforementioned album covers. It's a very pretty book.
Martin starts each chapter with a description of that year, hitting some highlights before letting interviews and quotes from band members contain the bulk of the text. Most impressive is that all the quotes are from interviews Martin conducted with the glamour guys (and gals) of the time. Martin has a soft spot for the oft-maligned era and genre but let the participants run the show. Think of this as a grown-up version of Stephen Blush’s 2006 book, AMERICAN HAIR METAL which ones assumes was intended to portray these artists in a largely negative light. Martin’s is far more cerebral, especially with his in-depth analysis of the evolution of glam from 1950-1980 which spans 32 pages before getting into the year-by-year timeline format. Moving forward each year is loaded with tons of trivia about dozens, maybe even hundreds of bands. Although the book is largely populated by American bands Martin doesn’t forget the Europeans such as TNT, Krokus, Europe, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Sleeze Beez etc and a smattering of Canadians. Popoff also included a few bands that flirted with the Hair Metal look and sound at certain points in their career like Kiss and Judas Priest. He dissects the entire (so-called) 'golden era' with the precision of a surgeon. I’m proud to say I own 99% of the catalogues of 99% of the bands in this book so the nostalgia factor was high for me.
Popoff made the admittedly tough decision to cut the book off at about 1991. In his introduction he mentions this book could have been twice as long. If Martin had decided to continue and cover the next 20+ years of the genre, the book would have been massive. That is my only real complaint that he chooses an arbitrary cut-off point in time instead of trying to follow the genre into the modern age where it survives and thrives today. I also disagree with his assertion that the genre basically died with the advent of grunge. That is a very popular misconception and I’m frankly surprised at Martin who knows better. He states that these bands all suffered ‘an embarrassing death’ (p. 200) which is patently untrue. In fact, the vast majority of the bands that grunge supposed ‘killed’ are still active today, writing, recording, touring, releases albums, shooting videos, the whole genre is extremely vibrant. In fact, I’d estimate that over 90% of the hundred or more bands discussed in HAIR METAL are still active today.
The predictable counter-arguments, one would logically make is that the hair metal bands all lost massive amounts of sales and the bands now sell a fraction of what they used to. True, but ALL bands, in ALL genres today sell far less than what they used to. Sales alone do not indicate the health of a genre. Bands don’t exist in a vacuum, fans are still buying this stuff, new bands are starting and the old bands are having better chart success than ever before and sustaining careers based on modest sales and touring.
In fact, the other day I had to check my calendar to see if it was 2014 or 1988 because I have recently enjoyed brand new albums by Ace Frehley, Enuff Z’ Nuff, Great White, Helix, House Of Lords, Kix, Michael Schenker, Mr. Big, Night Ranger, Ron Keel, Shameless, Ted Nugent, Tesla, Winger, as well as new live albums from Stryper, Cinderella, Krokus and Scorpions Who said it all died in the 90’s?
All that and I’m enjoying a whole host of new bands with new studio albums such as Wicked Starr, Vanity Blvd, Three Lions, Steel Panther, Sleazy Roxx, Shameless, Miss California, Faiths Edge, Discipline X, Cold Shot, and many more. These are not just isolated retro-bands operating by themselves. There are entire labels dedicated to melodic Hard Rock/Metal like Eonian, Perris, Frontiers and FNA as well as several radio shows, digital, satellite and traditional all specializing in this style. My point being is that contrary to popular belief, this style of music is stronger than ever and there is more than enough material to do a second book covering from 1991 to today.
There should have at least been a concluding chapter on how almost all of these bands are still around making albums, drawing huge crowds at festivals (and the casino circuit) writing biographies, being featured in documentaries etc. I fully understand that due to space restrictions, the logical cut-off was 1991 but I was disappointed that the book abruptly ended. Bill Leverty of Firehouse gets the last word in a post-script and he speaks to the fact that there is a likely a major shift in the industry back towards melodic Hard rock and Metal, so at least Martin acknowledges that there are alternate perspectives.
On a more positive note, I was thrilled to see lots of W.A.S.P. related stuff in HAIR METAL. I’m a huge W.A.S.P. fan but I’ve always disliked when people lump W.A.S.P. into the glam or Hair Metal categorization, they were far heavier, darker, smarter and meaner than most of their contemporaries. They were more from the L.A. Metal school of Slayer, Metallica, Malice, Lizzy Borden, Armored Saint, Laaz Rockit, Bitch etc. I don’t think they should be lumped in with Autograph, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Poison and Britny Foxes of the world, the true glam bands. Be that as it may, W.A.S.P., and Blackie Lawless more specifically, is inextricably linked with the LA Hair Metal scene acting as an elder statesmen and mentor to many young bands back in the 70’s and it is nice to see him get some of the credit he deserves.
In another positive aspect Martin did distinguish between of the more blues- based bands like The Four Horsemen, Little Caeser, Sea Hags, Salty Dog and of course Tesla that came from a more southern rock tradition but due to timing were lumped (often unfairly) into a commercial category that they were perhaps above and did not really belong too. All of these artists got their due.
THE BIG BOOK OF HAIR METAL is by far the most comprehensive look at genre of METAL (yes, I said Metal) that until now, everyone talks about, but few have the balls to admit enjoin, let alone write about.
The only reason I rank this book a 3.5 out of five is based on the perspective of the potential audience. My natural inclination as a big fan of this genre is to rate the book a 4.5 because I love the genre, and 3.5 just seems too low for such an awesome piece of work. However, if you are not a fan of the genre you will not be as interested, and might rank it much lower, so splitting the difference for such a genre specific book we compromise back at a 3.5. Our criteria of a four or higher is that 'every Metal fan should own this book'. I can see a few grim and necro Black Metal dudes wrinkling their noses at this title thus my hesitation to go any higher. However, I know deep down only 'Hair Metal' fans are likely to buy this so make your own executive decision and rank this way up your own personal scale. I did. Get your copy today and I guarantee THE BIG BOOK OF HAIR METAL will be the prettiest book on your bookshelf.