Released: 2010, Course Technology Cengage Learning
I’ve owned this book for quite a while now and really took my time compiling my thoughts before writing my review. My initial impression of FULL METAL JACKIE CERTIFIED was a bit on the negative side actually. At points I wanted to rip it to shreds! But I knew that my own personal opinion about Metal was influencing my (semi-objective) analysis of this book. That may sound odd (as a review is simply opinion) but I wanted to have an informed opinion and a fair and balanced review. So I bit my tongue, ditched an off-the-cuff review, and revisited the book here and there. I’m still not completely impressed although I see what Jackie and Roger are trying to do.
The book is sort of presented as textbook and is well executed with all the components you would come to expect (Index, Table of Contents, Introduction etc,) including a nice Foreword by Dave Mustaine who for whatever reason exposes his painful ignorance and lack of understanding of the fundamental difference between White Metal and Black Metal. Apparently White Metal and Black Metal lyrics are the same!
The 330 page black and white book is nicely laid-out, easy to read and has lots of photos. Mark Weiss is the photographer and he has contributed many photos, live, candid and photo-shoots, to bring the book to life. To me the title is weird; it doesn’t flow well. Certified? By who? Jackie? Roger? Seems odd. The photo on the front doesn’t appeal to me but that not a big deal, it’s eye-catching which is the point I suppose.
Essentially the content of this book is nicely described in the long sub-title, THE 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL HEAVY METAL SONGS OF THE 80’S AND THE TRUE STORIES BEHIND THEIR LYRICS. What a mouthful. I mean, with the title and subtitle Jackie Kajzer and Roger Lotring are setting themselves up for an enormous amount of criticism. Metal fans (myself included) love to analyze, dissect and criticize Metal lists so this book could be an easy target for the peanut gallery. The authors address that in the introduction as well. But, the authors (and Weiss) have tackled an interesting topic and respect is given.
So, let’s get down to it. 50 songs from 33 bands. Before you read this book it is important, almost essential to read the introduction first. Jackie adds a few disclaimers and explanations for the format of the book. Without looking at the introduction first, you might tend to scratch your head. Adding a long introduction was a wise move to help deflect criticism early on. For example she includes songs from the 90’s in her list but explains her reasoning in the book.
A problem I have with the intro is that Jackie speaks in past tense with misty- eyed nostalgia. She says, “Listening to a metal album used to be an event”. (p. xx) In my mind, (and many others) listening to an album still is an event! She continues to say, “Our favorite bands spoke to us…” (p. xx) Again past tense. In my mind, they still do speak to us! Daily! Reading the introduction it seems that Jackie has lost her enthusiasm and passion for metal. Not a good start. She outlines the concept of the book but there doesn’t really seem to be any formal criteria for inclusion. How were the bands and songs chosen? How do you define influential? She touches on it but I get the impression they just picked some popular songs they liked.
The book lists the 50 songs in chronological order. Some bands, the usual suspects, Megadeth, Metallica, Ozzy, Pantera and so on, get more than one or two songs listed. Some bands probably shouldn’t have been included at all. Jane’s Addiction? They don’t really count as A) Metal. B) influential or C.) relevant today. Lizzy Borden? Shouldn’t have been included. Don’t get me wrong. I love Lizzy. I own every album, saw them live back in the hey-day (got the shirt!) and have been championing the band for a quarter of a century. But are they really among the 50 Most Influential Bands or songs? No. It’s nice to see some other personal favorites make the cut, (W.A.S.P., Helloween) but are Nuclear Assault and Lita Ford that influential? Not really. Great bands, love ‘em, got all the albums but intellectually and objectively some of the bands listed should not be in the book.
Those few discrepancies aside, the choices for inclusion are pretty good. Using Martin Popoff’s landmark, global survey (published in his 2003 book THE TOP 500 HEAVY METAL SONGS OF ALL TIME) as a benchmark, it seems that Jackie and Roger pretty much nailed it. They have their finger on the pulse of what was (and is) popular with 85% of the songs in FULL METAL JACKIE also appearing in Martin’s book/survey. There are a few odd choices, where they choose a less popular song from an artist, but that’s kinda cool as well.
There is a very heavy American influence. Almost 90% of the bands/songs listed are American. I would have liked a more global perspective. If Jackie and Roger decided to include 90’s songs, for a more international flavour they could have included Wind Of Change by Scorpions for example as one of the most enduring, influential songs. How about some Sepultura talking about living in the slums or Loudness singing about SDI? Those would have been cool songs to include.
Getting into the meat of the book, each chapter is dedicated to a song by a band with a write-up and quotes from the author (for the most part) of the lyrics. It would have been nice to have the lyrics to each song reprinted for easy reference but it probably was too expensive and time-consuming to get permission. Fortunately, for me I have all the albums (except for Jane’s Addiction) so I was familiar with the lyrics.
It seems that only Metallica declined to comment on the creation of the lyrics, so the quotes included in the Metallica chapters are from some nu-metal guys. Personally, I’m not really interested in what they had to say, why Metallica was important to them growing up. Who cares? However, having expressed my narrow personal perspective, I recognize the value of adding these young musicians in those chapters because it may expand the appeal of the book to have some contemporary artists included and secondly, it does serve very well to demonstrate that Metallica, (despite the spectacular fall from underground grace in 1990) were still very influential on today’s young metal artists.
Part of the problem for me, is that the stories of the lyrics were not really anything new. I’ve read all these stories before in magazines or interviews with the band. OK. Dokken’s ‘Kiss of Death’ was written about AIDS. I’ve known that for 20 years. ‘Revoluton Calling’ by Queensryche was inspired by the FLQ crisis. We’ve known that for 20 years as well. ‘I Want Out’ by Helloween was a not-so subtle reflection of Kai’s unhappiness in the band at the time. Tell us something we don’t know!
As a side-bar, while we are on topic of Helloween, in the Helloween chapter Jackie and Roger erroneously suggest that the band reached a global audience with their 3rd album, (KEEPERS PART II) but in reality KEEPERS PART I, was their global breakthrough album, when they were signed to RCA, shot a video and toured the world. There are a few little things scattered through the book, that the authors state as fact that were kind of out of synch with reality.
Now, here is the flip side of the stories behind the lyrics. If you haven’t heard/read these stories of the inspiration and creation of the lyrics it will be incredibly fascinating and entertaining. There are tons of great quotes, interesting anecdotes and most people will learn something they never knew before. Many people don’t pay attention to lyrics. I always have, that’s why I thought this book was such a good idea and why I was disappointed when it regurgitated many stories I already knew. However, it’s still really cool.
It did get a bit tiresome to read chapter after chapter after chapter a quote by a musician who told a story about some kid who came up to him and said, ”Your lyrics saved my life!” That same anecdote must appear at least a dozen times. The other very common sentiment, among those who could recall, was the fact that the words just came ‘flowing out”. It demonstrates a commonality among those who value lyrics.
Jackie and Roger decided to focus mostly on social political lyrics for the most part. A few of the songs included have non-political lyrics such as AC/DC’s song Hells Bells. Brain Johnson says the song is about a lightning storm he saw. I’m not sure that is really all that relevant or influential. It’s a great song and a nice story but worthy of inclusion? Hardly. Another example is Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. It’s a song about playing cards. Lyrically influential? Not really. The only other Metal song about playing cards that I can think of off the top of my head is Annihilator’s ‘21’. (King Of The Kill, 1994) So it seems there is not really consistency in the definition of ‘influential’. It is the lyrics or the song (music) or the band that help define influence and popularity? The authors flip back and forth.
The authors skipped most, escapist, fantasy lyrics with I think was a big mistake. Just because an artist’s lyrics don’t talk about concrete, political or social issues doesn’t means they can’t be influential or important. Some of most influential Metal bands in the world (off the top of my head) Manowar, Death, Kiss, Alice Cooper generally avoid political, social issues, but they didn’t make the cut. The parameters for inclusion were quite narrow. One noteable exception, where the authors did include an escapist song (which I’m delighted they included) was Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’. The lyrics of this song helped bring the term ‘headbanging’ into the metal lexicon and it has been a part of the metal vernacular ever since. Good call. The rest of the time, the songs and lyrics chosen were adequate choices.
As you likely surmise from this review I wasn’t really thrilled by this book. For me personally on a strictly personal level I would have done it differently. Not better, just different. However, Roger and Jackie have done a good job, it’s entertaining, educational, amusing and a really great read. Despite my own personal misgivings, I’m glad I bought it, proud to have it in my library and I would recommend it to anyone.