Reviewed: July, 2020
Published: 2020, Independent
I’m very pleased to see more and more books about Hair Metal being published. In my mind it helps reaffirm a sense of legitimacy of the style, and these books act as a counter balance to all the critics and cynics who arbitrarily dismiss the genre based on what they saw but did not hear. THE SPECTACULAR RISE, FALL & REBIRTH OF HAIR METAL is one of the more recent (as of time of writing) books on the genre.
In early 2020, American Christopher P. (I’m assuming the ‘P’ stand for party!) Hilton has self-published this monster book. This is a fairly streamlined book, it is a slightly oversized paperback and doesn’t have too many features such as a foreword, afterword, index, citations, etc. It doesn’t even have pictures but it is huge coming in at well over 400 pages! I had the pleasure of briefly chatting with the author and he said before editing it was over 800 pages!
Hilton dives right in at the top of Chapter 1 and explains why he hates, but had to use the term ‘Hair Metal’. Once a derogatory term that really does little to explain or define anything sonically but somehow has become the genetic universal standard by which most casual observers understand (roughly) what it means. I agree with Hilton and I’ve always felt the term is stupid as well. Slayer has hair so they must be hair metal too! However, for better or worse the term has stuck so that is what he had to use.
In case you are not familiar with the term ‘Hair Metal’, the book is referencing the pretty massive and long-running genre of melodic Hard Rock and Heavy Metal bands that were heavier than ‘Rock’ but not as heavy as ‘Metal’. See? Crystal clear!
Hilton continues with a highly detailed overview of the lexicon of the genre and he also categorized types of fans of Hair Metal. This actually makes sense because it provides context for the rest of the book. He explains that he is writing for a middle ground audience; people who are fans of the genre but not the die-hard guys (like me and Hilton) who can easily and enjoyably overanalyze the micro-differences in bands. He provides several very insightful examples (for example why Cinderella is not a true hair Metal band) and I immediately felt that he knew what he was talking about.
I feel his approach was the most logical and the one most likely to appeal to the target audience, even though I wish he could have gone a bit deeper. I suspect the deeper analysis and discussion of lesser known bands that is the other 400 pages that got cut. What all means is we get detailed analysis of many of the biggest bands, (Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses etc) and a bit less detail on mid-level bands (White Lion, Slaughter, Kix, Firehouse, etc) and then touches very briefly on many more. You could almost break it down into bands that went multi-Platinum, bands that went Gold (or maybe hit barely Platinum) and everyone else.
HAIR METAL charts a sensible course and basically goes year-by-year and band-by-band following their career trajectory. It is simple but effective. Hilton adds in a healthy dose of trivia, stories and statistical information based on chart positions and album sales. He starts in the very early 80’s and goes year-by-year up to 1998. Then there is a chapter on the gradual resurrection (1999-2001) and the book concludes with a long look at the state of Hair Metal from 2002 to 2019.
One of the many strengths of HAIR METAL is Hilton’s detailed analysis of the grunge era, not the grunge bands themselves, but how the Hair Metal bands fared to varying degrees of success with different strategies to survive. Bands like Guns n’ Roses and Whitesnake went into hibernation, others like White Lion and Winger got wiped off the map and titans like Van Halen and Bon Jovi were largely indestructible, still selling millions and charting well.
Lastly Hilton injects a large degree of personal opinion into the book but to his credit to states that right up front in the introduction. It is his book and he talks very passionately about his favourite bands and albums. He is a champion of the entire genre! Fortunately I happened to have very similar tastes and I agreed with his opinion on virtually everything so I found myself nodding in agreement very often. He really knows his stuff.
The book is not immune to criticism however. In Chapter 2 ‘Method To The Madness’ Hilton explains he can’t cover everything, which is very reasonable. He also implies some readers may not be happy if he missed an obscure band or ignored their favourite band of all time but realistically he cannot cover it all.
However, disclaimers aside, there are certainly some choices he made about what to include and not include that objectively were not the best decision. In his defense Hilton said up front he is not including anything remotely ‘heavy’ so pretty much anything heavier than Scorpions is out. He does say he likes all that fine music but it is outside the scope of the book. This was his first minor mistake in my opinion.
The phenomena of glam or hair metal impacted many bands who, during the 80’s, were influenced heavily by this trend. So while not overtly ‘Hair Metal’, bands like Ozzy, Scorpions, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Queensryche, Loudness, Y&T and more, all went through a serious glam/hair phase. It would have been nice to have to have a detailed analysis of how a band like Kiss, for example revived their failing career by embracing the glam aesthetic, or perhaps how Pantera were a Hair Metal band all through the 80’s, or Loudness hired an American singer and redid and reissued old songs to appeal to the Hair Metal market.
The only major flaw, as much as I hate to call it such, but Hilton is American. That is certainly not a fault or blame but he is a product of his environment and it really limited his ability to look objectively at the big picture. This is very common phenomenon with many Americans is that due to the insular nature of their entertainment system, they just don’t know or care about anything that is not American. Very often many metal media people are just not very cosmopolitan or knowledgeable about culture outside their own borders. Hilton grew up watching the MTV and reading Circus and Hit Parader and RIP and that’s fine obviously, but it really limits the scale and scope of the book.
Accordingly, 99% of the bands covered in this book are American. He ignores virtually every major Hair Metal band that was not American. Except for the very rare or occasional one word reference, he omits bands like Bonfire, Gotthard, Fate, Pretty Maids, Thunder, Krokus, TNT, Helix, Kingdom Come, Brighton Rock, Harem Scarem, Sleeze Beez, Treat, Vandenburg, Blue Murder, Stage Dolls and Europe! I could go on and on…
Now here is the tragic part. Tragic is probably too strong a word but obviously Hilton DOES know about all those bands! There is no way he does not know of their existence, and I’m also assuming he is a fan of those bands. As evidenced by the incredible detail about rhe American bands in the book, he is way too knowledgeable to NOT be aware of these bands. He knows them! I believe he made a conscious decision to focus on American bands only which I really think was a mistake.
How could he not include, for example the Swedish band Europe? They are one of the world’s biggest, longest running, best-selling Hair Metal bands of all time! THE FINAL COUNTDOWN is a quintessential Hair Metal album and sold 16 million copies, had multiple hit singles, many videos on heavy rotation on TV, and charted all over the globe followed by massive tours! Joey Tempest’s golden smile, perfect teeth and huge hair are as good or better than Bon Jovi’s ever was. How Europe could not be included is mind-boggling, unless he just hates the band, but even then, objectively they should be in the book, unless you want to rename the book, ‘Here is a list of bands I like.’ I now that is not his intention, the book is too good overall to just be a biased list of his preferred acts.
I want to clarify, these are not just a handful of obscure bands that I am personally offended that were not included, these are objectively huge bands that deserved to be in the book. Basically every non-American Hair Metal band got excluded.
For example, Hilton loves the band Kix. So do I! Huge fan. I have all the albums, even the ones most people don’t know about. However, Kix gets extensive coverage and Europe (the band and the continent!) get left in the dust. Objectively Europe (the band) sold more, toured more, are more productive (recorded more albums) and are more influential and just more important than Kix by any objective measure.
Now, here is the strange part! I actually enjoy Kix way better than Europe! But my to exclude major, major international players was just not a great decision. I could wrap my head around choosing a band like Kix compared to a comparable but lesser known European or Canadian band but to shut out pretty much every Hair Metal band that was not American was really poor decision. However, it is not my book.
Having said all that, I’m really very delighted that Hilton DID include more detail on underrated (in my opinion) bands like Kix, Enuff Z’Nuff, Extreme and Nelson. No one else has ever really written about those bands, and until those guys in those bands write autobiographies, probably no one will write about them, so it was amazing to see them included.
That circles us back to the painful decisions Hilton had to make about what to include and exclude. Where do you cut it off, geographically and chronologically? These are seemingly impossible choices unless he went to that 800-page count!
I believe the problem could be easily solved if the book was simply re-titled and called THE SPECTACULAR RISE, FALL & REBIRTH OF AMERICAN HAIR METAL. Hilton could drop the very few European bands that get any space or significant word count (like Electric Boys) add beef it up with entries of a few notable bands that were omitted or skimmed over, like Dokken, Black and Blue, House Of Lords, Keel, Hardline, maybe Hurricane, etc and you would have the perfect book. Maybe add a few pictures too, after all it is a visual medium but pictures are expensive. Of course that adds a can of worms with what to do with Def Leppard and Whitesnake, but Whitesnake is essentially American with Coverdale living and working, recording and hiring musicians in the USA for over almost 40 years. Then, the next logical step is for HILTON to write follow-up book called THE SPECTACULAR RISE, FALL & REBIRTH OF EUROPEAN HAIR METAL. Easy for me to say!
Despite the amount of time I spent in this review complaining or criticizing, it is important to realize that aside from those two complaints (not quite analytical enough and not enough international focus) this book is really spectacular.
There are many fine features that add to the overall impact. Hilton provides lists of recommended albums at the end of each chapter. He also talk about many of the new breed bands like Wigwam and Tokyo Motor Fist and all those cool dudes as well as some really deep underground recommendations like Jester. Also woven into the narrative is a type of ‘where are they now?’ where he talk about the formation of various short-lived ‘super-groups’ like Devil City Angels and Sounds Of The Underground.
I think that one of my favourite parts of the book are the in-depth examinations of various later-era albums by bands like Poison, Def Leppard and many more. He is sincere and says, (paraphrased) ‘Sure maybe these later era albums are not their best material ever but there is an enormous amount of quality music to discover, if you are willing to listen’. This book is written for the guy (or gal) who only bought the first two or three or four Poison (or Firehouse, or Slaughter, or Enuff Z’Nuff, or Bon Jovi etc, etc, etc…) albums and then were unaware the band existed because MTV stopped showing their videos. It is also written for people who want to more about Motley Crue in the Corabi years, or why Steelheart suddenly dropped off the face of the earth or wonder, ‘Whatever the hell happened to to Taime Down or Jani Lane’? This is where the books really shines.
For fans of the music, I cannot recommend this book enough, not only for true fans of the genre, but even more casual observers It is fun, engaging, very well done and it is about time someone wrote this fine tribute to Hair Metal.