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Glam Metal: Love It or Hate It?

Love It!

OK, so Glam Metal or Hair Metal may not be the quintessential genre of choice for most, and I’m not going to pretend it is, but it certainly has its place in the industry and should certainly not be thought of as a joke by any means.

There are clear influences for the genre near the top of the rock hierarchy, with such bands as Kiss and New York Dolls. Now, Kiss were not just a band that provided us with a number of top tunes, but also demonstrate the power of shock value, an attribute also notably used by shock rocker Alice Cooper. Now just try and tell me that Glam Metal bands like this don’t have their place! They just began their journey where these bands left off.

So, as any good musician will argue, looks mean EVERYTHING! You only have to look at pictures of Nikki Sixx back in the heyday of Mötley Crüe (just before the release of ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’) to see how much fun they are having. In fact, probably a little too much fun, but one can only imagine the joy of a man who grew up to rock out on stage dressed in what can only be described as his mother’s ‘entertaining’ apparel. Am I right?!?!

And because they are having fun performing, we also have fun listening. What’s not to enjoy about half naked men air-thrusting their guitars and licking each other?! Am I right?!?! But Glam Metal is not just a subgenre of Rock constructed for the entertainment of hairspray-clad weirdos. There were a number of very highly regarded musicians who not only dabbled in the scene, but cemented its place in Rock greatness, namely guitarists Eddie Van Halen (of the aptly named Van Halen) and Slash of Guns N Roses. OK, so you may say that Guns N Roses aren’t a Glam band at all. You may say that they’re Rock, Hard Rock, Rock to the bone; but every finger does point to Glam when you consider the following: Slash’s massive hair and iconic top hat (standard Glam peacocking), the catchy riffs and flowing melodies, the leather trousers and make-up… the list goes on. I digress, but my point is that pioneers of the guitar world heralded from this genre and I don’t think that can or should go unnoticed.

Conclusively, in my opinion, Glam Metal’s pièce de résistance is the simple yet broad sonic spectrum of the music. It’s not really Metal – which makes it easy on the ears, it’s not really Pop – which again makes it easy on the ears, the implemented shredding solos are a joy to all and the vocals are anthemic and fun. Music doesn’t necessarily need to be mind-blowing to be popular (just look at Dido), all it needs to be is enjoyable in a particular context.

Hate It!

Where do I begin with Glam Metal. The sub-genre of hard rock which appeared out of nowhere in the 80s. That’s right, sub-genre. It’s not even a real genre.

Also I know where it came from, it was created by a group of people who liked the showmanship brought to the music industry by David Bowie and the glam rockers of the 70s, but didn’t have the talent to match their songwriting.

And so Glam Metal was born. Crawling out of Los Angeles like a mutated rat out of a musical sewer, before picking up a guitar and a bag of make up and heading for the stage. Sure, the music can be catchy, and after one or two* beers I’ll be headbanging to “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake with everybody else. But the fact still remains that this is a type of music that is 60% image to 40% music. And when the chosen image includes spandex then it’s time to panic. 60% spandex.

At some point the scales that balanced the hard rock glory of the late 70s, which matched showmanship with great music, such as Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and even Boston, suddenly tipped. And this tipping point happened in February 1978 with the release of the album Van Halen.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to start putting down one of the biggest guitar bands of all time. I love Eddie Van Halen. But what I don’t love is the long list of “wannabe” bands that tried to emulate Van Halen’s genius. You know who I’m talking about. Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe. The latter couldn’t even keep the ridiculous peacocking out of the spelling of their name.

And don’t you dare, DON’T YOU DARE put Guns ‘N’ Roses in the Glam Metal category. They’re hard rock through and through. Great blues rock riffs, amazing solos and a fantastic front man. Guns ‘N’ Roses were definitely all about the music, not the image. They were. Shut up.

Luckily every virus has a cure, and the hair metal virus was finally quelled in 1991 with a steaming hot dose of Nirvana. Nevermind put an end to the awful spectacle and apart from the occasional outburst (The Darkness), has silenced it ever since. Now if we can only find a cure for Justin Bieber and the X Factor then we might all survive.

*Number may be grossly underestimated.

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