Right, so the new releases I’m paying attention to have dried up for the time being. That’s not to say there aren’t new albums being released or that I won’t eventually check them out, but I’ll have to let them slip by me for now. I’m also expecting a large influx of new releases around August, by which point this dissertation of mine should be reaching a final draft, so that should be a good time to pick up on new music again.
So I thought I’d treat yourself and myself to a finely-picked bumper playlist of a genre I’ve been rediscovering these past few months: Eighties metal. This is an interesting period of music that only occasionally gets the credit it deserves in the public eye. Most of the time it just gets scorn for being preoccupied with sex, drugs and good times, because apparently rock and roll at its best is all about tea parties and polite discussion of current events over a game of cribbage.
TWISTED SISTER, “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll” (1983)
I’d always disregarded Twisted Sister as being a doofy band with a doofy frontman singing doofy teenage angst anthems about wanting to rock and not taking it. Listening to Dee Snider’s interview with Eddie Trunk on the latter’s podcast (as well as Snider’s own excellent new podcast) and the outpouring of grief that met longtime drummer AJ Pero’s death, though, made me reconsider my long-held prejudice, so I gave their stuff the time of day. What surprised me was just how heavy and dark this band could be behind the more obvious pop hits: stuff like “Burn in Hell” and “Like a Knife in the Back” are downright vicious. This is one of my favourite TS standards: a simple, propulsive hard rocker with a sound and aesthetic straight out of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
QUEENSRŸCHE, “Eyes of a Stranger” (1988)
I haven’t listened to the new Muse album, Drones (and not being a Muse fan I have no pressing intention to do so), but what struck me most was how similar its concept and approach was to Queensrÿche’s 1988 concept album Operation: Mindcrime. Think about it – an ordinary man indoctrinated into a system where he is trained to kill without remorse but instead falls in love and turn against his masters, only to lose everything? I might have hedged a couple of the details there but I maintain there’s a similarity. That said I haven’t seen anybody else make this connection, which is funny considering that Operation: Mindcrime is pretty much the grand slam of concept albums and Drones is… well, it’s getting okay reviews from what I can see.
Was there a point here? Well, if there wasn’t here’s one now: this song is everything Muse wish they could be.
W.A.S.P., “Wild Child” (1985)
This is the epitome of Eighties metal right here: a driving beat, crunching guitars, mad outfits, sleazy lyrics intended to convey romantic intention and a chorus so infectious you’ll need to see your GP afterwards (insert joke about rockstar VDs here?). Blackie Lawless’s vocals take a little while getting used to, but once you do they’re actually pretty endearing. He has a good command of melody while the throaty rasp maintains the metal credentials required for a song as cocksure as this (come on, who else could cry “naked heat machine” like that and pull it off?). Possibly the best song they ever wrote.
Also, this video has eleven million views. Sure, it’s been up for nine years, but still, somebody out there must really like them some W.A.S.P.
QUIET RIOT, “Don’t Wanna Let You Go” (1983)
Kevin DuBrow was another Eighties metal singer whose voice was something of an acquired taste. Anything less than a foot-stomping anthem like “Metal Health” and his quintessential rattling shriek threatened to outstay its welcome. However it proves to be really quite effective on this laidback, surprisingly tender ballad, a song with a steady, grooving pace that you might not have expected from the band that essentially broke Eighties metal to the mainstream (when the Metal Health album displaced The Police’s Synchronicity at the Billboard 200 #1 spot).
L.A. GUNS, “Showdown (Riot on Sunset)” (1989)
It’s definitely questionable as to whether L.A. Guns deserved as much credit as sister band Guns N’ Roses (whose original guitarist, Tracii Guns, made up the “guns” part of both band names), but I don’t know, those first two records are still pretty terrific, and if you took the best moments from both and put them on one album you’d probably have something that could rival Appetite for Destruction for sheer Eighties sleaze wonderment. Also, L.A. Guns occasionally used horn sections in their songs (such as this one), which Guns N’ Roses, to the best of my knowledge, hardly ever did. So there’s one point to L.A. Guns already.
JUDAS PRIEST, “Freewheel Burning” (1984)
I figured this list needed some Priest, so I chose a prime cut from the underrated classic Defenders of the Faith. Funny thing is, as much as people go on about British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance those albums both have their fair share of filler (“Pain and Pleasure”, “You Don’t Have to Be Old to Be Wise”, “(Take These) Chains”, etc.). Defenders has none, and the sheer ferocity of opening track “Freewheel Burning” gets you absolutely pumped from the off. Killing Machine (or Hell Bent for Leather, for all you Yankee doodles) is still my favourite Priest record, but Defenders is a close second.
DEF LEPPARD, “Die Hard the Hunter” (1983)
Opening with a gentle yet haunting guitar line, “Die Hard the Hunter” lulls you into a false sense of security before slamming into its headbanging groove, complete with deceptively simple and contagious chorus. The guitar tone cooks and the drums pound, while Joe Elliott’s raw vocals are a joy to listen to. Pyromania might just be their best album as well, a neat bridge between the tough, riff-driven melodic metal of their pre-breakout era and the giant pop hooks, huge production and gang vocals of Hysteria.
IRON MAIDEN, “Caught Somewhere in Time” (1986)
Given the recent announcement of Iron Maiden’s new album, The Book of Souls, coming this September, I thought it’d be worth revisiting some of their vintage stuff. This is an overlooked gem from an overlooked album. As Maiden moved into the late Eighties they started incorporating synth guitar into their increasingly progressive sound, combining the best and most gloriously over-the-top elements of each into a shiny, roaring metallic beast of a record. I’m just putting it out there: this album is better than The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind.
CINDERELLA, “Bad Seamstress Blues/Falling Apart at the Seams” (1989)
Cinderella were one of the bluesier bands to emerge from the late Eighties metal crowd, as evidenced by this classic track where a brief acoustic section eventually kicks into the song’s main driving groove. Kiefer is another singer, like Lawless and DuBrow, whose rasping vocals can either be highly fitting or woefully out of place. Thankfully here they fit the huge, stomping blues swing perfectly.
As for the band’s current state I have no idea. They haven’t released any new material since the early Nineties, frontman Tom Kiefer’s been doing his solo thing for a while now… I’m not even 100% sure they’re still together. At least Twisted Sister managed to put out a few stray tracks over the years.
MÖTLEY CRÜE, “Wild Side” (1987)
It makes perfect sense that ’87 was around the time when the Crüe peaked in terms of sheer ruddy decadence, because the Girls, Girls, Girls album, despite its slightly/suitably daft cover, was where they really showed their teeth, with some of Mick Mars’s leanest, nastiest guitar work and Vince Neil’s most aggressive vocals probably to date. I was going to go with one of my favourites, “Dancing on Glass“, here until I figured, you know what, let’s end the playlist on a classic. You have to love the part where the song slows down and almost becomes this high-kicking cabaret showtune… or is that just how I’m hearing it?