I Remember You: The Legacy of Cock Rock
by Pete Crigler
When I was in my youth, my world revolved around hair metal, or cock rock as some people have called it. I watched MTV religiously and listened to Nelson, Winger, Motley Crue, Cinderella, White Lion, Warrant and countless others. By the time I turned six or seven, I discovered Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and other, much heavier music that really caught my ear. As the years wore on, hair metal was reduced to a small section of my CD collection, bands I still listened to, including the Crue, Saigon Kick and Queensryche. As the years went on and I got older, this was pretty much the extent of what was left of hair metal. But in recent times, I have gone back and re-listened to some of the stuff I was not familiar with from my younger years. Mostly this focused on bands that had emerged from 1990 on.
By 1990, hair metal was in full swing, Poison, the Crue and Warrant were having top 10 singles and selling millions of records. As a result, record companies started signing up any band with a pretty boy lead singer that had a sugary sweet hard rock sound. Some bands like Nelson, Firehouse and Slaughter were able to carve out their own careers for a brief period of time but for the most part, bands with names like Blonz, Eyes, Big House and even worse names like Cycle Sluts from Hell, Spread Eagle and Sleeze Beez flamed out in no time due to inner-band differences or complete lack of sales.
There were reasons why this type of heavy metal was brushed under the rug. Grunge came around in 1991 and eliminated boy bands, European dance pop and hair metal in seemingly one fell swoop. The other reason that most of these bands sounded very similar and no one could tell them apart, kind of like modern day country singers. I bet even the most diehard hair metal fan who’d go to the tiniest club to see L.A. Guns tour with Jack Russell and Great White and who trades obscure Eyes bootlegs online couldn’t even tell these damn bands apart.
The power ballad, another thing that became a blessed curse on many of these bands, became another cliché that every band seemingly had to have. Thanks to bands like Poison, Cinderella, Winger and Bon Jovi, the power ballad became one of the biggest thing the eighties had ever seen. If you were a metal band with big poofy hair and didn’t have at least one ballad on your record, then it would be impossible to sell to the all-important housewives who were keeping these bands afloat. Ratt was about the only band this writer can think of who never had a full-on acoustic ballad designed to make the bikers cry. Even bands like L.A. Guns had to include a ballad otherwise they probably would’ve been dropped by their label.
The formula for most bands was basically the same: the first single would be a heavy rocker. Let’s take Warrant for example: When 1990’s Cherry Pie was released, the first single was the title track, the sex anthem of all big hair sex anthems while the second single was “I Saw Red,” a melancholy ballad about a cheating girlfriend. The third single was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a heavy rocker and one of my personal favorite hair metal songs. The song didn’t do as well as its predecessors but this was how the bands’ labels worked: just keep repeating the formula over and over again until everything collapsed.
By 1992, hair metal was starting to die out but certain bands were able to make it through the cracks and survive like Mr. Big, Saigon Kick, Firehouse, Extreme and Ugly Kid Joe. But major labels were still trying to save the dying genre and were still signing bands like Sister Whiskey, Heavy Bones, Katmandu, Slik Toxic, WWIII and War Babies; all of which subsequently bombed and probably cost the labels a pretty penny. Most of these bands were faceless although the bassist of Heavy Bones had once worked with Zappa, so I guess a gig’s a gig.
In 1993, Stephen Pearcy, the former frontman of Ratt gave it the old college try again and formed Arcade with the drummer of Cinderella and the guitarist from Sea Hags and managed to snag a deal with Columbia Records. The first album performed fairly well and managed to spawn a couple of rock radio hits, which was quite an accomplishment at the time. Deciding to strike while the iron was hot, they quickly came back with their sophomore record A/2 in 1994, which completely flopped and the band was dropped and Pearcy quickly went to touring the state fair circuit.
It was around 1994 and 1995 that many bands including Cinderella, Dokken, L.A. Guns, Nelson and Skid Row attempted big comebacks. All these bands had been away for many years for varying reasons including health issues, breakups and label problems. The labels all gave them the big push to help them go multi-platinum again but alas, it was all for naught. The records all flopped and within a year they’d all been dropped while smaller bands like Saigon Kick, Slaughter and Warrant moved on to CMC International, a label devoted to helping out the rock stars of yesteryear like Eddie Money, Christopher Cross and the Fixx.
By this point in time, I had forgotten all about hair metal, even though I still read Metal Edge magazine and RIP magazine voraciously. I was listening to Primus, Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I still read about what was going on with these bands because I craved information and I have to admit, it was fun to see what some of these bands and their former members were doing. Some of these guys liked to talk about the glory days while they played clubs that held 100 people. These were the bands like Dangerous Toys, Lynch Mob, Love/Hate and Tuff that were still going because the guys needed to put food on the table. Members of other bands like Child’s Play, Cold Sweat, Cry Wolf and Roxy Blue had to go and get regular jobs and hoped that people wouldn’t recognize them from their old bands.
Hair metal continued its steep decline in the late ‘90’s and by the end of the decade many bands threw in the towel and said “screw it, we’re done.” But others held on like Great White, Warrant and a newly reunited Ratt. All these other comebacks failed to gain traction but the state fair and club circuit began to overflow with bands trying to make some quick dough. Take a look at Quiet Riot, it became commonplace during this time to see them on a bill that featured Molly Hatchet or motorcycle races. Hell, they even played a nudist music festival at one point, if that’s not low I don’t what the hell is.
Cut to 2003, a band like Great White were still touring in the smallest of venues, in this case The Station club in Rhode Island and they were still trying to tour with pyrotechnics like they were something special. This one night the pyro set the club’s ceiling on fire and ignited the entire club, killing over 100 people including Great White’s rhythm guitarist, Ty Longley. The tragedy brought hair metal into the forefront of everyone’s minds. Fortunately, no bands tried to regain their prominence by riding on the coattails of this incident and it would be a while before real hair metal would be brought back into the country’s mind.
Bands like The Darkness, Hinder and Saving Abel had been having some success with their over-exaggeration of glam rock and hair metal but it didn’t last long and by 2006, these bands were again going the way of ancient, fossilized dinosaurs. Then a festival organizer launched a festival in Oklahoma, humorously dubbed Rocklahoma and welcomed all the great hair metal of the past. Suddenly you had bands like Steelheart, Firehouse, Trixter, Hardline and Every Mother’s Nightmare getting back together to play sets to devoted metalheads who never left the ‘80s. It became a massive success and led to other festivals to pop up all over the country, including the M3 Metal Festival in Maryland, which has now overtaken Rocklahoma as the premier hair metal extravaganza.
Over the last couple of years, numerous bands including Tesla and Kix have reemerged in the public eye, put out new records and broken their previous records of highest peaks on the Billboard Top 200. The fanbase for hair metal is still there but it just depends which band has the best luck and which one decides to use it to the greatest advantage. Better than being L.A. Guns or Lynch Mob and playing the nearest state fair for free corn dogs and beer.
While I am long past my hair metal phase of life, there are still bands that I drift back to including Saigon Kick, Ratt, Skid Row, White Lion and Dangerous Toys. These are bands that I will never outgrow or forget. True, there was some absolute garbage of the era including Steelheart, Tuff and Hericane Alice but that’s true of every era of rock music. Needless to say, I don’t think the world at large is demanding that bands like these and Broken Glass, The Broken Homes and Britny Fox ever make a comeback. It’s just worth keeping the memory alive of the great bands that is the important thing and letting the other bands wilt away as their CD’s and tapes turn to melted puddles of uselessness in the sun.
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