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An appreciation of the Hair Metal Years

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Lately I’ve been reminiscing a lot about my musical influences. It started a few months back when I started searching for a new Tube amp. I’ve always been a Fender guy, more out of habit than anything else, my first decent amp was a Fender Princeton stereo chorus and for the last 12 years or so I’ve been playing a HRDlx. I love Fender cleans but a part of me always felt that I was missing out nice dirty tones. Distortion pedals with a Fender amp never quite did it for me - but I got by.

This time around I decided I wasn’t going to compromise on the dirty/crunch sounds on my next amp purchase, why? Well I decided it’s really important to me to be able to re-create the sounds of my youth, and the sound track to my teenage years was ‘Hair Metal’. Now as a 37 year old father of 2 it’s easy for me to say I was a ‘Hair Metal’ fan but back in 1989 I was very much in the closet in term of admitting my musical preferences.

I was a pretty quite teenager, I was socially awkward, did everything I could to avoid embarrassing situations with the opposite sex so I retreated into music and playing the guitar. The music scene in Ireland in the late eighties was very much dominated by the Indie scene. Bands like The Stone Roses, The Cure, The Farm, The Jesus & Mary Chain…. The “__” fill in the blank….. Then in Ireland there were a bunch of bands trying to get famous on the coat tales of U2. Every interview they would come out with crap like “we’re definitely nothing like U2, we have a unique sound all of our own” then they’d play their break through song which low and behold would sound exactly like U2. I really liked U2 but it was so un-cool to admit it back then because the feeling in the ultra-cool music scene at the time was that they’d sold out. Ireland is a nation of be grudgers, we like nothing more than to build up our own so that we can then knock them down for getting too big for their boots.

There was only one thing more un-cool than liking U2 in 1989 and that was liking one of those pretty boy American Hair Metal bands. I despised the local music scene for being dishonest in it’s treatment of U2 & I hated the ‘cool’ Indie scene for being so god damn depressing. I mean I was unhappy enough as a teenager without listening to the Cure. They might just have sent me over the edge!! So I found myself being drawn to Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue, Skid Row, Whitesnake and even Warrant & Winger. These bands were the antithesis of everything I was being exposed to in the local scene. And they were also the polar opposite to me and my crummy teenage existence. They were brash & confident, indeed confident enough in their own manhood have long blond hair and wear make up. Of course that was a look I could never aspire to, if I walked into an Irish pub in 1989 with long blond hair and make up I’d either have been hit on or beaten up or possibly both. But anyway I was in the closet as a metal fan it was my own private escape from reality. I’d imagine myself playing 100 notes per second on the guitar and having girls falling at my feet. It was my own little Utopia in my head.

Of course none of this music was ever played on the radio in Ireland but once a week every Sunday night at 6pm on MTV Europe we’d get the US Top 40 countdown with Adam Curry (and his big hair). This was my hour of pure escapism. The UK and Irish top 40’s would largely be filled with electronic pop music (Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys etc.) or The “__” (fill in blank with any uber cool depressing band of your choice) but the US Top 40 had BIG HAIR, HOT CHICKS and most importantly GUITARS!! (usually bright yellow, pink or green ones). I loved every minute of it, it was so far removed from the dull grey reality of life in Dublin, Ireland (see the Commitments movie for an idea of how grim it was). The guitar players even had exotic names, Vai, Vandenbug, Kotzen, Sambora, Vitto Bratta and most if not all were monster players. I wanted so much to be a shred guitarist, I remember at 17 years old having a practice routine of 4 hours a day during school holidays. For all it’s faults Hair Metal gave me something to aspire to musically and a little break from the tough reality of being an awkward teenager.

As I matured in my 20’s my musical tastes broadened somewhat and as a guitarist my aspirations moved more from shred to blues & jazz and I spent some time trying to write my own material. I even found myself appreciating some of the “The __” bands that I was so quick to dismiss in 1989. But a part of me will always be a Hair Metal shred guy and I am proud to admit that now!!

Anyhow here are 5 of the most inspiring Hair Metal Moments to me.

Whitesnake – Still of the Night
John Sykes guitar work on the whole record is amazing but his tone on the main riff here just blew me away. Shame his tenure in the band was so short lived
David Lee Roth – Yankee Rose
When I first heard the intro to this song I had barely picked up a guitar but it stuck with me. How the hell could that guy make the guitar talk? I later discovered that ‘that guy’ was Steve Vai and discovering this opened the door to a whole new word of shred (crap video thought!)
Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar on me
Again when you’re just starting out playing it tends to be all about the riffs, solo’s pass you by somewhat (an important thing to remember as a guitarist as 90% of you audience don’t play). Like Still of the Night this riff just blows your hair back, it’s in your face and ballsy.
Motely Crue – Dr Feelgood
Man this song is a juggernaut – It just shakes the room from Mick Mars D tuned riff to Tommy Lees pounding beats. Just an amazing sounding song.
Bon Jovi – Wanted Dead or Alive
I had to include a Bon Jovi song, just coz Sambora was such an influence in my first 5-10 years of playing the guitar. I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this song. Again I remember hearing this for the first time as a fledgling guitar player and wondering how the hell do you get that sound. I remember at college it was the one Hair Metal song you could play at a party without being thrown out the door.

So that’s my blog, looking back now I feel privileged to have spent time finding my feet as a guitar player learning these songs. The techniques and tricks I learned from these records still stay with me today even if the music I play is not quite so flash!
By the way the amp I bought in the end was a Blackstar HT40 and I've been in Hair Metal Heaven since!
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  1. Katastrophe's Avatar
    Great blog, Lev! I find myself drawn to pointy guitars and 80's tones lately, too.
  2. deeaa's Avatar
    Your song list is VERY similar to mine...Still of the Night and Wanted...were among the first songs I learned to play. Dr.Feelgood was my first CD format purchase. Yankee Rose I dug immensely for the guitar playing and had the LP too. And of course everyone listened to Leppard when that album came out. All those songs were very important to me too in the 80's too.

    Even before that there was however Judas etc. which probably were more important for me musically...but I did like my share of hair metal. Ratt and for instance Faster Pussycat were some of the bands I liked in HM genre :-)...Wasp and Twisted as well, and Quiet Riot too...