Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hair Today, Hated Tomorrow: VH1’s revisionist look at Hair Metal

Let me start off by saying that when it comes to hair metal, I’m no expert. When hair metal was taking over the air and video waves, I was knee deep in grunge, flying the flannel, and more concerned about hair farming. But that said, I think I know when someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes when it comes to rock and roll revisionism.

Recently, I was flying to the East Coast on Jet Blue and decided to partake in the on-flight tv entertainment. VH1 was airing their 40 Greatest Metal Songs show and I was down for the count. All told, a fairly entertaining list, with Sabbath topping the charts and respectful placement for Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. But something very suspect was going on. Whenever a hair metal band entered the list (Motley Crue, Guns & Roses, Twisted Sister), host Sebastian Bach (of Skid Row) or one of the show’s metal experts were quick to say something along the lines of, “No matter what anyone says, these guys were not a hair metal band!” Twisted Sister, not hair metal? Skid Row, not hair metal? Motley Crue, not hair metal? Huh??? In fact, according to the countdown Guns ‘n’ Roses are the band that put the nail in the coffin of hair metal. That’s not how I remember it. I thought they were the ultimate hair metal band.

What’s at play here is that in 2008 the universal perception is that hair metal is lame. Clearly, VH1 wants to distance themselves from the specter of being uncool. Kind of hypocritical given that the MTV networks rode that particular metal horse into the ground in the late 80s and early 90s. Why can’t they embrace their inner hair metalness? Why can’t they turnaround and say, “Yeah the fashions were lame, the hair volume was needlessly excessive, but some of the music was good.” Back then, I pretty much dismissed all these bands, but in retrospect some of it is not that bad. I always like watching someone karaoke to Guns and Roses and now that I’m a big fan of Rock of Love, I got to admit some of those Poison songs are kind of catchy in a pop-metal kind of way. If I can admit I like some of that stuff, why can’t they admit that it was in fact Hair Metal and not Heavy Metal?

Interestingly, in a recent issue of Spin, long time critic, Chuck Eddy ran a piece on the great songs of Hair Metal. GnR were on that list. At least someone out there is speaking the truth. Never thought that I’d champion Spin as keepers of the truth.

For a long time now I have bemoaned VH1’s ever-increasing role in defining rock history. Given their cultural reach, their Nielsen dominance and their penchant for list making, I fear that these “Greatest Hits” shows are going to define rock history for a lot of this generation. And so Thriller is always going to be the most important record/song in the history of music. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Guns and Roses, Nirvana are some of the major artists that helped shape the MTV networks and it should come as no surprise that these artists dominate the charts when the network trots out its greatest hits shows. Unfortunately for many, VHI is defining rock history with these shows and the aforementioned artists will become recognized as the most significant artists in history, not necessarily based on merit, but based on their importance in the music video sphere. Not to take anything away from those folks, but the Velvet Underground, The Kinks, The Stooges, Parliament/Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, The Ramones, Husker Du, are not likely to crack these lists. And that’s a shame.