Saxon are a British institution. Along with iron Maiden they spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy metal. They never rose to the heights that Maiden have but then no-one has, so if you factor out Maiden then Saxon are probably the most successful NWOBHM band ever. They were limited musically in a way that Maiden weren’t but if you take it for what it is i.e. Saxon being Saxon in the same way as ACDC are ACDC and Motorhead are Motorhead then you aren’t looking for ground breaking new adventurous ideas. Saxon wrote anthems and to this day it doesn’t get much better than hearing 20 000 metal maniacs all shouting ”Denim and leather brought us all together” or ”We got Wheeeeeels, wheels of steel” Long live biker anthems.
The Headpins formed in Canada and released two multiplatinum selling albums. The impression that Darby Mills made on 16 year old school boys cannot be over stated. We thought she was the best thing ever, Debbie Harry was hot but she sang pop songs, Darby was a proper rock singer, she had more firepower than Tony Stark in a Jericho missile demo. Brian ‘Too Loud’ McLeod was great and made it for me. If Darby was just hot and could sing she wouldn’t have been in my record collection but with McLeod in the band is was a proper heavy metal band.
Journey were huge in the US, they epitomised stadium rock. They hit a golden era between 1978 and 1983 when they released, in quick succession, Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Escape and Frontiers. With the eye catching futuristic scarab beetle artwork on all their albums and a continuous string of hits they were pretty much hated by the critics and loved by everyone else.
Night ranger had a huge hit with Sister Christian. I wasn’t smitten though, it was a bit light for me at the time other than by the guitar solo. Robin Gallagher played me albums before Midnight Madness and then I was completely blown away. The twin guitar attack of Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis was one of the best around. If you want to hear brilliant two hand tapping just listen to Night Ranger, masters of the art !
Queensryche came out of Washington in the early 80’s and the release of their album The Warning heralded their arrival as a band to watch. There was a lot going on that album and I listened to it a lot but I just couldn’t quite connect in the way I really wanted to. It was like I didn’t love it, except for ‘Take Hold of the Flame’ which was far away the best track. They stumbled badly with Rage For Order and started dressing like pansies, the album was horrible. Luckily for the world Geoff Tate went out one rainy night for smokes and saw a church on his way back. Something made him go inside and once he sat down in those oppressive wooden pews he had an epiphany and the entire Operation Mindcrime album concept just popped into his brain. It is not often I am grateful for the church 🙂
David Lee Roth
Dave Lee Roth is a legend. When I was growing up he was the first front man that I saw who was just larger than life. Dave was the coolest, he dressed the best, he moved the best and he always had a killer chirp for the journalists. The was a lot of criticism of his vocals and even the band didn’t rate him as a great singer. I think he is just fine. Dave proved that even if he can’t sing as well as Sammy no-one cares, we just wanna hear Van Halen. It was a sad day when they split up but then he went on to release Eat ’em and Smile so we got two great bands for the price of one.
I don’t give Bon Jovi more than a passing mention in The Story of Rock and Roll and it’s not because I didn’t like them, it’s really because they just got so fucking huge that they lost relevance to me. Once you have dewy eyed twenty year old chicks getting excited about ‘Heavy Metal’ because of Bon Jovi it was time to build a big fucking moat between me and Slippery When Wet. First time I heard Bon Jovi was when they did ‘Runaway’ and then I got big into their 2nd album 7800 deg Fahrenheit, the track Tokyo Road was proper rock ‘n’roll in 1985.
Dokken were a completely dysfunctional band, they could not get on at all. They made some great music but I could always feel that lack of cohesion and the fact that they hated each other just held them back. For me there was only really one reason to like Dokken and that was George Lynch’s guitaring. I always wish George had been in another band but who knows maybe George is actually the problem.
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses are well covered in The Story of Rock and Roll. They were a phenomenon at a time when the word needed some heroes. While grunge slayed hair metal it was Guns ‘n’ Roses and Pantera who kept the metal alive. Appetite was a force of nature that couldn’t be contained, the planets aligned and that perfect chemistry between the classic line up could not be prevented from recording one of the probably 10 best albums of all time. Despite themselves and their own efforts to sabotage their career with booze and drugs they were just too good and they burnt like a fucking supernova for 5 incredible years.
Cinderella were great at the time, they had some cool stuff but they didn’t really have the charisma of some of the other bands. The one thing Cinderella did have was the voice of Tom Keifer. He just has a certain tone when he starts to belt it out that gives me goose bumps. He put out a great solo album The way Life Goes in 2013, check it out it is pretty good.
Tesla were part of the hair metal scene just by virtue of being around at the time. The Stranglers had the same problem with being considered punk and getting lumped in with the negative side of the movement. To me Tesla were far better than most of the other bands around in the 80’s. I have no doubt that if they had formed in 1970 they would have been as great and as successful as they were in the 80’s. They were top class musicians and they wrote fantastic songs. Their album Five Man Acoustic Jam predated the whole MTV Unplugged format and is one of the finest acoustic albums ever made.
Skid Row were probably my favourite hair metal band. They were a lot heavier than the other guys and the combination of the twin guitars of Scotty Moore and Dave ‘the Snake’ Sabo gave us some of the coolest, most emotional guitar solo’s ever. And then there was Sebastian Bach, what can I say, a bit like Axl when it came to the spoilt petulant primadonna stakes but what a fucking voice. He is without a doubt one of the best post Halford, Dio, Dickinson vocalists of all time.
Warrant were the prototypical 80’s hair metal band. They had it all – the look, all bright colours and make-up, the big hair and pretty faces and they certainly had the songs. Through a combination of relentless touring and MTV saturation bombing they rose to great heights in the late 80’s and this culminated in the release of their wonderful second album Cherry Pie. Unfortunately it was pretty much all downhill from there. With the advent of grunge all the hair metal bands were dead in the water within 12 months and then tragically lead singer Jani Lane died of acute alcohol poisoning in 2011.