Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 2 – The 1980s

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Rather than delve into the delusion that currently is supposed to oversee this country (and trust me, there’s plenty to call the Tangerine Ignoramus out on simply from this last weekend alone), I’ve decided to start something that will definitely be much more fun. Since college basketball is deciding the 64 teams (OK, 68 teams because of those simply idiotic play in games the NCAA conducts) that will compete for their championship, thought it would be fun to do the same but in a different arena – the genre of hard rock/metal music.

As it is one of my personal fortes, hard rock/metal music is essentially celebrating its 50th Anniversary since the release of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild,” which contained the lines “Get your motor running/heavy metal thunder.” With this in mind, I’ve put together a compilation of the top 64 hard rock/metal bands from four different eras – the 1960s/70s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s/10s – and split them up in accordance with those eras into “regions.” We’ll break down the matchups in each bracket and, with hope, readers will make their own comments and vote on the matchups and perhaps they’ll be some sort of prize at the end – the management here (re:  me) is still trying to come up with that prize.

What are the criteria for consideration? First, the band/singer would have to have some sort of longevity to their career – you don’t see many bands or singers that are considered “legendary” if they were only around for a couple of albums (Amy Winehouse is a rare exception, but that’s a discussion for another time). Second, the band/singer would have to have an impact on the genre – did they do something particularly noteworthy or notorious that put them into the annals of the genre’s history, a song or “behavior” that was historic. Third, just how popular were they when they were in existence – a band or singer that was wildly popular with the fans might get some leeway over a critical darling OR vice versa (depending on tastes). Fourth, what accolades did they receive – awards, gold records, and recognition by the industry (Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, hello?) are all under consideration here. Finally, was the band/singer influential on future generations of music – have they helped shape the genre since they have left the sphere?

We talked about the 1960s/70s in Part 1, so now we’re ready to head into what was arguably the most diverse era of hard rock/metal over the past 50 years – the 1980s. From “hair metal” (basically pop-infused hard rock music that could be ballad intensive – something previously unheard of in the genre) to “death metal” and beyond, there were many candidates for this “regions” bracket. I am sure there will be some complaints as to the selections and, if so, please include those when you discuss the matchups in your reply!

BON JOVI

Bon Jovi (1) vs. Pantera (16)

As ugly as it is to admit, Bon Jovi was one of the most popular acts of the 1980s. Using enough Aquanet to put his own personal hole in the ozone layer over New Jersey, John Bongiovi – who would become the namesake of the group as Jon Bon Jovi – guitarist Richie Sambora and the rest of the group became the band that was OK with your parents to “rock out” to. They also brought the “power ballad” into its heyday, those songs that brought the girls out to the “rock shows” so the guys would come along.

Pantera, on the other hand, was everything that Bon Jovi wasn’t. Hard core, in your face – sometimes with a fist or a boot – fast and furious, guitarist “Dimebag” Darrell and Phil Anselmo mounted an offensive of thunderous rock that still resonates across the genre. While they were influential to many, they weren’t commercially successful – at least not on the level that Bon Jovi was. It will be an intriguing battle to see who emerges from this clash – but we know who would emerge if it were an actual fight!

Mötley Crüe (8) vs. Skid Row (9)

This is a typical battle of two bands that are closely matched. Strangely enough, though, most people are fans of one and not of the other, with those on the side of Skid Row and front man Sebastian Bach calling their opponents a rip-off of KISS and those taking up the fight for the Crüe and singer Vince Neil and Co. calling Skid Row a Guns ‘N Roses clone. What is true about both bands is they cranked out some memorable music over a short period; Skid Row’s heyday was roughly three years (1989-92), while the Crüe would be relevant for a longer period of time (1981-92). That may be the factor that weighs the winner of this matchup.

Guns ‘N Roses (4) vs. Ratt (13)

It is arguable that Guns ‘N Roses may be the top non-“hair metal” band in the 1980s region, setting them apart from Ratt, who firmly embraced their place in that subgenre. The Gunners captured the rebellious nature of rock and roll that was born in the 1960s and had been lost over the previous 20 years as rock became “corporate.” They also would serve as an inspiration to many bands, with such influence eventually leading to their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Ratt? Unfortunately, it looks like they ran into the “immovable object” here…but the votes will be what matters.

IronMaiden

Iron Maiden (5) vs. Faith No More (12)

This may look like a mauling, but you’ve got to look deep at the subject. Faith No More were one of the few practitioners of what became known as “rap metal,” or rapping the lyrics instead of singing them, setting them apart in the business and spawning bands that still employ Faith No More’s style today. Iron Maiden was one of the most ferocious bands in the genre who had a great longevity in the business. They also had their impact on future bands, but they weren’t the groundbreakers that Faith No More was in their short time. It will be another tough matchup for the voters to decide.

Metallica (2) vs. Whitesnake (15)

Even considering the ample success that Whitesnake and David Coverdale enjoyed during the 1980s, there’s simply no way that I can see voters taking them over a band that is still going strong today (and if you haven’t heard Metallica’s latest Hardwired…to Self-Destruct, you’re missing out on their best record since the Black Album). Metallica has inspired many a kid to become the next great James Hetfield or Lars Ulrich, consistently powering out epic albums and taking down accolades left and right for their work. They also – whether you agree with them or not – have fought against piracy in the industry, something that all should applaud them for. Whitesnake might have had a chance against anyone else on this list…but not Metallica.

Metallica

Queensrÿche (7) vs. Anthrax (10)

This is another difficult clash between two talented bands. Queensrÿche arguably introduced the “rock opera” concept into hard rock music in the 80s (OK, don’t remind me of Quadrophenia or other monumental albums) and served as a conduit for politically charged rhetoric (“Empire” delves into the effects of drug trafficking in the inner cities). But of course, their main claim to fame? “Silent Lucidity,” a Pink Floyd-esque power ballad that made the Billboard Magazine Top Ten in 1990.

Anthrax had their own political stances, talking about the plight of Native Americans (“Indians”) and dabbling with rap and classical music in creating their sound. They are one of the few bands to have had success with two different vocalists, Joey Belladonna and John Bush, and they have influenced thrash metal wannabes for over two decades. Do you take style over substance? Or do you award a long, healthy career that has spawned new generations? Tough vote here…

Def Leppard (3) vs. Cinderella (14)

Another matchup between two bands that, at first look, are mirror images. It is only in looking deeper do you see their differences.

The Leppard were a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) that came out in the late 70s/early 80s, but they weren’t content with staying in that category. They firmly embraced the “hair metal” groove of the decade and became one of the biggest acts of that time. They also demonstrated a great deal of craftsmanship to their records, taking lengthy amounts of time (in some cases, they had to, such as drummer’s Rick Allen’s unfortunate amputation of his arm after an auto accident that forced him to learn how to play drums on a specially created kit) to put out some of the best rock music of the era.

Cinderella was part of that “hair metal” act and even sucked into it a bit by going the power ballad route (“Nobody’s Fool”), but in essence they were a blues band looking for a groove. Singer/guitarist Tom Keifer is a tremendously underrated musician and the rest of the band provided the base for which Keifer could demonstrate his virtuosity. That their era of commercial success was short (1986-1990) was more a fact of the explosion of grunge and rap than any disqualifying factor from the group.

Slayer

Slayer (6) vs. Megadeth (11)

Man, the 1980s were a tough decade! It’s too bad that one of these bands has to depart in the first round as both, against the right competition, could go deep in this tournament. Slayer was the purveyor of “death metal” with their seminal album Seasons in the Abyss reaching their creative and critical high point. Megadeth, with singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine, have continued performing and releasing highly praised music for almost three decades now, including winning a Grammy Award this year for best metal performance for the title track from their album Dystopia. A knockdown, drag out fight is what to expect here.

That’s it for the second “region” of our tournament. We’ll look at the 1990s and the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seeds for those “regions” – would love to hear those opinions) later this week and get into the second round, hopefully by next Monday. Don’t forget to vote by replying here and I will compile the responses – and maybe award a prize once a champion is crowned to a reader!

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The Top Ten Underrated Hard Rock Songs, Part Two

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A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the first five songs that made up this list (and they are in no particular order other than awesome!). In that discussion, such bands as Faith No More, Body Count, Motörhead, Extreme, Faster Pussycat and Dangerous Toys, among others, and how certain songs performed by these bands just missed rocketing them to metal immortality. But there was something else that derailed these bands just as they were beginning to find their groove.

Hard rock and metal were staples of the late 80s/early 90s, but the times they were a changin’. Just as some of these bands began to work on their sophomore efforts (Dangerous Toys were particularly victim of this), the rumble out of the Northwest was heard. The “Seattle sound” – driven by its early popular practitioners such as Pearl Jam and Nirvana but also by such groups as early as Mudhoney and the Melvins and by such powerhouses as Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots – took over the ears of the disaffected youth and reflected their angst with life. The band Temple of the Dog was an amalgam of these groups, with members from Mother Love Bone, Green River, Bad Radio and Skin Yard joining with members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for one of the monster efforts of what came to be called the “grunge” era.

If grunge couldn’t do the job by itself, then the second punch of gangsta rap finished off the 80s-hard rock/metal scene. Technically coming out at the same time as the 80s-hard rock/metal took off, gangsta rap became more accepted on both radio and in the culture as the 90s rolled around. Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Ice-T (he was also known for his metal work, making him one person who was going to win either way), Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, Nas…they all had a hand in the demise of hard rock as the 90s moved along. With the double blow of the emergence of both the gangsta rap and grunge genres – not only in popularity but also on radio and in the record stores – the “good times” were over for the 80s-hard rock/metal scene.

Alas, it probably couldn’t have been sustained much longer. By the early 90s, many of these bands were succumbing to the curse of the “rock and roll lifestyle” in the form of drug and alcohol addiction and becoming exactly what they had hated – the establishment (this was something that grunge carried on). Thus, even if these next five bands had found success with these underrated gems, they may not have been able to keep the fire burning for much longer.

Contraband, “All the Way to Memphis”

This was a group that should have been so much bigger than it was. Contraband was conceived as an outlet for members of several other groups to record while their “day jobs” (re: the band’s they were members of) were on hiatus. Members of Ratt, L. A. Guns, Vixen (one of the few all-female hard rock/metal bands), the Michael Schenker Group and Shark Island all contributed at least one member to the proceedings, which some might have thought would have been uncontrollable but came together quite well.

This particular song was a great choice. Originally done by Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople (Hunter would prove to be a popular writer for hard rock bands; his “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” was a huge hit for Great White), it lent itself well to the canoodling guitar work from Schenker and Tracii Guns and the howling vocals of Richard Black. The rest of the record was, if you’re a fan of the hard rock/metal genre, an outstanding effort (especially “Loud Guitars, Fast Cars and Wild, Wild Livin’”).

Unfortunately, Contraband was eventually devoured by what we discussed above. It also didn’t help when their eponymous debut record was poorly received by the public. Eventually, the players all went back to their original teams and a second record was never recorded.

Saxon, “Dallas 1PM”

This is one of the older selections on our list as Saxon was at the forefront of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” (NWOBHM) scene of the late 70s/through the 1980s. The British act never did find the same acclaim as bands such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden did, but they did not disappoint in driving out album after album for their rabid fans. Wheels of Steel and Solid Ball of Rock are two of their more notable efforts and, to this day, they still are on tour and in the studio.

This song comes from their 1980 effort Strong Arm of the Law and, if you don’t recognize the significance of the title, you probably didn’t pay much attention in history class. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the President visited Dallas. At 1PM, doctors at the hospital declared Kennedy dead, hence the unlikely subject for a hard rock song.

There were a couple of problems that Saxon had with “Dallas 1PM.” First, citizens from the States of America hate having to think, especially about history. And second, citizens from the States of America hate having British people try to teach them history. The combination doomed what would have otherwise been an excellent chance to learn (and it is stunning how much you can learn if you listen to the lyrics of a hard rock/metal song…try it sometime).

Warrant, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

One of the original deviants of the “hair metal” genre, Warrant was all about the party. From their songs such as “Cherry Pie” and their hedonistic touring “pleasures,” Warrant was known more for their fun-and-games persona than their music. They were all excellent musicians, however, who wanted to be known for their music rather than their outside activities. Thus, when they issued “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from the Cherry Pie album, people weren’t quite sure what to think.

The song was supposed to be the first song released off the album (the record company overruled and selected the title track) and it is arguable whether they would have found success with it. The opening acoustic guitar shows some nimble finger work and the story – of two men (an uncle and his nephew) witnessing the local sheriff and a deputy dumping two bodies they murdered into the local swamp – was more adult than anything else ever attempted by Warrant.

By trying to make their sound a bit more adult and include some seriousness to their compositions, Warrant signed their…well, death warrant. Their next album, the much more serious Dog Eat Dog, did not reach the level of success of earlier Warrant efforts and the band broke up. In a demonstration of the changing scene, the late Jani Lane (the vocalist for Warrant) said he knew “the proverbial writing was on the wall” when the band’s framed photo in the foyer of the Columbia Records (their record label) offices was replaced by the Seattle band Alice in Chains.

Cinderella, “Shelter Me”

Here’s another entry into that “consider us serious musicians” category that didn’t end up working well for the group. Cinderella was pretty much a blueprint for the “hair metal” bands of the 80s. Big hair? Check. Big guitars? Check. Raspy vocalist screaming loudly? Check. The band broke through with such rock anthems as “Save Me” and ballads like “Nobody’s Fool” but, by their third album, they were wanting to stretch their musical legs.

On the album Heartbreak Station, lead singer/guitarist Tom Keifer began to add in different touches that you normally don’t see in a hard rock effort. Dobros, saxophones and horns, female backing vocals and a boogie piano were put into this song, making it a bit of a departure from the earlier work by the band. Then there were the lyrics, pointing out the things that people will utilize to get relief from a maddening world. Overall it was more of a blues song than a traditional hard rock song and people didn’t know what the hell to do with it.

Perhaps that change in styles was the thing that sent the band into a downward spiral. The album didn’t reach the level of their earlier efforts (Night Songs and Long Cold Winter) and their swan song, Still Climbing, never got off the ground. Kiefer still performs today with a version of Cinderella, but they haven’t released a studio album since Still Climbing in 1994.

Junkyard, “Hollywood”

Junkyard was about five years too late to be the big success they should have been. Formed in 1987, they didn’t get their debut effort out on the scene until 1989. That eponymous debut record had many comparing them to Guns N’ Roses, but Junkyard was unique (in my mind, at least) in their full-on embrace of the biker culture. With this addition, there were also some sounds in mind that would give one pause to think they were a Southern rock band.

This tune captured the essence of both the Sunset Strip and Tinseltown in its attitude and its decadence. A raucous assault of guitars and moxie, Junkyard would never again reach this level. Their second album, Sixes, Sevens and Nines, failed miserably and their third record wasn’t released by their label, Geffen Records. They would disband in 1992 but are now back together, rocking crowds if not the charts.

So, there you have it (although I’d love to hear some other thoughts on the subject). Although the bands on this list might have had some success, just what could they have been if the fates had shifted differently? One will never know.