Who is The Greatest Hard Rock/Metal Band of All Time, Part 3 – The 1990s

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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?

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We talked about the 1960s/70s in Part 1 and the 1980s in Part 2, so now we’re ready to head into a decade – the 1990s – that saw something that we have never seen before in rock music and probably won’t again. At the start of the decade, “hair metal” was still ruling the roost when it came to hard rock/metal, but it was quickly snuffed out by the sounds emanating from the Northwest. “Grunge,” for all intents, killed the “hair metal” band while embracing the mood of the culture of the day. That cannibalization by grunge in devouring the “hair metal” bands is something that we had never seen before in the industry – normally if something new comes along, it will eventually get folded in like an omelet into the existing structure(s). Grunge chowed down on “hair metal” rather than soak itself into the genre.

There were many candidates for this “regions” bracket and many of those selections reflect how grunge became the powerhouse of the 1990s. 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!

Nirvana

Nirvana (1) vs. Primus (16)

Unfortunately for Les Claypool and the men from Primus, this looks like utter destruction from the start. Going against one of the bands considered the “fathers” of the grunge movement, a singer and musician considered the “voice of a generation” by their fans AND a critically, commercially, and historically lauded success (first-ballot entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame)? Hey, somebody had to be the #16 seed in this bracket…

Marilyn Manson (8) vs. Nine Inch Nails (9)

From whatever angle you look at the matchup, these two bands seem to be equals across the board. Challenging thoughts and beliefs in the masses? Check. Earn scorn from the “squares” for your appearance or actions? Yep. Influence a generation with your styles, songs, and subterfuge? You got it. Both Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails were the real groundbreakers during the decade. About the only way to set the two apart is that Marilyn Manson was a band; Nine Inch Nails was basically Trent Reznor playing all the instruments and producing the material. That may give him the edge.

Pearl Jam (4) vs. Ministry (13)

Yes, it may sound sacrilegious, but Pearl Jam only rated the #4 seed in the 1990s. Some might complain they should be in one of the top three slots but, as you’ll see, who do you toss out? As far as this matchup goes, Eddie Vedder and Co. get the nod for overall influence, commercial and critical success and various honors earned. Then again, the vote of those following this tournament may have something different to say about the subject.

Foo Fighters (5) vs. Nickelback (12)

For all the flak they receive, Nickelback is one of the most popular groups of the 1990s – amazing since no one admits to actually listening to them. They certainly churned out the music during the decade, no matter how banal it could be. Foo Fighters brings our first double nominee in the tournament – Dave Grohl, the drummer for Nirvana, went on to form Foo Fighters after the death of Kurt Cobain – and presents a band that was built for pop success but never forgot its rock roots. We’ll see if Nickelback’s loyal legions turn out to try to stop the Fighters from taking this one down.

RATM

Rage Against the Machine (2) vs. Linkin Park (15)

Just like the 1-16 matchup in this region, the 2-15 also looks to be a beat down. Rage Against the Machine was one of the most political bands in the history of rock music, let alone hard rock/metal, and used their powerful musicianship (in the hands of guitarist Tom Morello and vocalist Zack de la Rocha) to drive that message home. Linkin Park, while putting together some very good work of their own, couldn’t hold a candle to Rage, however. What might give some pause? Linkin Park is still around today – the same can’t be said for Rage Against the Machine (although there are murmurs that this could change).

Korn (7) vs. Tool (10)

There is one key thing that may give one of these groups the edge over the other. While both are very accomplished in the hard rock/metal arena, Korn continues to put out solid albums to an adoring fan base. Because of what the band has called “legal issues,” Tool hasn’t released any new music in a decade and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to release anything now (those legal issues were resolved in 2015). Even without the nearly decade-long hiatus, it was going to be tough for Tool to unseat Korn – but we’ll see who the voters like.

Green Day (3) vs. Creed (14)

Green Day was the pseudo-punk band that everyone would love throughout the 1990s, but Creed – also trying to make their mark outside of the “grunge wave” with their pretentious songs and charismatic singer Scott Stapp – tried to match Green Day for supremacy, especially in the latter part of the decade. Stapp’s personal demons would catch up with Creed, however, breaking the band up as the new millennium started. Green Day has gone on to tremendous success commercially and critically and has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the influential bands of the genre. Let’s just gloss over the fact that the “punks” have a Broadway show now…

WhiteZombie

Alice in Chains (6) vs. White Zombie/Rob Zombie (11)

I am sensing an upset here. While Alice in Chains was an integral part of the grunge movement, their time in the sun was a rather brief one that spanned only four years (90-94). White Zombie was about as “non-grunge” as it got, instead going into an Alice Cooper-like “nightmare metal” that Rob Zombie still performs to this day (the actual band dissolved in 1998). Perhaps because Zombie has been able to push into other fields – he is a noted film director and comic book buff – the notoriety of the band has prevailed while Alice in Chains has slowly disappeared.

(Writer’s note: I know Soundgarden was left out of the region. However, after you get by Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and some of the other grunge acts, Soundgarden was actually pretty far down the list, don’t you think?)

That’s it for the third “region” of our tournament. We’ll look at the 2000s/10s (and be thinking of who could be the #1 seed for that “region” – 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.