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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Halestorm’s “ReAniMate 3.0,” Letters from the Fire’s “Worth the Pain” Two Worthy Hard Rock Efforts

billyjoel

I’ve long been a music aficionado, especially the hard rock/metal genre. Sure, I’ll enjoy a Billy Joel concert (as I did most recently in Orlando) or even the newer pop music out there (my lovely wife and I went to the 2016 Jingle Ball, featuring Pitbull, Fifth Harmony, Martin Garrix, Chainsmokers and many other artists residing in the Top 40 today), but I always come back to my home. Perhaps it is the power of the guitars or the political nature of many of the lyrics (yes, they are saying something with their words and commentary – take the time to read the liner notes if you miss them the first time around), but hard rock/metal speaks to me more than many other genres in the industry.

Honestly, today’s hard rock/metal scene isn’t your granddaddy’s brand. The blues rock that such groups as Led Zeppelin, Cream, the Who and the Rolling Stones (yes, I am going to toss them in the hard rock genre – for their time, they were the “punks” of their era) bear little resemblance to the power drivers such as Metallica, Disturbed or even more pop-driven hard rock/metal bands like Breaking Benjamin or Shinedown. But they’re still hard rock/metal and still damned entertaining in their own right.

There’s a great deal of hard rock/metal out there right now, but these are two efforts that have caught my ear of late. If you’re looking for some great music, you might want to look these up.

Halestorm, ReAniMate 3.0

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Halestorm is one of the preeminent bands in the hard rock/metal genre today. Powered by the blistering vocals of Lzzy Hale (who happens to throw in badass guitar work also), the nimble and crushing lead guitars of Joe Hottinger and the guttural tempo setters in bassist Josh Smith and drummer AreJay Hale (Lzzy’s brother), Halestorm is one of the most popular acts in the business. That perch has allowed them to take on some pet projects, including the continuation of this series of cover EPs.

ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP is the third in a series of “cover Eps” that Halestorm has issued over their career. The first, naturally called ReAniMate: The CoVeRs eP and released in 2011, brought a diverse selection of songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (one of the best covers of all-time in this writer’s opinion), the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind” under one artist. In each case, Halestorm took the songs and added their own touches to them, basically creating their own versions of songs people thought they knew (the exact challenge facing anyone who takes on a previously released tune).

That highly successful EP (how successful? A recent eBay auction for a signed copy of the CD went for $175) begged for a follow up and, after releasing a CD of their own material, Halestorm obliged their fans. ReAniMate 2.0: The CoVeRs eP was released in 2103 and followed in the same format as the first. This time around, Hale & Company took on Judas Priest (“Dissident Aggressor”), Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), Pat Benatar (a natural in “Hell is for Children”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Gold Dust Woman”). It also seemed to leave the audience wanting more and, earlier this month, Halestorm would deliver again.

halestorm

ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs eP rockets out of the gate with arguably the best song on the disc. The remake of Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” gets the unmistakable treatment from Hale and her mates, hedging close enough to the original that it is familiar but applying their own touch. Hale’s voice gives Whitesnake lead man David Coverdale a run for his money and the rest of the band is more than able to power out the song.

The second-best song on 3.0 is Halestorm’s take on the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts classic “I Hate Myself for Loving You.” On the first two discs, Hale and her group did not touch any Jett tunes, either solo or from her days in the Runaways. It seems as if it would be a perfect match and, in this case, it was, as Halestorm takes the Jett standard to new heights.

There was one clunker on the disc, however. I never was a fan of Sophie B. Hawkins and perhaps that is why I didn’t really care for the Halestorm remake of “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” While Hale can pull off the poppy tunes like this (and she’s already put some country artists to shame who dared try to match her on stage), it didn’t work for the remainder of the band, in my thought. This is the only down point of the record, however, as the rest of ReAniMate 3.0: The CoVeRs more than makes up for it. These cover Eps are nice, but it really whets the appetite for original Halestorm material that is supposed to come later this year.

Letters from the Fire, Worth the Pain

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Trying to reach the rarefied air that Halestorm exists in, the band Letters from the Fire have had a jaded history. Originally formed in 2007 as Park Lane, guitarist Mike Keller and high school friend Grayson Hurd found bassist Clayton Wages and singer Eliot Weber and mucked around the San Francisco area, eventually changing their name to Letters from the Fire in 2012. Following their debut release Rebirth, there was apparently another overhaul of the band, with Cameron Stuckey coming on as rhythm guitarist and, perhaps most importantly, shifting from Weber’s male voice to the female voice of Alexa Kabazie (with Hurd and Weber departing).

The changes have made a great deal of difference for Letters from the Fire. Their latest full-length album, Worth the Pain, is a magnum opus of their career. From start to finish, Keller, Kabazie and Company have put their entire heart and soul into the record. For that effort, they have created a 13-track crusher of an album.

lettersfromthefire

Where to start with the best songs of Worth the Pain? It comes out of the gate with “Perfect Life,” featuring Keller’s excellent lead guitar efforts and Kabazie’s emotional and powerful vocals. “Mother Misery” continues the high level of excellence out of the band and “Give in to Me” is simply outstanding. The title track is a powerful tune…it is angry, aggressive, and appropriate. “My Angel” has excellent tempo and mood changes throughout the song and “Holy Ghost” starts quietly but turns into a raging storm by the end.

If there were one qualm to have with this record from Letters from the Fire, it would be that the lyrical content could reach out a bit more. Most of the songs are of the “fuck you, you broke my heart” sentiment; there are indicators, though, that the band could stretch beyond this with some deeper lyrics. As this is the first effort from this lineup, it really raises some expectations for the follow up.

Letters from the Fire’s Worth the Pain is reminiscent of Amy Lee and Evanescence, but to lop them in with that band would be doing them a disservice. They’ve got the chops to stand on their own and they’ve got the experience. Now it is just a matter of driving to the end and the success that they seem destined for…and Letters from the Fire seem to have the spirit to do just that.

If I Were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…

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Next weekend, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will open up the doors of its enclave for the 31st time to induct new members into its midst. Holding their ceremonies at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, this Friday (April 8), this year’s inductees are quite eclectic, with some of them well deserved and overdue – such as Chicago and Deep Purple – some riding a wave of popularity due to recent attention – the gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A. – and two choices that were a bit surprising – Cheap Trick and Steve Miller. As with many of the ceremonies past, there is a bit of drama as to the festivities.

When it comes to Deep Purple, which incarnation of the band will be inducted? Much of the attention has been given to the late 1960s/early 1970s incarnations – the Mark 1 through Mark 3 versions of the band that featured musicians such as Jon Lord on keyboards, Ian Gillian on vocals, Ritchie Blackmore on guitar, Roger Glover on bass and Ian Paice on drums. Not so much attention has been given to the later renditions of the band that featured future Whitesnake vocalist David Coverdale, so we can pretty much count on the factor that the group of men who gave us milestone classics like “Space Truckin’,” “Smoke on the Water” and “Highway Star” are the ones that the Hall will be inducting.

The second story is will the entirety of Cheap Trick reunite for the show? In 2010, drummer Bun E. Carlos had a rather acrimonious split with singer Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen and bassist Tom Petersson, one that actually ended up in a courtroom (apparently the three men tried to cut Carlos out of his rightful piece of royalties from the band’s work…the trio lost the case). Since then, the men haven’t spoken, but they will apparently put aside the animosity and play for one night only. According to Nielsen, Carlos “is going to play the inductions because they’re inducting the people who made the records…he deserves it.”

I always get a little reflective when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies come up, mostly because I think there are several people there that shouldn’t be inside the walls without a ticket. Over the 31 years that the voters have put people into this hallowed sanctum, they have besmirched the walls with some who haven’t earned the right to be there. If, for one day, I were the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I would remove these five members forever, correcting the wrongs of the past:

The Beach Boys (1988)

Probably one of the most overrated acts ever in the annals of U. S. music history, all the Beach Boys were is a doo-wop group who moved off the street corner and onto the beach. Their sound had already been created (unless you forgot Dick Dale, another erroneous non-entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame) and they very rarely deviated from a set pattern:  beach, surf, multiple girls (you might throw a car in there on a rare occasion). Lather, rinse, repeat. There was nothing that was groundbreaking about them at all; even their supposed masterpiece, Pet Sounds, was Brian Wilson looking to duplicate what producer Phil Spector had done with his “Wall of Sound.”

Madonna (2008)

Madonna

By far the most egregious error in the voting annals of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame committee. That Madonna got in the Hall before such people as Alice Cooper, Dr. John, The Crickets (Buddy Holly’s backing band), Heart, Rush and Albert King (just to name a few) is a miscarriage of justice beyond measure. Furthermore, there is no way that you can tell me with a straight face that Madonna had ANY impact on the development of rock music – if the category was POP music, then yes, Madonna’s fingerprints are all over it (hello there, Lady Gaga!). But this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, last I checked, nobody is naming her as a significant influence.

Donovan (2012), Bill Withers (2015) and Steve Miller (2016)

Unfortunately, all of these men fall into the same category:  they all are pretty good at what they did. The problem is we are not electing people into the “Hall of Pretty Good.” This is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, people!

I know this might sound sacrilegious, but while Withers’ works were memorable (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Just the Two of Us” are all outstanding songs), he just didn’t have enough of them. This also could be said for Donovan; name me another song he did outside of “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow?” You might be able to sway my thoughts on Miller, but I believe that he’s getting more of a vote on his pedigree (studying at the feet of the legendary Les Paul and Mary Ford as a child will get you those types of votes) than on any outstanding works he wrote or performed. These three men just don’t meet the criteria for what I would call “Hall of Fame material.”

Now that five places in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame have opened up, who should be inducted into those slots? I’m glad you asked. As the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, these five artists/bands will be the ones who will take over their rightful places. I’m completely blown away that they aren’t there already, to be honest:

The Runaways

Although Joan Jett is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along with her band The Blackhearts, they needed to go back a bit further to actually encapsulate the first band that broke Jett onto the rock scene. The Runaways were the first female hard rock band to enter the scene, led by vocalist Cherie Currie and the dual guitar attack of Lita Ford and Jett (little known fact is that Mikki Steele, who was a member of The Bangles, was originally the bassist for the group). Svengali Kim Fowley pushed the group as a “teenage jailbait” band, but their music was actually pretty damn good. Most known for their hit “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways were huge stars in Japan and did pretty well in Europe. In the United States, they were before their time, but their members would go on to bigger success as solo artists.

Pat Benatar

Are you fucking kidding me? One of the most successful female rock artists of all-time, definitely one of the Top 50 artists of the 1980s, isn’t in the Hall of Fame yet?

Pat Benatar (who, to the best of my knowledge, has NEVER EVEN BEEN NOMINATED) followed up on the heels of The Runaways, carrying the banner for women in rock with an unapologetic, no-nonsense approach to the genre. Where Benatar took it a step further was she was the one in charge of her career – she didn’t bow to the dictates of a manager and she definitely didn’t kowtow to the record companies. On her VH1Behind the Music,” the story is famously told about the record executives that Benatar famously took down because they tried to sexualize her style early in her career. Perhaps that is why she hasn’t gotten the kudos she’s due…the record industry is still holding a grudge against her. And name me another hard rock singer who has a four-octave range and is classically trained?

Warren Zevon and Jimmy Buffett

You might be saying, “What makes these two guys different than those three you threw out above?” There’s plenty that makes them different!

In the case of Buffett, he literally created a genre of music that didn’t exist before he came along – tropical rock, or “trop rock,” a fusion of so many musical stylings that it is literally impossible to list them all (if you haven’t listened to a Buffett album or been to a Buffett concert and heard at least six musical styles, you must expand your musical knowledge) – and still is at the top of his game more than 40 years after hitting the road. He has a catalog of music that has inspired a host of entertainers today, such as Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band and others from the U. S. and around the world. Finally, he’s a shrewd businessman, turning his biggest song – “Margaritaville” – into a mega-empire that includes restaurants, casinos, a clothing line and a Sirius XM radio station. That “empire” is now a private company that is thought to make hundreds of millions of dollars per year – that’s a nice nest egg to sit back on!

Zevon, who unfortunately passed away in 2003, probably did more for others’ careers than he did his own. He wrote songs that were hits for Linda Ronstadt and worked closely with Jackson Browne and The Eagles before finding some acclaim on his own. Always more of a critical darling, Zevon’s album Excitable Boy (his most commercial effort) brought Zevon’s biggest hit, “Werewolves of London,” while the remainder of his works on the album (including “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”) showed his eclectic side. The remainder of his catalog presented an extremely diverse and talented artist who entertained and challenged his audience. Overall, he is highly respected in the music industry for his artistry, his passion and his individuality, things that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is supposed to honor.

Judas Priest

With both Chicago and Deep Purple going in this year and with KISS entering in 2014, you might think that there wouldn’t be any more “fan outrage” over artists not being in the Hall. That would be inaccurate, however, until the omission of Judas Priest is corrected.

Judas Priest has, for almost 40 years, been at the forefront of the hard rock/heavy metal genre, carrying the baton from the Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Jimi Hendrix/Black Sabbath early days of the game. With singer Rob Halford (or without, as the days of Tim “Ripper” Owens didn’t slow them down any) and the dual guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing, the definitive style of Judas Priest is recognizable anywhere. They also have been heavily influential in the genre, with such bands as Pantera, Metallica and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWBHM) of the 80s citing them as heroes.

There’s a whole litany of artists and groups I could get into that deserve a place in the pantheon of rock, but my day as President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is done. I’ll be watching the induction ceremonies on Friday night (or whenever the hell they’ll be on – thanks HBO!) and celebrating the music of the inductees for 2016. Then it will be time to consider who will be inducted for 2017 and the madness will begin again.