May 16, 2023
Everything you want to know but were afraid to ask about what went on behind the scenes and in the evolution of heavy metal is well accounted for in Sean Kelly’s Don’t Call It Hair Metal. This deft exploration of the 80s music scene in 320 page book published by ECW Press is great at delving into the origin of many famous bands from the 70s onwards. From Slade to KISS to Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career after Black Sabbath, the examination even dives deep to reveal something new about each act that I’m a fan of.
This book isn’t about random bits of trivia. It’s an excellent scholarly study on why a lot of bands are still performing. What they produce is for the love of the sound, not the look, or even the glam that shook up the stage to draw in crowds. Alice Cooper is the godfather of the scene for a reason, and we get some great stories from various talents remembering those times.
Instead of exploring the decade as a whole, each chapter deals with a few years at a time. We get even more studies about how talents like Randy Roads developed their signature sound, and the interviews from industry observers and other fellow guitarists only add to the picture. Whether that’s about their heydays or something anecdotal, I’m certainly enjoying this read. It’s best not to power through this book, either, as there’s a lot of terrific quotes from the talents Kelly interviewed.
This author’s journey to the heart of rock and roll is the same as mine when when I discovered heavy metal at an early age. And to hear the stories about how some bands persevered is sweet. Also, to read about what this author believes are the best platinum hits only affirms why I loved one album over another. For me, Def Leppard‘s Pyromania will always be my number one album to put on the turntable. Twisted Sister never came into my radar until “We’re not Gonna Take It,” and watching them transform into a glam act; but after a while, they took the makeup off and went back to the sound that is their roots.
As this book insinuates, it’s not about the hair, but the intention of why each group wanted to make a dent in the industry. Poison and Ratt were huge during this time, and it’s not because of the acts put on stage, their life behind the scenes or something else. Regarding the former, Brett Michaels’ journey is a book in itself, and it’s been looked upon in those documentaries made by VH1.
Even MTV’s influence is recounted here, and without them and the music videos which showed these bands at their craziest (or best), I doubt this era would be remembered fondly. Kelly’s love for the genre and his personal journey makes for the perfect narrative device to move readers year to year, and I suspect writing Don’t Call It Hair Metal took more than a a year to craft. Although the preview edition doesn’t contain any snapshots, that may change when the hard copy finally comes out.