The Steel Horse Archives: Prologue — Step Inside, Walk This Way

Written by Music, The Steel Horse Archives

Jeff Vrabel was a hair metal cowboy, and on a steel horse he rode…and he’s here to relive those Aqua Netted days with a new series that looks back on the glory days of Marshall stacks and spandex.

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With the exception of whichever one Mase was in, perhaps no musical genre has endured a swifter or less celebrated mainstream extermination than Hair Metal, whose predominant 1980s celebrants – generally uncomplicated fellows who came to town with nothing more than hearts of gold, dreams of fame and lady makeup – wanted nothing more than to have a good time, even if you couldn’t get one to write a decent lyric about it by electro-shocking him in the shoulder pads.

Once that floating naked baby record and the flannel people materialized, of course, such bands couldn’t do much but struggle to quote-fingers evolve (anyone remember Poison’s gospel-tinged ode to individuality “Stand?” Pfft.), but surprisingly, most fans resisted the abruptly spiritual carpe-diem stuff emerging from the very same people who just minutes prior were panting out songs like “The Hunter” and “Wanted Man” and “Slip of the Lip” and “You Are The Saint, I Am The Sinner” while thrusting, into the MTV cameras, anything attached to them that was thrustable. Eight minutes later “Beavis and Butthead” put a dingus named Stuart in a Winger T-shirt and the coffin was closed. For a while.

Because these days, a great many hairtacular bands have circled their wagons on the middle-tier nostalgia package-tour circuit looking, if not to conquer the Earth, to at least ruin some more of its ozone. These are the lucky ones, of course, as some are surely moving used cars in Lexington, some are assembling weird simulacrums of their former bands and releasing “Chinese Democracy” and still others are smacking their noses into parts of the Tony Awards. It’s a mess, is what I’m saying. But regardless, somewhere on its plummet down from the wild ’80s schmaltz-glitz years of Bon Jovi, Poison, Motley Crue and the 250 bands that started with W, hair metal — and this was really nice of it — forgot to die.

“If you stick around, things move back in front of you,” Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott told me during a 2005 interview with the newspaper in Jacksonville, Fla. “Eventually, the goalposts move back to where they should be, and you fit back in with what’s going on.” In other words, there are millions of faces left to be Rocked(TM).

And for those of us whose births were timed so that our primordial experiences with cassette tapes and cheese-rock radio aligned with the rise of these scissor-kicking clowns in women’s pants, we didn’t have a chance. We gloried in hair metal, reveled in it, made our moms drive us to Camelot to, incredibly, pay for album-length collections of it. And now that we are older, enough to know hip from square, enough to become marginally horrified at everything we did between grades 7 and 12, before we began defining ourselves in no small degree by the fairly pathetic barometer of our iTunes libraries, we can look back, with our heads held high, with one foot in nostalgia and one fist in the stars and say proudly, “NEARLY EIGHT PERCENT OF THIS MUSIC IS NOT THAT BAD!”

This column follows that eight percent. Step inside. Walk this way.

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