Archive for Blackout in the Red Room

The Last Years of 80s Hair Metal, Part III: Sleazy Come, Sleazy Go…

Posted in Entertainment, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2022 by Mike

Hair metal peaked with Appetite for Destruction. Here’s what came after…

“Sleaze Metal”, a reference to the genre’s devotion to excess, to decadence, doesn’t mean a whole lot when looking at hair metal bands and trying to tie any particular one to the term. Mötley Crüe, Warrant, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Ratt, Skid Row, ad infinitum, all were “sleazy” in their own ways, whether you knew about their off-stage antics or were only familiar with the music. But if you’re over 40 you probably listened to Mötley Crüe, you remember singing along to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie,” and can probably name a handful of songs from each of the others. Here are some runners up you may not have thought about in a while, if at all.

In 1987, Faster Pussycat’s self-titled first album dropped two weeks before GNR’s Appetite. You don’t remember it. OK, that’s probably a bit unfair because the catchy “Bathroom Wall” had some airplay (why a song that contemplates fate and chance gets less attention than Tommy Tutone’s bathroom wall-inspired pop hit “867-5309/Jenny” is beyond me) and if you watched late night cable in 1989 you might have seen the band featured in “The Decline of Western Civilization, Part II“. For me though, the song I kept coming back to was “Babylon” a rap/rock hybrid (kinda) that preceded Anthrax’s ACTUAL hybrid “I’m the Man” by a year.

Their follow-up, 1989’s Wake Me When It’s Over went gold, so there’s a real chance readers will recall this one, if for nothing else than its single “House of Pain“, a ballad about growing up fatherless. This album also offered up the eminently listenable “Poison Ivy“, “Slip of the Tongue” and their ode to sadomasochism “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way“, all riff-heavy party rockers with choruses meant to sing along to (yeah, I can still sing all the lyrics). Moving away from their glam rock sound, there were a few more blues-inspired tunes, including “Tattoo” and “Cryin’ Shame“. They would put out one or two more albums in the 90s, one of which I remember including an uninspired cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain.”

I saw Faster Pussycat open for KISS at the Starplex Ampitheatre in 1990 (along with Slaughter, who was getting a lot of attention for their power ballad “Fly to the Angels“). Pussycat closed with “Babylon”, as I recall, and the frontman, Taime Down (yeah, that’s his name) came out with what I want to say was a BMW steering wheel on a big gold chain around his neck. Felt a little racist. My brother bought one of their concert shirts emblazoned with “WAKE THE F@$K UP, DICKHEAD!” on the back. Our mom saw it a couple weeks later and read him the riot act about how when he left the house he was representing our family. I, being St. Michael, had not bought that particular shirt.

Dangerous Toys’ mascot, Bill Z. Plenty of 40+ year old guys walking around with tattoos of this clown on their back.

Another band that sold a lot of copies of its first album (1989), Texas’ Dangerous Toys had one real hit, “Teas’n, Pleas’n“, a hard rock song with a riff that made me wish I could play the guitar. This song JAMS. They would later release “Scared” as another single, but nothing else matched “Teas’n, Pleas’n” for me: at the age of 17 I was of the opinion that any metal song including a deliberate tempo change (“I don’t even make my own rules…”) was an automatic winner. “Outlaw” saw the band incorporate the western/cowboy/Texas mythos, and is probably the most standard straight up rock song on the album, though not particularly memorable (“Ten Boots (Stompin’)“, though, has a huge bass line and may rival it). Lyrically, Toys often exhibited a deliberate sense of humor: “Sportin’ A Woody” and “Take Me Drunk” were drunken partiers. And what is maybe an unfair complaint: because of this strain of humor, most of the songs couldn’t be taken all that seriously. “Bones in the Gutter“, for instance, told from the perspective of a hired killer who worked on the cheap, is somewhat forgettable beyond the ridiculous premise of the song. Toys would put out a couple more albums, but like most hair metal bands couldn’t sustain a career as their sound just got tired/uninspiring.

Interesting to note that another Texas metal band, Pantera, after putting out a number of standard glam metal albums through the late 80s, would release its seminal Cowboys from Hell just a year later (1990). Bands needed to grow or they died out quick.

I might’ve included the Netherlands’ Sleeze Beez in my Scandinavian (ok fine, Magnus, northern Europe) metal blog, but their name dictated my placing them here. I bought Screwed, Blued and Tattooed (1990) solely on the strength of “Stranger Than Paradise“, a song with an inspired chorus even if the lyrics don’t make much sense. Buying music in the late 80s was always a crap shoot – you’d hear a song on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball and go to the mall looking for the album at Camelot Music. Outside of that one song that brought you to the mall, you weren’t sure what you were going to get, and that led to a lot of tapes that would get a listen or two and then put back in the case in favor of, well, Extreme. Listening to Screwed…, it’s definitely got some catchy hooks here and there (“Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t“, the Bon Jovi-ish “Rock in the Western World“) but outside of two or three songs, musically and lyrically it’s the same old same old. The guitar heroics on the album aren’t anything you couldn’t hear on fifteen other albums that past year.

I’m going to close out this post with Love/Hate’s Black Out in the Red Room (1990). They had their roots in the LA glam scene, and finally got this album released just as the genre was in its death throes. Let me say this first: the title song is heavy and holds up to this day. DAMN. True confession time: my first semester at A&M I took a handball course as my required phys. ed. I entered a few tournaments and would blast this song in my dorm room before I made my way across campus to the courts. I may have written “LOVE” on one hand and “HATE” on the other at one point (gloves were part of the gear). Yeah, I love this song.

The rest of the album is absolute sleaze. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll all the way. The singer, Jizzy Pearl (I’m beginning to think a lot of these L.A. guys might’ve adopted some stage names) has this slurry, high pitched screech that utterly fits the subject matter – he sells every song. “Rock Queen” and “Tumbleweed” follow up “Black Out” – the album doesn’t slow down (helps that most songs clock in at 2:30 – 3:30 minutes – totaling about 40 minutes of in your face debauchery). “Why Do You Think They Call it Dope?” has a chorus I can still belt out today. “Fuel to Run“, “One More Round“, “Slutsy Tipsy“, “Mary Jane” – yeah, Love/Hate had a theme. What I think pulls this one away from other hair metal bands is that they didn’t seem to be aiming for hits/radio play – “Dope” got some play, but not much else beyond that. There are certainly no acoustic ballads here.

That attitude would come back and bite the band, but not how you might think. As the band members wrote songs for their second album, they aimed for MORE radio friendly fare. Their label told them they needed to keep their rough edges, and rejected everything they had written at that point. Maybe as a result of these differences, their second album, Wasted in America, ended up being a commercial failure and they soon got dropped by the label.

Live fast, die young, rock and roll.

Next time: Hair metal gets the blues. Maybe. I’m making this up as I go.