“Growing up is such a pain” - High in High School
Whenever you hear some non-rocker yammer on about how “cheesy” 80’s metal was, whenever you hear the term ‘hair metal’ followed by a derisive snort, they’re almost never talking about actual ‘hair metal’ outfits, i.e. bands that got by solely on their dumb haircuts. You know, like Britny Foxx and Nitro and the Push Band.
Usually, they’re talking about Quiet Riot, Ratt, or Twisted Sister, and even though all of ‘em had hair issues, they had plenty other gimmicks to work with, as well. The hairspray thing gets a lot of mileage from the snarky straight world, but there’s a big difference between glammy hard rock and pure, unashamed, artless, ‘hair metal’.
Well, let us not be disillusioned. Madam X were a Hair Metal band. In fact, they may be the Hair Metal band, and in a sick, disturbed sort of way, should probably be both worshipped and revered for it. Because really, when you strip away all the trappings of the era, the gloss and the glitz, the hippy-goth Shamans, the berserk cocaine warlords, the pseudo-Satanic sex gods, the party killers and whore manglers, when you yank all those drug and money-fueled stereotypes away like Xmas wrapping paper and reveal what was under it all in 80’s Flash Metal, you will find…nothing. Zip.
That was the whole idea behind Flash Metal, you know. Fast, cheap, and vapid, it was rock n’ roll as a roadhouse stripper. The fact that a few bands transcended that and ended up creating genuine, honest, monolithic rock n’ roll, is more of a happy accident than anything by design. I mean, bands yapped to Hit Parader and Circus about “rock n’ roll” a lot back then, but most of ‘em weren’t even interested in rock, not even a little. Read Dirt or Kiss and Makeup or Sex Drugs Ratt n’ Roll, if you don’t believe me. When it came to the big league bands, Flash Metal was not about rock, it was about commerce. Commerce and hair spray.
Madam X, at least, was honest about it. Not that they admitted it anymore than anybody else, but they were so transparent, in every possible way, that they practically screamed “Buy Me!” That’s what they should have called every one of their songs. Pile our hair up higher? Sure! Write songs about high school? You bet! Wear less clothes on stage? Done! And so on. Being that eager to please really should have catapulted Madam X straight to the top of the mid-80’s Flash Metal heap, if even for only one crazy summer or so, but it was not to be. Part of the reason was because throughout their brief but eventful career, the band was pretty much always coming apart at the seams, with record label hassles hounding them every step of the way, and various members storming in and out the door quicker than LA Guns at the local rehab center. The other part? I really think they might have been too lowbrow, even for glam metal. Holy smokes.
Madam X was formed in the early 80s by Maxine and Roxy Petrucci, a guitar/drummer sister act. Initially, the band was conceived as an all-girl affair, but when that didn’t pan out, they did the next best thing and recruited bassface Chris Doliber, a former garage rocker who immediately lost his mind upon joining the band, growing his hair two feet high and dressing like a biker Frankenstein way before Rob Zombie got the idea. Oh, and he started calling himself “Godzilla”, too.
Together, they brought their cartoonish flash metal shtick to NYC to get famous and found Brett Kaiser, whose hair was just as ridiculous as theirs. That’s fate, man. He became their singer. I dunno if it was Brett’s impressively screechy caterwauling, or Maxine’s lacy pink lingerie, or the fact that they had a giant dude named fuckin’ Godzilla on bass, but Madam X got signed rather quickly, to minor-major Jet Records (home of 80’s solo Ozzy). In 1984, which is exactly the right year for such a thing. Later that year, Madam X’s sole album, We Reserve the Right, was released.
There is no way that any 14 year old metal dude ever looked over this record in the bin at his local record shop in 1984 and did not at least ponder buying it, just for the cover. The band photo emblazoned across it, framed in red smoke, is one of the greatest, most absurd images of the 80s, and I am still awed by it, after all these years. Roxy is wearing a leotard and a headband, just like Olivia Newton John in her “Let’s Get Physical” video. Godzilla looks like he’s been constructed from old motorcycle parts. Just take a long look at this fella and tell me he’s not the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands. Maxine, the undisputed eye candy of the band, looks like a fluffer girl on the set of New Wave Hookers. Brett Kaiser, well, he just looks like a fuckin’ dirtbag.
It is an entirely classic photo, meant to satisfy every teenage metalhead desire – lust, power, mayhem, rock – at once. Yeah, sure, there was a record inside, but if Madam X were selling haircuts, not songs, then they would’ve have been bazillionaires. But maybe you were beyond all that back in 1984. I was only 15. I wasn’t beyond anything yet, so I bought a copy. Now, I am not saying that We Reserve the Right is a lost flash metal gem in the way that say, Mr. Nasty or Sweet Pain are, but if you skipped MX in their day because of their over-the-top looks, then you missed out on one of the most flagrant examples of dumb, bad fun ever committed to vinyl.
Going with the please-everybody-at-once concept, Madam X tried to sound like a motor-riffing Brit metal band, like Judas Priest or Saxon, and a glammy-sleazy hard rock band, like Motley Crue or WASP, and a teenage-baiting party-anthem band, like Twisted Sister or Quiet Riot, all at once. And you know what? That’s pretty much how they sound. Brett Kaiser does a dead-on Rob Halford impression throughout the proceedings, screeching and growling like an arena monster, Maxine lifts Priest, Kiss, and Crue riffs like they were on sale, and effortlessly twists them into supersonic Cheezwhiz, and the band all yelp out a goofy refrain at every chorus.
Best of all, the lyrics read just like the ones you used to write in your notebook during study hall in the ninth grade. The songs on this record are just amazing in their obviousness. In the self-explanatory Dirty Girls, the line “Dirty girls keep calling me” is accompanied, every time, with the ringing of a telephone. The only actual heavy metal song on the record is called Metal in My Veins, and is led off with a gratuitous ‘metal’ guitar solo. You know, stuff like that.
The song you’d know Madam X from, if you knew ‘em at all, is opener High in High School, which was also a memorably goofy MTV video. The lyrics, in part, are as follows: “Wake up, you’re late for school, now that’s history/1 plus 1 equals fun, that’s math to me”. You would literally have to get a chunk of brain removed from your head to write something dumber then High in High School. And yet, on a primitive, teenage hellraiser kinda level, it actually works. Madam X was sort of like a Satanic Sweet in that way, capable of writing instantly catchy pop songs with enough grit to make the rockers think they were getting their dose of metal mania.
And, also like the Sweet, their songs were so basic that even if you spoke Chinese, you could ‘get’ it. Hence, the brutal simplicity of songs like She’s Hot Tonight (“She likes her meat well-done”), Good With Figures (“I’m good with figures/ and I like your figure”), and Cat’s Got Your Tongue (“F is for fighting, C is for chew, K is for knuckles, all I need is U”). And, as was standard policy in those days, half the songs on the record were about rock (Stand Up and Fight, Metal In My Veins, Reserve the Right to Rock), and how you’ve got to “Fight for rock”, whatever that means. There aren’t any classics on this record – how could there be, really? - but one song, Come One, Come All, a rowdy Kiss/Slade-esque glitter rock stomper, comes close. Not real close, but close enough for rock n roll.
Ok, so the cover really is better then the record, but for mindless high school kicks, We Reserve the Right is state of the art 80’s Flash Metal, and unless you’re a total killjoy, it’s pretty much impossible not to like. So what happened? Why no follow up? Hell, it was only 1984. Grunge wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Arm’s eye yet. Well, it goes something like this.
Madam X hit the road opening up for Lita Ford in the US, and planned on headlining on their own in the UK, but Brett Kaiser suffered some sort of loss in his family, and he abruptly left the band, hobbling their touring plans. Eventually, they replaced the MIA Kaiser with this fool John Ward, an Englishman who managed to top ‘em all in the goofy haircuts department with an alarming two-tone Cruella Deville look. Reportedly, this incarnation of the band recorded another album for Jet, but, due to lackluster sales for the debut, were dropped before it was ever released.
Ward split and eventually joined English puffball band Shy. Roxy left her sister’s side and split for the already revved-up Vixen, where she enjoyed a level of arena metal fame that had eluded her in MX. In probably the most historically notable moment for Madam X, a young Sebastian Bach, who was reportedly all of 16 years old at the time, joined the wounded band and toured the US with them for a successful headlining run in 1987, but quickly split for the ever more profitable Skid Row. And then Godzilla split to form, well, Godzilla. And how the fuck are you supposed to carry on without Godzilla? With a mouthful of brine, Maxine finally abandoned the sinking ship in 1988, and joined her sister in Vixen. And Madam X were no more
You know how it goes, though. A couple decades later, Godzilla and the Petrucci sisters rallied, and Madam X are back. The hair’s not as big, but the songs are just as fun and goofy as ever, so why not?
**Next: Living like a millionaire with the Toilet Boys **