Do you feel it, the hand of history?
Exactly thirty years ago today, on August 2 1986, there came upon us three records that represented the event horizon for Hair Metal. It was a tipping point, a moment of realisation that the future was here. It was suddenly alright to look good, feel good and party hardy on a Friday nite… and every other nite. And rock’n’roll all day too, if that was your bag.
Because Hair was Here.
The creators of those three records? First, formed in the year of our Lord 1984 and featuring the only man in this story wearing less make-up than in his past professional life, Vinnie Vincent. Fresh from the (then) impossible job of replacing ‘Space’ Ace Frehley in Kiss, joined by drummer Bobby Rock and the deathless bromance of Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter (more of which later) in Vinnie Vincent Invasion.
Second, from Mechanicsburg, PA, landing via a recommendation from Jon Bon Jovi, came Cinderella. They were an irresistible mix of rock-hard riffage and an image that was trashed Las Vegas hotel room rendered in flesh.
Third, Poison. LA arrivistes and cocksure self-starters with a Trash aesthetic that made Aerosmith look like men who’d found their stage gear in a dumpster, here was a band in a hurry to have their say – a say that would quickly come to define those early, heady months of hair heaven.
As with any lightning rod moment, forces had been coalescing for a while. Vinnie Vincent had been demoing much of the material with a previous band, Warrior, as far back as ’82, but it was the arrival of bass guitarist Strum and singer Robert Fleischman that was most important. Strum was best-known as the talent scout who’d introduced both Randy Rhoads and Jake E Lee to Ozzy as well as steering Vincent towards Kiss, but now arrived as a musician in his own right, while Fleischman one of the West Coast’s great nearly-men. Combined, they provided the ingredients for a record that pulled together nascent forms of Glam, Trash, and Shred Metal into an artful cocktail that, while it didn’t quite sell in the numbers that Cinderella and Poison would, proved terrifically influential.
Even the (mis)spelling of leadoff track Boyz Are Gonna Rock — the ‘z’ soon to become grammatically ubiquitous — seemed thrillingly new. Fleischman’s departure just before the record’s release allowed cock rock princeling Mark Slaughter to step in, lip-syncing like a vet in the VVI videos and adding the necessary touch of smoulder to a band that already looked like the wreckage of a wild night out.
Cinderella’s Night Songs was similarly filled with the kind of hooky riffs and chest-beating melodies that would become genre-defining, and while Fleischman’s singing had the air of classic rock about it, Tom Keifer produced the high-register howl that would become so coveted and imitated by thousands of others. The trick was a neat one: Cinderella were a metal band at heart, but in a world that had just fallen for Bon Jovi and Europe, they produced enough of a spin to their look and sound to tilt the genre in a new direction.
And as ludicrous as Poison were – that was sort of the point, after all – here was the band that already occupied the beckoning future. Look What The Cat Dragged In, self-imagined, self-penned, self-regarding and sounding every inch as though it was recorded for around $20,000, which it was, became a lodestone. Its now-classic cover was hilarious, ridiculous and ever so slightly arousing, while its songs – ‘I Want Action’, ‘Talk Dirty To Me’ –were evidence of gloriously one-track minds, more disposable than a used diaper and once heard, impossible to dislodge.
As Penelope Spheeris’ wonderful film Decline And Fall of Western Civilisation II: The Metal Years captured so beautifully, an entire lifestyle evolved from the events of 2 August 1986. Beforehand, we had Van Halen, we had Motley Crue, we had Bon Jovi. Here, now, came the records that would pull those influences together into a movement, centred geographically on two or three miles of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. It would sweep outwards faster than a deadly virus in a Stephen King novel, and within a year Look What the Cat Dragged In had got Poison a major record deal and had been certified three-times Platinum. They toured briefly with Cinderella, who in turn hitched up on tours with David Lee Roth and Bon Jovi that powered Night Songs to number three in the Billboard Top 200.
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Vinnie Vincent Invasion didn’t quite catch the wave, but Strum and Slaughter were determined not to miss out on the party: leaving Vinnie to his enduring cult status, they decamped to Las Vegas and formed Slaughter in 1988, rampaging to rock’n’roll riches on the back of one of the era’s dumbest gang sing-alongs, the immortal Up All Night.
It was a time of madness, fun and hedonistic excess, a splash of colour before the relentless, humourless gloom of grunge, and if has a birthday, it is August 2.
So raise a glass today – to the good ol’, bad ol’ days…
How we miss them now.