In the first part of my series of posts about the albums that signposted my journey to becoming a rock and metal fan starting from the late 80s, I covered Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and Black Sabbath’s Paranoid as albums that got me hooked into modern hard rock, classic rock and classic heavy metal (all my personal terms…these sub-genres may equate to different groups for other music fans). In this second post, I cover three more albums that introduced me to other sub-genres of rock and metal.
1988, introduction to ‘hair’ metal via Motley Crue’s 1987 album, Girls, Girls, Girls: As a teenage male, what was there not to like about the title track from the bad boys of metal? Frankly, these songs were not particularly heavy and probably shouldn’t have even been termed as metal, except for the screechy vocals and ‘big hair’ that gave these bands an aura of ‘danger’! This is actually what KISS had done in the 70s with a combination of scary make-up and surprisingly accessible stadium rock lyrics, and now Motley Crue was reinventing the approach for a new generation, with slightly raunchier lyrics in keeping with the times. The music in this album felt like it had an element of southern boogie thrown in as well (like ZZ Top on steroids). Songs like Wild Side and Sumthin’ For Suthin’, as well as the title track are my favourites. The band repeated the formula 2 years later to even greater success with Dr. Feelgood. In 1994 they returned with a new vocalist and a much heavier, thrash metal sound that mimicked Alice in Chains, but the album sank pretty quickly (although I quite like most of the songs).
Meanwhile, in the late 80s, there were a number of clones of the Motley Crue style and they were all really good. In some cases, these were existing bands that decided to restyle themselves to latch onto this wave. My favourites were Cinderella, Poison and Ratt. Cinderella’s debut album Night Songs could really be classified as true heavy metal, but to capitalize on the hair metal craze, the band was given a ‘glam’ positioning by its label. I really loved the slow, heavy sound of Night Songs and Nobody’s Fool. Their follow-up album Long Cold Winter had an even better collection of songs, some a bit more bluesy. The title track, Gypsy Road and Don’t Know What You’ve Got are fantastic, under-rated metal songs from this era. Poison hit the airwaves around the same time and I’m sure everyone remembers their power ballad Every Rose Has Its Thorn from their album Open Up and Say…Ahh!. Ratt was less well known although they had been around much longer, but I only discovered them when they glamourized themselves and released Reach for the Sky in 1988, with great songs like City to City and I Want a Woman…admittedly rather juvenile when you listen to them now, but still very catchy.
1989, introduction to thrash metal via Metallica’s 1988 album, …And Justice for All: I can remember exactly how I got hooked onto Metallica through this album. I played the tape and the music made absolutely no sense to me…no melody, no rhythm, just some guy growling with lots of noise in the background (I guess I must have been listening to Blackened, the first song on Side A). It was a sunny afternoon, so I dozed off with the tape still playing. Luckily, it was one of those tape players that automatically switched sides, so when I woke up a short while later the album was still playing and I was amazed to hear the most inventive, music delivered with such raw brutality that it seemed to speak to my very soul. I couldn’t believe it was the same music that I had dissed half an hour earlier. I think this was Harvester of Sorrow (which is actually my favourite song from the album). I just listened to the album again and again. It took me quite some time to get hold of Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets albums and it was only several years later that I got a vinyl-to-tape transfer of their debut album Kill ‘Em All. By then of course, they had become the biggest band in the world, by virtue of their ‘black album’ released in 1991. For me, …And Justice for All will remain the album that changed my life in so many ways and the release that showcases the true DNA of the band. I think of it as Metallica’s equivalent of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List – the work that probably will define the artist in years to come. Every song is fantastic. Oh, I could say that about every album upto 1987’s Reload! I am so lucky that I got to see them in concert in Malaysia in 2013…the stadium went wild and everyone sang along with every song!
Metallica led to me seek out the thrash metal genre, which at that time was defined by the quartet of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth. I only ever really warmed up to Megadeth (but that was a few years later in the early 90s, when they released the outstanding Countdown to Extinction). Meanwhile, thrash metal was evolving, with bands like Alice in Chains, System of a Down and Pantera all redefining and pushing the boundaries of musicianship and songwriting in the context of heavy metal. I could go on and on about all these bands and their albums (maybe in a new series at a later date).
1989, introduction to progressive rock via Rush’s 1985 album, Power Windows: In fact, the first song I heard from Rush was The Temples of Syrinx, from their seminal 1976 album 2112. I was a pre-teen and this song represented the big bad world of hard rock (as I thought of it at that time in the late 70s); I was so fascinated with the sound but in those days there was no SoundHound and no way to know what I was listening to. It was only in the late 80s that I realized the song was by Rush, who were as far removed from the bad boys of rock and metal as it was possible to be. I am sure I had listened to other Rush songs in college in 1987/88, but it wasn’t until 1989 that I sat down and listened to an entire album from this group and was really hooked by Neil Peart’s astonishing time signatures…not even realizing at that time that I was in fact listening to a milder, more commercial sound from this band. Friends soon introduced me to their ‘classics’ from the late 70s and early 80s – Tom Sawyer, The Spirit of the Radio, Red Barchetta, A Farewell to Kings, Circumstances, Hemispheres, Trees…the list goes on and on. They released 12 albums from Rush (1974) to Hold Your Fire (1987) and I loved every single one. From 1989’s Presto onwards, their albums became a mixed bag with a different sound (particularly Geddy Lee’s vocal style) that I just couldn’t get to love. Their 2002 album Vapor Trails was a welcome return to a harder, sharper sound that I quite liked.
It’s impossible to find another band that sounds like Rush, but two rock groups come quite close. One is the ‘other Canadian rock trio’ Triumph, with three really good albums – Just a Game (1979), Progressions of Power (1980) and Allied Forces (1981). The other of course, is Yes, which also is a band with a unique sound, and was one of the musical inspirations for Rush’s Geddy Lee. There are a couple of famous contemporary progressive metal (not rock) bands which have either been influenced by Rush or have a sound reminiscent of Rush that I’ll cover in Part 3 under the prog metal sub-genre.