I wanna rock!

Speccy

Metal Mickey, Tizwas, the Rubik’s Cube, cans of Quatro, Cadbury’s Wispa, Adidas Ivan Lendl polo shirts with the geometric patterns, Sergio Tacchini, Fila Terrinda, Puma G. Vilas tennis shoes, Slazenger Seve Ballesteros golf clubs, Anneka Rice’s arse in Treasure Hunt, the Sinclair C5, Soda Stream, the wedge haircut and the way you had to flick your fringe out of your eyes, Pringle jumpers, Howard’s Way, Fireball gob stoppers, Linda Lusardi and her briskets on Page 3, Channel 4’s Red Triangle, Stu ‘crush a grape’ Francis, Granddad shirts, Terry Wogan’s chat show when celebrities had done something to be celebrated for, He Man, when Snickers were still called Marathons, the Miner’s Strike, the NUT school teacher strikes, Alan Bleasdale and Liverpool, Willo the Wisp, Patrick cagoules, Paula Yates on The Tube, Magenta Devine on Network 7, Leslie Ash driving a Ford RS Turbo in Cats Eyes, BMX bikes with mag wheels and chromoly handle bars… The 1980s are the new 1970s when it comes to cheesy nostalgia. Because the eighties are now officially™ retro. It’s cool to be playing old Pac Man or Astro Wars handheld games that you’ve bought off eBay; to go all teary eyed at the sound of a ‘Speak & Spell’, ‘now spell… TREE’ ; to indulge yourself in repeats of Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses (when Del, Rodney and company were still good) on UK Gold; and it’s ACE! to get a ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 emulator for your laptop and play ‘Manic Miner’, ‘Sabre Wulf’ or ‘Winter Games’ again. But while to many people the music of the 80s is all Kelly Marie feeling like she’s in love and Sheena Easton grinding herself away working nine to five, poor cow, or Jason Donovan having found too many broken hearts in the world after Kylie gave him the boot and George Michael strolling around in tennis shorts and Diadora Borg Elite heartbroken over a careless whisper, my 1980s are different. My mnemonic programming is not prompted by Rick Astley or Wet, Wet, Wet. Because I took an alternative route. While I might have had a passing interest in Frankie Goes to Hollywood (aye-eye-aye-ee-eye…) and the Smiths, after the Jam split up with the release of ‘Town Called Malice’/’Precious’, I largely turned my back on mainstream music in disgust. And, like the hero of a Lord Byron poem, wandering heartbroken in the musical wilderness, clutching my bitterness about the final beat surrender of the Mod Revival that had seen me hang up my Harrington jacket and let my suedehead hair cut grow out, I embraced the seedy over-driven promise of Heavy Metal. So while someone else might be transported back to the days of Maggie Thatcher and Ronald Reagan by the sound of the synth in the opening of  Tiffany’s ‘I think we’re alone now’, for me it’s the Noddy Holder roar of WASP lead singer Blackie Lawless when I listen to Live… in the raw that prompts the power of association and suddenly it’s 1987 again and a UV light would have lit my bedroom up like a fridge door opening.

 

Back in the 1980s the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was splashing over England. We had Mötorhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamondhead… Following this the Americans rolled up on Harley Davidson choppers – Metallica, LA Guns, Motley Crue, Guns & Roses… Heavy Metal occupied a world of its own, chronicled by the magazines ‘Metal Hammer’ and ‘Kerrang!’ and was given a voice by Tommy Vance on Radio 1 late on a Friday night. Back then hard Rock in the 1980s knew that it was on the fringes; rodding two fingers to the establishment where the Fairlight synthesizer and fretless bass reigned. It’s the sort of music the rebellious kid in the leather motorbike jacket in a John Hughes film would listen to on his Sony Walkman; a fact reflected in the music videos of Twisted Sister (in particular MTV favourite ‘I wanna rock’). The chart hits and appearances on Top of the Pops were few and far between. Iron Maiden’s ‘Run to the hills’ being the biggest hit the NWOBHM produced. But we didn’t care. We embraced the outsider status. In fact, any act that ended up on TOTP miming away had ‘sold out’. Especially when they threw a synth into the mix. I mean, a fucking synth? Who did they think they were, the Thompson Twats? Look at Bon Jovi. And Def Leppard. Enough said.

 

1980s hard rock is music that’s massively underrated, which is partly down to the pantomime nature of the look that went with it. Back combed hair, blitz boots and acres of over-burdened spandex. Brett Michaels from Poison used to be plastered in more makeup than half a dozen lasses on the Boots cosmetic counter. Then there was Blackie Lawless and his flame-spitting codpiece, chucking raw liver at the crowd. It was a look that was either Marc Bolan as sponsored by Clarins or Conan the Barbarian with a BC Rich Warlock guitar looped on bullet bandolier strap. She Man or He Man, that was the choice facing the hard rocker in the 1980s when they strapped on their axe and prepared to crunch out a 10,000 feet wide power chord. The British bands had a more down to earth look – denim and leather – and carried on a sort of dark mysticism that was easy to associate with Jimmy Page’s occult obsessions in Led Zeppelin. Loads of skulls and some cod Satanic props and LP sleeve artwork. The American rockers whose universe centred on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles were trashier and glammed up; following a trail pioneered by KISS and the New York Dolls in the 1970s. So the dated look doesn’t help. But neither do the lyrics, which follow similar themes throughout the genre. Shiny cars and dirty money, that’s rock n’ roll. And women. Lots of women. The lyrics to WASP’s ‘9-5 Nasty’ are some of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. She threw me down and then she tore off my jeans, she said, ‘Come on, baby, I mean busines, I’m gonna show you what liberated meeeeeeeeeeeeeeans!’ But the musicianship is peerless. Rolling bass, overdriven guitars and drums like thunder (a combo which melds together on Kiss’ 1982 Creatures of the night album). And bugger me, could they play. Just listen to the truly amazing Vinnie Vincent shredding his guitar and Blackie Lawless tearing his vocal chords apart. All this is before the days of digital recording when loops could be spliced, comped, mixed and stuck together seemlessly. Before auto-tune and easy sampling. These blokes were laying music down onto analogue tape after a four count because they’d practiced until their fingers bled and they had nodules the size of golf balls on their larynxes. That said, drum solos are pretty shit. After you’ve said three or four times, ‘Fucking hell, Cozy’s making it sound like a train’, then you’ve said it all.

 

Hard Rock is even more marginalized now than it was back in the 1980s. No real new acts seem to be coming through (I’ve tried to get into Airborne, but can’t), while RnB and X-Factor’s over-hyped brand of karaoke rule the airwaves. But we need Hard Rock. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal take us to a place that our testosterone demands. We need those riffs and lead breaks. We need the stomp of the drum and the bass runs. We NEED the primeval scream of the lead vocalist.

 

The zenith of my devotion to Heavy Metal was the 1988 Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donnington. Saturday 20th August 1988, stood in a field with 100,000 of the faithful, dodging plastic containers filled with piss. I saw Guns & Roses, with Axl Rose swearing his way through the set, Dave lee Roth doing aerobics in some luminous lycra while singing, Kiss rumbling through the thrashes, smashes and hits, with the headliners Iron Maiden appearing after dark with the amps cranked up and the laser show beaming out into the night. It wasn’t going to get any better than this. The Stone Roses were on their way and the 1990s were looming… Bring it on down.

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