Are We Hair Yet?

I have a confession to make. I’m a Ratt fan.
Why is this a big deal? Keep reading…

 
As a young metalhead eager to see where the genre was headed as the NWOBHM phenomenon waned, I followed the thread of Metal’s evolution even as it seemed to split into two very disparate directions. One road led into the mainstream, and the more commercial brand of Metal that exploded in popularity after the success of Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ album; the other led to the underground and the burgeoning Thrash movement. For a while, I didn’t see the split, and was buying records on both sides of the divide. But as these two divergent directions solidified into two clearly definable musical sub-genres, it dawned on me that as the underground stuff got heavier, so did the commercial stuff grow more lightweight, more… safe. As the two styles quickly headed for opposite poles, I felt I had to choose a side.

 
At some point in 1984, I re-evaluated my record collection, and purged a bunch of records by bands that I decided had crossed the line, and no longer belonged in my collection: Dokken’s ‘Tooth and Nail’. Motley Crue’s ‘Shout at the Devil’. Quiet Riot’s CBS debut. Ratt’s first two major label releases: dumped. Once I realized where this new strain of Metal was headed, it was easy for me to kick these bands to the curb. This wasn’t real Metal! It wasn’t MINE. I was NOT the target audience for this music. What was I thinking? How did these records get into my collection? I felt like I had been tricked, duped, ripped off. I felt violated. I share all of this without exaggeration.

 
In strictly musical terms, ‘Pop Metal’ (the term ‘Hair Metal’ came much later) quickly solidified into a recognizable sub-genre with easily identifiable features: the throbbing single-note bass line, the gang vocal shout-outs, the glitter canon snare drums, the bag-of-tricks guitar solo… Lyrical content centered around women/sex, partying/rocking, and … well that’s about it. And, of course, the mandatory power ballad. All of these features were pretty easy to spot, and sure enough, I started to notice these elements creeping into the records some of my heroes were making…

 
It was true. Some of favorite bands were undergoing a shift in style, streamlining their sound by simplifying song structures, sweetening the backing vocals, adding keys… and generally sliding toward a faceless, generic sound that worked on the radio, but lacked authenticity or bite. So I also tossed some albums from some of my heroes, and simply stopped following others. It wasn’t easy, but the changes that some of these bands were making to their music felt like betrayal. Deciding where to draw the line was also difficult. In some cases the slide into commerciality was gradual, unfolding over two or three albums, without a clear delineation between authenticity and artificiality.

 
These were turbulent times, and these were not easy decisions. Walk with me now along the dividing line between the music I loved, and the music of compromise; the blurry border between truth and artifice, where the siren song of worldwide fame and fortune during Metal’s boom years led many a great band astray. You may have drawn that line in different places; you may not have drawn it at all. But here’s how I made my determinations during my Great Pop Metal Purge:

 

Rainbow
Departure Point: ‘Straight Between the Eyes’ (1982)
Red Flag: ‘Magic’ & ‘I Surrender’ from ‘Difficult to Cure’
Deal Breaker: ‘Stone Cold’

‘Stone Cold’ placed JLT-era Rainbow squarely into Foreigner territory. Rainbow’s foray into FM radio-friendly territory began with Russ Ballard’s ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’, and the JLT era began with the excellent ‘Jealous Lover’, but the ‘Difficult to Cure’ album was a mixed bag, and ‘Stone Cold’ was so bland that I passed on the ‘Eyes’ album altogether. This was before ‘Metal Health’ arrived and changed the landscape for the rest of the 80s, but it foreshadowed the issues I’d face the following year.

Re-Assessment: I did buy this record and its follow-up, ‘Bent Out of Shape’ later when Polydor made Rainbow’s catalog available on CD. Compared to the disappointments to come, my initial disapproval of Rainbow’s radio-friendly shift in direction seems kinda silly now, as these are solid records with some great songs and some very fine playing.

 

 

Def Leppard
Departure Point: ‘Pyromania’ (1983)
Red Flag: ‘Photograph’
Deal-breaker: The Full Mutt

When I first heard the Lep’s 1983 single, ‘Photograph’, it was over for me. I couldn’t believe these guys were making a mainstream move after only two records! This was not NWOBHM, it wasn’t even Metal, even by early 80’s standards. I chose not to purchase ‘Pyromania’. It was easy for me to dismiss this record as a sell-out, with records like fellow NWOBHM pioneers Iron Maiden’s monstrous ‘Piece of Mind’ available as a comparison point. Nonetheless, I bought ‘Pyro’, but only listened a few times; I never needed to put it on, as for almost two years it was inescapable.

Re-Assessment: Listening with today’s ears, the music on ‘Pyro’ sounds like a very natural progression from the ‘High n Dry’ album, but with a much more commercial sheen. I view it as a ‘crossover’ record, in that the Leps had thoroughly crossed over from NWOBHM to Pop Rock. In retrospect, this is probably a great record, but it’s just not my thing.

 

Saxon
Departure Point: ‘The Power and the Glory’ (1983)
Red Flag: Where’s Pete Gill?
Deal-breaker: New version of ‘Suzie Hold On’

Not another NWOBHM band pandering to the American market? Alas, ‘The Power and the Glory’ sounded different than any of Saxon’s earlier records, sporting a ‘bigger’, arena-ready sound. Gone was the scrappy NWOBHM sound we had known and loved; this was Saxon on steroids, ready to kick American ass. Beyond the cavernous production, the US version of ‘Power’ featured a beefed-up re-recording of the band’s 1980 single, ‘Suzie Hold On’. The song’s inclusion on US pressings bumped the more metallic ‘Midas Touch’, sacrificing some real heft to make room for a much more commercial song. This kind of needless fuckery was really starting to piss me off.

Re-Assessment: No doubt this album rocks hard, but I maintain that the huge leap in production values buries their scrappy old-school NWOBHM charm, and it still doesn’t sit right with me. Un-Saxon-like songs like ‘Nightmare’ and ‘The Eagle has Landed’ are ambitious and even somewhat successful, but give me the first four albums any day.

 

 

Blackfoot
Departure Point: ‘Siogo’ (1983)
Red Flag: Keyboards (Ken Hensley???)
Deal-breaker: ‘Send Me an Angel’

First JLT-era Rainbow starts sounding like Foreigner; then Blackfoot starts sounding like JLT-era Rainbow. Not what you wanna hear from Blackfoot, the most ass-kickin’-est southern axe slingers of the era. I played this record exactly once and could never bring myself to try it out again. I just found it disingenuous and flat out dull. Blackfoot had lost their balls. Looking for answers, I noticed that some outside writers were listed in the writing credits, which I thought might at least partially explain how BORING this record was, and um WHAT THE FUCK IS KEN HENSLEY DOING IN BLACKFOOT?

Re-Assessment: Well, I tried it out again. It was difficult to get through. I would rather hear an all-in Def Leppard sell their souls to Mutt Lange than an insincere, half-hearted, middle of the road exercise in compromise like ‘Siogo’. Honestly, find this kind of record deeply offensive.

 

Krokus
Departure Point: ‘The Blitz’ (1984)
Red Flag: The cover art
Deal-breaker: Everything

I never bought ‘The Blitz’; seeing/hearing the video for ‘Midnite Maniac’ sealed that deal. Coming directly after ‘Headhunter’, easily the most Metal album in the Krokus catalog, this pap was a real slap in the face. Krokus had reworked their look and sound, AGAIN, this time adopting all the requisite Pop-Metal tropes as perfectly as they had duplicated AC/DC’s sound just a few years earlier. After this move, Krokus stood revealed as shameless bandwagon jumpers… I forgave this band once already, for their unabashed AC/DC thievery, but not for this.

Re-Assessment: All frosting and no cake. The production is lightweight, the songs are tame, the cheesy radio-friendly cover of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ is nauseating, and the cover art is… Yuck. Krokus were always at their best when they sounded like Krokus. Pity they didn’t do more of that.

 

Y&T
Departure Point: ‘In Rock We Trust’ (1984)
Red Flag: That robot
Deal-breaker: That stupid fucking robot

This was a tough call. Y&T had always existed at the commercial edge of hard Rock and Metal; their best albums– ‘Earthshaker’ & ‘Black Tiger’– masterfully balanced their poppier inclinations with their more metallic edge. But for me, they crossed a line on ‘IRWT’, bringing in outside writers to sweeten the tunes, using some silly production tricks on ‘Lipstick and Leather’… Or maybe it was just one too many songs about Rock. My girlfriend loved this album… ‘Nuff said.

Re-Assessment: Decades later, this record really doesn’t sound that different from the few before it; it’s really just a matter of degree. There’s little too much sugar on top of this one for my taste. And that goddam robot…

 

Scorpions
Departure Point: ‘Love at First Sting’ (1984)
Red Flag: It was inevitable
Deal-breaker: Can’t quite put my finger on it…

Look, the Scorps INVENTED the power ballad, so I didn’t begrudge them the success of ‘No One Like You’ from ‘Blackout’; I think we all expected that, at some point, one of theirs would strike gold. ‘Still Loving You’ was a well-deserved victory lap, and as I cut ties, I wished them well. I just couldn’t hang to celebrate the Scorpions’ mainstream breakthrough, as I thought the rest of ‘Sting’ was severely lacking in that patented Scorpions …sting. I found the songs lame, the production tame, and the one balls-out rocker (‘The Same Thrill’) cliched and unconvincing. And is that even Herman Rarebell on the drums? I’m skeptical.The Scorps sounded spent here, after three scorchers in a row. Auf Wiedersehen, meine Freunde.

Re-Assessment: This isn’t the shameless sell-out that some other records I’m covering here are. Scorpions hadn’t changed their sound or style very much at all on ‘Sting’, they just took the next logical step on a journey they began a decade previous. I might actually re-buy this one. I said ‘might’.

 

Whitesnake
Departure Point: ‘Slide It In’ (1984)
Red Flag: Mickey Moody
Deal-breaker: John Sykes, Cozy Powell, and …Colin Hodgkinson?

When David Coverdale revamped Whitesnake, he fired Mickey Moody, the heart and soul of the band’s original Blues Rock sound, and replaced him with John Sykes, guitar masturbator extraordinaire. Cozy Powell also entered the mix, and while there’s no denying his place in the upper echelon of Rock/Metal drummers, I felt he was wrong for Whitesnake. I had pretty much decided to boycott this record based on those two changes alone; hearing that the album had been ‘remixed for the American market’ reinforced that decision. I’m not sure I even heard the entire record until it’s 35th anniversary edition was released…

Re-Assessment: I love this record. I bought the double-disc anniversary edition, which contains the UK & US mixes of the record, and I was blown away by an album I had written off without hearing. Of course, I prefer the original mix, as it leans a little more toward their classic Blues Rock sound, but Coverdale sounds great on both, the songs are strong throughout, and the real Hair bomb hadn’t hit yet.

 

Twisted Sister
Departure Point: ‘Stay Hungry’ (1985)
Red Flag: The cover art
Deal-breaker: The cartoonish videos

As Twisted Sister dived head first into the music video era, I bid them farewell. The image that the band chosen was ridiculous, and the videos were embarrassing cartoon garbage. None of this spoke to the music on the album, I know, but that’s where I was at the time: I was making qualitative judgments about albums based on non-musical factors. So I passed on ‘Stay Hungry’ on principle, even after I’d heard enough to be was pretty sure it was better than their previous record. Damn you, MTv!

Re-Assessment: This is actually a pretty worthy record; crunchy, punchy and aggressive. I still believe that the songs overall are better than the material on ‘You Can’t Stop Rock n Roll’, but even after all these years, I still can’t separate the music from the silly visuals stuck in my head due to the over-exposure of this record on MTv.

 

Loudness
Departure Point: ‘Thunder in the East’ (1985)
Red Flag: Signing to Atlantic Records
Deal-breaker: ‘M! Z! A!’

At this point, due to the mounting number of disappointing albums released by the old guard, I was dropping older bands from my fandom roster at the drop of a hat. Mistakes were made (see: Whitesnake). When I first heard the ‘Crazy Nights’ single from Loudness, I felt the same way I did when I had heard Scorpions’ ‘Rock You Like a Hurricane’: Ugh. Simple, safe, predictable, BORING. Loudness had apparently dumbed-down their music after signing with Atlantic and were in the big leagues now, clearly playing to the cheap seats. Unfortunately, I was getting used to cutting ties with bands I had loved for years, and it was getting easier.

Re-Assessment: Solid album. I bought this and the follow up, ‘Hurricane Eyes’, a few years back; both are worthy Loudness records. Kudos to these guys for not cashing in their chips completely while playing the major label game. I was wrong about ‘Thunder in the East’, a record more than worthy of your attention.

 

Van Halen
Departure Point: ‘5150’ (1986)
Red Flag: Sammy Hagar
Deal-breaker: ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’

Van Halen were, for a time, the most dangerous band on the planet. When Sammy joined, I assumed he wanted to get his Montrose mojo back, so hey, maybe this could work? Suddenly, Van Halen was fronted by a guy who could actually sing, but the result was obnoxious junk like ‘Why Can’t This Be Love’. I did not buy ‘5150’ based on my impression of that single alone. Diamond Dave’s presence and EVH’s guitar abstractions had (barely) saved the synth-heavy ‘1984’ and the paper-thin ‘Diver Down’ from total Pop disaster, but now Dave was gone and Ed had lightened and brightened his guitar tone, while continuing his annoying flirtation with keyboards. Dead to me.

Re-Assessment: I don’t think I have ever heard this album in it’s entirety until just now. Ed’s ‘new’ guitar sound just ruins it for me. And there’s just too much damn fun going on. All of the danger and edge that made Van Halen so badass is gone, and we’re left with a party band with funny haircuts and parachute pants. I hope I never hear another second of this record again.

 

Judas Priest
Departure Point: ‘Turbo’ (1986)
Red Flag: the cover art
Deal-breaker: ‘Turbo Lover’

This one still hurts. For many years, The Beast that is Priest was the living embodiment of the phrase Heavy Metal. Cutting my teeth on albums like ‘Sin After Sin’ and ‘Hell Bent for Leather’ made an album like ‘Turbo’ impossible for me to take. I had given them a pass on ‘Take These Chains’, and tried hard to like ‘Defenders of the Faith’ despite the over-processed production and lack of quality songs. But when I got about 60 seconds into ‘Turbo Lover’, I knew I could never be a fan of this band again. NOTE: 1986 was also the year of ‘Master of Puppets’, ‘Peace Sells…’, and ‘Reign in Blood’. After hearing ‘Turbo’, the road ahead was clear.

Re-Assessment: I’m just as disappointed today as I was 30+ years ago. No redeeming qualities at all. Just awful.

 

Aerosmith
Departure Point: ‘Permanent Vacation’ (1987)
Red Flag: Rehab
Deal-breaker: ‘Angel’

Wait— the band that wrote ‘Toys in the Attic’ and ‘Rocks’ needs to bring in outside writers? What the fuck for? So they can have huge hits like ‘Dude (Looks Like a Lady)’, and the wretched power ballad ‘Angel’, that’s why. Well, if this schlock was the result, then my hometown heroes would have to complete their career makeover without the likes of me. Oh, how I wanted these guys to recapture the dark magic of their first handful of records… I couldn’t have been the only kid who secretly wished these guys would start doing hard drugs again.

Re-Assessment: Not my Aerosmith. Props for surviving, but this almost sounds like parody to me. There are a few moments where the Aero boys almost catch fire, but if I were forced to include a post-rehab A-smith album into my collection, it would be ‘Pump’.

 

Accept
Departure Point: ‘Eat the Heat’ (1989)
Red Flag: Udo’s exit
Deal-breaker: Udo’s replacement

This record had no chance with me. Zero. Accept had replaced Udo Dirkschneider with an American singer, David Reece. I knew what it would sound like before I even heard it. I think I got a free promo copy of this on cassette, popped it into my car deck, listened in shock for a few songs, popped it out and into the trash. The music was vaguely recognizable as Accept, but as soon as the vox kicked in, this could’ve be any L.A. Glam Metal band with above-average chops and a misspelled name.

Re-Assessment: I can’t. I’m sorry. I tried. Unlistenable. Imagine Motorhead with Joe Lynne Turner on vocals; that is the schism we were presented with on ‘Eat the Heat’. Time has done nothing to make this epic mis-step more listenable.

 

Bonus Entries: In the interest of completeness, I also re-listened to the records that initially tipped me off to the faux Metal charade. Yes, I once owned these records. For a short time. Briefly. I think. Anyway, here are my current takes:

 
Quiet Riot / Metal Health (1983)
The Slade cover is brilliant. And that, my friends, is the best thing I can say about ‘Metal Health’. Actually, here’s something else: It’s better than ‘Shout at the Devil’, though that’s not saying much. After the reasonably metallic title track, and the brilliant Slade cover, the rest of this record is over-produced, under-written commercial Metal with a serious saccarine aftertaste. But could a record this crappy really be so influential? Yes, because when a record hits the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, it immediately begins to influence the genre it operates within. Listening with fresh ears, I am struck by how this album set into place a strict template that most successful Pop Metal records that came after followed rigorously. A sub-genre is born?

 
Motley Crue / Shout at the Devil (1983)
Full Disclosure: I have come to believe that Motley Crue are the worst band in the history of music. But back in 1983, I thought the Motleys were OK enough, having been a big fan of at least one of their tunes: ‘Live Wire’ from their debut album. But listening today, ‘Shout’ feels strangely empty; It’s pretty plain to me that this record is packed wall-to-wall with filler. ‘Knock em Dead, Kid’ on Side Two is simply a re-write of ‘Looks That Kill’ from Side One, the album’s intro is a ‘Number of the Beast’ rip, and the Beatles cover sux. Oh, and the Satanic nonsense is just plain silly.

 
Dokken / Tooth and Nail (1984)
I bought the debut on Carerre in 1982, due to the buzz surrounding George Lynch, and I hoped ‘Tooth and Nail’ would be more and better. Well, the cover was better. In hindsight, though, this album is probably as good as a 100% certified Pop Metal album could be. Damning with faint praise? Okay, how about this: If your girlfriend popped this into the cassette deck on your way to the beach, you could do a lot worse. By the way, this guy is NOT a great singer. A stronger vocalist might have saved this record’s spot in my collection.

 
Ratt / Out of the Cellar (1984)
Ah yes; Ratt. I bought ‘Out of the Cellar’ based on my love for Ratt’s debut indie EP, and I liked the album a lot. I even saw them live on the tour supporting this record. But when I purged the Pop, I deemed the Ratt records to be part of the infection in my collection, and into the dumpster they went.

 
Since then, Ratt’s ‘Round and Round’ became one of the most persistent earworms I’d ever been inflicted with. It like a small section of my brain had been rewired to loop that song over and over (round and round?) forever and ever. Recently, it was suggested to me that the best way to remove an earworm was to listen to the offending song, so I did. I re-bought ‘Out of the Cellar’. And I had a blast revisiting this record. I love it! Somehow, Ratt had achieved the impossible, creating a record that exists simultaneously on both sides of the border I drew back in the 80s, with plenty of appeal for both true 80s metalheads and their Hair Metal counterparts. In my current collection, it sits comfortably alongside my Riot, Raven, and Rainbow albums.

 
And there you have it: A journey back through a difficult time. Lessons learned since then? Sure. Drawing such strict genre barriers when I was younger caused me to have to later re-buy several albums I had once decided were garbage; that was an eye-opener. Not to mention the countless hours of listening enjoyment I cost myself by being such a purist. I’m I’m happy to report that I’m a little more open-minded nowadays, but back in the 80s, this really was all a very big deal to me. And I couldn’t have been alone with all of that inner conflict… When and where did you draw the line? Did you draw one at all? And most importantly: Which side was Ratt on?

Metal Tongue

 

With over 100 million albums sold worldwide, it can safely be said that Scorpions (there’s no ‘The’; it’s just ‘Scorpions’) are the most successful hard rock/metal band to have ever originated from Continental Europe. Why is this geographic distinction important? That the Scorps hail from Germany is interesting because English is NOT the native language spoken in that country. Critical to the band’s massive international success is the fact that all of their lyrics are sung in English. The only other non-anglophone group to have had that kind of global impact has to be Abba (360m sold), whose records are also sung in English. Would either band have had such massive international success if they delivered their lyrics in their native languages? Doubtful. Let’s face it: English is the globally accepted language of Rock and Roll.

 
Scorpions learned the language or Rock early on; not just English but all of the useful signifiers and tropes of Western Hard Rock: cars, girls & R’n’R, along with a healthy dose of hippy-esque existential poetry for good measure. There were a few clunkers in the early-early days, with some lyrics obviously translated from the German and coming out more than a little wonky in English:

 
‘Test the mend, devil melt / Bloody money when it’s lent / Scum repair everywhere / They want money, oh’

 
Overall though, Scorpions had a pretty firm handle on English right out of the gate, which allowed the band to find early success outside of Germany (in Japan!), rub shoulders with UK greats like UFO, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest in Europe and the UK toward the end of the 70s, and then to break through commercially word-wide in the 80s. Their international success, as well as Metal’s resurgence with the NWOBHM in 79/80, opened the doors for bands from many other countries on the Continent and in Japan, including some that had been releasing records for years in their native languages. These younger European bands were watching the NWOBHM explode in the UK, and saw Great Britain as their target to expand their audience and made the necessary linguistic adjustments.

 
Spain’s Baron Rojo (‘Red Baron’ in English) had established themselves in their homeland with a Gold certification for their debut album ‘Larga vida al Rock and Roll’ (‘Long Live Rock and Roll’) before setting their sights on the UK. The Baron was apparently well-connected in Britain; second effort ‘Volumen Brutal’ was recorded at Ian Gillan’s Kingsway Studios in late 1981, and Gillan member Colin Townes contributed keyboards to the record. Vocals were recorded in both Spanish and English, and BR had some notable help in dealing with the language barrier; Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is credited in the sleeves notes as having assisted with their English lyrics.

BaronRojo_Portada
Baron Rojo’s UK connections created a sufficient buzz to land the band on the cover of Kerrang! magazine and garner them a slot on the 1981 Reading Festival, where they played 4th from the top on Night One under Budgie, Trust, and Praying Mantis. A NWOBHM-ish single, ‘Stand Up’ (the English version of album track ‘Resistere’) was released to the UK market. By all accounts, Baron Rojo sat poised on the brink of breakout success at the end of 1982… However, BR’s 3rd record, ‘Metalmorfosis’, while again recorded at Kingsway, featured Spanish lyrics. In fact, Baron Rojo would never revisit English again, and, predictably, would sink into obscurity immediately thereafter.

 
Did someone mention Trust? This French band’s potent NWOBHM-ready mix of Punk and Hard Rock had gotten their debut album noticed outside of France, French lyrics and all. An English language version of 2nd album ‘Repression’ was cut. But Trust’s volatile socio-political message (justice for the oppressed) hit hard enough to get several of their songs banned in France; such was the importance of Trust’s staunchly political lyrics that a genuine UK Punk Rocker was sought to interpret their lyrics for Anglo ears: Jimmy Pursey of Sham ’69. No stranger to political controversy, the Sham attracted a large skinhead following. Their concerts were plagued by violence, and the band stopped performing live after a 1979 concert at the Rainbow was broken up by white power skinheads fighting and rushing the stage.

trust_repression_eng_lg
Pursey translated ‘Repression’s lyrics, including ‘Antisocial’, which Anthrax covered to much acclaim years later utilizing Pursey’s lyrics. Ironically, the standout track from ‘Répression’ is ‘Le Mitard’, which was the only song not translated for the English version. It’s likely that Pursey found the song untranslatable, as it’s subject matter is uniquely French; some of the lyrics were taken from the memoirs of Jacques Mesrine, a career criminal who was controversially killed by French police in 1979. Trust’s next two albums, ‘Marche ou Creve’, and a self-titled 4th album, were both released in English language versions (‘Savage’ and ‘Man’s Trap’, respectively), but failed to catch fire outside of France; fifth and final album ‘Rock and Roll’ was sung mostly in French and released in Canada and France only.

 
Japan’s Loudness broke the language barrier in 1983, when they left their homeland for the first time to tour the US and Europe without ever having released an album outside of Japan. To prime foreign audiences for the tour, their single ‘Road Racer’ was released in those territories with English lyrics. The following year, the band once again headed to Europe, this time to record their 4th studio album, ‘Disillusion’, in 2 languages. Both versions of ‘Disillusion’ became the first Loudness album(s) released outside of Japan. Ironically, it was the version sung in the band’s native tongue that sold the most in the UK & Europe, and is considered by many to be the band’s best album.

disillusion-english-version-4e0fa05a29397
In truth, the first three Loudness albums were sung in a style known as ‘Japanglish’; an mix of Japanese and English commonly used in Japanese entertainment and advertising, consisting mainly of Japanese interspersed with key English words and phrases. All song titles (and most choruses) were in in English, but verses were sung in Japanglish. After ‘Disillusion’, the next three Loudness records would be released as English-only throughout the world… Although, in an ironic twist, after the US success of their ‘Thunder in the East’ album, a backlash at home saw homegrown fans upset over the band’s apparent abandonment of Japan, and a Japanese-language version of seventh LP ‘Hurricane Eyes’ was hastily assembled and released there to appease an angry Japanese fan base.

 
But the most fascinating language barrier story brings us back to Germany and those Teutonic terrors, Accept. Accept followed the template set by Scorpions, with all of their lyrics sung in English. The band’s early material is rife with awkward, poorly translated lines and phrases that hinted at a willingness to provoke the listener with vulgarity/profanity… ‘Take Him In My Heart’, from the band’s 1979 debut tells the story of a beautiful young girl who decides it’s time to lose her virginity:

 
“One morning she was feeling bad and didn’t go to school She went to town to find a man who fucks her very cool”

 
Another track from the album, ‘Glad to be Alone’, starts off with the line ‘I don’t like your fucked up bunch’. Is this clumsy translation or something more? Then there’s Accept’s third album ‘Breaker’, and the infamous ‘Son of a Bitch’:

 
“Son of a bitch/Kiss my ass/Son of a bitch Son of a bitch/You asshole/Son of a bitch Cock suckin’ motherfucker I was right – take this”

 
It’s pretty clear that there was something more to Accept’s blunt use of profanity than sloppy translation. The language here is blatant and the message is clear: Fuck You! Here was a band unafraid to use vulgar/provocative language to communicate their ideas.

 
Enter Gaby Hauke. Hauke, a self-described ‘journalist and poet’, became the band’s manager after the release of ‘Breaker’. While they readied material for their 4th album ‘Restless and Wild’, the band worked with outside writers to polish up their English lyrics. Robert A. Smith-Diesel contributed to five of the album’s ten songs, and Hauke, credited under the pseudonym ‘Deaffy’, contributed two complete poems, which became ‘Neon Nights’ and ‘Princess of the Dawn’. Hauke’s poetry worked well as lyrics, adding a depth and fluency missing from Accept’s first three records. With Accept’s next album, Hauke would become the band’s sole lyricist, and come to embrace the bluntly sexual elements of the band’s vision… with controversial results.

 
‘Balls to the Wall’ was the band’s breakthrough, and the only Accept album to be certified Gold in the US. Metal’s early-80s resurgence was a factor, as was MTv’s exposure of the album’s title track. But a significant factor in the album’s success, and its’ notoriety 35 years later, was the record’s flirtation with homoerotic imagery in the artwork and lyrics. A minor controversy erupted in the pages of many Metal mags and in the minds of headbangers across the globe… “Is Accept Gay?” To be sure, there was a lot here to potentially cause folks to at wonder whether BttW was a ‘pro-Gay’ record, and by extension, if Accept were Gay themselves.

 
First and foremost, let’s remember that Gaby Hauke was responsible for 100% of the lyrics on BttW. This alone explains a lot. When lyrics such as ‘Feel the power of lust as these guys passing by’ are delivered by a male, one might make some reasonable assumptions about the song’s message. When one considers that these lyrics were written by a woman, suddenly they make a very different kind of sense. The song ‘London Leatherboys’ added to this with ‘Got some kind of feeling/Looking in his eyes/I feel the power surge to a head’, and of course with it’s title. It would have been easy to change a few pronouns or alter the gender of the narrative voice in Hauke’s lyrics; clearly there was a conscious decision not to. Accept had to realize this would cause some controversy. Controversy is not always a bad thing… Hauke & Accept embraced the dynamic and ran with it.

 
R-1963527-1426685157-4801.jpegOther elements were tied in, such as the title track: the phrase ‘balls to the wall’ originated as an aviation term, and has evolved to mean ‘all-out’ or ‘to the limit’; in the context of the song it means ‘you must fight oppression with everything you’ve got’. This fit the loose political theme of the album; that the phrase contained the word ‘balls’ worked well with the daring presentation, and so the phrase also became the album’s title. The cover art seals the deal, with fashion photographer Dieter Eikelpoth’s b&w cover photo of a decidedly male …um, area, clad in bondage gear and clutching a ball in his hand… It’s a very provocative package. The’ cover idea’ is credited to Deaffy, indicating that ‘management’ was behind the entire scheme. A band pic was also included featuring the band shirtless (except for Udo), and Wolf Hoffmann and Stefan Kaufmann with arms intertwined.

 
What’s fascinating about the use of Hauke’s lyrics is that, for a time, while working to deliver their lyrics in another language, Accept also ended up delivering some of them in another gender. There are some raunchy hetero-derived lyrics on BttW, like ‘Why don’t you screw the girls that’s next to you’ from ‘Losers and Winners’, but nobody noticed; it was material perceived as ‘pro-Gay’ that got all the attention. Again: It was 1983. This was a bold stance; one that could have backfired badly. Instead, it helped give Accept (‘accept’ what, by the way?) their well-deserved breakthrough. Hauke also wrote the words for Accept’s next five albums, but on ‘Balls to the Wall’, Accept and their manager/lyricist fucked with our heads, pushed the envelope, and made us think. All of that, delivered in a language we can all understand: Metal.

 

 

NOTES


Baron Rojo:
-‘Gold’ in Spain = 20,000 copies sold

 
Loudness:
-Producer Max Normal reportedly had a major role in shaping the lyrics for both the ‘Thunder in the East’ and ‘Lightning Strikes’ albums.

 
-Just what does ‘M.Z.A.’ stand for? A highlight of Loudness’ biggest hit ‘Crazy Nights’ is the band chanting these letters, begging the question— W.T.F.? Here’s the official explanation:

 
“Actually it does not have any meaning. When we were doing pre-production for the Thunder in the East album, I did not have any lyrics for Crazy Night then, so I sung total nonsense as a guide vocal for the demo recording. I sung “M.Z.A.” by accident and the producer Max Norman liked the line, even though that did not have any meaning. We were trying to create some cool line but we could not beat “MZA.” Max ended up deciding to use ”M.Z.A.” for the real take.” -Minoru Niihara

 
Accept:
-The album’s title track contains the familiar lines “Happiness he cannot feel/And love to him is so unreal”… Hmm… feels vaguely familiar…)

 
-‘Son of a Bitch’ was altered for the UK market; the title and chorus were changed to ‘Born to be Whipped’, and the more graphic lines quoted here were translated into yet another language: nonsense.

 
-Hauke and Accept guitarist Wolf Hoffman married at some point in the 80s.

There Goes Tokyo

When KISS launched their 10-date ‘Sneak Attack Tour’ of Japan in 1977, legendary Japanese promoter Mr. Udo ensured that Japan’s biggest hard rock band would be the opening act on every date of the tour. But wait— Didn’t Loudness form in 1981? Could it be that there was another metal band from Japan? One that came BEFORE Loudness??

Yup. Bow Wow formed in 1975, and at the time they were invited to open on the KISS tour, they were already promoting their second (and best) album ‘Signal Fire’. While the ‘who was the first metal band’ debate will never be settled, it’s fairly safe to say that the first Japanese metal band was Bow Wow. Not the most successful; not the most well-known, but definitely the first, and because of that, perhaps the most important. Bow Wow blazed a trail that Loudness (and other Japanese bands) followed to much greater success… But Bow Wow was there first.

First, a few words about Japanese rock music: Rock and Roll did not begin to permeate into Japanese culture until the 1960s, with the arrival of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. These influences were mixed with American folk music, psychedelic rock and even mod, and emerged as a Japanese version of Rock music called Group Sounds. To these ‘western’ ears, this is some of the most bizarre rock music I have ever heard. The 1970s were dominated by Japanese singer-songwriters, making the appearance of a band like Bow Wow, who emulated American and European Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, quite the anomaly.

22937_logo

Back to Bow Wow. The band was put together by Yoshimi Ueno, a young manager and wanna-be producer. Ueno built Bow Wow around two musicians he had previously managed: guitarist/vocalist Mitsuhiro Saito and drummer Toshihiro Niimi, and completed the band with guitarist Kyoji Yamamoto and bassist Kenji Sano, who were found attending Yamaha Music School. The band were signed to Victor in Japan and released their first album ‘Hoero!’ in 1976. That’s not a typo. It’s decent, but the follow-up ‘Signal Fire’ is excellent. Third album ‘Charge’ leans a little more in the ‘rock n’ roll’ direction, but still kicks ass. All three albums featured English language song titles, and lyrics that veered between Japanese verses and English choruses. Then, after a live album (‘Super Live’) in 1978, disaster struck…

No, nobody died. It was much worse… Bow Wow’s next three albums, ‘Guarantee’ (1978), ‘Telephone’, and ‘The Glorious Road’ (both 1980), completely changed direction. Disco, Pop, New Wave, wistful ballads and even a stab at Rockabilly indicated a band desperately flailing for a new direction. The band abandoned English altogether, and began using 100% Japanese titles and lyrics. Bow wow had inexplicably left Hard Rock and Heavy Metal behind them. The pioneering continued, however, when the band became the first Japanese rock band to play ‘overseas’ when they performed in Hong Kong in 1978 and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

When the NWOBHM finally hit Japan, another change in direction was suggested by new manager and renowned music producer Touru Yazawa. This guy saw big things in Bow Wow in their previous incarnation as hard rockers, and worked hard to get the band international exposure. Step one was a switch back to Metal with 1981’s pretty-OK ‘Hard Dog’. ‘Asian Volcano’ and ‘Warning From Stardust’ followed in 1982, and after an appearance at the Reading Festival that same year, Bow Wow decided to do some serious roadwork outside of Japan and toured the UK with Hanoi Rocks. A headlining show at London’s Marquee Club was sold out, heavily covered by the UK rock press, and recorded. The gig was released as the ‘Holy Expedition’ lp. Then things got stupid again.

59245

Vocalist Mitsuhiro Saito left the band in 1983, and the band changed their name to Vow Wow to avoid confusion with the UK’s Bow Wow Wow… The name and line-up change signaled another change in musical direction to a more commercial, keyboard-oriented rock sound. Bye bye, Bow Wow. Vow Wow adopted the UK as their home base and began career building there, with some success. But something else had happened on Bow Wow’s European vacation… Another metal band had formed in 1981 back home in Japan, and by the time Bow Wow had become Vow Wow, this new band were making some serious waves.

Enter: Loudness. While Bow Wow were ‘overseas’ establishing themselves outside of Japan and capitalizing on the recent surge in metal’s popularity in other countries, Loudness were honing their chops and building a fan base with their first three albums, ‘The Birthday Eve’, Devil Soldier’, and ‘Law of the Devil’s Land’. Each record was better than the one previous, ‘Devil’s Land’ being particularly strong. ‘Devil’s’ drew a strong international response, with positive reviews from outside of Japan and imports selling well in Europe, and so Loudness began their westward expansion campaign.

2997676271

The timing couldn’t have been better. Bow Wow had just lost their lead vocalist, changed their name and commercialized their sound (again!). Following the trail that Bow Wow had pioneered, Loudness’ third single ‘ロード・レーサ’ (‘Road Racer’) was released in Europe in an English language version. Around the time that Bow became Vow, Loudness was touring America, which Bow Wow had never done. Fourth studio album ‘Disillusion’ was recorded in London in 1983 and released in Japan as “Disillusion~撃剣霊化” in January of 1984, with both English and Japanese lyrics. Loudness broke new ground themselves when an all-English language version of ‘Disillusion’ was licensed for a UK release by Music for Nations and in Europe by Roadrunner in July. The English version was also released in Japan…! Roadrunner re-released ‘Law of the Devil’s Land’ as-is in Europe.

Any metal fan alive in the ’80s know what happened next: ‘Crazy Night’. The success of the previous two years led to Loudness singing a deal with US label Atco, making them the first Japanese rock band to sign with a ‘major label’. The band’s fifth lp ‘Thunder in the East’ was recorded in California and released in January of ’85, where it peaked at #74, making Loudness the first Japanese band to break into the Top 100. ‘Crazy Night’ (listed as ‘Crazy Nights’ on the album) was the right song at the right time; Heavy Metal of the more commercial variety was enjoying a popularity spike after Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ topped the charts in 1983. The novelty of the band’s nationality was certainly a factor in the song’s success, especially on MTv, but ‘Crazy Night’ and the ‘Thunder’ album were solid, radio-friendly ’80s Metal that packed plenty of punch.

67143

Loudness had done what Bow Wow set out to do: Take Japanese Metal worldwide. But, as history shows, along with major success, comes major label meddling… ‘Thunder’ was followed-up with by ‘Shadows of War’, released in Japan in March of 1986, and the first single, ‘Let it Go’, featured lyrics in Japanese. Stateside, Atco balked at the album’s title, nervous about invoking bad memories of WWII. Really?? The album was re-titled ‘Lightning Strikes’; also changed was the album’s former title track, now re-titled ‘Ashes in the Sky’. LS was released in the States in July, and charted even higher than ‘Thunder in the East’. So far, so good. What could go wrong?

Here’s what: Because of their massive success in America, a backlash was brewing back home in Japan. To address this, Loudness released a Japanese language version of their next album ‘Hurricane Eyes’ for the Asian market. ‘Eyes’ failed miserably on both sides of the Pacific, peaking in the US at a dismal #190, and Atco promptly dropped the band. Loudness retreated to their homeland and released the Japan-only ‘Jealousy’ EP, hoping to appease unhappy fans crying still sell-out. Next, producer Max Norman arranged for the band to be re-signed to Atco… but only if vocalist Minoru Niihara was replaced with a vocalist more familiar with English. If the band’s Japanese fans were upset about all the attention their homegrown heroes were giving to America, how would they feel about Niihara’s Connecticut-born replacement? Nonetheless, Niihara was out, and American singer Mike Viscera was in.

Can you say ‘Kamikaze’? 1989’s ‘Soldier of Fortune’, the first Loudness album without Minoru Niihara on board, was released on Atco in the US… and failed to intrude upon the Billboard charts. How about ‘Hari Kari’? Eight of the ten songs on the second Viscera-era album ‘On the Prowl’ were ‘cover versions’ of songs from the first four Loudness albums, with new lyrics written by Viscera. Another commercial (and dare I say artistic?) failure. Dropped by Atco once again, Loudness would spend the next decade fading from international view, and focusing solely on the Japanese market.

My listening recommendations come with some qualifications: On their ‘metal records’, Bow Wow titled their songs in English (resulting in some amusing titles like “James in My Casket” and ‘My Dear Alarm Clock’), but their execution of English highlighted a major hurdle: Any singer who is not fluent in the language of his lyrics can be an awkward listen, but he differences between the English and Japanese languages are particularly significant. This is more of an issue on Bow Wow’s second set of metal albums, by which point Mitsuhiro Saito had actually begun to learn to speak and sing in English, than on their first three, where he was reciting English lyrics phonetically and successfully emulating the standard western rock vox delivery. Bow Wow’s struggle with the English language was probably the primary issue that ultimately held them back from true international renown.

59239

That said, second album ‘Signal Fire’ is their finest moment. Coming just 3 months after their debut, and immediately after opening for Aerosmith on their first tour of Japan (hey, there were no other hard rock bands for the American heavyweights to chose from!), SF displays a mastery of mid-’70s metal tropes, a high-energy vibe, and chops to burn. On ‘Signal Fire’, Mitsuhiro Saito’s vocals are at their most convincing and natural, and as a guitarist, I’d rate Kyoji Yamamoto’s guitar playing in the same league as any of the big name axemen of the era— seriously. In fact, I’d rate ‘Signal Fire’ as one of the best HR/HM albums of 1977.

Loudness had zero issues with languages and lyrics. Singer Minoru Niihara was a vocal dynamo, attacking lyrics in both languages with gusto and rendering the entire language point moot through the natural power and charisma in his voice. Guitarist Akira Takasaki picked up where Kyoji Yamamoto left off, and quickly developed into an 80s guitar monster, spewing out a crazy amalgam of Gary Moore, EVH and Ritchie Blackmore via a unique guitar sound. Loudness started off sounding like a NWOBHM band but without the punk, and quickly grew into a high-energy neo-classical powerhouse. They wrote and played with authority, exhibiting a complete command of early 80’s metal. Their best? 1984’s ‘Disillusion’. Hands down.

Loudness_-_Disillusion_-_Front

‘Disillusion’ is a GREAT record. Loudness came into their own here; while the band’s influences are obvious on previous records, with ‘Disillusion’ they elevated their sound into something unique and compelling. It’s the last album by Loudness before American ‘commercial considerations’ entered the picture; it’s heavy as hell and it rocks hard. Amazing chops, powerful performances, a stellar batch of high-energy tunes, and an excellent recording engineered by Julian Mendelsohn (Yes, Elton John, Jimmy Page, Bob Marley!) all add up to a killer listen. So listen! I’d grab the English version, but only because it has an extra song: ‘Anthem (Loudness Overture)’.

For both of these bands, it was a matter of timing. Bad for Bow Wow; good for Loudness. The international success that Loudness attained was significant (if brief); significant enough that when most people think ‘Japanese Metal’, the first and likely first thing that comes to mind is “M.Z.A.” …er, I mean Loudness. But would there have been a Loudness if it weren’t for Bow Wow? Alas, Japan’s first Heavy Metal export will have to forever settle for historical importance, footnote status, and trivia question obscurity: The price a band pays for being so far ahead of its time.

“Actually it does not have any meaning. When we were doing pre-production for the Thunder in the East album, I did not have any lyrics for Crazy Night then, so I sung total nonsense as a guide vocal for the demo recording. I sung “M.Z.A.” by accident and the producer Max Norman liked the line, even though that did not have any meaning. We were trying to create some cool line but we could not beat “MZA.” Max ended up deciding to use ”M.Z.A.” for the real take.”
-Minoru Niihara