This one goes to 11

Martin Popoff’s “Big Book of Hair Metal”

By Allyson B. Crawford

Photo: Martin Popoff’s “The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade” (Voyageur Press)

For fans of ’80s metal, Martin Popoff’s new work, “The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade” (Voyageur Press), is a no-brainer. A 224-page chronological history of the most over-the-top period in rock, Popoff digs deeper than most, examining how we got to 1981 in the first place.

In some ways, “The Big Book of Hair Metal” starts before the beginning, looking at artists like Elvis Presley. (This section is called “Prehistory”). The book takes brief passes through the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s before landing on the ’80s. Once the reader arrives at 1980 (the section is called, naturally, “The Golden Age”), the book devotes a full chapter to each year of the “debauched decade.” The story of each year is told by the artists themselves, via interview snippets.

There are insights from the most famous names in ’80s metal like Mötley Crüe, Poison, Van Halen and Guns n’ Roses. Lesser-known bands like Keel and Kick Axe get plenty of column space too.

Where most books and documentaries about the ’80s metal scene only focus on American (specifically Los-Angeles based bands), “The Big Book of Hair Metal” goes further, voyaging overseas to examine how Europe and beyond contributed to glam metal, taking into account the Sheffield, England-produced Def Leppard, one of the biggest glam acts of them all. Sadly, while early Glam bands like Girl (featuring Phil Collen, who would eventually join Def Leppard) are lauded, the Leps themselves are overtly criticized, especially when it comes to Hysteria, one of the biggest-selling rock albums of all time, glam or otherwise.

Writes Popoff:

“Def Leppard issued the long-awaited Hysteria, featuring an übersynthetic, soulless production that helped hasten the demise of hair metal (and which has not aged well). The album takes three years to make and, for all the wait, features vapid lyrics and every hair metal cliché in the book (and this from a British/Irish band). It sells 20 million copies worldwide.”

This sort of criticism is contrite at best, considering Hysteria’s staying power and place in music history. The album generated seven singles, sold 12 million copies in the U.S. alone and is certified Diamond. Most of Def Leppard’s live set is comprised of songs from Hysteria and its predecessor Pyromania. In 2013, the band held a residency at The Joint inside the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino called “Viva! Hysteria” where the band played the entire Hysteria album in order every night for about three weeks. Clearly something stuck with fans about that 1987 release.

Music fans should be familiar with Popoff. He’s written over three dozen books about rock music and he’s often an expert on VH1. While he has historically focused on heavier acts like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, he’s written plenty about more commercially accepted rock acts well. “The Big Book of Hair Metal” is a natural extension of a long career appreciating and examining all forms of rock music, from the ways bands come together to how fans receive each artistic effort. For better or worse, what makes the ’80s metal scene so fascinating for most is just how pervasive the music became across America and much of the world during a time when cellphones weren’t ubiquitous and the Internet didn’t exist for the average person. This means that the bands – the music – caught fire in a very organic way, with kids trading tapes and eagerly awaiting new copies of Metal Edge to arrive in their mailboxes. Back in the ’80s, MTV was king but so was the heavy metal periodical. In addition to awesome guitar solos and singers with seemingly never-ending range, the bands all basically shared something else: good looks. Like a hot model on the front of Cosmopolitan or Vogue today, Sebastian Bach on the cover of Circus or Hit Parader back then meant sales.

Perhaps the best part of “The Big Book of Hair Metal” isn’t even the written history of the decade. Rather, it’s the images – and not just the album covers or glossy label promo shots either. Digging deeper, Popoff provides his reader with marketing flats and laminates from some of the decade’s biggest tours. In most cases, fans will have never seen these before. In the ’80s, it was harder to get a press pass backstage than it is these days. With fewer news outlets, bands could rely on bigger publications and MTV to give them the same coverage that is often provided by blogs today. This meant only a few folks really ever got to see what happened after the lights went dark on stage and in most instances, what happened was pretty mundane. Still, there are plenty of road stories to share.

And then we come full circle. There’s a reason Mötley Crüe won the cover. The photo selected is from the Shout At the Devil era, meaning the foursome is covered head-to-toe in black and red leather, thin as toothpicks, hair high as the sky. This is perhaps the band’s most famous time period, save for the end-of-the ’80s monster hit Dr. Feelgood, which saw the band on a round-the-world tour that seemingly never ended. That tour was so long, the guys in the band ended up hating each other by the time it was over, eventually causing singer Vince Neil to depart the band. All that is water under the bridge as Mötley are currently on their farewell tour, all original members in tact. But the band was completely different during Shout At The Devil. They were famous, but not overtly so, as Shout would become their breakthrough effort.

The photo on the book’s cover is a snapshot in time, capturing four guys that still needed each other for fame, for finances, for friendship. That isn’t the case anymore, and Popoff knows it, too. In many ways, the ’80s wouldn’t have been the same without Mötley Crüe on the Sunset Strip, so it stands to reason a book about hair metal wouldn’t be the same without the band on the cover, either.

The Big Book of Hair Metal: The Illustrated Oral History of Heavy Metal’s Debauched Decade by Martin Popoff is available on Amazon.com.

Allyson B. Crawford lives in Kettering and writes about ’80s metal bands on her daily blog bringbackglam.com. You can usually find her at all sorts of metal shows around Ohio and across the country. Allyson can be reached at AllysonCrawford@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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About Allyson B. Crawford

View all posts by Allyson B. Crawford
Allyson B. Crawford lives in Kettering and writes about ’80s metal bands on her daily blog bringbackglam.com. You can usually find her at all sorts of metal shows around Ohio and across the country. Allyson can be reached at AllysonCrawford@DaytonCityPaper.com

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