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Friday, April 30, 2004

I work in a garage. I was sitting in some customer’s car the other day and I saw the new Guns n’ Roses Greatest Hits CD. I looked at the back cover and the first thing I thought was Why doesn’t anyone think of these guys as a hair band? The photo on the back cover is virtually interchangeable with a picture of almost any LA sleaze-glam band from the same era: Cinderella, Ratt, Motley Crue... Whatever it is that separates Guns from the pack, it isn’t the look. And when it comes to the music, Appetite for Destruction is not a lot different to what Cinderella and Tesla had already been doing (better) on major labels for a year.

This is the most irksome thing about Guns n’ Roses. The way everyone talks about them you’d think that they were radically different when they came out. They weren’t. They were close contemporaries of Faster Pussycat (now there’s a name you haven’t heard in a while) on the LA glam scene and for a time in 1987 it was impossible to say which band would be the one to break big. Today, some people virtually hold Guns n’ Roses as the first grunge band, a band who came out and kicked hair metal’s butt. It wasn’t like that at all. Slash auditioned for Poison. When Guns n’ Roses needed a fill-in drummer, they called up Cinderella and borrowed Fred Coury. In their post-Guns solo projects, the former members have relied heavily on ex-hair band friends to fill out their bands. Along with heavy touring alongside groups that most people would have no hesitation in calling hair bands – Motley Crue and Skid Row, for example – it’s clear that Guns n’ Roses were absolutely part of the same scene.

It’s so annoying to hear people kissing the feet of this derivative band that my knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them straightaway as being completely crap. Unfortunately, they have sold absolutely shedloads of records. To some people, this is not an obstacle to declaring that something sucks. “Britney and Justin have sold millions of records, and they’re the biggest pile of tripe since laserdisc,” the argument goes, “so sales don’t mean anything.”

Nice theory, but I don’t buy it. You see, CDs aren’t cheap. For some people it takes three hours to earn enough to pay for a new album. So when ten million people are prepared to shell out their hard-earned cash for a band’s CD, that band has struck a nerve. You can’t just dismiss it as crap taste. Even the Emperor’s New Clothes explanation starts to look a little thin after about seven times platinum. Something is going on. If I want to say Guns n’ Roses are rubbish – and I do – I have some explaining to do.

I struggle to believe that many people who like “Welcome to the Jungle” would not also like Tesla’s “Modern Day Cowboy” if they heard it without pre-judging it. I see Tesla as the practice run for Guns n’ Roses: Same label, same A&R man, same musical style, same production team, one year earlier. So what did Guns have that Tesla didn’t? The answer, of course, is the media circus. Tesla are an incredibly boring band when they put their instruments down. None of them is good looking. They don’t have a cool image, start riots, or do crazy stuff. They are musicians: nothing more, nothing less. They pick up their guitars and make the best records ever (or Into the Now, as the case may be), and then they revert to boredom. This is not a good story.

Guns n’ Roses, on the other hand, are fascinating. Nikki Sixx may have died and risen from the dead, but, lest we forget, it was GnR that killed him. They have been a non-stop freakshow since they started and that is entertainment.

They also – I will give you this – had the singles to back it up, and that is all you need. Album tracks matter not a jot, because most people will never hear them. Most people that buy albums don’t even bother listening to the tracks which aren’t hits. “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” are massive crossover tracks with enduring appeal. Motley Crue had the circus, but not, it transpires, the songs. Tesla may have had the songs, but never the circus. The legend of Guns has endured because Axl has continued to be a jerk through the last decade, and every time he does something lame, there’s a hit right there waiting to be played on the radio. Sure, you can find people who maintain that every track on Appetite is a winner, but you can ignore these fanatics – you will also find, if you spend a moment surfing the net, people who think every track on Poison’s Open Up and Say... Ahh! is a classic. We need not concern ourselves with the lunatic fringe.

We can also ignore the Classic Rock/ Metal Hammer favourite albums poll which put Appetite for Destruction at number 1 since Guns n’ Roses and Metallica are the only bands that get coverage in both magazines. You didn’t have to be Einstein to work out that they would come top.

I sometimes wonder if Motley Crue couldn’t have done what Guns did, because they were every bit as crazy, and they do have some songs that could probably rival GnR’s trio of hits. Maybe if Tommy and Vince had kept it together in the 90s, and their more recent riots had taken place in stadiums rather than casinos, we’d be hearing “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” all the time instead of “Sweet Child o’ Mine”. But then, Motley never really conquered the world, even in their prime. And they spoiled it all by putting out too many crap records – notably Theater of Pain and Girls Girls Girls – when they could ill-afford it.

So anyway, there we have it – in every category apart from the music, Guns n’ Roses were the best band of the 80s. And when it comes to the music, they had just enough to bluff it.

Not convinced? I offer you this alternative: If the grunge crowd accept them, they must suck!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The first Rock Hole eBay auction is online!

Ah yes, you know you wanna support it, since I'll plow the funds back into the site. Okay, mostly on CDs for my selfish self, but they'll all get reviewed here in my brilliant and inimitable style.

This CD is by Joshua, featuring possibly the world's fastest guitarist, Joshua Perahia. It also features Ken Tamplin (from Shout), Jeff Fenholt (that guy on TBN who says he was in Black Sabbath), and Robyn Kyle (one heck of a singer who was in Red Sea and Die Happy).

Anyway, you might not have heard of it, but that's because it's REALLY RARE so I'll be annoyed if it doesn't sell!

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=43652&item=4010050977&rd=1&ssPageName=WDVW

Rock on... another rare eBay item to follow!

Jonny

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Monday, April 26, 2004

As anyone who’s ever spent any real time nosing around my past or present (and probably future) websites will know, there’s not a great deal of love lost between me and White Lion (not to mention a couple of European fans who graciously pointed out that I’m an idiot). So why am I sitting here with a brand new copy of Pride sitting on my desk?

It’s all part of my putting together the ultimate list of the greatest albums of the 80s. Pride is just one of those hair metal albums that has to be in contention – double platinum, two US top ten hits – so there’s no way I could pretend to be writing a definitive list if I hadn’t given it a fair crack of the whip. Besides which, the only album by the ‘Lion that I’d previously owned was Big Game, and even some WL fans concede that that one’s a pile of junk. So I owe it to the lot of you to give Pride a proper lesson, even though I’ve been subjected to it enough on Netscape Radio’s excellent hair metal channel – by far the best online radio station I’ve found, and you can give feedback on what they play, and they play cool classic rock like Aerosmith and Alice Cooper as well as hair metal, and you get pretty good sound and few interruptions even on a dial-up connection.

So anyway, Shite Lion (always nice to see unbiased reporting, don’t you think?). Normally when I’m listening to my favourite old rock bands’ music, I can’t understand for the life of me why anyone wouldn’t love it, but listening to White Lion it suddenly seems abundantly clear why everyone hates hair metal so much: the terrible vocals, the over-busy guitar player, the sameiness of all the songs, the horribly dated production, the elements of heavy metal, and the terrible lyrics. Vito Bratta is often hailed by fans as a guitar hero, but he really does not understand that the role of the guitar is often just to support the song rather than be the focus of attention, and his solos are pale EVH clones without the same sense of melody. He often just ends up detracting from the melody.

My real problem with White Lion, though, is that they functioned as the social conscience of hair metal. You know the drill – “When the Children Cry”, “All Join Our Hands”, “Little Fighter” – songs about real world issues. But the whole point of hair metal is that it doesn’t have a social conscience. Joe Elliott said it like this: “We’ve never tried to save the Amazonian rain forest or plug the ozone hole. That’s not our thing.” I like how Paul Stanley said it better, though: “We don’t write songs about nuclear whales.” There’s a time and a place for everything, and hair metal was neither the time nor the place to be worrying about all the problems in the world. It was a time for turning up and blowing out. It might have been alright if all White Lion’s songs had been about plugging the ozone hole with nuclear whales, but since they tried to put such things side by side with meaningless rock n’ roll jocularity, you couldn’t even put on their record when you’re thinking “I feel like being depressed about how bad the world is today.” Being reminded about starving children in the middle of a party rock album is like your girl asking you if you remembered to pay the phone bill in the middle of making love.

All this conspires to make White Lion the most embarrassing band of the eighties, quite an achievement in a decade that I’m sure you’ll agree was not short on stuff you’d rather not tell your friends about. But the way every song carries on about five seconds after the end because it takes that long for the reverb to finish echoing, and those Spinal Tap-tastic guitar and drum sounds are just horrific. I could only listen to the album at low volume because it’s a sunny day, my window was open, and I didn’t want the neighbours to hear what I was listening to. This from someone who has played Poison at public disturbance volumes in mid-summer.

As for the good stuff: Well, there are some strong hooks when Vito Bratta isn’t burying them in a sea of guitar widdle. And “Wait” is something of a cock rock classic, even if it is a bit wussy. Whaddaya mean “wait”? David Lee Roth wouldn’t have to say that. He would have taken his chance. And she wouldn’t be leaving. Anyway, if you like “Wait” you’re in for a treat because there are a good four songs on here that sound exactly like it.

Anyway, the real clincher is that Mike Tramp started his career in a boy band (and I’m not talking about White Lion). Oh yes. They were called Mabel and as far as I can tell they were a kind of ‘70s Danish New Kids on the Block.

Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Prepare to feel the full force of all my snobbery and prejudice.

Damn I hate nu metal.

It isn’t really the music so much – I’m so in love with music I can usually find redeeming features in almost any song, which is a pain when you’re trying to write an accurate review – as all the lame-ass baggage that goes with it, like fucking swearing all the fucking time like you’re too fucking stupid to think of anything fucking better to say, or going to great lengths to show the world how depressed you are, being all angst-ridden and, like, mad about stuff, dawg. It’s all totally lame.

The worst thing, though, is the sudden proliferation of mini-goths that seem to have emerged from the sewers onto our streets like an army of mascara-wearing rats. Rock sections in music stores used to be fun places to hang out and exchange approving nods with other rock fans at their choice of music. Now I’m afraid to go there in case I catch fleas from the mop of tangled jet-black hair in the corner, which, presumably, has a person underneath it. It’s impossible to say whether they’re male or female, because they dress exactly the same and the enormo-bagginess of their clothing leaves them with no discernible figure. Indeed, they could be hiding a small family of illegal immigrants in their for all I know, although they’d never get through customs since the metal detectors would go nuts at all their piercings in strange and frightening places. Anyway, if I did venture into their vicinity to look at Poison CDs, unfortunately located in the same section, they’d probably zap me with their anti-cock rock ray gun or something. Assuming it wasn’t tangled up in their hair. Whatever you think of 80s MTV rock, you can’t deny that male grooming was a lot healthier in those days.

These pseudo-goth/ skater/ nu metally types are probably the most annoying thing to come to Britain since – no, since nothing actually. Just the most annoying thing. They look absolutely ridiculous now. Dread to think what they’ll look like when we look back on photographs of them in ten years’ time. It was just boiling in town today when I noticed a cluster outside of one of the bigger music stores, dressed head to toe in about fifty layers of black. I felt too hot just looking at them. I had gone into town to get a Cinderella CD but I wound up buying a Corrs album instead just to distance myself from heavy metal as much as possible. Don’t they long to join the mainstream masses and just be normal?

Following their trend is perhaps the most uncool thing it’s humanly possible to do. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for being an individual and I’ve got no time for just doing what everyone tells me. But they all think they’re such total rebels while in reality they all look – and are – exactly alike. They manage to embody the worst of both worlds: they have all the trouble of being a freak but they’re still just being sheep. I suppose I shouldn’t write all this in case one of them tries to put some Wiccan curse on me or something, but it’s like they want to cut their own groove, but they don’t have the guts to be truly themselves. Oh, and the music is shit.

My hatred of all this crap is part of what recently turned me into a Bon Jovi cheerleader. It’s kind of a lesser of two evils thing, like the British people who joined the Communists in order to try to defeats the Fascists during the Spanish civil war. Well, not quite like that. Bon Jovi are better than Communism, even when you’re being blinded by Jon’s teeth in the “Everyday” video. And if I had a choice between living in a totalitarian state run by Franco or Fred Durst, I’ll take the Spaniard every time. People have pronounced the death of nu metal, but like a bad rash it just won’t go away because we haven’t got anything to replace it.

It’s awkward being nineteen years old (yes, I’m not just some jaded old rocker, for those of you who haven’t worked it out yet, I’m a jaded young rocker) and feeling this way about the current music scene. The ironic thing is that if I had been born fifteen years sooner, I’d probably have felt exactly the same about the hair band crew, sixteen year old brats in Bret Michaels bandanas and ripped jeans buying Trixter records. Well, not exactly the same because I feel that the nu metal thing is intrinsically lame whereas hair metal was fundamentally cool (seriously!) and spoiled by overkill. But still, I would have been put off the music if I had been around when it was all the rage. As it is, I find myself looking back on the ‘80s and I don’t have to see it through a filter of fashion, radio overplay, or image; I just judge it on the music. Some people think my youth makes me ill-qualified to talk about 80s rock, but I think it leaves me better able to judge the music on its own merit.

So anyway, cheer up gothy boys! It might never happen...

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Friday, April 23, 2004

If you’re a fan of the kind of music I’m always ranting on about on this site, you’re no doubt thinking of buying the Rock Detector A-Z of 80s Rock (Cherry Red Books, £17.99). Don’t. It will ruin your life.

For a start, it will annoy the hell out of you with its constant misuse of the word “allegedly”, appalling editing errors, and frequently chronic writing. If you are interested in this kind of book, you are also obviously anally retentive, so you will be irritated by factual errors such as saying that Whitesnake’s 1987 album contained a remake of “Fool for Your Loving” when in fact that song was on Slip of the Tongue, or the inaccurate chart positions sometimes recorded. You will also wonder how on earth they managed to omit relatively successful bands like Steelheart while including such massively obscure acts as Ivory Tower, Bang Gang, and Rocknee.

In spite of these things, you will not be able to stop reading it, because it is an awesome piece of work. The sheer scale of it – 735 pages and I wouldn’t like to think how many bands – is incredible, and apart from some surprising oversights, it leaves no stone unturned in recording just about everything that happened in the hard rock scene during the eighties. It is packed with interesting bits of useless trivia and in spite of the infuriating errors, it is personably written and highly readable, particularly the bits by Classic Rock journo Dave Reynolds (who goes completely over the top with a blow-by-blow account of the career of Angel, his favourite band). So for a start it will take hours out of your life that could otherwise be spent with a girlfriend or something.

The worst thing, though, is the amount of money it will cost you. Eighteen quid doesn’t seem too bad for a 750 page book, particularly one as painstakingly researched as this, but what you don’t allow for until it’s too late is the amount of money this is going to cost you in new CDs to buy.

Until recently, I was happy in my little bubble thinking that, since 80s rock was an overtly commercial phenomenon, bigger the sales meant a better band. It seemed to (roughly) work in practice too: Bon Jovi are better than Skid Row, Skid Row are better than Warrant, and Warrant are better than Winger, who suck. So I didn’t need to think about the bands that didn’t go platinum; they weren’t worth worrying about. But then I discovered Danger Danger, whose major label efforts have managed little more than half a million copies combined, and their records rule. So who else have I missed? There’s no option but to check out all the bands that interest me, one by one, and chuck the ones I don’t like back on the web where they came from. I expect my eBay feedback rating to quadruple in the next three months. Please don’t bid on any obscure 80s rock for the next little while. This is going to be expensive enough as it is. Of course, I’ll also be raiding Netsounds, because you can normally find old stuff there and you don’t have the hassle of bidding.

And how do I choose who to go with first? Well, I got into Danger Danger solely because I thought their name was cool and I had a hunch that they would be a good band. So on that logic I should go with Roxy Blue. But no one talks about Roxy Blue anymore, whereas Bang Tango, Tyketto, and Wildside are cult favourites. So maybe I should pick one of them. Then there’s a band called The Blonz, who I’d never heard of but seem to have had a song written for them by D2’s infallible Bruno Ravel. And it’s essential that I own them all, because how else will the Rock Hole list of the Greatest Albums of the ‘80s Rock Era be credible unless I have heard all the contenders?

Damn you, Rock Detector!

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

No post today (what do you think I am, the Daily Rock?) but scoot on over to http://www.philcollenpsychotropia.com to read a new article by me (All Hail Phil Collen!). While you're there, check out the site - it's one of the top Def Leppard fan sites, and run by a fan of this blog, the very lovely Monique Sevenans!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

I’m not looking to start a fight with metal-rules.com. Honest. They’re a lot bigger than me and any site that supports music is cool with me. But it’s hard not to argue when they spout a load of unrelenting drivel, as they do at http://www.metal-rules.com/hell/hell_July2002.htm

For a start, they seem to have got all their writers to write the same editorial, and they all seem to have said the same thing. This was too boring even for my immensely high boredom threshold (a demonstration: I have been to a Dream Theater gig and actually stayed till the end. I’d grown a beard and my shoes had worn a hole, but I made it), but I read the first couple. Now, I am all for defending glam metal, and even more gung-ho in my bashing of pretty much every band in the current mainstream metal scene, but they do say some ridiculous things all the same.

However most metal publications, web-sites are adamant and defiant that the new music of today is NOT metal.

Really? Then how come it is known worldwide as nu metal? Mallcore is only the name for it coined by old school metal fans that don’t like the new stuff.
Many mallcore bands do not have that key element of well-played guitar. Many melodic hard rock bands and glam bands have guitarists (and drummers) that were extremely talented and would showcase that talent in solos, both on record and live.

This conveniently ignores the fact that many of the glam-era musicians were absolutely crap musicians (Nikki Sixx, CC DeVille, Joey Allen, Duff McKagen, Faster Pussycat in their entirety, all of Ratt bar Warren DeMartini...). In fact, being a good musician is pretty much contrary to the hair metal ethic that life should be one big party – who’s got time to sit around practising scales when there are chicks to bang, drugs to take, speakers to blow up, and house parties to crash? The whole thing of glam is that it is undisciplined. The guys who could really, really play were hair metal phonies. Nu metal, on the other hand, has produced some serious musicians – especially drummers – like Limp Bizkit’s Wes Borland. But of course, they can’t possibly be good because they don’t do solos.

The whole “mallcore is crap because there are no solos” philosophy forgets two things. 1) Pop metal is about good songs, not good musicianship, and 2) the real reason mallcore is crap is because it sucks.

I have heard some power ballads that have more balls than the montone [sic], songs of many mallcore bands.

This is pure opinion from someone that wants to prove their agenda. In truth, I don’t think anyone doubts the aggression of nu metal. The problem is more that it is a pointless racket.

To me it is as simple as, the 80's glam fan/artists said, "The establishment prefers short hair so I'll grow mine long." compared to the modern mallcore fan who says ""The establishment prefers short hair so I'll dye it a certain colour, spike it with gel, by a brand name toque and grow a little beard in a certain way." Manufactured rebellion.

While it is true that the whole mad-at-your-dad freakishness of nu metal is completely fake, you have to be joking if you seriously think that hair metal was a genuine, non-commercialised, dangerous form of rebellion. Glam metal ceased to be rebellious the second the bands started selling millions, because no band is genuinely dangerous once they become mainstream. It’s all carefully pre-packaged, decontaminated “outrage”, and this goes for Guns n’ Roses as much as for Marilyn Manson. The glam kids of 1989 didn’t have long hair to rebel. They had it because they thought it looked cool. It’s easy to pick on nu metal for being fake because it is, more so than hair metal ever was, but for pity’s sake let’s not put Winger on a pedestal as purveyors of earthy and credible art. All this is taking hair metal far too seriously, the mistake everyone has been making since 1992. It’s only a game, really.

To change a Poison song into something that would be universally regarded as traditional heavy metal you need only speed it up, thicken the guitars, change the vocals and tweak the rhythms and such.

This guy is not a musician. Poison songs are almost all in either major keys or the Dorian mode, which is the scale blues is based around. Metal songs are almost all in minor keys and a mode called Aeolian, which is much darker sounding.

Korn is the father of mallcore, and people argue whether Korn ever was a metal band. Yet no one argues that Mötley Crüe was not a metal band.

No one, that is, except for a certain Nikki Sixx, who said "If you've ever listened to Motley Crue you can't really say we're heavy metal. To me, heavy metal is Slayer or Anthrax, stuff that gives you a headache. It's boring noise! If you can't stomp your feet to it and it does not make you smile, I don't want to listen to it."

And therein lies the crux: The heavy metal brigade want to co-opt ‘80s rock to be part of their scene because they like heavy metal. It fits their agenda for good music like hard rock to be part of their style, and it doesn't fit their agenda for crap like Linkin Park to join the party. To them I say: Stop trying to steal our music! Why would anyone want to be part of a stodgy, conservative, traditionalist, crappy old-man genre like heavy metal? The hard rock of the 80s was all about parties and having a good time. Metal is about minor key drudgery. If you want to come to the poodle rock party, come on in, but leave your skulls, demons and dragons at the door. Stop insulting great music by calling it heavy metal and accept the fact that nu metal and grunge bands sound more like Dio and Maiden than Bon Jovi ever have.

Okay, maybe I am trying to start a fight with metal-rules.com, then.

Let’s get the rock outta here!

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

You’re not gonna like this, but today I’m going to talk to you about Shania Twain. I hope I don’t lose my entire readership! Unfortunately (for you), she’s all I’ve listened to for the past five days and so I have nothing else to talk about. If you’re going to boycott me for liking Shania, you’re no big loss. You were going to discover my true colours as a big pop wuss sooner or later anyway.

You see, I’ve bought Up! and I can’t stop listening to it. In my defence, allow me to point out these facts: 1) It’s produced by Mutt Lange, the man behind (lest we forget) Back in Black, Hysteria, and Waking Up the Neighbours, and 2) I only paid five quid for it.

Anyway, Mutt Lange is a genius and I have now decided that I am going to collect every album he’s ever done, and then learn how to play all the songs until I’ve started to understand how his songwriting process works. Aside from the three already mentioned albums, I think landmark Lange moments include his work with Billy Ocean and the Corrs (US fans won’t have heard of them but their Lange produced In Blue album is essential for Shania fans and fans of good pop in general). Alongside Mutt there is another near-genius in the shape of Brent Mason, a session guitar giant who gets just about every decent recording gig going in Nashville. His solo on “In My Car” is – at this point I must regretfully confess that I’m not joking – absolutely terrifying.

The version for rock fans is the Red CD, and when it rocks out, as on the pre-chorus of “Nah!”, it echoes the vibrant pop-rock of the best mid-tempo moments on Def Leppard’s X CD. In fact, if you like X you should pick this up. There is something in the moody ballad “I’m Jealous” that has hints of “Love Bites”, which doesn’t sound so ridiculous when you remember that for Def Leppard’s all-conquering power ballad started life as a Mutt-penned country song. “Waiter! Bring Me Water!” gets away with some criminal lyrics thanks to monster Lange backing vocals, while “(Wanna Get to Know You) That Good” might be the best ballad anyone has recorded since “When Love & Hate Collide”. As for “I’m Not in the Mood”, well, I’m not in the mood to admit how much I like that song. My only qualm is that some of the lyrics are so girly that it causes me traumatic times of soul searching every time I find myself singing along. Make no mistake, however: this is great pop music.

On an unrelated note, a couple of people have asked about what happened to the “Why Def Leppard Suck” article. I decided I didn’t agree with most of my own points anymore, so I deleted the links. The article itself is still online at http://rockhole.bravepages.com/deflep.html. Unfortunately I have deleted the rebuttal irretrievably.

Last thing: Today I was contacted by the management for Steve Whiteman (former Kix, current Funny Money vocalist) about reviewing his new CD and doing a possible interview. It always amuses me when people want to give me free stuff because I don’t think I have much influence over what music people buy, but anyway, expect a Kix/ Funny Money feature soon! Don’t close your eye-e-eyesssss...

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Monday, April 19, 2004

I'd just like to announce that the Rock Hole is now a Netsounds Music affiliate. Now, I don't plan to load the site down with sponsors, and I wouldn't affiliate with just anyone. I have been going for Netsounds for years to find rare music because so much of the music I love is old and out of print. Until recently I was scared to tell people about it in case they bought the stuff I wanted before I got the chance! I've got a huge amount of my collection from there, so if there's something you can't find, I recommend it, and if you follow the link, this website benefits too.

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Best album from 1980-1989 and why.

So asks a keen Rock Hole blog fan.

It’s an interesting time period you’ve picked. Most people think of the eighties rock era as lasting for the decade, but it didn’t really get into full swing until 1986 and didn’t fizzle out until 1991.

There are hot contenders from Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and Tesla, and I really want to pick one of those because this blog is in danger of turning into a Def Leppard nutswinging convention.

But, I’m sorry, looking at it as objectively as you can ever be about music, you have to say that Hysteria is the best rock album of the eighties. Here’s why: all the others are very good examples of standard rock albums. There is nothing especially original about Slippery When Wet. It sounds like –and is – a typical example of American hard rock/ AOR in the eighties. Everything about it is expertly executed – the songwriting, arranging, performing, and producing – but ultimately it is just another rock record. It’s the same story with Pump, Dr. Feelgood, or Trash. Even Pyromania is more evolution than revolution.

Hysteria is something else entirely. It is groundbreaking and innovative. The songwriting is more advanced than anyone else’s, with flanks of perfectly-executed key changes, and the arrangements more adventurous. The production was revolutionary to the point that its influence is still felt today. Stylistically, most rock bands were afraid to delve outside of the hard rock genre, but Def Leppard skipped merrily from pop to R&B to rap to rock n’ roll without a care in the world. The scale of its ambition is staggering, and yet it still comes over as a perfectly accessible pop record, not self-indulgent prog rock noodlings. We are not dealing with opinions here, simply facts, and the sales figures back me up.

When it comes to opinions, I have to say Hysteria is also probably the one I like the most.

Speaking of which, metal-rules.com have done what I’ve been thinking about doing and compiled a list of the top 50 glam metal albums. Actually, mine was going to be the top 50 ‘80s rock albums (and it was going to include albums released in the early nineties by 80s bands), but it will still be coming your way when I finally get around to buying the possible contenders I still don’t own and have a chance to think about them all.

I can’t help wondering how they chose the list; you probably don’t care. But it says it is the best and/ or most influential albums, but it strikes me that there is a pretty big difference between the two: many Bon Jovi fans maintain that New Jersey was their best work, but Slippery When Wet was unquestionably more influential. And if you want to talk influential, then Skid Row shouldn’t even be in the top 5 because, arriving in 1989, they were just too late on the scene to influence anyone. By the time Skid Row hit the shelves, every hair metal band that would eventually get a major deal was already together. Besides which, Skid Row has some plain mediocre tracks on it so that should take it out of contention for the top five best albums immediately. Presumably they chose the list on the basis of a balance of influence and quality, because otherwise it just couldn’t make any sense.

Also, by their own admission they have included some non-glam bands (always a smart move in a list called “Top 50 Glam Metal Albums”, I find), including Def Leppard, Badlands, Whitesnake, and Ozzy. So was their lack of glam-ness a prohibitive factor in reaching a top position? I only ask since, as I have just explained, only a stone deaf loner with an IQ of 14 points could fail to put Hysteria at the top of that list if quality (or influence, while we’re on the subject) is the only matter in question. Additionally, the following albums included in the list are non-stop crap and should only be included in a list entitled Top 50 if the rest of the title is Albums That Make You Think The Islamofascists Might Be Right About the West After All. They are Big Game, Tooth & Nail, Once Bitten, The Right to Rock, and Twice Shy. That’s not to say the rest of the list is class, either; as a diehard glam metal fan, let me warn you that more than half of that list consists of albums not worth spending more than £5 on.

I think the problem may lie with the fact that it was compiled by a metal website, and they’ve chosen the heaviest stuff. In spite of the name, glam metal was not really very good at being metal. It figured this out around 86 or 87 and after it switched to sugar mode it got a lot more comfortable with itself; glam metal was really pop rock, nothing more.

In fact, I think the Rock Hole answer to that list will need to come sooner rather than later. If you went out on the basis of that list to try to decide whether glam metal is any good or not, you’d come back much poorer with an armful of CDs and conclude that no, it isn’t.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Another Rock Hole Q&A Session

Do you think the guitar rock that made all the bands you talk about popular in the 80's has any place in today’s mainstream? Do you think they'll be popular again? Do those bands need to update their style if they really want that to happen or are any of them already doing that? Is it possible to maintain the integrity of 80's guitar rock and be new at the same time? -- Monique Sevanans, http://www.moniquesevanans.com, http://www.defleppardfrequency.com.

The trouble with 80s rock is that it is still the butt of everyone’s jokes around the world. I don’t think even disco has the image problem that stadium rock has. It is asking for ridicule to admit to liking this kind of music. The general consensus is so strongly against it that it is difficult to get people to listen to the music with an open mind. It takes a brave new band to want to make this kind of music then, and a braver record company to sign them.

This is why if there is a way forward for pop metal, it needs to be through a young band, a band who don’t have the stigma of the 80s tag and don’t have to battle against people’s preconceived ideas. There is nothing wrong with the older bands continuing to do what they do, but a serious return to the mainstream for them is not really possible. Everybody points to Aerosmith’s comeback, but theirs is a unique case. No other band can point to such a renaissance in their career, and, let’s face it, Aerosmith were something pretty special – probably America’s greatest ever rock band. Besides which, Aerosmith had never really gone away. They’d never become incredibly unhip or laughed at. It was just that they were too drug-addled and busy fighting amongst themselves to attack the market. When they did, the response was instant. On top of this, all the rock bands that were popular when Aerosmith made their 1987 comeback were Aerosmith fans. No band that was big in the 80s can say that now. Van Halen come closest.

There just isn’t room for the market to sustain the popularity of the old bands and still make space for the new ones. There’s just a natural cycle; the older fans don’t buy as many records, and so the new fans come through. The new fans bring with them new bands. It takes something pretty special to have cross-generational appeal anyway. That is not to say Poison and Cinderella should give up now, but they shouldn’t expect to be #1 on Billboard either. As long as someone is enjoying their music, though, I believe any band is both legitimate and relevant.

It never works when older bands try to update their sound. The previous generation should lead the way for the next, not turn around and follow the new kids. They can’t do it convincingly. If people want to hear music that is currently fashionable, they’ll listen to the young kids doing it, not old guys doing a second-rate version. Every album by a hair band that attempted to modernise its sound bombed catastrophically. It is especially a mistake when the current rock scene is so loathed by many hair metal fans and has so little in common with the eighties sound, as has been the case until now. That is not to say older bands should put out the same album every time. Their music should be allowed to evolve gradually and naturally, but they should stick to what they do what they do best.

As you can see from this page, however, I have maintained for a long time that what goes around comes around. The sixties’ positive mood gave way to the darker seventies. Then came the over-the-top indulgence of the eighties, and the backlash came in the nineties. For some reason, the mood hasn’t swung back into party mode yet, but I put this down to the lack of one band with the power to revolutionise things, to do what Def Leppard did in the 80s and Nirvana did in the 90s. I am sure that, as is the natural cycle of things, people are ready for some more positive rock music. My only worry is who is going to influence these young bands to create some party rock, because there sure aren’t many people around now for them to learn from. The hair metal crew got it from the glam bands of the seventies – in other words, bands who were popular during their formative years. Maybe these new young bands will have to be enterprising enough to dig deeper into the past to find inspiration from classic Van Halen. The world could use the new David Lee Roth right now.

As for how much these new bands will sound like the bands of the past, I am unsure. It won’t be exactly the same, but it might be frighteningly similar – currently popular punk-revivalist bands like the Strokes sound eerily like their ‘70s influences. Hopefully there will be some grippingly original, exciting new bands that do something completely new. But in reality, rock and roll changes little because the things that appeal about it are timeless. What changes from band to band is simply the personalities involved. That’s it. Every single person is unique. Really rock and roll is everybody doing the same thing, but sounding different thanks to their own personality. This is why you can never think that all the good music possible has already been made. This is why I think cover versions are legitimate. As long as people continue to put something of themselves into their music, it will always have infinite variety.

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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Is Rock Art?

Bit nervous about this post because I know no one is going to agree with me and I’m not sure I’ve crystallised my thoughts fully. Ah well, bite me. You ain’t paying to read this are you? So you can’t expect magazine quality every day. Especially when I’m caught up in the most annoyingly complicated love triangle this side of a soap opera.

I have sometimes wondered whether rock is art, with regard to nothing in particular. You see, I’m not at all sure that it is. I am conscious in writing this that I have among my readership some people who know a great deal more about art than I do.

This is, admittedly, partly because my childhood experiences of art at school were less than best – boring museum trips, frustration that I couldn’t paint what I saw in my mind, disapproving teachers – you get the idea. It isn’t just that though.

I see art as a fairly serious medium of personal expression, whereas rock & roll is simply about entertainment. I see entertainment as an incredibly important thing -- without the enjoyment it provides, what are we living for? But it is a separate thing from art. Art can be entertaining, but entertainment is not necessarily art.

While art is a way of immortalising something, rock & roll is far more ephemeral. Loving the music as I do, I’d love to think that future generations will continue to listen to it but the reality of it is that rock is quite disposable, more about seizing the moment than lasting into the future.

I think the crux of the matter is not so much that rock & roll isn’t art as that it is better when it doesn’t realise that it is art. Musicians who think of their work as art wind up being far too pretentious and precious about their creations. Rock music is best not taken too seriously, for as Pete Townshend sagely observed, “Rock is very, very important. And very, very ridiculous.” Art, on the other hand, seems to be incredibly serious. Rock has more in common with a toy than a masterwork. Art, after all, is concerned with commentary on what it observes, perception, interpretation, and messages. Rock & roll says, “Got a message? Try Western Union.”

Take Radiohead, for example. Whenever I patiently try to explain to one of their fans that Radiohead are crap and they wasting their life by listening to them, the response is always “What? They’re amazing!” But this is part of the problem. This answer implies a kind of intellectual connotation, that if you thoughtfully sit and listen to one of their albums you will be impressed by what they do, and come away full of respect. But rock is not supposed to be a cerebral thing; it’s more of an instinctive, gut-level thing. You’re not supposed to be amazed by it. You’re supposed to enjoy it. Even people who have an emotional reaction to Radiohead’s garbage – and I am genuinely baffled if anyone does – cannot possibly be having the ecstatic headrush you get from a big dumb anthem, because that is not what it is designed to do. Since said headrush is the only music-induced feeling worth talking about (apart from the soppy romance of an overblown power ballad, natch), clearly Radiohead can’t possibly be any good.

The other thing is that rock & roll is now and always has been far too commercial to be real art. Commerce pollutes and destroys art, but rock music thrives on it. Sure, the suits often don’t know what they’re doing and ruin a perfectly good band, but as a rule with rock sales count and popularity matters. Commercial considerations keep the sub-four minute pop tracks coming and ensure we’re spared the bloated 15 minute sword-and-sorcery epics. Art is best when it is intelligent. Rock is best when it is dumb.

A final thought: Rock that perceives itself as art gave us prog rock. Rock that understands it is purely entertainment gave us Kiss.

No contest, is there?

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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

It’s a lonely world, being a Def Leppard fan. It seems you’re under attack from all sides. The young rock fans hate them because they’re too old. The classic rock fans hate them because they’re too commercial to be proper classic rock. The critics hate them because they’re a hard rock band from the ‘80s and they’ve sold far too many records. The hard rock fans hate them because they aren’t heavy enough. The pop fans are scared of them because they’re a heavy metal band. The Steve Clark fans hate them because they blame his death on the surviving members, and feel that by moving in a more poppy direction, they’ve “betrayed Steve’s legacy”, or some such. The Vivian Campbell fans hate them because they “don’t let Vivian play enough solos”, and because Viv has come out as a pop fan since he joined the band. The other ‘80s rock fans – the Metal Sludge bunch – hate them because... who knows? And NWOBHM fans hate them because they sold out.

Thinking about it, I do know some of why the hair band fans hate Def Leppard. In a bid to dissociate themselves from their ‘80s rock cousins, both and Joe and Phil have taken shots at Poison, Warrant, Cinderella, and Dokken. Then there was Joe’s infamous “four hairbands in a bowling alley” comment. And the time he thanked Kurt Cobain for killing off all the other ‘80s rock bands. Comments like this are ill advised since, no matter how lame Poison are, a lot of their fans also like Def Leppard. And, being nice guys, Phil and Joe’s hairband attacks manage to muster neither the venom of Nikki Sixx nor the humour of David Lee Roth.

The point is, sometimes it seems you’re the only Def Leppard fan in the world. Then you go to a Def Leppard gig, and suddenly there are thousands of them in one place. Where do they go the rest of the year?

Thinking about it, though, Britain has a long history of producing groundbreaking, internationally successful superstar rock acts. It started with the Beatles, of course, but since then we’ve had the Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Queen, David Bowie – undeniably legendary acts. But what was the last internationally mega-successful British band? Which British band last truly conquered the States? Def Leppard. No one has done it since.

At this point, Oasis and Radiohead fans are jumping around, waving their hands madly at the back and saying, “We did it! We did it!” No you didn’t. Oasis’ run of success was limited to four hit singles, of which only one (“Wonderwall”) was a proper smash. Their album sales didn’t do squat and major arena tours of the States were never a serious option for them.
The same goes for Radiohead. Yes, they have a US platinum disc or two. So do a lot of people. In a country where the population is getting on for 300 million and even in these days of poor record sales sells over three-quarters of a billion albums a year, a million copies is small fry.

Anyway, this is not an Oasis- or Radiohead-bashing post (there’ll be plenty of time for that later!) but rather a post bigging up the massive achievements of Def Leppard. The truth is, it’s very hard for a British band to break America because America has so many great bands of its own, and the Americans are very supportive of their homegrown heroes. These hometown bands have the advantage of being resident in the United States all year round. Since America is such a huge place, to do the necessary touring and promotion necessary to break America, you really need to live there. A British band is not available to do a US promotional event at the drop of a hat, and going there is expensive. And the American arm of the record company has no incentive to push you since most of your royalties will wind up back in the UK anyway. But in spite of all this, Def Leppard conquered America en route to becoming global superstars, and they were the last British band to do so.

You’d think, then, that they’d be legends in their home country, but sadly the British are not a particularly patriotic bunch. Beyond their hometown of Sheffield, Def Leppard are just another vintage rock band. But the fans should still get smug satisfaction in knowing that no band since has achieved what they did.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Do you have a song that changed your life?

When I went to see Def Leppard at Wembley in October 1999, I had all but given up on rock music. I had been a rock fan since I was aged eight but then, fourteen years old, none of my old rock albums were hitting the spot for me anymore, and I had turned to top 40 radio. That night was a revelation, but there was one song in particular that had grabbed my attention. It hadn’t been introduced though, so I didn’t know what it was. After the gig, I rushed out and grabbed Euphoria. It seemed logical: enjoyed the Euphoria tour, bought the CD.

On getting it home, I played the first song, and there it was – the song. I was transfixed. Well, as transfixed as you can be while you’re leaping around making extravagant air guitar shapes while enjoying the most euphoric rush music can create. For me, the title of the album was no exaggeration; listening to “Demolition Man” was like the most exciting drug ever. All the other rock music I had – mostly Maiden-type metal or Guns n’ Roses style hard rock – seemed so restrained and controlled, in spite of all the screaming and aggression. Here was a song that sounded absolutely huge as it exploded out of my speakers at a louder than strictly necessary volume. It was exactly what I had been looking for. Listening to it, my heart beat faster, the smile wouldn’t budge from my face, and the music seemed far more important than mere sound as it enveloped me, striking at my emotions, taking me to another world. As Joe promised to “raise the roof for all of us” and the banks of vocal harmonies jetted into the best pre-chorus man is capable of writing, it was like finding true love after years of crappy relationships, with all the giddy excitement of a first kiss.

And now? Well now my initial infatuation with “Demolition Man” seems to have waned slightly. It’s not that I don’t still love it, but now we’re in the blissful contentment stage of our relationship rather than the wild passion. Being a true romantic, I would hate to think that the shot of adrenalin I used to get from “Demolition Man” is gone forever. I am always shocked by the fans who claim to be sick to death of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” because I don’t believe – don’t want to believe – that you can get sick of great music. I keep thinking that maybe if Demolition Man and I have some time apart, we can rekindle the old flame. But after a few weeks, I wonder if that has been long enough, and I put the CD on only to discover it’s still not quite like it used to be. “Let’s Get Rocked”, on the other hand, is like the girl you hated it at first who turns out to be your soulmate.

Words can’t really describe the excitement I got from “Demolition Man” in those early days. I think part of the mistake was putting it on homemade compilation tapes, because taking a song out of its album context is for me a sure-fire way of wearing it out. After “Demolition Man”, there were plenty more: Whitesnake’s “Now You’re Gone”, Danger Danger’s “Bang Bang”, Firehouse’s “Don’t Treat Me Bad”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, “Falling in Love (Is Hard on the Knees)” and tons of others. But I always thought of Def Leppard’s track as the first and the best. I always cited it as an example of Euphoria’s success, because it sounds absolutely like classic Lep without actually being like any of their other songs. It would be a crushing loss if the feeling was gone now, but I’m quite sure that one day, when the weather and my mood are right, I’ll put on Euphoria and it’ll all come rushing back

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Monday, April 12, 2004

Oh dear, no sooner have I won back the trust of the Bon Jovi brigade than I’m afraid I have to chuck it all away again. Back to bashing Jon then! Good to know some things never change, eh?

Now, it’s not that I’m looking for a fight – especially with Jon’s fanclub (they seem to have a lot of time to waste complaining to webmasters of obscure websites) – but it seems Jonny Boy is setting out on tour with John Kerry in order to promote the latter’s presidential chances (and presumably the former’s crappy new stop-gap DVD).

Now, no doubt Jon feels very sincere in his support of the Democrats, and I’m not here to criticise that. In fact, I’m not even going to hint at my political views, because this is not a political website, and it isn’t relevant to this article. I just don’t think musicians like Jon Bon Jovi should poke their nose into politics any more than politicians like John Kerry should poke their nose into music. It was especially galling to see Jon getting all lovey-dovey with Al Gore when a decade previously Gore’s wife had been busy trying to ban albums by Jon’s contemporaries (but, conspicuously, not Bon Jovi CDs. Feel free to make up your own conspiracy theory) with her massively illiberal PMRC.

For a start, rock & roll is supposed to be at least a little bit rebellious. Now, Bon Jovi have always been about as threatening as a lap dog but cosying up to the establishment is just too un-rock n’ roll, even for JBJ – not to mention uncool. Nobody wants to be preached at by a rock star. This, however, is not the bulk of my argument.

Here is the thing – due to his celebrity status, Jon has a very large platform, and with such a platform goes responsibility. Poking his nose into electoral issues is none of Jon’s business; it’s an abuse of his position. The reason Jon is famous, and the reason any ridiculous comment he makes about wanting to be like the Rolling Stones only better looking will be in the papers, is because he was the face on a bunch of records that have sold in unimaginably large quantities. To a lesser extent, it’s also because of a few attempts at acting. He has a right to talk about rock & roll, therefore, and be listened to, even if what he says is completely inane. He doesn’t, however, have a right to talk about politics. The records that put him where he is today were not remotely political. In fact, they were mindlessly apolitical, which I happen to think is to their credit.

Had Slippery When Wet contained some protest songs, Jon could at least claim to have been a voice of the people through protest music, but as it is Bon Jovi never got much more political than “Remember when we lost the keys and you lost more than that on my backseat, baby.” Jon is using the power he has as a result of these records to influence the political world, but he has no political track record. He has not earned the right to access the public’s political ear. He has an opinion, sure, but so does every guy in New Jersey. But not every guy in Jersey can get their face in the papers and have an impact on the election.

Other people who get in the papers talking about politics do so because they know about politics, and they work their way up. First of all they write for their local newspaper, and then maybe onto a national newspaper if they’re good. These guys earn the right to be listened to about politics. But Jon has earned celebrity status and has used that to bully his way into the political sphere. That’s wrong. If it weren’t for Tony Bongiovi, Richie Sambora, Bruce Fairbairn, Desmond Child, Bob Rock, and John Kalodner, Jon would still be a schmo in New Jersey and the biggest impact he could have on an election would be to get his letter published in the local paper. People like Jon have a responsibility to the people who put them where they are, and the people who put Jon where he is didn’t want to hear about funding for local schools; they wanted to hear “Always”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, and “It’s My Life”. To think otherwise is as stinking as celebrities who use charities only to publicise themselves.

It’s true that people don’t always vote for the right reasons, but still the idea of a general election is that the people express their will on how the country should be run; voting is meant to be a matter of belief and principle. For the cult of celebrity to enter into the political arena is a distortion of purpose, then. For John Kerry to use Jon Bon Jovi as a vote-winner – and for BJ to be a willing participant in this – is nothing short of corrupt.

If Jon wants to get involved in politics, he should write a few political songs. If people are interested in hearing Jon the politician – unlikely, since it is not a subject he appears to know much about – they’ll buy the album. If not, he has no right to throw his weight around in the public forum.

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Bon Jovi to break up?

There was hinting in British tabloid The Express this week (or was it last week? I read it in a copy that I found lying around) from Jon Bon Jovi that he doesn’t want the band to become a nostalgia act and so he may break up the band before that happens – sooner rather than later. Egotistic Mr. BJ seemed to imply that the Rolling Stones, who haven’t had a mega-smash since “Start Me Up” more than twenty years ago, are now an invalid act (whereas Bon Jovi are still vibrant and at their peak, of course).

My detractors must imagine that I am leaping around the room jumping for joy at this news, since I am pigeonholed as a Jovi hater. Well, for a start I don’t think Bon Jovi will break up, but even if they were, you would be wrong to think me pleased about it.

It is true that every time I see him on TV Jon manages to say something stupendously arrogant, and that I think his band’s live act now leaves a little to be desired. The singing voice he uses live just can’t compare to the throat-destroying but cool-sounding rasp he used on the classic records, and the rest of the band show little interest in moving around for the purposes of our entertainment. Sure, it’s all very exciting when you’re there, but it’s difficult not to be excited when 30,000 people are going nuts for some classic songs and a lot of fireworks – that doesn’t mean the performance is electrifying.

Nevertheless, writing the article “Why Jon Bon Jovi Sucks” was probably the worst thing I ever did on this website, for a variety of reasons. I thought people would look past it to see my cowboy boot-kissing article on Bon Jovi elsewhere, or the praise I heap upon most of their albums in the reviews section, or even the article where I name Richie Sambora the best guitarist in hard rock, but nobody did. So this site is about as popular with Bon Jovi fans as warrantweb.com is with Nirvana fans.

The thing about ‘80s rock is that it just works best in stadiums. Sure, I saw Danger Danger in a tiny club and they were great, but a stadium gig in the height of summer is a goosebump-inducing event that represents everything the big ‘80s stood for – larger than life, exciting, and about nothing more than having a great time. Bon Jovi are the only act from the ‘80s rock scene still doing it. They are our ambassadors to the wider world. Without them, there would be no stadium rock left at all, and anything, you have to agree, is better than nothing. It could be a lot worse, too. Fate could have decreed that Quiet Riot become the ‘80s band that went on to international superband status. At least it was a good band that got picked to lead from the front. These Days aside, Bon Jovi are also about the only rock band to have had a recent US hit that wasn’t about being either a) depressed and angry at their dad, or b) a loser emo kid laughing at toilet jokes.

So all the other hair band fans should stop the jealous sniping about Bon Jovi’s status. It’s not as if Bon Jovi’s success is at the expense of all those other bands. It’s cool to see a great band achieve such popularity for a change; the other bands should be inspired, not incensed. And the fans? Well, this is your opportunity to support the winning team for a change.

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Saturday, April 10, 2004

This is the first of my answers to your Rock Hole Q&A questions. This one is from Michael at Satellite of Blog, who asked me: "List your top five picks of "bands most likely to become popular again", picking from bands that had their peak before 1993."
I’ll stick with bands from the ‘80s rock scene because that’s what I know most about. To be honest, I don’t think there are five bands with a shot at a comeback; it’s more a case of the five bands least unlikely to become popular again.

1) Van Halen. Days after cynics had predicted that no shows would sell out on their tour, second shows were being added in some cities. Ignore the idiots who say the band is too old. There are pillocks saying that every time a new Rolling Stones tour is announced. Van Halen are the only band on this list who will go platinum, although the fan in me wants to believe Def Leppard can as well.
2) Motley Crue. Since it is being made by MTV and Paramount, and the book on which it will be based was such a hit, it seems likely that the movie version of The Dirt will be a success. If this happens, there will be enough money on the table to get Tommy Lee back in the band. An original line-up tour on the back of a hit movie could do some good business, and if Sixx can write stuff as good as the BOD album for the soundtrack, they could have a hit at rock radio. Vince Neil may now be a fat drunk, but that hasn’t stopped him touring, so the only question mark is over Mick Mars’ health.
3) Def Leppard would be at #2, but a) I think their best shot at a comeback was X, and b) although Rick Allen has also been accused of wife-beating, he didn’t do it to a Baywatch actress, so it didn’t turn him into a celebrity. Even so, X sold more copies than the last albums by Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Great White, Quiet Riot, and Warrant combined, so they obviously have a lot less far to go.
4) Whitesnake. It’s just a simple mathematics thing: the more fans you had back in the day, the more chance you still have some people who remember you. Whitesnake (the album) sold eight million in the US, so even if only 1% of those people would buy a new Whitesnake CD that’s still more than Poison sold with their last two CDs put together.
5) Skid Row. Sebastian Bach seems to have acquired minor celebrity status, while their friendship and touring history with Guns n’ Roses gives them slightly more credibility than similar bands. People just seem to remember them, even in the UK, which has got to work in their favour. It’s only a case of convincing Rachel Bolan and Bach to put their differences aside, which is unlikely.

Why aren’t Guns n’ Roses on the list? Well, mainly because I just don’t think Axl ever will get his act together. Bon Jovi are disqualified as they've had a hit album since the turn of the decade.

Rock on.

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Is my enjoyment of Poison’s music ironic? I ponder this sometimes, when I am not thinking about how we can be sure that any of this really exists, or whether the Ontological Argument works as a proof of the existence of God, or whether I am better off using hairspray or wax to get a Nikki Sixx hairstyle.

I was brought onto this line of thought by the endless debate over whether the Darkness are ironic or not. Lead singer Justin Hawkins insists that they aren’t, that although they have a sense of humour about what they do, this is not the same thing as being ironic. So in essence what he’s saying is, although they can laugh at themselves, they are actually deadly earnest. I don’t buy that for a second.

In any case, it doesn’t really matter, because even if they aren’t being ironic, most of the 62 trillion people who have now bought their album in UK (a number to which I am proud to say I have not contributed) certainly are. There’s no way any sane person can take them any other way.

So back to Poison, and whether or not I seriously like them or just seriously like laughing at them. Allow us to examine the evidence:
1) I still cannot listen to “Talk Dirty to Me” without bursting into fits of laughter, and I’ve had it on CD for two years now.
2) Any time there is a laugh to be had at Poison’s expense, I am at the forefront of it. There is simply no band in the world easier to make fun of.
3) It is very embarrassing to admit to liking them. On balance, I probably wouldn’t walk into a club wearing a Poison bandana.
4) I am frequently to be heard explaining that Poison are so great because they are so bad, particularly with regard to CC DeVille’s guitar playing, if indeed it can be called that.

So that’s it then: case closed, I am a Poison phoney-fan, right? Poison’s songs are made up of incredibly well-worn (not to say trite) chord progressions and I can’t possibly consider them a great band.

But I do. They’re just so much more fun than almost any other band around. Nikki Sixx hates them, and his hatred boils down to this: Poison are uncool. Poison are associated in the public consciousness with Mötley Crüe. Therefore, if there were no Poison, people would consider Motley to be cooler. Behind this lies his belief that all rock bands should be dangerous, badass, and offensive. But Sixx is wrong. There is a place for rock & roll that is simply meaningless, escapist, entertaining, and fun. Poison fulfil this role excellently with big, dumb rock anthems that, if you can just throw aside your prejudices and reservations, are undeniably enjoyable. Only a cynic would say otherwise and there are too many cynics in the world. Poison don’t pretend to be anything other than an empty, shallow glam band, and they’re all the more glorious for it, in stark contrast to Sixx’s current deathly seriousness. Their music, like the band themselves, is wickedly unsophisticated and childish, just like all the best fun.

So there we are: Poison fill the need in society for an antidote to cynicism. And they rock.

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Thursday, April 08, 2004

Introducing the Blog Hole Q&A

Here's the thing: I know more about '80s rock than you. Probably. Many hours spent reading interviews, Classic Rock, websites, The Guinness Who's Who of Heavy Metal, The Rock Dectector Book of '80s Rock, biographies, listening to the albums and watching VH-1 have left me with an encyclopaedic knowledge that is actually bordering on the embarrassing. In fact, lose the "bordering on the" part. Especially when I'm drunk and useless bits of trivia come spilling out. (Did you know that pre-Stryper and Poison, Tim Gaines and CC DeVille were in a band together?)

So anyway, I've decided that you can send your questions to me, and I'll answer them here on the blog. I only ask that you try to keep your questions related to the content of the blog and the Rock Hole site, and that you ask questions that only I could answer. I mean, if you're just asking some factual information like the date a certain album was released, that's already on the net somewhere, and I don't see why I should research it just because you're too lazy. So keep it to matters of opinion and such.

Alright, hit me baby!

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I know what you’re thinking (Did he fire six shots or only five? ... You’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do you wanna get rocked?)

Seriously, what you’re thinking is this: “Dude, the new Tesla CD has been out for a month now, and you still haven’t told us what you think of it!”

You’d be right. Tesla are one of my favourite bands. And I have had the CD since release day.

The truth is, I’ve been struck down with a terrible and debilitating disease: the inability to make up my mind about new CDs. Sorry, I haven’t thought up a catchy name for it yet. The other thing is that I’ve been bitten before by reviewing a CD too early. I listened to Bon Jovi’s Bounce CD for two weeks solid upon its release, and gave it a glowing 8 out of 10 review. Then I put it on the shelf and never once felt the urge to listen to it for more than a year. When I finally did get it out again, I realised it was actually pretty mediocre. The other problem is that I’m spending the time I used to spend listening to CDs writing this damn blog.

Anyway, I’ll give you an early-ish reaction to Tesla’s Into the Now. First of all, the CD suffers from a severe lack of diversity. It opens with the slow, super-heavy, down-tuned title track, which rocks. But then comes another slow, super-heavy, down-tuned track. To all intents and purposes, tracks 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, and 11 – half the album – are basically the same song.

There is only one up-tempo song on the album (and to my mind it’s the best), the slightly lighter pop-rock of “What a Shame”. The album doesn’t have a track that is both fast and heavy. Apart from the down-tuning, this is the most obvious nu metal influence on the album, because all previous Tesla albums were packed with blistering, high-speed stormers like “Rock Me to the Top”, “Edison’s Medicine”, “Did It for the Money”, and “Action Talks”.

Of the more commercial, ballady tracks, “Come to Me” is the one that is being talked about by fans as having serious crossover potential, and it does, but something in the arrangement just doesn’t quite hit the spot... the chorus isn’t big enough, and I don’t mean in an over-produced ‘80s way, just in a momentous, high-point-of-the-song way.

Oh yeah, and the lyrics are pretty dire in places. The chorus of “Got No Glory” neither rhymes nor scans, the second verse of “Heaven Nine Eleven” could be lifted from a cheesier version of Michael Jackson’s “Keep the Faith”, and the current minor hit “Caught in a Dream” is a clumsy and lumbering attempt at John Lennon-style idealism.

Still the reaction from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive and this seems set to make it the most commercially successful reunion album from any ‘80s era rock band to date.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

And so to the new Aerosmith, which sees the longed for reunion in the studio of producer Jack Douglas with the band. Here’s a thought for you. Who’s better placed to judge a covers album – someone who is familiar with the original versions, or someone who isn’t? On the face of it, you might think someone who is familiar with the originals, wouldn’t you?

But think about this: if you know two versions of a song, don’t you find that you almost always prefer the first version you heard? And if you really didn’t like the first version, don’t you find it very hard to listen to the new one objectively?

In fact, there is just far too much emphasis on writing your own songs in today’s music market, a backlash against the soulless boy bands of the ‘90s. In reality, not writing your own songs is not necessarily a bad thing. Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley are just a couple of talentless no-hopers who couldn’t even write their own songs. See what I mean?

The real problem with boy and girl bands is not that they didn’t write for themselves; it’s that they didn’t do anything for themselves. Someone told them what to wear, how to move, what to say, and how to sing. None of it is real. But the thing that the critics picked up on is that they didn’t write the songs.

As a result, we are left with the assumption that if boy bands that don’t write songs are bad, people who do write must be good. Record companies are at pains to point out to us that their musicians now write their own songs in a bid to foist Avril Lavigne and her ilk on us as credible artistes. This is patently crap, especially when these supposed composers actually merely co-write all their stuff with hit-making song doctors such as the Matrix, leaving how much of the song was actually penned by the singer open to question.

There are plenty of talented performers and musicians in the world who cannot write good songs, and plenty of songwriters who can’t perform, but are we seriously saying they should be denied the opportunity to use their talents? That’s just absurd. How many classical composers actually conducted all the performances of their symphonies? And who wants to make a case for saying that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is crap because they don’t play any originals? The idea that musicians should perform all their own material is a relatively recent one. Until the Beatles, most bands didn’t play originals. Even the Fab Four kept a large repertoire of covers going in their early days.

When people talk today about timeless music that will last for generations, they assume that our great-grandchildren will still be listening not merely to the songs of great artists of today, but to the actual original recordings by those artists. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that great interpretations by future performers recorded with the instrumentation, arrangements, and production techniques that are in vogue at the time are more likely to hold appeal years from now.

Which brings me back to Aerosmith, who are under attack from their fans for only including one original song on Honkin’ on Bobo, “The Grind”, which was co-written by the dreaded Marti Frederiksen. Shamefully, I haven’t heard any of the original versions, but these reimaginations seem good. I have some beef with the choice of some of the tracks, because there are so many wonderful classic blues songs, and surely there are some better than these. The performances, though, are dynamic, especially when they’ve got the track choice right, as on “You Gotta Move”, “Never Loved a Girl”, and “Stop Messin’ Around” (although disappointingly an Aerosmith version of this has been widely available for some time).

The one letdown is a strange lack of brass. Steamin’ brass arrangements have been a feature of classic Aerosmith since “Same Old Song and Dance”, and surely there’s no better place for some pounding horns than a blues album. It’s also a shame that “Road Runner” turns out not to be the blazing Jr. Walker and the All Stars R&B classic “(I’m a) Road Runner”.

All the same, welcome back, proper Aerosmith.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I saw Def Leppard live three times in 2003, and they got better every time. As I drove back from their sold out gig in Bournemouth, amazed at what I had just witnessed – a band apparently in a second youth putting on a performance that, judging from the video, easily matched their 1993 Don Valley performance for vitality and energy and blew it away from a musicianship point of view – I thought that this concert would probably go on to mythical status in my mind, and that no matter how many gigs I saw, I would always remember it as being better than it really was, and holy crap this is a long sentence.

In fact, strangely, quite the reverse has happened. When I think of that gig, I don’t really remember Sav running around more than at any previous gig I’d seen, or Joe throwing around the mic stand with kinetic fury, or Phil and Viv’s huge rock poses. I remember all the negative stuff. The optimism surrounding the release of X had by this time given way to a wearily familiar scenario: Band release album they are very proud of, album fails to sell as expected. Only this time everyone really thought they had made the album to put them back on top, and it actually became their worst selling album ever. Consequently, the Joe Elliott on stage was not the Joe Elliott of In the Round in Your Face, rasping noisily to an excitable crowd that “We’ve got everything we need. We’ve got the band, we’ve got the crowd. We’ve got the lights, the cameras, the action! There’s only one thing that we ain’t got...” and other such stage raps that sound ridiculous coming from anyone other than a rock god. Nor was he the shrieking superstar of Video Archive, demanding that all 40,000 Sheffielders got on their feet. Now.

Instead, it was a slightly subdued Elliott, saying things like “As long as you keep coming back, so do we, simple as that.” Whereas in the past Joe’s trademark “Don’t forget us, and we won’t forget you,” had been an exciting promise that the band would remember us, now it almost seemed as though we were being begged not to desert them. Even his classic goodbye, “See you next time, and there will be a next time,” contained the melancholy inference that there might not be many more next times. His slightly increased weight and the fact that the UK tour largely took place in venues other than the arenas which had been their rightful home for the last fifteen years added to the sadness of it all.

But the truth is that, although he wasn’t screaming or looking like the Elliott of yore, Joe Elliott 2003 was a self-assured, entertaining, and witty frontman with great banter, for whom you couldn’t help but feel affection. It’d just be nice to see some of the old cockiness back because other notable ‘80s frontmen like Bret Michaels and Tesla’s Jeff Keith betray nothing of their bands’ fading fortunes in their stage personae, and their album/ ticket sales are in a far worse state than Def Leppard’s, particularly internationally. A serious return to the forefront is now pretty much out of the question for Def Leppard, but a strong album that appeals to the band’s fanbase can still easily go Gold in the US. And it doesn’t really matter if it’s 2,000 or 20,000 people at the shows, and one or ten million people buying the albums, as long as we, the fans, can be taken to that ecstatic place that the band’s best work took us to.

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Sunday, April 04, 2004

First up, thanks to my friend Michael at Satellite of Blog for his ridiculously overblown plug of my site (now I have to live up to that hype. Thanks a bunch, Mikey.)

Second, there is way too much to catch up on so give me a few days to talk about everything that's going on in my stuck-in-1989 musical world.

I feel I should draw your attention to the March 2004 issue of Classic Rock, even though it isn’t on the newsstands anymore, because its David Lee Roth cover story is possibly the best interview there has ever been. If Crazy from the Heat made me a convert, this made me a Dave worshipper. Roth is a human whirlwind. He sits down at the café table and this is how he starts: “James, I am New Year’s Eve. What we sell here is big, fat, Technicolor smiles that go with just about any major holiday and some of the intermittent. People ask ‘Dave, what’s the chemistry with the audience? Why so many girls? Well, I’m certainly old enough to think it’s because I’m so handsome... but I’m also old enough to know better.”

That’s the first thing he says. The first thing. And he carries on at that tempo for the seven most riotous pages there have ever been in Classic Rock magazine. Diamond Dave has so much charisma, and his joie de vivre is so contagious, that no matter what he is talking about, I am totally convinced. Now, I am not the most outdoorsy guy in the world. I went rock climbing once on hardly the most challenging little rock face, and I still managed to get stuck halfway up. And my harness fell off. Even so, when Dave’s talking about climbing the Himalayas, I’m like “Yeah, that sounds like a blast! I’ve gotta do that someday!”

I also happen to really like the Sammy Hagar Van Halen albums, but when DLR starts making fun of “Why Can’t This Be Love”, I’m thinking, “Dave’s right! Sam does suck!” And only he could shorten someone’s name from “Sammy” to “Sam” and make it sound like a good insult. If Dave ever does get too old to rock, which doesn’t seem likely, I’m sure a healthy career awaits him selling oil to Arabs.

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A quick test to see how ‘80s rawk you are:

If I say the letters “DC” to you, what’s the first thing you think of?

If you thought of District of Columbia (as in Washington DC) or DC’s shoes, you are clearly in need of a good de-grunging. If, however, you thought of Desmond Child and/ or David Coverdale, you’re all good. “Direct Current” would also be a wrong answer, unless you were thinking of AC/DC, in which case you’re probably alright. You should probably sit down with a few editions of Sebastian Bach’s “Forever Wild” though, just to be safe.

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Alright, welcome to the first Rock Hole blog post, Rock Hole fans. And if you're reading this, you're one patient dude (or dudette. After all, an '80s rock website is the last place you'd expect to find sexism!), because it's been almost a year since I even thought about the Rock Hole, but you've kept the faith anyway. So that's cool.

Anyway, this blog is going to be much easier to update. And I'm not just jumping on the blog bandwagon (well, not entirely), because the original Rock Hole website had the Diary page (which was just a blog by another name) long before the blog explosion.

Alright, so you poor starved hair metal fans have been wondering in a musical wilderness for nine months. You've been lost without me. Without my new music recommendations, you haven't known what to buy. Without my incisive wit, you haven't laughed for months. You've surfed the net for hours hoping to find a site to compare to the brilliance of the Rock Hole, and found none. Here are my top tips for you:

1) If you don't already know Sammy Hagar is back in Van Halen, there is not much I can do to help you. This is the best news for rock music since... well, pretty much since Van Halen started in the first place really. They were the last truly great American hard rock band, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, there have been plenty of bands since Van Halen that I've loved, but VH have that innovative, legendary status that only an elite few can attain. I'm sure to a lot of people Nirvana count as one of those legends too, but, even though they have some good songs, I can never allow myself to get sucked in by such a miserable band. Much more anti-grunge ranting to come in future entries, I assure you.

Anyway, some people seem to be finding an excuse to bitch about this reunion. Of course, there are the thousands who would have preferred David Lee Roth. I understand how they feel. Since reading Crazy from the Heat I am a DLR convert. Others just complain that the ticket prices are too high, or that there isn't going to be a full new album yet, or that they've messed us around for too long. To all you I say: It's VAN HALEN. Rally behind this cause, everyone. As a Sammy fan, I would rally behind a Diamond Dave reunion; the Roth fans should get behind Sammy, because it's Eddie Van Halen, it's a chance for redemption for this band that I feel have never reached their massive potential, and... just seeing those words side by side: "Van Halen" and "tour"... if that doesn't excite you, you're either clinically dead or insane... 5150, in fact.

Second, Ted Poley is back in Danger Danger. This for me is just as exciting as Van Halen reuniting. For everyone else, it's just as exciting as getting a telephone bill and then discovering the envelope was contaminated with anthrax. While Danger Danger were always about as original as an, er, very unoriginal thing, their songs were -- and are -- great. In fact, I'll tell it to you straight. A new Tesla CD was not enough to get me to restart the Rock Hole. Nor was a new Aerosmith CD. Even a Van Halen reunion didn't quite do it. But I heard about Ted getting back in D2 and I came straight online and opened this blog.

For your new music needs, I recommend Brides of Destruction. The CD is alright. There's not a lot out there right this second. I would pick BOD over the new Tesla though.

There, I have spoken. You can sleep easy tonight. This post was too long. I am too tired.

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