I just saw the news that Kevin DuBrow of the glam-metal band Quiet Riot is dead at only 52. CNN reports that they were the first metal band to have an album chart at number one. (Really? That Kiss live record didn't top the charts in the 70s?)
Quiet Riot is a reminder that so-called 80s hair metal probably wouldn't be the critically-derided genre it quickly became in grunge's wake 1) had the first wave of such bands (Motley Crue, Quiet Riot) not inspired so many imitators, and 2) had the bands not looked quite so silly, and 3) had the sound not adopted so much studio sheen.
80s Hair metal (the ultimate whipping boy of critics) is basically 70s glam (the ultimate object of affection of critics). Does Quiet Riot's breakout record sound all that different from the first New York Dolls record? Okay, Quiet Riot lacked a guitar player as innovative and distinct as Johnny Thunders and a frontman as memorable as David Johansen. But my point is that one is a critical darling and the other is a critical joke. Bands like Quiet Riot took both aesthetic (guitar-driven garage rock) and ethos (sleaze) from the Dolls as well as T.Rex, AC/DC, Joan Jett, Mott the Hoople, Kiss, the Runaways, Alice Cooper, and Suzi Quatro.
Early hair metal had a sense of humor and a sense of fashion. Early hair metal appreciated that pop music relies on good melodies. Early hair metal took cues from solid antecedents like Brit Invasion groups and 60s girl groups and of course protopunk 70s glam bands. Early hair metal kept lyrical content pretty simple: parties, love, sex, rebellion, giving the finger to the man. Early hair metal was a world that Italian-Americans seemed to rule...so shout out to my fellow sons of Italy!
They just got too popular and became too ubiquitous (the fault of MTV?) to maintain after-the-fact credibility. Too bad, because some of it's just good-time rock music. I mean Bowie and Kiss were huge in the 70s, but there weren't dozens and dozens of Bowies and Kisses. That's the best way I can explain the huge credibility gap. Too many imitators in the MTV kitchen spoiled that soup, I guess.
But there's that studio sheen thing, too. Eventually, the 80s incarnation took itself too seriously. I mean in the 70s Alice Cooper and Bowie both got pretty high-concept and their lyrics went beyond the simple garage themes. But they maintained humor. In the 80s, not so much. In '83, you had Quiet Riot doing Slade covers and rocking out. Awesome. By the end of the decade, you had White Lion doing power ballads and taking themselves way too seriously. Yikes.
But you know what, my fellow readers of Pitchfork? Hair metal lives. My new brother-in-law (he married my wife's little sister the day after Thanksgiving...first wedding reception I ever attended where the dj played THREE (!) Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs) and his friends love it. The shows go on, though at smaller clubs, mostly in working-class white suburban areas.
Anyway, I'm sorry this genre doesn't get more respect. And I'm even sorrier that loved ones lost a young guy who should have had more life left in him.