God help us all, Martin Popoff may have put together the ultimate book on Hair-Metal

Book reviews

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The Big Book of Hair-Metal, Martin Popoff, Voyageur Press, 2014.

 

Let me begin by stating that Martin Popoff is one of the most reputable rock writers there is. The man has been writing books about Hard Rock and Heavy Metal music for over two decades now and he’s earned my respect from covering artists like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest (along with volumes dedicated to decades, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 00’s) in a passionate, scholarly way.

That said, Popoff never appeared to be too fond of what has come be called Glam-Metal, Hair-Metal, or sometimes simply “80’s Metal”. I’m talking of course about bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt and countless legions of bands wearing (in retrospect) ridiculous amounts of hairspray, makeup, spandex, leather and animal print.

Popoff never dismissed Glam, but never seemed to be enthralled by it either. In fact, I recall reading one of his early books Riff Kills Man where he reviewed albums of the era where he rated releases by so called “Hair Bands” unfavourably.

Perhaps the author has discovered or re-discovered an enjoyment for 80’s candy sugar coated rock and power ballads. All I can say is if you’re a fan (secretly or otherwise) of Hair Metal -love the music, just not particularly crazy about the term- then this book will bring back memories and offers a very good retrospective and insight into the era of big hair rock.

What I like about Popoff is that he is opinionated and relatable about whatever he happens to write at the moment. For instance, he states that he is not a fan of Bon Jovi even though they have plenty of coverage in this book. In a way it’s almost like having a serious conversation (i.e. Debate) about some of your favourite bands with a friend.

Now I’ll admit on the surface the book looks a little cheesy and maybe even too much like an entry level book to hair metal. But once you pick it up and look through the volume you realize there’s a lot more to it than you thought. Of course it DOES serve as a beginner guide to 80’s Metal, but it offers a lot that will make it appealing and worthwhile to an older fan as well.

The chart positions, releases dates and insights into the albums are great but mostly for newbies. Fans get stories from various interviews, insights into recordings, decisions, record companies, touring etc. Some I had read previously, some I had not.

Altogether The Big Book of Hair Metal does a superb job at being a damn near definitive 80’s Hair Metal guide. If it appeals to new, old and casual fans then you know you’ve done something right. The damn least it will do is make someone pick it up and go “Oh wow look at this! I completely forgot about that band!” Or “Look at that album cover!”.

The really big bands like Motley Crue, KISS, Van Halen and Def Leppard get plenty of coverage, but lesser known bands like Stryper, Danger Danger, Keel, Kick Axe and Dangerous Toys also get their 15 minutes.

Big album releases like Pyromania and Appetite for Destruction get a bit more coverage but you’ll almost always catch yourself learning or reading something you haven’t before. It is such an entertaining book, it’s hard to put down and such fun to flip through over and over again and notice things you might have previously missed. It’s a visually compelling book to look at.

The book is build on a timeline format which works very well for a retrospective-type book such as this. It begins long before the 80’s with coverage of influences on Hair Metal dating to the 50’s and 60’s and gets more and more important around the 70’s with proto-glam and seminal Hair influences arise.

Everything is where it should be. At times l wish there was a bit more for say, 1983 but the book focuses on a genre that really exploded around 1985 so the content seems to get bigger and more as it goes on. The lengthy index section comes in handy is also much welcomed for quick search or reference.

One of the highlights of The Big Book of Hair-Metal is the amount of pictures and content. Backstage passes, posters, album covers, flyers, promos … It’s a whopping amount of visuals and Hair-Metal had a lot to do with visuals. The text is great in most instances but as a flip-through book, it Warrant (s) an A+.

The pictures alone almost make the price of admission worth it: album covers, tickets, tour programs,guitar picks, shirts, backstage passes and the pictures of posters and adds from the era make for splendid time capsules.

I wish the book didn’t end with the year 1991. That is really my only complaint. Popoff himself states that he thinks some of the best Hair Metal came out in 1992. I’m here to confirm that he is accurate in his statement.

Even though it was a dying genre in terms of popularity, plenty of good albums, events and stories could have been added if he chose to add just that one more year to the book’s timeline. Maybe it’s because he felt Nirvana killed glam with Nevermind in ’91, but it didn’t die instantly. It was still acceptable and even in the mainstream in ’92. Even Vince Neil put out a very enjoyable album that would be classified as Hair Metal in 1993.

For anyone who likes the catchy anthemic metal of the 80’s and early 90’s, The Big Book of Hair Metal offers a great insight into this much maligned genre.When it comes to 80’s Hair/Glam Metal I’ve just about read it all and The Big Book of Hair Metal sits as one of the best. Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City is also highly enjoyable look at the music from a fan’s perspective, and Louder Than Hell is a great, although more general look at Heavy Metal. Eddie Trunk’s books are also not bad for a newbie but are more like introductions to the music.

The book might just encourage you to embrace (or re-embrance) pink Aqua-Net hairspray, big choruses and flashy solos. Pull out those cassettes and turn it loud, some of the music is better than you remember it to be. 4 1/2 out of a possible 5 stars.

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