CHRISTOPHER P. HILTON
THE RISE, FALL & REBIRTH OF HAIR METAL
Released on March 20, 2020 (Bowker)
As far as I am concerned, you can never have too many books on “hair metal” which Christopher P. Hilton, the author of The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of Hair Metal, dubbed “An era not to be forgotten.” I couldn’t agree more and Sleaze Roxx is certainly flying the flag very proudly in that regard. Although I think that there can never be enough books on “hair metal”, the toughest part of writing these types of books is which bands to include and which to exclude. Hilton obviously knew that this was an issue that he had to wrestle with as he came up with four distinct categories on how people perceive “hair metal.”
To his credit, Hilton chose what I thought was the most appropriate category for his book being that “hair metal” covers practically every ’80s rock band who had long hair with the exception of the heavier / thrash metal bands such as Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. Unfortunately, despite stating that he was mostly going with the wider encompassing category for his “hair metal” book, Hilton ended up excluding some key bands in the process. I’ll cover that in more detail further down in this review. Hilton did identify what he thought were bands that almost anyone would consider 100% pure hair metal. Those bands were Poison, Quiet Riot, Ratt, KIX, SteelHeart, FireHouse, Trixter, Danger Danger, Britny Fox, Slaughter and Bon Jovi. On that point, it’s hard to disagree with him. All those bands scream “hair metal” although obviously Bon Jovi kind of lost their way over time (but to repeated multi-platinum success).
The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal has some great elements and some weaker moments as well. Hilton shares some fun and interesting stories about some of the bigger bands — Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, etc — for each of their albums. For instance, I didn’t know why David Coverdale ended up losing guitarist John Sykes after the very solid record Slide It In and just before the release of Whitesnake‘s multi-platinum breakthrough self-titled album. Although Coverdale can seemingly barely sing in a live setting these days, it was interesting to learn that he was on the brink of losing his voice prior to the release of Whitesnake‘s very successful self-titled album. Considering how I loved Whitesnake back in the day when that record first came out and that I was consistently reading Hit Parader and Circus magazines, I don’t know how that information escaped me until now. Another plus is that Hilton‘s coverage of the period from 1986 to 1991 is quite detailed (130 pages). If I had to take a guess, I would say that Hilton grew up or discovered “hair metal” around that time, which explains why that time period was so well covered and detailed. I will say that the time period from 1992 to 2001 also gets good coverage with 154 pages.
Another section that I really like in The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal is the short but opinionated section titled Cry Tough (2002-2019). Hilton goes through some of the many problems for “hair metal” music including two versions of certain bands (you know the culprits — mainly Great White, L.A. Guns and Ratt), a good portion of the now middle aged audience just wanting to hear the hits, the lack of album sales and the advent of the internet. The Let It Play (2002-2019) section covering the ’80s Legacy Artists is also a good read although sometimes Hilton falls a little short such as not acknowledging the major current problems that the divided Trixter band currently faces with singer Pete Loran / drummer Mark Gus Scott vs guitarist Steve Brown / bassist P.J. Farley.
Unfortunately, Hilton glances through what I consider to be a very important period for “hair metal.” The years 1980 to 1982 are covered in eight measly pages with Van Halen getting four pages of that coverage and Mötley Crüe snatching two pages. That means that there are only two pages left to cover such great releases as Twisted Sister‘s Under The Blade (1982), Dokken‘s Breaking The Chains (1981), AC/DC‘s monumental Back In Black (1980) and Ozzy Osbourne‘s outstanding Blizzard of Ozz (1980) and Diary of A Madman (1981). Actually, wait a minute! Those three latter releases were not even mentioned for the 1980 to 1982 period in The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal. How could that be? The year 1983 is also almost summarily dismissed with only three bands getting adequate coverage — Quiet Riot, Def Leppard and Mötley Crüe — and Quiet Riot‘s blockbuster album Metal Health (and one of my personal faves — Twisted Sister‘s You Can’t Stop Rock And Roll) not even mentioned in the “Best Albums” for 1983. And what about Ozzy Osbourne‘s Bark At The Moon? Apparently, Hilton elected to exclude the Prince of Darkness for his book.
The lack of coverage for those crucial early years keeps going with only six pages (really five pages and a couple of lines on the sixth page) for what should be one of the most important year in “hair metal” history. Twisted Sister, who released one of the most important “hair metal” albums in Stay Hungry and two of the most recognized anthems of all-time with “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock”, were covered in two paragraphs for 1984. Funny enough, lesser lights Bang Tango, Pretty Boy Floyd, Electric Boys and Enuff Z’Nuff all received more coverage in the 1989 section than Twisted Sister got for 1984. I know that some people don’t consider W.A.S.P. as a “hair metal” band but I certainly do and to see the band get snubbed in The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal is just really sad. The year 1985 is mismanaged as well with Ratt‘s amazing record Invasion of Your Privacy getting a passing mention and W.A.S.P.‘s The Last Command not even mentioned. The most embarrassing part of the 1985 section is the “Best Albums” which consist of Mötley Crüe‘s sellout album Theatre of Pain and wait for it, David Lee Roth‘s EP Crazy From The Heat…
The Youth Gone Wild (2002-2019) section covering the New Hair Metal Bands also falls really short. There are only four bands that get a big write-up. Steel Panther and Hardcore Superstar obviously deserve it, and I am even willing to accept Reckless Love but Halestorm? That band only really released one album that could be really classified as “hair metal” (2012’s The Stranger Case Of…) before releasing the rather modern sounding Into The Wild Life (2015) and the even heavier Vicious (2018). Sadly, bands like Crazy Lixx get two lines in the book while Crashdïet, whose name is misspelled, only get mentioned by name. How could that be? Platinum Overdose who have only released one album (albeit a very good one) and have never played one live show that I know of get a bigger mention than such groups as Crashdïet, H.E.A.T and Santa Cruz who have released multiple albums. And where the fuck is Airbourne in The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal? Something is really wrong here.
Overall, The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Hair Metal is a fun read and strong from 1986 to 2001 but seriously lacking for the time periods from 1980 to 1985 and from 2002 onwards. You can pick up the book from Amazon in kindle or paperback format.
Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, May 2020