No Thanksgiving dinner for me until later this evening, so I’m watching TV and hitting the bottle right now. I’m watching the 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs Ever on VH1 right now, and while it is quite enjoyable (as enjoyable as VH1’s pop culture crack can be), I have to take issue with the program’s (admittedly well-deserved) derision for late-eighties’ hair metal.
Yes, it’s bad. It was bad then, and it’s even worse in retrospect. But while watching Riki Rachtman, assorted critics and celebrities, and VH1’s producers slam bad metal videos, I can’t help but think that it’s the MTV Networks’ fault for popularizing this trash in the first place. Same with the network’s other bad video shows, in which they trashed “Ice Ice Baby” and other awful hits of the past two decades. If they do another program in ten years trashing the boy bands, hair metal and tween pop they helped to popularize in the 90’s, I’m going to go fucking ballistic.
On the subject of hair metal: As bad as it was, it was virtually inescapable in the late 80’s. In fact, this pop-influenced “metal lite” penetrated so far into the mainstream, that it was mistaken for metal by many people. I had this conversation many times in those days…
Me: “Yeah, I listen to metal.”
Clueless Person: “Oh, do you like Guns N’ Roses / Poison / Insert-hair-metal-band-here?”
Me: “No, that stuff’s crap. I like stuff like Metallica / Slayer / Insert-obscure-thrash-metal-band-here.”
Clueless Person: “Never heard of them.”
The Riki Rachtman helmed “Headbanger’s Ball” was a prime example of this. When it premiered in 1987 (with big-haired future blogger Adam Curry as host), HB was the place for metal fans in the heartland to get their fill of metal videos. In it’s early incarnation, the program ran the gamut from popular hair metal bands to old school metal to the underground. As the decade wore on into the early 90’s, the ascendancy of hair metal overran the program to the point that Riki Rachtman became one of the most hated men in America. (Unfortunate for him; Riki had nothing to do with the selection of videos on the program. That task lay with the network’s programming directors, and Riki’s criticism of the network’s choice of videos eventually cost him his hosting job.)
Eventually, a band called Nirvana came along and sent hair metal the way of the dodo bird. (Ironically enough, Nirvana was mistaken for a metal band by MTV. One of Cobain’s first TV appearances was an interview on HB in a gaudy Victorian-era dress. “It’s a ball, isn’t it?” Kurt wryly intoned.)