Heavy Metal Before the Internet - Part I: The Beginning...
Recollections by MetalMike
For most young metal fans today, there has never been a time when you couldn't just go on to the Internet and stream a new song, download an album or check out a band's live show on YouTube. Everyone has instant access to everything and the "next new thing" is a tweet or Facebook post or board post away. Even for someone like me, who has been around the scene for over 30 years, it is hard to remember what life was like before the Internet. Recently, I posted something about this very subject on one of the boards here at The Metal Crypt and "threatened" to write about what I remembered. Surprisingly, some folks actually expressed interest so I thought "why not? I'll probably forget it all in the not too distant future." So here it is; my memories of what it was like to be a Heavy Metal fan back in the days before the Internet, before the instant access and before genres were starting to be defined and it was all just "Heavy Metal." Read on...
I was born in the late 60s, before there was a Led Zeppelin, a Deep Purple or a Black Sabbath. Not that I listened to any of it at the time, but the "heavy" music then was provided by The Kinks, the Who and some guitarist from the Pacific Northwest who couldn't make it in the States and had to go to England to find people who appreciated his music. Hendrix, I think his name was. Anyway, Zeppelin's debut was released in 1969, Deep Purple started in 1968 but it wasn't until Ian Gillan joined for 1970's In Rock that the band started to really get heavy and, that same year, we got Black Sabbath. Again, I wasn't listening to any of that stuff. I was too busy trying to figure out how to use a thing called a "toilet." By the mid 70s, though, I was definitely into music, mainly whatever was on the radio, which was mostly pop music. I wasn't into jazz, classical or country; it had to be rock and roll, even if it was the soft rock that dominated the airwaves. Back then, you either played stuff you bought on turntables or *shudders* 8-tracks, which sounded like shit but at least you could bring them in the car. As the decade rolled toward a conclusion, I found myself increasingly drawn to anything that had prominent guitars and loud drums, stuff like Sweet, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and, especially, KISS. By 1978, I was a full-on KISS fanatic. For some unknown reason, that forever changed the course of history (mine, anyway), my parents bought me a cassette player/recorder and a couple of tapes for my 11th birthday in January 1978. It was one of those machines that had a speaker at one end and the buttons at the other and you put the tapes in the middle. And to play on this high-performance audio system, they bought me Boston Don't Look Back and KISS Destroyer. Who knows what prompted them to buy that KISS album. Family legend has it being the work of my aunt, the family rebel. Whatever the reason, I was hooked. The riffs, the choruses, the songs about getting chicks; it was an 11-year old's dream. I played the shit out of that tape and then Double Platinum showed up under the Christmas tree at the end of 1978. I played "Firehouse" and "Shout it Out Loud" over and over. (I still have that cassette of Destroyer, believe it or not.)
When the 80s began, I turned 13 and had to hide the fact that I liked KISS because they weren't considered cool by my friends (not much has changed, right?) but that was OK. Back in Black took over dominance of my boom box. The Walkman cassette player and any notion of a "personal music system" were still a few years off. I literally wore that Back in Black cassette out. I was so cool in the back of the school bus blasting "Shoot to Thrill." Everything back then was cassettes, because you could take them anywhere and they sounded a lot better than the crappy 8-tracks. I made a lot of mix tapes from vinyl albums (my own and borrowed) and while that could be fun, it was also a pain in the ass, because it took a while and if you dropped the needle in the wrong place, you had to start over. On the other hand, you could put your favorite songs on those mix tapes and then you wouldn't have to sit through a bunch of boring songs or radio commercials.
Speaking of radio, other than word of mouth, radio was pretty much the only way we learned about new music. Without the Internet, we relied on disc jockeys and magazine reporters to tell us what was new and cool. High School started and my heavy music was provided by Rush's Moving Pictures and the early Van Halen albums. I still listened to the radio quite often but now I was always waiting for some Hard Rock song and getting increasingly impatient with anything that wasn't. I used to go to record stores (remember those? No Amazon or iTunes, with helpful snippets of the songs to assist with buying decisions) and dig through the bins for anything that looked cool and bought a lot of stuff unheard. You couldn't go home and stream a few tracks off the Internet to see if you liked something. You bought an album and lived with it, even if it sucked, and plenty of them did. Many artists had only one or two good songs on each album with a bunch of filler rounding them out because the music business was still about hit singles. Look at how many albums bands like Black Sabbath put out in the early stage of their career (four full-length albums in just over 2 ½ years) and you won't be so surprised that some of the songs seem thrown together. Then, in 1983, while shopping for new music, I found this cassette with a cover that featured a logo with angular letters, an angry guy in a straightjacket and the word "peace" misspelled as "piece" in the title. Iron Maiden's Piece of Mind changed my world. When I first listened to "Where Eagles Dare" I couldn't believe any band could play so fast, so loud and so HEAVY. I obviously had a lot to learn, but this was my foot in the door. I actually put the album away because it was TOO heavy and went back to Van Halen, KISS, Ozzy Osborne and Rush. But Eddie kept staring at me. I decided to listen again and it was like a switch had been flipped; it all clicked in my brain. From that moment on, I was on the lookout for newer, faster, heavier Heavy Metal. I scooped up all the previous Maiden albums, which led me to Judas Priest, whose commercial stuff like "Livin' After Midnight" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" hadn't really struck a chord even though I'd heard them on the radio before Piece of Mind. Delving into the more obscure songs from albums like Screaming for Vengeance and British Steel revealed future favorites like "Electric Eye" and "Metal Gods."
By late 1983/early 1984 the American bands starting to get noticed and cassettes from Quiet Riot, Ratt, Motley Crue and Dokken got heavy airplay in the cassette player in my parent's car (not with either of them riding with me, they were seriously regretting the Destroyer purchase by this time). If 1983 was the year I discovered "true" Heavy Metal, 1984 was the year I finally experienced it live. Ozzy Osbourne's Bark at the Moon tour with Motley Crue, fresh off Shout at the Devil, and Waysted, UFO bassist Pete Way's band, pulled in to Providence, RI on Jan. 20th, 1984. I had just turned 17 earlier in the month and drove three friends to the Providence Civic Center and we sat in our seats awe-struck. Who were all these people who loved heavy music like us?? Of the many indelible moments from that night I'll never forget was the chick walking down the steps past our seats that, without breaking stride, leaned over and puked up half a quart of what, at one time, had probably been red wine, and continued on like nothing had happened. How Metal was that?! Waysted sucked, but Motley Crue was amazing. This was the pre-commercialized, pre-Theater of Pain Crue. They were hungry and just killed. Mick Mars came out and added a new solo over a recording of "God Bless the Children of the Beast" and Vince Neil whipped the crowd into a frenzy. We'd also heard rumors that, if you listened hard enough, you could hear two people screwing in the background of one of the songs on the second side of Shout at the Devil. I never heard it but it certainly elicited visions of what must have been going on back stage. There were no celebrity sex tapes leaked on to YouTube back then; it was all up to your imagination. Ozzy put on a great show as well, with a huge gothic staircase, at the top of which was drummer Carmine Appice, who played a fantastic solo. Jake E. Lee, on his first tour with Ozzy after replacing Randy Rhoads, was also great. My friends and I were so high from second-hand smoke that we nearly passed out. We left the arena and shouted at each other all the way home because our ears were ringing. Yeah, I need more of this, please!
Next up: The quest begins in earnest
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