April 1986: Heavy Metal through the lens of American media 30 years ago
A while back I wrote my recollection of when I began listening to Heavy Metal music up through the time it was "killed off" by grunge. It was a blast writing down all the memories (that I can still remember) and going through old magazines, ticket stubs, cassette tapes, etc. Recently, I went through the pile of Hit Parader, Creem and Circus magazines that were my prime source of information back then (before the Internet) and as Hit Parader was always my favorite, started reading some of them. A lot of the content was stuff that was boring and commercial even back then but I was literally shocked by some of the albums reviewed in the imports column and especially the ads. It was fun to read marketing pitches for albums that have since become classics as well as those no one ever heard from again. Since many of our readers weren't even born 30 years ago, I thought I'd share some of things I was reading back in the "golden age" of Heavy Metal. Ready?
I'm sticking with Hit Parader because, as I said, it was my favorite and strayed the least from Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. So here I am with the April 1986 issue. On the cover is a photo of K.K. Downing holding a red Gibson Flying V. Good start. The list of feature articles includes Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Dokken, Accept, Ratt and Keel. Keel? There's an outlier. Anyway, that list is not particularly strong but obviously I bought the issue anyway. Let's take a look at what's inside.
We open with an ad for Accept's Kaizoku-Ban EP and Doug Marks Heavy Metal Guitar Lessons. That Accept album sucked and Doug has enough hairspray holding up his do that if someone flicked a match at him he'd light up a small city. Next comes the table of contents and an ad for Luis Cardenas' new album (who the hell is he??) with a contest to win car speakers if you can count the number of drums in a photo of him with his kit. Boring. Short articles on Keel and Motley Crue up next followed by an ad for Megaforce Records' newest releases. Now we're talking. If you want an LP or cassette copy of S.O.D.'s Speak English or Die, Blessed Death's Kill or Be Killed or Overkill's Feel the Fire, $7.98 sent to a PO Box in Old Bridge New Jersey is all it takes. OK, next we get to read about Ozzy's tough light, the kind of pickups Yngwie uses and a follow-up article with Accept about the aforementioned EP. Reader mail is typically inane but I'm sure I took down Enigma Records' address in case I couldn't find Fates Warning's The Spectre Within at my local record store (I actually did find it, on cassette no less!)
OK, here we go; Heavy Metal Happenings. This is the first thing I usually read when the new issue was safely in my hot little hands. This is where I found out when my favorite bands (the big-time ones anyway) were heading into the studio so I could start obsessing about the next album. There was also information about changing line-ups, tours, etc. so this was kind of the Blabbermouth of the 80s. And by that I mean mostly uninformative and repetitious but occasionally helpful. Check out the list of albums Metal Blade had available at the time this issue went to press: Attacker – Battle at Helms Deep, Lizzy Borden – Love You to Pieces, Celtic Frost – Emperor's Return, Omen – Warning of Danger and Tyrant – Legions of the Dead. How I used to dream about finding one of those cassettes. I think the picture on the front of Emperor's Return made me a little scared.
The next column I usually read was the "Celebrity Rate-a-Record." This is where some Hard Rock/Heavy Metal artist would rate popular songs. This month Nick Bowcott and Steve Grimmett from Grim Reaper get to rate Prince, Dokken, New Edition, Night Ranger, Bryan Adams and Tina Turner. What was the point of this column again? OK, longer articles on Autograph (the American one), Judas Priest, RATT, a centerfold of W.A.S.P. (why do I need a centerfold of a bunch of dudes?), Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Heart are broken up by ads for concert shirts and Columbia House (anyone else remember 13 albums or tapes for a penny?). We finally come to the best part of the magazine; the import reviews. We get four in April 1986. Japan's Anthem gets 4/5 for their self-titled debut (has anyone heard anything by this band in the last 30 years?), Running Wild gets 3/5 for Gates to Purgatory which the reviewer concedes "has a surprising amount of excitement and skill" despite the "negative lyrical messages" of "black-metal" bands and Ruffians get 3/5 for their debut (Vicious Rumors vocalist Carl Albert's first band). The magazine saved the best for last. Destruction's Infernal Overkill gets a whopping 1/5 with the explanation that "speed alone can't compensate for a marked lack of talent" and the songs "blend together in a faceless mélange of metal mangling." Nice alliteration. Funny how things unfolded in the 30 years that followed these reviews. The magazine finishes with more articles about already hugely popular bands, reviews of instruments and finally, song lyrics. Hit Parader actually started in the 1950's dedicated to printing the lyrics of pop songs so teeny boppers could sing along and for some reason they held it over. If you need the lyrics for Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home," Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name" or Pat Benetar's "Sex as a Weapon" drop me an email. I have you covered. The ads get shiftier and seedier towards the end of the issue and you just know looking at what is offered, it is some guy in his mom's basement printing the t-shirts and not paying the bands a dime.
So there you have it. If you wanted to know what was going on in the world of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal back in April 1986, THAT was what you had. You read through pages of crap to glean a little information here, an album title there but I have to admit, it was a lot of fun. I KNEW each issue was going to bore the shit out of me for the most part but there just MIGHT be an article, review or ad that was going to turn me on to something special. It is really the same thing we do today only in a different way. Hope you enjoyed "reading" the April 1986 issue of Hit Parader for the first time as much as I did reading for the second (let's be honest, I probably read it more than once in 1986).
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