July 1986 - Heavy Metal via the pages of Hit Parader magazine
It's July 2016, time to see what was going on in the world of Heavy Metal 30 years ago in the 1980s, the "Golden Age" as we've all come to think of it. As always, my main source of news was the popular magazine Hit Parader so let's take a look at the July issue. On the cover we have Nikki Sixx holding some roses and a bottle of booze with a photo of RATT members Robbin Crosby and Steven Pearcy pasted over the label. The tag line reads; Motley Crue – the Kings of American Metal. I don't know what bothers me more – that Motley Crue was considered "Heavy Metal" or that Sargon may have been right about the 80s NOT being the "Golden Age" when we debated the point a while back. Other bands listed on the cover readers could hope to glean information about include Priest, Ozzy, Lita Ford, Dokken, Loudness, Whitesnake, Sabbath, Queensryche, ZZ Top, KISS and Le Mans. Le Mans? Who the hell is that? I guess we'll find out.
The opening splash ads are for Tama drums and new releases by Blue Oyster Cult (Club Ninja) and Fastway (Waiting for the Roar) on Columbia Records. Imagine what would have happened if big labels like Columbia put money behind actual good albums back in the day instead of trying to foist dull Hard Rock on everyone. Then we get an ad for Washburn Guitars featuring Ace Frehley. This may be the only photographic evidence of Frehley playing anything other than a Gibson Les Paul in existence. A couple of tame interviews with Lita Ford (she and Tony Iommi broke up) and Ace Frehley (his new band Frehley's Comet has an album coming out) and an ad for Samson's Head Tactics, a compilation of the two Bruce Dickinson albums, from Capitol Records. I remember hearing this release and wondering what the big deal was, but Capitol wasn't going to miss a chance to cash in on Dickinson's fame with Iron Maiden, that's for sure. Next, how would you like to spend "three hard-rocking days and nights on the road with Krokus"?? You wouldn't? Not for all the spandex and fake leather you can carry? Ah, well, the prize is to be an "honorary" roadie so it isn't like you get to hang around with the band or anything.
AC/DC talking about their work on the Maximum Overdrive soundtrack and reader mail almost causes me to miss a small ad for Shrapnel Records. Albums from Vicious Rumors (Soldiers of the Night), Chastain (Ruler of the Wasteland), Racer X (Street Lethal) and Steeler (Steeler) can be had for the price of $8.75 (LP or cassette). A little steep but certainly cooler than anything we've seen up to this point. The next few articles detail how George Lynch and Don Dokken are fighting again (surprise) and Black Sabbath is releasing Seventh Star (which we know now was intended to be a Tony Iommi solo album but the label convinced him to use the Sabbath name. Money over art again.) Speaking of being unhappy with record labels, Ronnie James Dio speaks out against the Rainbow compilation Finyl Vinyl, feeling the album is taking advantage of his solo success. It couldn't be because Ritchie Blackmore and the reformed Deep Purple are touring the world, could it RJD? More Heavy Metal Happenings (one of the monthly columns I always read) include musings on whether or not Vince Neil will actually serve time for vehicular homicide (he apparently served two weeks behind bars), Ozzy wants to bring his family to Connecticut for when he tours (they ended up in LA) and Priest claims to have written enough for two albums when they made Turbo and doesn't want to take another two years for the next one (two years later we got Ram it Down – I could have waited).
Next up is a big article on Van "Hagar" and why Eddie and Alex Van Halen are really the band and how David Lee Roth was a jerk. That leads us to the monthly Celebrity Rate-a-Record. I liked this column even though the artists doing the rating and being rated have been suspect at best. This month we get a couple guys from Black 'n Blue, singer Jamie St. James and Tommy Thayer (now the Spaceman in KISS). They rate Rock records by Y&T, Queen and AC/DC along with pop stuff by Paul McCartney, 'til Tuesday and Adam Ant. In the end all the songs are boring and the guys give politically correct answers. Man, this column actually sucks. Why do I read it every month? RATT vs. Motley Crue (like there was much of a difference) and David Lee Roth throwing jabs back at Van Halen lead us to Queensryche, the first "good" band of the issue, talking about Rage for Order. A funny comment early in the interview is when the band is asked about the 1.5-year interval between The Warning and Rage for Order and why it "took so long" for the latter to be released. The music business has truly changed. Who, besides the mind-numbing array of splits, EPs, etc. released by Black and Death Metal bands, releases anything on a yearly basis these days? Over the next several pages the magazine rehashes information on Ozzy, Loudness and Priest but also slides in the promised article on Le Mans. No one heard of this band before and very few did after their appearance.
Here we go, the reason for buying this magazine in the first place; Import Reviews! Up first is 3/5 stars for Agent Steel's Skeptics Apocalypse. 3 seems low for this classic and genre names were certainly in a fluid state in 1986 as the reviewer can't decide if this is "Thrash" or "Power" Metal. Moving on we have one of my favorites, Tokyo Blade and their Warrior of the Rising Sun compilation. Great things are predicted in this 4/5 star review but sadly nothing happened for this band. Shrapnel Records' instrumental albums were all the rage in 1986 and Drummer Mark Edwards gets 3/5 for his Code of Honor EP and lastly, Mentors You Axed for It gets the dreaded "no stars." The interviewer wonders, "Since when is Heavy Metal a joke? Do You think it is something to laugh at?" Sure, if it is meant to be funny. Who could honestly think this was a serious album? At the end of the day I don't necessarily disagree with the rating because the songs are terrible as is the playing but the guy writing this was downright offended that it even exists! He should have made fun of it, you know, fight fire with fire
Shifting gears to Metal Blade's full-page ad featuring Metal Massacre VII, Hirax' Raging Violence, Bloodlust's Guilty as Sin and Pandemonium's Hole in the Sky, any of which could be yours for $7.50 (undercutting Shrapnel by $1.25!) The skulls bashing together is a nice touch. Articles on Blackie Lawless, The Firm (seriously, what is the fascination with this band???), Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, ZZ Top and KISS round out the interviews. Hit Parader was founded back in the 1950s to print song lyrics so kids could sing along with their favorite artists and that function still exists in 1986 as there's no Internet available to look up the words to your favorite songs. I can tell you it was especially irritating to buy the cassette version of an album and get no lyrics yet they were included with the vinyl. Bastards. Anyway, nothing to see here. Before we finish, let's see what the classifieds have to offer. Cartoon caricature rubber stamps (weird), fake backstage passes, fake IDs, "Rock Huggers" spandex pants and here's a great one; 40 brand new towels for $1.75. What? Who needs 40 brand new towels that is reading a rock magazine? Are there that many hotel/motel operators that are also metalheads? Maybe for aspiring pornographers? That may be the most incongruous thing I've ever seen.
What is clear from this month's issue is that the decline of the Heavy Metal scene in the U.S. was clearly underway in 1986. The corporations were in control, bands were selling out left and right and the underground groups had no way to get their music directly to the fans. Maybe Sargon WAS right when we debated the 80s vs. today. Nah! I'm right and I'm sure next month's issue of Hit Parader will back me up! I can't wait!
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