80s Metal Or Not? Can These Five Songs Get A Metal Party Invite?

80s Metal Or Not?

Feature Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com

Aren’t we so obsessed with classifications? Groups? Categories? Like – when describing the music we love, we need to be SPECIFIC about its niche. Because we want to talk about said music with people just like us, and we don’t want any confusion about which fans are invited to the party. I am a huge lover of the 80s Metal genre. Not 80s Rock. Not 80s Top 40. Not 80s Pop. I’m talking – the songs on Pirate Radio. The videos on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. The late-80s / early-90s musical groups others refer to as “hair bands” (a referential term I would never use, PS).

But what fits into the 80s Metal category? Amongst 80s Metalheads like myself – that’s a question for the (rock of) ages. Here, for consideration – a list of five songs popular during the 80s Metal craze, but can they be considered 80s Metal hits? Please discuss.

# 5 – The Flame –  Cheap Trick

This band’s history began a decade earlier, but by the time the late 80s rolled in, Cheap Trick was touring with bands like Ratt, Poison, Bullet Boys, and Living Colour. Phil Lewis of LA Guns has called “The Flame” the last true power ballad written. And “The Flame”’s guitar solo is arguably the most 80s-Metal-riff to come out of the band’s roster of hits. But – legend status aside – does this fit?

The rest of Cheap Trick’s 1988 album Lap of Luxury did morph with the sound of the times: “All We Need Is a Dream” and “Ghost Town” are a couple of gems, and “Don’t Be Cruel” was a commercial hit. And though they had more of a button-the-top-button suit jacket look than most of their contemporaries, the 80s Metal crowd bought the concert tickets. So – is it 80s Metal?

# 4 – Rag Doll  – Aerosmith

The slide guitar! The horn section! A ragtime groove! Scatting! This song delivers all the trappings of a jazzy blues number. Steven Tyler brings it back to rock & roll with his signature vocals, but is it enough to earn category representation with concurrent hits from Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Poison, and others? Aerosmith’s album “Permanent Vacation” was a crazy-good compilation of music, as the band staged their comeback post-Run DMC collab.

One can hear musical similarities in the album’s other hits like “Dude (Looks Like A Lady)”. But “Rag Doll” had a unique vibe. Does Aerosmith’s street cred make this a natural fit for 80s Metal – or not? The song was written by Jim Vallance, Steven Tyler, and Joe Perry. Jim Vallance was well known for being Byan Adams’ co-writer as well as a founding member of Prism.

# 3 – Epic – Faith No More

The beat is solid. The guitars rip. Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton cuts into a bouncy rap that makes you wonder if you accidentally flipped the station. This feels more like a cool, modern portal into what would become 90s fusion rock. It was definitely a shift from what we’d been seeing on MTV up to this point. Two-thirds of the song shouts “It’s it / What is it,” and none of the lyrics refer to partying, or girls, or booze. The band’s 1989 album “The Real Thing” definitely included other songs that could tie in nicely with 80s Metal – like “Falling to Pieces” and “From Out Of Nowhere” – but the band carried a skater vibe throughout, which made the image feel different. So – is it 80s Metal?

# 2 – Shelter Me – Cinderella

I’ve heard many interviews with the iconic Tom Keifer during which he states this song is one of his favorite Cinderella hits. But it’s a diversion from the Night Songs and Long Cold Winter eras. Cinderella’s third studio album, Heartbreak Station was released in 1990 and a few of the songs included had hints of a similar sound, like “The More Things Change” and “Heartbreak Station.” However, “Shelter Me” took the theme all the way. Significant saxophone and a gospel-sounding chorus of soulful backup singers provide the backdrop. The song’s video is a telethon-themed stage show (with Little Richard hosting?). And – the guys even tamed their tresses! I’ve never seen Jeff LaBar’s hair so flat! Musically, this is a stellar song. But – should we call it 80s Metal?

# 1 – Just Like Paradise – David Lee Roth:

Steve Vai is definitely a Guitar God, but this 1988 classic from David Lee Roth is pretty dominated by keyboards and comes equipped with the standard dose of Diamond Dave Comedic Flair. Men with long hair are performing this hit, and Roth is an original member of the band that inspired so many 80s Metal bands of the era.  I will admit – “Just Like Paradise” is more rock & roll than David’s mid-80s releases of remakes like “Just a Gigolo” and “California Girls.” But…is this song 80s Metal? (By the way – only recently did I realize that DLR is ROCK CLIMBING in the music video.  Also boxing. And martial art-ing. Did we all know David was so athletic and into adventure sports?)

Let’s cut to the chase; I love – no, I ADORE – all of these tunes. But classification is a tricky subject, and it will divide even the most amiable music fans. As time goes on, perhaps categorical organization doesn’t matter as much. We love the music for the nostalgia, and the emotional trip through past lives. But it’s fun to debate (nicely 😊).

80s Metal Or Not? Can These Five Songs Get A Metal Party Invite? article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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