In the late 1960s, when the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and several other bands turned up the decibel level, the industry found itself on the edge of a new genre, an extension and synthesis of psychedelic/acid rock and hard blues-rock.
Before long, a variety of loud – very loud – bands paraded around both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Physicians wondered if the human ear could take it all; electronics companies invented stronger amplifiers, speakers, and a host of tone modifiers; and audiologists designed special earplugs for the performers and their audiences.
Just being loud was not the only special characteristic of hard rock. It was also blue-collar, anti-establishment, blues-based, image-driven, concert-stage music – not music for dancing or listening, but music for ritual participation.
Being loud, however, was significant and fundamental to that communal-ritual experience. The physiological effects on the body of acoustic disturbances approaching the level of pain (130 decibels) were very real, indeed. Melody, harmony, and other traditional musical components soon lost out to reproducible details that could be manipulated to deliver a raw "sound".
Jazz and pop musicians had long ago manipulated the sound of their instruments with mutes, broken beer bottles, bathroom plungers, champagne buckets, hats, etc. – before that sound entered the amplifier. What was new about hard rock musicians was that they manipulated the sound during and after amplification.
As early as 1958, Link Wray (1929-2005) and his Ray Men distorted the sound for their instrumental hit, "Rumble", by poking a pencil through the speaker. In 1964, the Kinks cut a speaker cone with a razor blade for extra "buzz" on "You Really Got Me". Then, rock musicians discovered, probably accidentally, that a strange thing happened when the guitar was right in front of its own speaker – there was a ghastly squeal of reciprocal resonance, with the amplified sound feeding itself back into the guitar pickup. The Beatles tried this new "feedback" on "I Feel Fine" (1964), the Who on "My Generation" (1965), and the Yardbirds on "Shapes Of Things" (1966) (Charlton 1990, 175).
The "primal scream" quality of that feedback appealed to the hard rock musicians' hostility toward the establishment, and – ironically, it always happens – the very establishment rushed to profit with dozens of foot-pedal electronic sound distortion gadgets. A new industry appeared with a new name (Peavey, Boss, Roland, et al.).
WHY THE LATE 1960s?
The hard rock musicians were reacting intuitively to deep changes in the collective Euro-American mentality of the late 1960s. "Any pop phenomenon is a kind of cultural seismograph, revealing the large, subterranean forces that are at work beneath the surface of society, and that sometimes break through with convulsive effect" (Schechter 1988, 124).
Hard rock was a musical metaphor for the heinous aggressions of the time, shocking music at frightening levels of sound in a symbolic reflection and demonstration of the terrifying disequilibrium and hostilities of the day – race riots, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, protests and riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Vietnam protests at 400 colleges, the Kent State tragedy, and finally, the Watergate scandal.
The lyrics of songs, some of them surprisingly strong and meaningful, now had to be printed on the album jacket, since they were buried in the overall sonic package of the group's delivery. In concert, the audiences often sang along with the tunes, for they had learned the words from the record jacket.
NOTABLE HARD ROCK GROUPS
Grand Funk Railroad
For a while, the most popular American hard rock band was Grand Funk Railroad, formed in Michigan in 1968. Former rock singer Terry Knight managed Grand Funk, and got them into the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival. They were an instant success, and immediately took America by storm, selling out big stadiums all over the country, including New York's Shea Stadium. Their hit singles "We're An American Band" and "Locomotion" put them at the top of the charts in the early and middle 1970s. The band continues to tour, playing 40 dates a year. They kicked off their "40 Years of Grand Funk" tour in January 2014.
Formed in 1970 in New Hampshire and signed by Clive Davis for CBS in 1972, Aerosmith hit the top with a self-titled album in 1973 and Toys in the Attic in 1975. Mick Jagger look-alike Steven Tyler (b. 1948) carried the group along with guitarist Joe Perry (b. 1950). Interlacing their rock with occasional folk and country classics, Aerosmith had a special identity.
In July of 1978, they appeared as villains in the film Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton. Their musical contribution was a revival of the McCartney-Lennon classic "Come Together" (Lazell 1989, 10). Major personality conflicts arose in the early 1980s, but by 1985 the band had regrouped, signed with Geffen Records, and entered a new chapter in their career.
In November 2012, Columbia released Music from Another Dimension!, making a total of fifteen studio albums, five live albums, and twelve compilation albums since they first entered the world of music in 1973.
The long line of virtuoso guitarists in rock continues with Eddie Van Halen's inventive pulling and hammering the strings with both hands on the fingerboard. Combine these skills with short solos on the upper partials (harmonics) of the strings, above and beyond the normal guitar technique, and the result is a unique and clearly marketable musical personality. Gene Simmons, from KISS, realized this when he financed Van Halen's first demo tape in 1976.
In the Netherlands, brothers Eddie (b. 1955) and Alex (b. 1953) Van Halen trained rigorously in classical piano, but upon their move to California in 1968, the boys fell in with the rock culture to form a band called Mammoth. When they regrouped later as Van Halen, they hired bassist Michael Anthony (b. 1954) from Snake and David Lee Roth (b. 1954) from the Redball Jets.
Van Halen risked criticism for not being true hard rock when Eddie Van Halen played keyboards on "Jump" and "I'll Wait" on their album titled 1984. Their critics also predicted trouble and decline for Van Halen when their lead vocalist, the photogenic David Lee Roth, left in 1985. Sammy Hagar (b. 1947) joined the band within months after Roth's departure, however, and stayed until 1995, filling the role to everyone's satisfaction.
Hagar was replaced by former Extreme lead singer Gary Cherone (b. 1961), and Van Halen released III in 1998 (III, as in the third incarnation of the band). The album was not well-received by critics or fans, and this version of the band was defunct by the following year. Hagar returned to front the band from 2003 to 2005. Then, in 2006, two extraordinary line-up changes occurred: David Lee Roth returned to the band and original bassist Michael Anthony was replaced by Eddie's son Wolfgang Van Halen (b. 1991). This line-up released A Different Kind of Truth in 2012, containing a mixture of songs originally penned decades before (but never released) and new tracks.
Formed in Germany from the remnants of the United Kingdom band Roundabout, Deep Purple moved in 1966 into hard rock from a pop-rock background. Classically trained pianist Jon Lord (1941-2012) balanced things nicely with Ritchie Blackmore's (b. 1945) street-level blues inclination. The band even made an appearance with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London's Royal Albert Hall in 1969, but critics were reserved in their opinion of the main work for the evening, a concerto for rock band and symphony orchestra.
By the early 1970s, they were being compared favorably with Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple's big American hit singles, "Hush" and "Smoke on the Water", kept them in the public eye until they broke up in 1976. They regrouped in 1984, and went on a world tour in 1987. Although there have been some changes in the lineup (most notably, of the departures of Blackmore in 1993 and Lord in 2002), their latest studio album, Now What?!, was released in 2013 and the band toured the world to promote it.
In 1981, bassist Frank Carlton Serafino Ferrana, Jr., (b. 1958) left his group called London, changed his name to Nikki Sixx, and formed a new band called Christmas. He then recruited guitarist Mick Mars (Bob Deal, b. 1951), vocalist Vince Neil (Vincent Wharton, b. 1961), and drummer Tommy Lee (b. 1962) to form Mötley Crüe. They played "increasingly outrageous gigs in the Los Angeles area, including dates at the Starwood Club, where they chain-sawed mannequins and set their own trousers on fire'" (Lazell 1989, 342).
Opening on tours for KISS in 1983 and for Ozzy Osbourne in 1984, Mötley Crüe began to attract an audience of their own, but suffered some career damage when Vince Neil wrecked his Pantera sports cars in an accident which killed Nick Dingley (from the group Hanoi Rocks). Neil was jailed for twenty days, paid $2.6 million in compensation to others injured in the crash, and served two thousand hours of community service by lecturing in high schools and colleges on the dangers of drugs and alcohol. At about the same time, December 1984, Mötley Crüe was named the No. 1 Rock Act by Hit Parader magazine.
Shout at the Devil and a single release of Brownsville Station's "Smokin' in the Boy's Room" put Mötley Crüe in a firm position near the top of hard rock in 1985. Kicking a heroin habit in 1986, Sixx regained his control of the band. Shortly thereafter, Mötley Crüe embarked in their Lear Jet on a worldwide "Girls" tour (Lazell 1989, 342). In 2014, the band went on a farewell tour, with plans to retire in 2015.
As with all genres of music, there are different subcategories for the different kinds of music being played. Hard rock is no different. Some of the more distinct subcategories of hard rock include progressive rock, heavy metal (which, in itself, has subcategories), and alternative rock (which will be covered in a subsequent chapter).
What this really means is anyone's guess, but the word "progressive" has long history of suggesting something a bit more intellectual and sophisticated than the ordinary thing. It is favored by those who wish to separate themselves from the pedestrian crowd.
Stan Kenton (1940s) and Dave Brubeck (1950s) were called progressive jazzmen. In the 1960s and 1970s, "progressive rock" was very close to "art rock" – a term often used for Jethro Tull, Rick Wakeman and Yes, Procol Harum, Genesis (still with Peter Gabriel and only at the very beginning of Phil Collins' involvement), Frank Zappa, and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, among others.
In the 1990s, the term "progressive metal" was occasionally found in reference to groups like Dream Theater, who had one foot in each of the subcategories of progressive rock and heavy metal.
For sustained musical rewards in the progressive rock genre, a Canadian power trio called Rush stands very high with knowledgeable critics and fans. Classical guitarist Alex Lifeson (b. 1953) changed to rock and joined bassist Geddy Lee (b. 1953) and stunning virtuoso drummer Neil Peart (b. 1952) to expand the potential of heavy metal in all directions. Their multi-movement song cycle By-Tor & The Snow Dog earned a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy (Charlton 1990, 190-191).
Rush's lineup has remained constant since 1974. Concentrating on expert musicianship and avoiding the drama of most of their peers, Rush has relentlessly toured and released albums regularly for decades. While radio has not recognized the band in the way that critics and the record and concert-ticket buying public has, Rush was nonetheless finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.
Although they are now considered to be more of a progressive rock group, because of their past forays into other areas of the hard rock realm, Pink Floyd is really in a category by itself as the premier political-intellectual-progressive spaced-out hard rock. They began in 1965 as a psychedelic-blues-rock synthesis of several previous groups. Their 1967 debut album, released in America under the title Pink Floyd, sold only moderately well, but established them as a special kind of band that would never sacrifice artistic principles for fame and wealth.
The tour that promoted The Wall album (1970) involved such elaborate logistics that only two American performances ever occurred – New York and Los Angeles, although twenty-nine performances took place worldwide. A complete brick wall 160 feet long and 30 feet high was built to symbolize the barrier that inevitably arises between a band and its fans. Roger Waters (b. 1943) came up with the original idea.
In 1970 Roger "Syd" Barrett (1946-2006) was coaxed out of the band. A sad victim of LSD abuse, he retired to a life of seclusion. Roger Waters (vocals and bass), Rick Wright (keyboards, 1948-2008), David Gilmour (vocals and guitars, b. 1946), and Nick Mason (drums, b. 1944) became a hard-core team. Their 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon, a sonic description of the hopelessness, despair, and madness of modern society, was on the charts for fifteen years (741 weeks), with over 50 million copies sold.
The band went through an acrimonious breakup in 1983, but the members reunited periodically (between and among dozens of lawsuits over who can legally still use the name Pink Floyd) to negotiate over financial matters and to turn out something to sell.
In 1995, for example, P.U.L.S.E. was released, a double-length album containing a 1994 live performance of The Dark Side of the Moon. The slipcover that held the two CDs contained a blinking red light, meant to symbolize the heartbeat, or pulse, of each listener. To draw attention to the event, the Empire State Building was splashed with pulsating red lights while excerpts from the album were simulcast over WNEW-FM (102.7) in New York.
Although their last studio album was 1994's The Division Bell, Pink Floyd reunited in 2004 for the Live 8 concert, both to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Live Aid concerts and to influence the outcome of a G8 summit occurring over the same weekend. The organizers hoped the concert would shine a light on Make Poverty History campaigns, so that the G8 summit attendees would pass resolutions to combat global poverty.
Although Syd Barrett died in 2006, a new album of sorts is set for release in October 2014. The Endless River will consist mostly of ambient music, recorded during sessions for The Division Bell, that were later expanded upon after the death of keyboardist Rick Wright in 2008.
This subcategory of hard rock took its original name from the Steppenwolf biker anthem "Born To Be Wild", which contains the phrase "heavy metal thunder" [referring to motorcycle sounds] taken from William Burroughs' famous novel, Naked Lunch (Clarke 1988, 532).
Struessy says that heavy metal is "an exaggeration of the hard-rock side of mainstream", with insistent eighth-note divisions of the beat and low range guitar riff [short, repeated melodic motives] (1990, 306-307). Clarke adds that it is "a genre developed from the late 1960s blues progressions: guitar-based rock with amplified guitar and bass reinforcing each other to create a thick, brutal wall of sound" (1988, 532).
From its early days, heavy metal came in two schools: (1) the hardcore purists for whom the music was the primary experience, Led Zeppelin, for example and (2) the drama-driven crowd for whom the theatrical event was of equal importance, Alice Cooper and KISS, for example. The distinctions blur easily, and the separation is an arbitrary scholar's device, of course.
A word of qualification – what was heavy metal in 1970 may sound a little tame compared to the much heavier metal of the late 1980s through the present. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Blue Oyster Cult would be considered just "hard rock" today. And what one fan considers genuine metal another fan dismisses as pop schlock, too pedestrian to be considered metal at all.
So, with every effort to be objective, here follows a summary of the controversial genre from its beginnings in the '60s to its pinnacle in the early 1990s.
MUSIC-DRIVEN HEAVY METAL
When the Yardbirds disbanded in 1968, highly respected session guitarist Jimmy Page (b. 1944) recruited bassist John Paul Jones (b. 1946), drummer John Bonham (1948-1980), and vocalist Robert Plant (b. 1948) to fulfill a few remaining concert dates. They finished out a Scandinavian tour as the Yardbirds, then changed their name to a phrase Keith Moon (the drummer for the Who) often used for a bad concert (gig) – "going down like a lead zeppelin." Page suggested that the spelling be modified to "led" so American kids wouldn't say "leed" (Edelstein and McDonough 1990, 153).
Manager Peter Grant got them a contract with Atlantic records. Self-titled albums I, II, III, and IV from 1968 to 1971 made them the most popular rock band in the world. They earned thirty million dollars in 1973, and set record attendance numbers everywhere on their American tour. (The previous records were set by the Beatles.) Two years later, fifteen thousand fans waited for twenty-four hours outside Madison Square Garden for tickets, and in Boston, Led Zeppelin fanatics rioted at the box office causing $75,000 in damage (Szatmary 1987, 153).
Their bone crushing, blues-drenched, riff-dominated style of rock became the artistic standard against which all other groups were measured. Big hits were Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby", Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years" (redone as "How Many More Times"), and the original "Whole Lotta Love". Their masterpiece, "Stairway to Heaven", was never released as a single.
In 1975, Robert Plant and his wife suffered serious injuries in an auto accident; two years later their son, Karac, died of a viral infection. Meanwhile Page dabbled in occult matters, and the group went into exile in Switzerland. In 1980, when John Bonham died after drinking forty shots of vodka, the group disbanded (Edelstein and McDonough 1990, 153).
Even after they disbanded, their albums influenced other music – several Led Zeppelin riffs were sampled in the rhythm tracks of the late 1980s, and Led Zeppelin albums still sell well as successive generations discover them. In 1994, Plant and Page released the album No Quarter, with live acoustic tracks recorded during MTV's UnLedded program, and a related tour. Robert Plant also made waves for doing things in other genres, such as his Raising Sand album (2007) with bluegrass-country star Alison Krauss (b. 1971), and as a founder of the Honeydrippers, a rock band with an R&B bent, most famous for their remake of "Sea of Love" (1985).
Moving from Glasgow, Scotland, to Australia in 1963, brothers Malcolm (b. 1953) and Angus (b. 1955) Young wanted to surpass older brother George's pop hit "Friday on My Mind" (1967), made with a group known as the Easybeats. Claiming to take their name from an inscription on a vacuum cleaner, the younger brothers plunged into the world of heavy metal with musical assuredness and strong business skills. Their first release, High Voltage (1975), put them on the international stage with their own special brand of "rumbling, deafening, chord-crashing, electric blues" (Szatmary 1987, 154).
There were many personnel changes in the band over the years, but when their lead singer, Bon Scott (1946-1980), died only months after recording their album Highway to Hell, many fans thought the band would never recover. With support from Scott's parents, the band continued on, releasing Back in Black (1980), which many rock fans consider to be the quintessential album of the hard rock/heavy metal genre.
Blue Oyster Cult
Using the names Soft White Underbelly, Oaxaca, and the Stalk-Forrest Group before settling on the name Blue Oyster Cult, the Long Island, New York band (rejected twice by Elektra Records) finally signed with Columbia in 1971, largely through the influence of Crawdaddy magazine writer Sandy Pearlman, their producer-manager (Lazell 1989, 49).
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (1976) showed a musical sophistication not common to heavy metal. In fact, their whole career, notwithstanding their early days travelling with Alice Cooper, shows a good mix of musical intelligence and marketing know-how. Their harmonized vocals and interesting melodies put them a cut above some of the other heavy metal bands. Patti Smith's two songs and a guest appearance on Agents of Fortune (1976) pushed the album to platinum million-plus sales.
Between major tours, Blue Oyster Cult played small clubs under their first name, Soft White Underbelly. For years, only a few select fans, who aware of the name camouflage, were rewarded by hearing Blue Oyster Cult in close quarters (Charlton 1990, 190-191).
Guns N' Roses
When genuine heavy metal was getting crowded off the charts by dance music and pop, Guns N' Roses brought the real, raw, ugly thing. Lead guitarist Slash (b. 1965) and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin (b. 1962) traded vicious musical riffs while Axl Rose (b. 1962) screamed about sex, drugs and all that's wrong with the world.
They shot up to the top of the market in the late 1980s because they offered a quick fix for the teenagers so hungry for old-fashioned violence and raw energy once again. Under the shrewd marketing skills of David Geffen's publicity staff, Guns N' Roses became the hottest band in America with Appetite for Destruction in 1987. "Welcome to the Jungle", "Mr. Brownstone", "Rocket Queen", and "Paradise City" are among their best.
To everyone's surprise, they revealed a gentle streak with "Sweet Child o' Mine", which was picked up by MTV and played often. When Stradlin, their best songwriter, left the group, the energy level of Guns N' Roses seemed to decline.
After a 15-year break since their last album, Guns N' Roses released Chinese Democracy in 2008, widely regarded as the most expensive album ever produced (at a cost of approximately $14 million). The band continues to tour and has had multiple residencies in Las Vegas.
DRAMA-DRIVEN HEAVY METAL
All the heavy metal groups are dramatic, to say the least. Some, however, have put stage dress, bizarre mannerisms, and theatrical effects at the center of their act.
Shortly before Led Zeppelin arrived on the scene, a band first called Polka Tulk, then Earth, toured the United Kingdom and parts of Europe, breaking the Beatles' long held attendance figures at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany (Lazell 1987, 46). Guitarist Tony Iommi (b. 1948) did what he had set out to do, create a pop blues-based success. In full agreement were bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler (b. 1949), drummer Bill Ward (b. 1948), and vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne (b. 1948).
In 1969, manager Jim Simpson changed their name top Black Sabbath, from Butler's tune based on the writings of black magic novelist Dennis Wheatley. At the same time, Simpson changed the band's image and music from pop-flavored blues to evil-gloom-doom heavy metal.
It was a very effective change, and Black Sabbath soon became popular. The music world was stunned, however, and then general public was outraged, when mass-murderer David Berkowitz said he was inspired to kill by some of those early Black Sabbath recordings (Edelstein and McDonough 1990, 151).
The hit single "Paranoid" from the 1970 album of the same name shows a big money formula at work. Iommi wanted to avoid the formula rut, and demanded horns and keyboards for creative growth. After many emotional battles and managerial squabbles, Osbourne left in 1978.
Ozzy Osbourne's anti-hero personality carried him into solo fame, alcohol addiction, an extended legal battle over the suicide of a teenage fan, and several painful rabies shots after biting the head off of a dead bat that had been thrown up on the stage. In his condition at the time, Osbourne wasn't sure what it was – one story even says it was a rubber imitation – but he got rabies shots, just in case. More recently, Osbourne and his family were the subjects of a reality show on MTV, The Osbournes.
Iommi, Butler, and Osbourne reunited in 1997 for a tour and the band released their nineteenth studio album, 13, in 2013. For all its problems, rock historians put Black Sabbath right up next to Led Zeppelin as one of the most important and influential of the pioneer British heavy metal bands.
Originally the name of his band before adopting the name on his own in the 1970s, Vincent Furnier (b. 1948), a minister's son, took the name Alice Cooper from a sixteenth century witch who was burned at the stake. His theatrical routines caused enormous controversy. Strangling a chicken onstage, beating-stabbing-decapitating a female toy doll, and putting a huge boa constrictor around his neck kept Alice Cooper in the news every few weeks. Frank Zappa signed the band for a debut album, Pretties for You, when he heard that they could clear out a club quicker than any act on the West Coast.
Furnier was soon known as the Father of Shock Rock, but Alice Cooper began to deteriorate as Furnier slipped into a severe and dangerous alcohol problem. The albums of the late 1970s and 1980s did not sell well at all.
Alice Cooper came out of the slump in 1987 with Raise Your Fist and Yell followed with two commercial albums, Trash in 1989 and Hey Stupid in 1991. His album, The Last Temptation (1995), was accompanied by a comic book, illustrating the lyrical content of the album. It dealt with the dangers, insecurities, and struggles of youth, and the hardships and pressures of growing up. These days, compared to other definitively heavy metal artists, Alice Cooper might fit more into the broader "hard rock" category. His most recent album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare, was released in 2011.
Musically more hard rock than metal, but with an entirely metal attitude, is the band KISS. Inspired by the New York Dolls, Gene Simmons (b. 1949) formed a part-time rock band in late 1972 with guitarists Paul Stanley (b. 1952) and Ace Frehley (b. 1951). They recruited drummer Peter Criss (b. 1945), quit their day jobs, and launched one of the most eye-popping heavy metal bands in the business.
From their first professional job in January of 1973, KISS went for the bizarre and preposterous – fire breathing, imitation blood vomiting, dry-ice fog, fireworks, explosions, police lights, black leather shirts, spandex pants, and floating drum risers. With full-paint circus makeup and outrageous gestures, KISS emphasized all the gothic, bigger-than-life aspects of the glitter-glamour branch of heavy metal.
Dressed to Kill and Alive in 1975 put the band at the top of the industry, with a special following among the early teenage heavy metal fans. Marvel Comics issued a series of KISS comic books, and a movie called KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park was televised on NBC. For the first twelve years of their existence, KISS would not be photographed without their makeup.
As KISS and their audience have matured, their style has become decidedly "pop metal". In the 1980s, they went through the big personality fights that all rock groups seem to go through. Criss was replaced by Eric Carr (who died of cancer, 1950-1991), and Frehley was replaced by Vinnie Vincent (b. 1952) who was replaced by Mark St. John (1956-2007) who was replaced by Bruce Kulick (b. 1953).
Their latest album, KISS 40 (2014), was released as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the band. It contains forty songs – one from every album the band released, including live albums and some solo albums. Their current line-up still includes Simmons and Stanley, but they're now joined by Eric Singer (b. 1958) and Tommy Thayer (b. 1960), both of whom joined the band in the early 2000s.
A self-styled "wild man of rock," Ted Nugent (b. 1948) mastered many of Jimi Hendrix's theatrical gimmicks, including the art of plucking the guitar strings (or pretending to) with his teeth. In the late 1960s, Nugent toured relentlessly with his "heavy garage band, the Amboy Dukes," from Detroit, Michigan (Lazell 1989, 354).
A genuine virtuoso, Nugent often invited rock guitarists on stage for a musical battle, similar in spirit to the "cutting sessions" in the jazz clubs of old. He actively supports the National Rifle Association, is an expert shot, and often hunts wild game with a bow and arrow on his Michigan farm. He appears now and then on stage in a cave-man loincloth, performing what some rock journalists call "Neanderthal Rock." In 1978 he signed his autograph on fan's arm with the tip of a Bowie knife.
In contrast to most rock musicians, Ted Nugent is politically a staunch conservative; he's a fierce critic of drugs who has been known to dismiss a band member suspected of drug use, a board member of the National Rifle Association, and a strong supporter of the Republican Party. "Journey to the Center of the Mind" (1968) from an album of the same name is considered his best contribution to heavy metal. These days, his music fits more correctly into the broader hard rock category than the narrower heavy metal subgenre.
Leading a new wave of heavy metal in the late 1970s, Judas Priest crashed the scene. Vocalist Rob Halford (b. 1951) adopted a biker image, and often roared out on stage with his Harley Davidson belching and barking full throttle. Black leather jackets with the full complement of metal studs and chains, punk-style haircuts, and Marlon Brando tough-guy snarls gave Judas Priest a following of Hell's Angels types who were similar in behavior to big-time wrestling fans.
After their first album, Rocka Rolla, in 1974, Judas Priest began to penetrate the market, and, by the early 1980s, the band was an invited guest at the first Castle Donington Monsters of Rock Festival in the United Kingdom. Lead singer Halford left the band in 1992, came out as gay in 1998, and then returned to the line-up in 2003, continuing with them today. Their latest offering, Redeemer of Souls, was released in 2014.
They share with Ozzy Osbourne the negative fame of a serious lawsuit. They had a long and involved legal battle with the families of James Vance and Raymond Belknap who committed double suicide after listening to six hours of Judas Priest recordings. Both court cases were eventually dismissed, both in favor of the musicians.
There are many other heavy metal bands of course – Skid Row, Stone Temple Pilots, Ugly Kid Joe, and Megadeath, just to name a few. Each band has a certain identity discernible to knowledgeable fans. Some of the bands have moved toward mainstream pop, becoming in essence pop music businessmen not all that different than Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, or Katy Perry. Some have maintained their antisocial beginnings with reasonable financial success. Some have fulfilled their early promise of self-destruction.
SUBSCHOOLS OF HEAVY METAL
By the 1990s, the distinction between "music-driven" heavy metal and "drama-driven" heavy metal was pointless as a scholarly device – all metal was spectacular in sight and sound beyond belief. Even the distinction between heavy metal and hard rock was a bit confusing. Rock journalists constantly struggled to define the concerts they were reviewing.
The industry needs categories to function, however, so record companies began to publicize their groups with specific new adjectives, music critics coined new descriptive terms for the parade of groups, and serious traditional heavy metal fans began to look down in contempt on all the variations on the old classic theme. Certain subschools have taken shape.
Stryper and Petra are old-fashioned by now, but Christian metal is alive and well with groups like Fireflight, Skillet, and several others declaring their convictions, much to the delight of the faithful. Stylistically, Christian bands tend toward more melodic lines, fewer bass-line riffs, and a greater attention to the texts – all for reasons of their basic religious purpose.
Thrash metal seems to appear in two sub-categories: the up-tempo "speed" groups like Metallica, Anthrax, and Megadeth (Charlton 1990, 191), and the slow-tempo, gloom-doom-death groups who are the direct descendants of Black Sabbath. The technical proficiency in thrash groups is surprisingly high, yet still consistent with the heavy metal instincts of not wanting to appear schooled or trained.
The term "industrial metal" is used occasionally in reference to groups making a supreme effort to recapture the savage purity of Led Zeppelin – groups like Iron Maiden, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and some others.
Any band that loses its underground, anti-social, hostile stance, usually accompanied by actually being ranked on album or singles charts, is likely to be given the derogatory "pop" label indicating, of course, that all integrity has been sacrificed for fame and wealth. Guns N' Roses could fit into this category, especially when "Sweet Child o' Mine" was released in 1988.
Although the examples are much fewer in this genre, some do exist, most notably the group Jackyl.
The world of hard rock music is a very specific field. It is not traditional mainstream pop, adult contemporary, golden oldies, or any other establishment thing. It is clearly the adolescent rebel of the music world, bashing the establishment at every opportunity with fierce political rhetoric and savage power.
THREE FINAL OBSERVATIONS
First, there is a startling similarity between modern hard rock concerts and the hedonistic orgies of the ancient Aztecs, Romans, and others. The blood, violence, and screaming spectators in the coliseums of Central America, Rome, and elsewhere would suggest that modern "arena" (how fitting) rock concerts are not all that unusual in the traditions of human behavior.
The substance and style of such ritualistic entertainment seems to be fairly constant throughout history – the result of a fundamental human craving for manufactured fear, for noise and its raw energy, for public sexual innuendoes, and for the electrifying emotional abandon of mob-crowd anonymity.
Second, the preponderance of shows that focus on sex, violence, and death is perfectly understandable. The rock stars may get old, but the market audience stays young, between fourteen and twenty-four, perhaps, in the midst of sexual awakening, ethical awareness, and a passionate search for personal identity – all of which translate into a temporary but powerful state of disequilibrium and a fascination with the forbidden, a suspicion of the conventional, and a fear of the unknown.
Third, the appropriation by white musicians of historically black music and its magical-mystical link to religious ecstasy explains much of the behavior on and off stage at a typical hard rock concert. The other-worldliness of all that angst thrills American teenage males whose pre-teen years seem to lack a really exciting commitment of any kind.