I have many siblings, but I didn’t grow up with any older than me, so there were things I had to figure out on my own. One of them was music. As a kid back in the 80s, all I heard was the typical garbage on the top 40 radio stations. Occasionally there would be a song or two I’d like, but most of it was crap. I had no idea there were other kinds of music like rap or metal or new wave or whatever.
Hey, I was a young dumb kid raised in a sheltered Catholic home. So sue me.
Then one day, (back in 1987 I think), I went to see the new Transformers movie. The animated 80s one, not the current live-action CGI ones. I loved the movie, but mostly because of the music. It was wall-to-wall heavy metal, and I had never heard anything like it in my life. I instantly fell in love.
I walked out the movie theater saying, “I’ve got to find more music like THAT!”
So I did what most 13 year-olds did when seeking information in a pre-internet age. I asked around. I didn’t even know exactly what I was asking for, so I asked for some good bands who were “rock” or “hard rock”. Or something.
Several people told me “Led Zepplin”. I had never heard of them, but they sounded like what I was after. People said they were the “greatest rock band ever”. So I went to the music store and bought the cassette version of an album called Led Zepplin II. I rushed home, slapped it into my stereo, and listened eagerly.
It sucked. The music was boring and weird. It made me want to fall asleep. I remember looking at my stereo thinking “THIS crap is the ‘greatest rock band ever’? What the hell are people thinking?”
My search continued. I asked more people. I made it clear I wanted something loud and hard and badass, not whiny weird music like Led Zepplin. People said, “Oh, okay, you want Iron Maiden.” Again, I had never heard of them, but whatever. I told my mom to pick up an Iron Maiden album next time she was at the store and I would pay her back.
That was a mistake. One day my then conservative, Catholic, ex-nun mother (true story; she was a nun before marrying my dad) told me that she saw the Iron Maiden albums at the store and they had “disgusting things on the album covers”. “You don’t want music like that!” she said.
A little while later I was at a friends house, and had him play me some Iron Maiden, since he had a few albums. The music was…okay. It wasn’t as weird or boring as Led Zepplin, and definitely moved a little faster, but something was just…off. It wasn’t the rousing experience I had listening to the heavy metal of the Transformers movie.
I asked around some more, and someone told me to try “Judas Priest”. I was skeptical. It sounded very Catholic, and being raised Catholic I was already aware that Catholic did not equal cool.
But I was on a mission. One day while at the store with my family, I saw some Judas Priest cassettes. I thumbed through them and picked out the one that looked the newest, an album called Ram It Down. The album cover showed a gigantic metal fist punching the planet Earth. Awesome. I nodded in approval and bought it.
Out in the car while waiting for my mom to round up my other younger siblings, I pulled out my yellow waterproof Sony Walkman (ah, the 80s), put on my headphones, put the cassette in, and pressed play. I expected some weird music.
The very first song was, of course, called Ram It Down. As soon as the music started playing, my head exploded. My eyes went wide. The Earth exploded and the angels cried. My heart leapt with joy and I flexed muscles I didn’t have.
The guitars blew my ears out and the drums blasted my bones and the singer screamed. It was beyond beautiful.
This is what I had been searching for.
I quickly devoured the entire album. Every song was awesome. I craved more. I went back to the store and bought up every Judas Priest album I could find. Screaming For Vengeance. Turbo. Defenders of the Faith. They were all awesome. But I wanted more.
I discovered Ozzy Osbourne, bought all of his albums, and he was even better than Judas Priest (though not by much). Then I sucked up Def Leppard. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted more…but I didn’t know any other bands.
I needed more data.
Around the same time MTV hosted a late night show called Headbanger’s Ball. It was focused entirely metal. I watched it and took notes.
During school between classes, I would go down to the “stoner lounge”, the place were all the scary stoner kids with long hair and cigarettes hung out, and asked them their opinions.
I gathered more and more data. I learned about other metal bands. I bought their albums.
Many of them were stupid. Many bands called themselves “metal” but really weren’t. Pussy bands like Warrant and Poison and Cinderella. Terrible.
But some bands were the real deal. I dove into the likes of Extreme, Ratt, AC/DC, Electric Boys, Killer Dwarfs, Hanoi Rocks, Living Color, Motley Crue, Savatage, Queensryche, Scorpions, Skid Row, Twisted Sister, and many others.
All my friends thought I was weird. They all liked angry rap like Public Enemy or NWA or pussy top 40 stuff like Tiffany or Duran Duran or depressing new-agey European bands like Midnight Oil and Depeche Mode. Yuck. None of that was for me. Let my friends listen to Janet Jackson singing about her boyfriend or Ice T yelling about cops or U2 crying about some tree.
Instead, give me some Savatage to blast my speakers out. Give me a ten minute guitar solo by Randy Rhodes to send my brain into heaven and beyond. Give me AC/DC screaming about blowing shit up or Queensryche screaming about Revolution Calling. Yeah. That’s real music.
It was not to last though. The 90s came around and suddenly singing about destruction and badassery wasn’t cool any more. No longer was music supposed to be angry or cool. Now it was supposed to be sad.
In the 90s, metal was replaced by something boring and depressing called grunge. I hated it.
All the metal guys disbanded or worse, stopped using drugs, which made their music terrible. I don’t do drugs and never have, but dammit, I need my metal rock stars to, or else the music sucks.
The era between 1991 and about 2006 was a very bleak time for metal. With the notable exception of Rob Zombie, you really had nothing. So sad.
Today, metal (thought it’s not called metal any more) has returned a little. Distrubed is the real deal. Awesome. Bands like Shinedown and Linkin Park (before they went all weird and corporate) are very good.
Yet to this day, on my iPod I still have some Priest and Leppard pre-90s Ozzy. And I always will.
They say the type of music you will like for the rest of your life is established in your teens and never really changes.