The definition of a Rabbit Hole is similar to this: Used to refer to a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself.
While listening to music doesn’t seem like something bizarre or confusing, what I do can often be nonsensical and difficult to get myself out of, so I think it fits many of the treks I do through the Tidal streaming service. This series should be no different.
What I’m simply planning on doing with this series is having someone recommend a starting record, listening to that on Tidal and then using the “Similar Artists” algorithm to go down the rabbit hole and see what records it leads me to. The trek will continue until I hit an album that is either A) so great that there’s no reason to move forward, B) so bad that it derails me or C) feels like a natural end point. In the end, we’ll see how the records hold up and how solid the connections are.
So let’s begin the first trek;
Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood
I chose this one to start with for two reasons – the first being that I keep thinking about getting a tattoo of the cover, so it was fresh on my mind and I got a Dr. Feelgood hoodie for Christmas and every time I see it, I sing “Kickstart My Heart” so I thought I needed to go down the hair metal rabbit hole.
I’ve always loved this record, even if lyrically it’s pretty cheesy and all the metal from their original sound is gone and they became a commercial beast. But fuck, this is 80’s hair metal at its finest. All four members are at their peak even if they are half dead on drugs – Tommy Lee’s drumming is amazing the record and Vince Neil’s in top form. It’s no secret that I’m not a Tom Werman fan as I feel he took the balls out of a lot of records and he produced all the records leading up to this. Dr. Feelgood would never had worked with Werman at the helm but Bob fucking Rock turns everything into radio gold. You could argue of course that he also took the balls out of bands, making them commercial (of course, the Black Album being case #1 in that argument) but I can’t go that route. I feel he got bands to really focus and make technically sound records. The first three Crue records were sloppy and they were meant to be. This beast is polished and ready for prime time. I guess it depends on which side of the Crue fence you are on here if you like this record or think they sold out with ballads like “Without You.” That’s if you just don’t hate them to begin with – and even with that, I understand if you do. But to me, Dr. Feelgood is right up there with the best hair metal records of all time.
Bon Jovi – New Jersey
The algorithm took me to Bon Jovi next and I chose to listen to New Jersey instead of Slippery When Wet. I figured I had to get some Jon Bon Jovi in the mix if I’m doing a hair metal rabbit hole, right? And this was the album that I listened to most from the band back in high-school.
So Bon Jovi were a band that only chicks could love, right? I certainly didn’t tell anyone I was listening to Bon Jovi growing up. But I did and these days, I don’t really give a shit if only girls were supposed to like the pretty boys with the good hair.
The album itself stands up as much as any hair metal record stands up these days. It’s definitely front loaded as it starts with four singles, “Lay Your Hands On Me” “Bad Medicine” “Born to Be My Baby” and “Living in Sin” but they do rock a little harder in the middle of the record with something like “Homebound Train.” At the time, Bon Jovi wanted the slickness of Slippery When Wet but wanted to “experiment” with the sound a bit more. Maybe it was at the time but I wouldn’t exactly call this experimentation listening to it again now. It’s still Bon Jovi during their peak period though and surely takes me back my high-school walkman.
Poison – Open Up and Say…Ahh!
Should I hate this album? Of course I should! As should everyone with a beef against hair metal. Poison represents everything the detractors of the genre hate. They dressed and looked like women half the time and wrote songs that contained a million double entendres for sex. Not exactly intellectual stuff here. But if you are looking for high brow shit, well then you should have been nowhere near this to begin with. Open Up and Say…Ahh! with the 90-ft tongue on the original cover is a damn fun record and whether you like the genre or not, if nothing else you can say that the band members really were quite talented. C.C. has some fucking skill even if he is kind of weird. But Poison wrote catchy, well crafted rock tunes – polished and ready for radio. Now of course who the fuck knows what an “Unskinny Bop” was down the line but if you stick to the 80s stuff, you have some solid material. Unlike New Jersey, this album was backloaded. First single, “Nothin’ But A Good Time” was the second track on the album, but the other three “Fallen Angel” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” were tracks 7-9 respectively on this 10 track disc – so if you still make it to the end, you get the prizes.
Warrant – Cherry Pie
Should I hate this album? Of course I should! Hell, I could say that for every album here though. However, this is the first album here that I don’t find all that exciting. Warrant really seemed unsure of themselves at this point. The title track was the obvious sex-hit but other tracks like “I Saw Red” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” were more serious tunes. And the vibe various between the two across the album, making it a bit uneven. Because of “Cherry Pie” being so huge, Warrant’s name stood the test of time but they only had hits on two records. After this point they tried writing deeper songs and by that point the genre had passed them by. This album isn’t terrible by any means and I liked Jani Lane quite a bit as a vocalist but it hasn’t stood the test of time.
Skid Row – Slave to the Grind
The algorithm took me to Skid Row next and while the self-titled debut is still a great record, I remember Slave to the Grind being a fucking beast. And it still is. While “hair metal” was never really metal to begin with but rather a brand of hard rock, Skid Row was closer to actual metal than almost all others in the genre and I would certainly call this record some kind of melodic heavy metal. Hill and Sabo’s guitar riffs are borderline metal straight through the record and Sebastian Bach, undoubtedly is one of the most gifted front men in the genre. While he seemed to be a fun, wild dude – singing, he didn’t come across like Brett Michaels, Jani Lane or most others in the genre. He was angrier, grittier and couldn’t be considered a joke at all. I don’t think any of this was actually written to be on the radio but Skid Row followed up the success of “18 and Life” with heavier music and better songwriting overall. Sure, it was too heavy for radio and thus the career of Skid Row kind of stalled. (Though the next album, Subhuman Race, is fantastic in a much different, non-radio-friendly, way.)
Winger – Winger
I went backwards from there because I saw Winger in the algorithm and simply had to check the album out now to see if I even remembered it – and I do. I’ve often debated (and by often, I mean like three times maybe…) if Winger would have been a hit solely based off “Seventeen” if Kip Winger had left his shirt on. It’s a question that has no answer and it bugs me (very little). The album itself is good. Very good in fact and if you only know them from this album or their hits, or his hairy self in the MTV videos, you’d likely think they are a cheesy throwaway act. Kip Winger though, is very talented. As a bassist, he played in Alice Cooper’s band before this and kind of got lost there due to the fact that he’s on two of Alice’s shitty 80s records. But the dude can play. No one seems to know that though because he’s the shirtless dude that sang about having sex with an underage girl. He hasn’t had much of a career to be honest – still making music and touring but shout if you’ve heard any one of his six solo records. Fuck, shout if you knew he had any solo records. But here, “Madeline” “Headed for a Heartbreak” “Hungry,” are all pretty damn good songs once you listen to the music and forget about the sweaty hair. And I still can’t get over the video for “Hungry” in which the newlywed drives over a cliff, of which he’s hanging half out of the car as it rolls, he gets ejected, the car blows up and yeah, he’s still alive. And I’m pretty sure the concept of the video and the lyrics to the song don’t have anything at all to do with each other.
Jackyl – Jackyl
Is this the best fucking record of the hair metal era? By God, it might just be. I had never heard this one in full before but when I saw them listed as a similar artist to Warrant, I gravitated towards them because my family talks about them a lot. Not kidding there at all. Jackyl is apparently still pretty big in bumfuck areas of Pennsylvania and tour quite a bit in this region and there are still some die hard fans out there. At least twice a year at holiday get-togethers, I hear something about Jackyl, usually from my uncle talking about their song, “She Loves My Cock.” I would always laugh at the thought of Jackyl still having a fan base but damn, I see why now. So, while I was in to hair metal back in the day, what you have to still understand is that streaming services didn’t really exist back in my high-school days – so I didn’t have access to all the music I do today. I was 16 when this came out in 1992 and frankly, I had to pick and choose what I bought from the CD store because I was broke like all other teens – so Jackyl never came into focus. But shit, this is a great record. Singer Jesse James Dupree sounds a lot like Brian Johnson and therefore an immediate connection to AC/DC comes to mind. But while AC/DC has a million double entendres for their sex songs, Jackyl just comes right out and says it. “Dirty Little Mind” has a girl orgasming on it and then there’s of course the aforementioned, “She Loves My Cock” which kind of speaks for itself. But shit, there’s a mess of great melodies on this record, including what has to be one of the best songs of the era, “Down on Me.” But what they stood out for was “The Lumberjack” where Dupree played (and apparently still does in concert) a chainsaw as an instrument. The album is a great mix of hair metal, rock and blues with seriously well crafted songs.
And with that, I’m ending this trip down the rabbit hole. No reason to go any further when I’m sure I’ve found the best record in the genre.