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Can Hair Metal Be Power Pop?
A Fistful Of Hair Metal Songs Selected By Power Pop Fans
There was a brief moment when Paul Myers and I were putting together our second power pop essay collection that I seriously considered writing about Poison.
Hear me out.
The idea came after revisiting their multi-platinum debut, Look What The Cat Dragged In. It was released in 1986, at the height of my teenage fascination with Minneapolis punk/proto-alternative bands like The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Hüsker Dü. I hid behind irony back then to justify liking Poison too, but I’ve been a vocal advocate for this trashy rock and roll party album since the ‘90s.
I’m not sure what prompted that particular re-listen, but my power pop antennae were hyper-sensitive while editing Go All The Way and Go Further. So, songs like "Talk Dirty to Me” and "Cry Tough" got me thinking: Can hair metal be power pop?
Power pop, after all, has a habit of claiming shoulda-been-hits from numerous other genres ranging from pub rock, punk and new wave to jangle, alt rock and indie rock (among countless others, sometimes over the protestations of genre-averse artists and purist fans)—so, why not more hair metal?
As a genre, power pop mostly stands on the shoulders of ‘60s legends like The Beatles, The Who, The Beach Boys and The Byrds (followed by Big Star, Badfinger and Raspberries in the early ‘70s)—bands that influenced countless guitar pop sub-genres, in one way or another, over the last 60 years.
And make no mistake, most hair metal (aka ‘glam metal’) is pop music. That being the case, it’s inevitable that members of Mötley Crüe, Trixter, Skid Row, Britny Fox, Tuff and Ratt grew up loving some of that music as well.
Of course, inspirations and influences are not always good indicators of the kind of music an artist goes on to write and record (or how they dress and what they sing about), but it’s still part of their rock and roll DNA, however mutated.
That’s sort of the core argument for a running joke in online power pop circles about whether or not KISS—the elders of ‘80s hair metal—qualifies as power pop.
We even included the thought-provoking essay “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me? Paul Stanley’s Secret Power Pop History” by musician, writer and power pop aficionado Ken Sharp in Go All The Way.
“This might sound crazy but I’m gonna let you in on a little secret; KISS’s frontman, the starry eyed, black leather and studs, seven-inch heeled boot wearing, Flying V playin’, Paul Stanley, is a huge power pop fan,” Sharp writes.
Stanley has definitely professed his love for Raspberries on several occasions, an influence that’s probably most pronounced on the 1978 solo album featuring the song “Wouldn’t You Like To Know Me.” Although Stanley admits that his power pop influences can be found in the KISS catalog as well.
“The beginning of the song (‘Deuce’) was me ripping off the Raspberries. The beginning of ‘Deuce,’ the thing that starts it off, is me bastardizing ‘Go All The Way,’” Stanley is quoted as saying in KISS: Behind The Mask (also by Sharp, in partnership with David Leaf).
“Is KISS power pop?!” is a funny meme (if occasionally abused by shit-posting trolls), but ask die-hard power pop fans if any hair metal bands truly rate and most responses will be sharper than Gene Simmons’ spiky codpiece. Much of the resistance boils down to taste (certain power pop fans seem genuinely allergic to hair metal) while some of it is nose-pinching snobbery—with a few notable exceptions.
Pyromania-era Def Leppard (especially “Photograph”) gets a warm embrace from a contingent of power poppers. Same is true for genre-bending ‘80s Chicago band Enuff Z’Nuff. And the cult favorite LA quartet Candy—featuring future Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clark—often gets cited as a misunderstood power pop band. (The Candy conundrum was summed up perfectly in this recent Instagram comment: “It's like they wanted to be Cheap Trick but marketing said they had to be Poison.”) Even Poison guitarist C.C. DeVille went on to play in the glammy pop band Samantha 7.
My interest in writing about Poison for Go Further soon faded (my co-editor never even knew what I had in mind!), but not before giving the concept a little too much thought.
I concluded that the glaring differences between the two genres boiled down to:
Lyrical Content (Power pop wants to hold your hand and maybe take you to the dance vs. Hair metal where the singer just had a threesome while riding a Harley)
Vocal Styles (Power pop harmonies vs. Hair metal screeching)
Guitar Work (Tasteful solos and driving rhythms vs. Shredding and chugging)
Production Values (Lean and mean ‘60s/‘70s vibes vs. ‘80s bombast)
And, of course, the differences extend far beyond the music:
Fashion (Shag haircuts and skinny ties vs. Teased hair, lipstick and leather)
The Band Nämes N’Stuff (Countless “The” band names in power pop vs. Excessive use of apostrophes and umlauts in hair metal)
Which really only leaves tight songwriting and hooky choruses as the main areas of overlap between hair metal and power pop, but the same can be said for a lot of rock sub-genres. Which is why power pop sometimes seems like a flag without a country (and the main reason that many modern fans—myself included—tend to define power pop on a song-by-song basis. You know it when you hear it, etc.)
I ultimately wrote about power pop legends 20/20 for Go Further (which thankfully kept me from becoming a published troll). But every once in a while my brain returns to that initial thought: Can hair metal be power pop?
I posed the question to music-loving social media friends.
It was a fun thread that garnered some expected reactions (“I have no love for any metal-glam bands.”), but also produced a list of songs that might qualify as power pop.
Here are a handful of those suggested tracks for your consideration. Let us know what you think in the comments below (but don’t be a jerk). What songs did we miss?
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