first round game
(6) david lee roth, "yankee rose"
(11) hanoi rocks, "boulevard of broken dreams"
and will move on to the second round
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchshredness twitter poll. Polls closed @ 9am Arizona time on 3/2.
kirk wisland on david lee roth's "yankee rose"
I can’t tell you the story of David Lee Roth’s "Yankee Rose" without first telling you about the greatest day of my young life. The scene: early September 1986. The last day of the summer before high school, the day before I would be striding into the hallowed halls of Minneapolis South High. My friend Todd and I had crafted a truly epic last day blast-off. First, a cinematic horror double-header at the Southtown Theater: The Fly followed immediately by Aliens. That night, the adrenaline of four hours of sci-fi death still buzzing in us, would be the apotheosis of our Junior High era when we went to see David Lee Roth in concert. David Lee Roth, our talismanic hero, the former front man of what had been inarguably the greatest band of all time as of the first half of the 1980s.
Ever since the first time I had put my cheap, rented Gorilla guitar amp up to my open bedroom window and blasted out the only riff I knew—the opening chords of "Smoke on the Water"—I had dreamed of being in Van Halen.
What had separated Van Halen from Heavy Metal was that it was primarily fun. Van Halen were just a bunch of California guys showing the rest of America what they were missing: California Girls and parties and never-ending good times. Van Halen as Sonic Cali Utopian Soundtrack. Van Halen was part of my childhood vision of California as promised land: roller skates and sunshine and palm trees, and the suburban California of ET and Back to the Future. Van Halen was the soundtrack of all of these snowbound childhood dreams.
David Lee Roth, released from the group-think of Van Halen circa 1986, was free to crank up the California fun vibe to 11 on his solo debut. That’s what "Yankee Rose" is, more than anything else—an ode to the unending joy of being. In the classics of true shred-dom there is no moment other than the present—a form of Zen, a communion in the church of sexy absurdity, in which grown men wear spandex attire like resplendent gay kings while the ladies flock to them.
Half-deaf on my first day of high school, I nevertheless felt so cool walking those new hallways in my Eat ‘em and Smile tour shirt. I imagined that Roth’s crazy tribal face blasting off my chest would give me some toughness cred, maybe inoculate me from the expected bullying of 9th grade. I was wrong of course; the sophomore tough guy who knocked my books out of my hands and sent them skittering down the stairs behind me could see right through Roth’s shield into my tiny scared soul. But I would meet up again with my tormentor in a couple years, when I had shot up seven inches and could literally look down my nose at him.
"Yankee Rose" was a solid bridge between Roth’s Van Halen past and his new, liberated solo persona. It was a safer, less interesting song in many respects than the work he did on his second solo album, like the weird, trippy Zen of Skyscraper, and the Beach Boys-channeling pop-bounce of "Just Like Livin’ in Paradise." "Yankee Rose" was also a needed sonic reassurance to David Lee Roth’s fans, letting us know that his dalliance with croonerism, as seen in his versions of "Just a Gigolo" and "That’s Life" on his preceding solo E.P., in no way heralded the end of the badass rocker we had all come to love.
Can I delve momentarily into the essayist’s prerogative for doubt? I am struggling to fully access that fourteen-year-old joy, because there was something ridiculous about 1980s metal, no matter how much it shredded (or still shreds). Metal, like rap, is primarily the purview of youth, of rebellion, of angst—real or manufactured. There is something inherently sad about seeing a fifty-something creakily banging their head along with one of the perpetually-touring bands on the has-been ballroom metal-tour circuit.
But maybe in this, David Lee Roth is different. Roth pre-dates the excesses of 1980s metal. Roth is the original heir to Robert Plant’s sexy lion-mane swagger. The early Roth of that initial Van Halen eruption of 1978 looks like Plant at the Chateau Marmot five years earlier. Roth was in the rock game, but soaring—and scissor-kicking—above it.
"Yankee Rose" has all the required elements of Rock Shredness:
Muscular guitar riffs and squealing solos, performed by a guitar virtuoso: check.
A front man with a solid lower register and the necessary high-octave guttural scream: check.
A ritualistic worship at the altar of hedonism: check.
The Idolatry of the American Woman, whom every American teenage boy grows up knowing is the most spectacular woman in the world: check.
Rampant sexuality, saturated with patriotic American double-entendres: check. When she walks, the sparks go fly, fire-crackin’ on the Fourth of July. She’s a vision from coast to coast, sea to shining seat. Raise ‘em up and see who salutes. I wanna get a little bit of apple pie.
Transgressions of Machismo in Hair Metal
That was the weird thing about 1980s metal—this macho (often misogynistic) undertaking was clothed in androgynous glam-era trappings. Men wearing mascara and lipstick and eyeliner and teasing out their long hair into ridiculous rats’ nests. David Lee Roth shimmying across the stage in painted-on spandex skin, an acrobatic cheerleader doing scissor-kick jumps off the amp stacks. It must have been confusing for the buzz-cut macho man of the 1980s, who was instinctually drawn to the obvious guitar-riffing maleness of heavy metal, to find that the men behind this sound were so feminine in their couture.
Seeing David Lee Roth in concert was infinitely better than seeing Van Halen with Sammy Hagar. You can make the argument that Hagar-era Van Halen was as good a band as the Roth-helmed version; maybe even a bit more mature, more adult. You could argue that Why Can’t This Be Love and Dreams, from the 5150 disc spoke with an emotional depth that was lacking in previous Van Halen albums, which were limited to a pleasing two-note symphony of raunchy fun and sneering menace.
The voice is the defining element of a band. There’s no way around that truth. Sure, there is something to the idea of chemistry, capturing lightning in a bottle—Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards, Page and Plant, David Lee and Eddie V. But the fact is that Steve Vai could play all those Eddie Van Halen riffs. As a fourteen-year-old in the nosebleed section at the Met Center I was not concerned with the fact that it wasn’t Eddie V on guitar. It sounded like Van Halen. Even if we were all aware that this was David Lee Roth, solo rocker, there was no cognitive dissonance in hearing the Steve Vai and David Lee Roth version of "Panama."
But while great guitarists can play the same notes, no two singers sound the same. Sammy Hagar could never sound like Roth. I would be in the Metrodome in July of 1987 for the Monsters of Rock tour, less than a year after that Eat ‘em and Smile show, exhausted and tired of drinking warm $4 Cokes because the concession stands had run out of ice. So maybe I was destined to be underwhelmed by Van Halen when they finally came onstage, the fifth and final band of the day (following fellow March Shredness contestants Dokken and The Scorpions). But the truly disappointing moment was when the reconstituted Van Halen kicked into "Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love," the seminal single from the debut Van Halen album. I pogoed ecstatically and howled through the opening guitar riff, and then…the wrong voice came through the speakers, as if some terrible karaoke poser had invaded my hallowed rock moment. Oh Sammy. Just don’t…
When you watch the "Yankee Rose" video there is an element of Roth’s performance that almost makes it seem like he’s in on the joke. Something so over-the-top absurd in his wagging-butt close-ups and constantly undulating snakelike torso. An in-the-know smirk I have seen once before—in Elvis performances from the early 1970s, when Elvis would briefly channel an otherworldly power, mesmerizing 20,000 people, before stepping back with a laugh and a self-deprecating joke, as if to acknowledge the surreal world that he strode across. I get some of that from Roth in the "Yankee Rose" video. It’s so easy for him. He knows his 80% still beats all comers.
I almost accidentally bought the Spanish version of Roth’s debut album on cassette at Musicland when I was fourteen. Sonrisa Salvaje—Wild Smile, a neutered translation compared to the original Eat ‘em and Smile. Sonrisa Salvaje was a fairly radical idea—not the fusion of languages and cultures, which has been transforming pop for the last thirty years—but to record two separate versions of an album in different languages. Having attempted to learn, at various points in my life, French, Russian, Italian, Dutch, and Spanish, I have to marvel at the undertaking. Because there are so few direct translations that would keep the original tone and tempo of a song intact. For my multilingual readers, try this little test: hum your favorite song and try to translate it into a second language: luces fuerte! luces de la ciudad! estoy hablando a una flora del norte! This is what Roth did with his first album. That Sonrisa Salvaje was a commercial flop is irrelevant: the fact that it was completed in the first place is a testament to Roth having been an alien visitor from twenty years in the future.
All-Time Great Rock Shirt
I wore the hell out of that David Lee Roth shirt. For most of my four years of high school it was a banner of my implied craziness, the badge of the wannabe badass. It didn’t matter that I didn’t drink, or do drugs, or have sex, or do anything remotely crazy in high school, aside from obsessing about older girls who wanted nothing to do with me. That shirt—Roth in his face-painted glory—that was who I really was, underneath the façade of a scared boy. That was my inevitable butterfly destiny that would resplendently emerge from my angst-ridden teenage pupae.
Of course, by the time I got to college, and actually got more than a little crazy, my musical tastes had changed. David Lee Roth was relegated to the mementos drawer in my old childhood closet, the naive joyful California exuberance of Eat ‘em and Smile usurped by the jaded, nighttime Berlin cool of U2’s Zoo TV Tour.
But a weird thing happens in a man’s life when he crosses the threshold from youth into middle-ish age. His concept of being cool changes. He is no longer concerned with hipster cred and diffident posturing. He rediscovers those unrepentant joys of his youth, and he exuberantly embraces them, feels those youthful dreams still pulsing in his wiser blood. He recognizes the silliness of those teenage dreams—and yet he finds some comfort in the knowing, in the remembering. He is transported, for precious moments, back into the face within the face staring back at him in the mirror.
He still knows that boy.
He still is that boy, sometimes, howling along and air-guitar shredding.
Bright lights…City Lights…I’m talkin’ ‘bout the Yankee Rose…
Kirk Wisland teaches, and writes, and sometimes rocks. While he was a wannabe headbanger in high school, his hair was more Flock of Seagulls.
adrian l. smith on hanoi rocks' "boulevard of broken dreams"
You’re like, Who the f*ck is Hanoi Rocks? It’s OK. They aren’t very well known at all. But if you’re interested in the aesthetic of 80s hair metal, meet the band from Finland who’s largely responsible for it. Hanoi Rocks inspired, if not invented, glam metal’s imagery, but their sound wasn’t quite right for the market. Still, they profoundly influenced the biggest hard rock band to emerge from the Sunset Strip. And they were destroyed by the second biggest only months after the release of the song we’re here to talk about.
A brief HISTORY of Hanoi
Hanoi Rocks formed in Helsinki, Finland, in 1980. Michael Monroe (vocals) and Andy McCoy (guitar) envisioned themselves as punk rockers with a New York Dolls look, and they chose their name as a tribute to “Chinese Rocks”---a song about heroin written by Dee Dee Ramone and Richard Hell. Hanoi signed to a Finnish label and released their first album in 1981, then moved to London and put out three more independent-label records before signing to CBS in 1983. Their 1984 CBS album Two Steps from the Move is where we catch up to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” But before we get to the song, let’s talk about their glamtastic image.
How they influenced the LA hair metal LOOK
The front cover of Hanoi’s 1982 record Self Destruction Blues shows the band in full makeup, rocking the polka dots, animal prints, and bangles that would eventually become staples of hair metal fashion. And their look just kept getting sparklier and more colorful as time progressed. LA bands took notice. A good point of reference for Hanoi’s influence is Motley Crue’s transformation from Shout at the Devil’s black leather and pentagrams in ‘83 to Theatre of Pain’s pink-glitterbomb-and-leopard visuals in ‘85.
Foo Fighters guitarist, Chris Shiflett, was there, and he talks about it in the book Hanoi Rocks: All Those Wasted Years: “The music scene in Los Angeles was changing from all the metal bands in the early 80s to bands visually inspired by Hanoi. It seemed like overnight. All the bands around LA started wearing scarves, suit jackets, tuxedo shirts, pointy boots, and all the other sh*t Hanoi pioneered. It was out with the leather and studs and in with the makeup!”
And let’s not forget the hair. Michael Monroe’s locks were everything you wanted in a glam metal hairdo: platinum, Aqua Netted spikes and textured bangs with silky bleached tresses hanging halfway to his waist. His hair only got taller and blonder as each new album came out. We’re talking the height of Nick Cave’s hairstack in The Birthday Party, or Robert Smith circa The Head on the Door. But unlike Nick and Robert, Mike’s hair was immaculate, symmetrical, and glorious. If you look at him on the cover of any early Hanoi record, you’ll see the template for the extraordinary hair achievements of bands like Poison, Cinderella, Stryper, Vixen, and lesser known but awesomely hair-centric bands like Pretty Boy Floyd, Tigertailz and Nitro. I could go on but you get the idea. Hanoi’s image set the precedent for just about every band in the hair metal canon, but their sound was too punk and on drugs to connect with the audience.
PUNK v Metal
Hanoi Rocks were ahead of their time. They loved rock and roll, and they really loved punk. This was an unorthodox combination back then. Hanoi covered Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick in their live sets, like you might expect from a glam metal group, but they also did Ramones and Stooges songs. Hanoi’s British drummer, Razzle, even obsessively followed The Damned around the UK when he was a teenager. Musically, Hanoi was way more in tune with The New York Dolls and The Clash than they were with hair metal godfathers KISS or Van Halen. CBS Records didn’t know what to do; they weren’t sure if they should promote Hanoi as heavy metal or new romantic or what. Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters again: “None of the LA bands ever sounded like Hanoi Rocks at all. I’ve always thought Hanoi Rocks was just unmistakably European sounding... Hanoi was rock and roll mixed with The Damned, The Clash, and even some synth bands like Duran Duran.”
Hanoi’s musical approach was decidedly unmetal. They used saxophone on tons of their songs and even the random drum machine. They didn’t shred. Their lyrics dealt with police brutality and corporate propaganda. Sure, they sang about love and sex, but they weren’t afraid to do it from a bisexual perspective. The sexually desirable women in their songs were occasionally older and could also beat people up. Sometimes they had shaved heads. This was 35 years ago. No wonder CBS was confused.
In 1984 you couldn’t like punk if you were into metal. It was stupid, but it was a thing. Consider the 1983 US Festival---one of the first big music festivals to genre-fy. There was Heavy Metal Day and there was New Wave Day. Van Halen headlined Metal Day; The Clash headlined New Wave Day. This was representative of a duality. David Lee Roth even talked sh*t about The Clash onstage (though in his defense it was the sort of professional-wrestling, showbiz stuff that has always been his style). I was a metal kid in ‘84. I had to listen to the Sex Pistols in secret. Sometimes I could say hi to the punk kids at my SoCal high school, maybe even compliment their leather jackets if there weren’t any witnesses, but apart from that we had to interact at a distance.
Back in ‘84 you had to pick a side. The line from hair metal to Van Halen was pretty obvious. No hair band in their right mind would’ve aligned themselves with The Clash at US Fest. But which side do you think Hanoi would’ve chosen?
So, time to hire an awesome punk rock producer for the new record, right?
BOULEVARD of Broken Dreams/ Next Big Thing
Wrong. For Two Steps from The Move, they hired Bob Ezrin---the guy who produced KISS’s Destroyer and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It was obviously a calculated move to ensure Hanoi’s sound was palatable to rock audiences: polished, double-tracked, everyone in tune and in time.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a terrific song, but it’s unusual. It’s got a super kickass intro, but it doesn’t have a huge hook, and the verses are actually catchier and more melodic than the chorus---rarely the recipe for a hit. The guitar solo is a bluesy slide-guitar frenzy, not even on the same planet as a Warren DeMartini-style Dorian-minor-scale, whammy-bar workout. It’s a song about drugs. And not like, “F*ck yeah drugs are awesome!” (which probably would’ve been easier to sell). It’s more like, “Drug addiction is killing me, someone help.” The BOBD video was really low budget, just them onstage, shot in a couple takes when they were filming a video for another song. It’s dimly lit and smoky. Michael ties his arm off with the microphone cord and mimics a syringe-hit at the end. This isn’t “Livin’ on a Prayer.” In fact, “Boulevard” wasn’t even a single. It was an album track on side 2. When Hanoi delivered Two Steps to CBS, the execs said they couldn’t hear any singles and put them back in the studio to record a cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Up around the Bend.” It came out great. That song became the single and lead-off track for the album. CBS shot a crazy expensive video for it -- which MTV played regularly -- and sent the band on a headlining tour to become the next big thing.
DEATH OF RAZZLE/ CAREER OVER
Hanoi had some days off on the tour after Michael broke his ankle at a show in Cleveland, Ohio. They decided to go to LA so he could heal for a week before their concert at the Palace on Dec 14th,1984. Vince Neil of Motley Crue heard the band was in town and invited them to his house in Redondo Beach for a Saturday barbecue (it had actually been going on for days). When Vince asked who wanted to come with him in his two-seater Pantera to get more alcohol, Hanoi’s drummer, Razzle, volunteered. They spent $200 on booze and jumped back in the car. On the way home, Neil skidded past a leaking fire hydrant and overcorrected into an oncoming Volkswagen while doing 80 miles per hour in a 20-mph speed zone. When the smoke cleared, Neil was unharmed, the driver of the VW was in a coma, and Razzle was dead at age 24. Neil was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence, did three weeks in jail, and paid $2.6 million in damages. Devastated, Hanoi limped through the end of the tour with The Clash’s original drummer, Terry Chimes, and then split up.
By 1987 the dividing line between heavy metal and punk would change thanks to Guns N’ Roses---arguably the first band to mix the two genres successfully for the masses on their debut album Appetite for Destruction. Metallica, Slayer, and Motorhead had previously explored an exciting combination of punk and metal, but they weren’t mainstream enough for anyone to notice beyond their immediate following. It was GNR who broke it wide open.
Duff McKagan: “Hanoi Rocks and Two Steps from the Move influenced the LA rock scene a lot. Hanoi Rocks came to America at a perfect moment. They made rock ‘n’ roll seem cool again. They had this sound that had punk rock, Johnny Thunders, New York Dolls, and The Stooges all rolled in one, and they inspired Guns N’ Roses. Me and Slash had tickets for their show in the Palace in LA, but then the band ended up like it did.”
Slash’s autobiography refers to Axl Rose’s early persona as an adaptation of Michael Monroe. And it’s worth mentioning Two Steps has a song that goes, “Welcome to the jungle deep inside of me.” Yep. As a tribute, Guns N’ Roses re-released all four of Hanoi’s pre-CBS albums on their Uzi Suicide label in 1989.
It’s interesting to think about Hanoi’s relationship to the two biggest bands who emerged from the hair metal scene. Motley appropriated their look and ended their career. Guns took their image and musical philosophy and came out with Appetite for Destruction. And Appetite was one of those records that changed things, like the first Ramones record or Nevermind.
Hanoi doesn’t have a hit record anywhere in their catalog. None of their songs are part of mainstream pop culture consciousness. You’re probably more familiar with Green Day’s song called “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” than you are Hanoi’s. Green Day could actually be useful here as another example of a group who hit the jackpot on the coattails of influential but relatively unknown other bands. (Ramones anyone?) Hanoi Rocks is one of those other bands. They might be THE most influential band when it comes to the phenomenon of American hair metal, though they weren’t American and they weren’t metal.
So yeah, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” wasn’t a single, and you’re forgiven for not being super into it in the context of great hair metal songs. It isn’t one. The bands Hanoi loved weren’t really singles bands either. The Dolls didn’t have any hit singles, neither did the Ramones or the Stooges. But if you love old-school punk, you love “Trash” and “Beat on the Brat” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” That’s where we are with Hanoi. If you’re a Hanoi fan you love their classics like “Malibu Beach Nightmare,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Back to Mystery City” the same way you love those old punk songs. That’s OK. Maybe that’s even better. We’re in the middle here where magic exists. It's not always understood.
Adrian L. Smith (pictured now and in 1985) works in higher education and has made the transition to non-aerosol hairspray.