first round game
(4) quiet riot, "cum on feel the noize"
(13) dangerous toys, "teas'n, pleas'n"
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 3/9.
quiet riot vs the sexual healing syndrome: garrett caples on "cum on feel the noize"
for Chris and Jenn McCreary
Lightning in a bottle: one reaches for some such cliché of pop culture creation to account for Quiet Riot’s 1983 smash “Cum on Feel the Noize.” It was less a hit and more a phenomenon, for while it peaked at #5 on the single charts, it drove the album Metal Health (Pasha/Columbia) to #1, heavy metal’s first #1. “Cum” was all over the radio, true, but its ubiquity was manifested by uncharted airplay from jukeboxes, arcades, roller rinks, and, of course, the nascent MTV. Most crucially, it gripped the tween imagination. I was 11, and my colleagues and I subjected it to endless disputation at recess, my friend Eric Glew, for example, proposing the line “girls, rock your boys” was “girls, fuck your boys.” We knew it was dirty by way it spelled “Cum” so we imagined sexual content where there was none and reveled in its open obscenity as though it betokened a failure of the adult world to fully suppress the forbidden.
As if to abet this impression, my mother forbid me to buy Metal Health because of its creepy cover, though she allowed me to purchase the single, a white paper sleeve whose cutout disclosed the Dali-esque label of Pasha Records in powder blue. In the hour of their greatest triumph, poor Quiet Riot couldn’t even score a picture sleeve, so low were the expectations. It was a second single, after all, following the title track, which failed to chart until after this one, and even then stalled well short of top 20. All the picture sleeves in the world, moreover, couldn’t recreate the band’s one hour of triumph. That it happened at all remains one of the small miracles of pop music.
For Quiet Riot was terrible. Indeed, the Los Angeles quartet was on its second go-round in 1982, having broken up two years before after two Japan-only albums when original guitarist Randy Rhodes decamped to resuscitate post-Sabbath Ozzy. Metal Health was simultaneously a debut and a third album, which never bodes well for pop success. They were a hair metal band whose lead singer was going bald, Kevin DuBrow thus the unwitting prototype of Axl Rose. They were clearly a formidable enough live outfit, frequently opening for Van Halen during hair metal’s roots. But they were incapable of writing a radio hit.
Indeed they couldn’t even pick one. An inspired suit at Pasha Records forced them to cover “Cum on Feel the Noize,” a 1973 chart-topper for Black Country glam rockers Slade. UK chart-topper, that is, for its impact in America was minimal, barely scraping the top 100, while in England it shipped at #1. In the UK in 1973, Slade was killing it, dwarfing the sales of successful exports like Bowie, the Who, and the Stones, even chief domestic rival T.Rex. But the U.S. didn’t give a shit. To the American palate, Slade was steak & kidney pie soaked in warm Guinness, a spotted dick in a bottle of HP. DuBrow, moreover, resisted the idea, as did drummer and present brand custodian Frankie Banali, so the young rapscallions set out to sabotage the session by going way over the top. It’s a plot so metal it defies belief, but the opening salvo of DuBrow’s veinpopping yell and Banali’s impertinent rimshots sets the tone for one of the more transcendently irreverent readings in rock history.
For Quiet Riot fell victim to the Sexual Healing Syndrome. Legend has it an embittered Marvin Gaye, forced to fork out royalties from his next release to ex Anita Gordy per their divorce settlement, set out to record a cartoonish paean to sexual ecstasy in hopes of a flop. But his strength as an artist inheres in sexual ecstasy, and exaggerating it in self-send-up only increases it: he cannot be lame at it, and “Sexual Healing” goes #3 pop, #1 R&B. That this story isn’t true—or rather, is a distorted retelling of his album Here, My Dear (1976)—merely indicates its luminosity as a diagnostic tool, for while Quiet Riot is no Marvin Gaye, a hair metal band trying to sabotage a song by going over the top is equally impossible; the whole raison d’être of hair metal is going over the top. From Van Halen’s “Jump” to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Mötley Crüe’s “Looks That Kill,” the one criticism to which any classic of hair metal is impervious is too over-the-top. This is a genre with frequent recourse to the word WHOA! and over-the-topness is one of yardsticks by which to measure a song’s degree of success or failure. For supposing the group were enthralled with the song and wanted a massive hit: what else would they have done to it, except what they did out of spite and dislike?
What they did rewards analysis, even as the formula proved irreproducible. Where Slade swaggers languidly into action with an instrumental intro—stating the theme, as it were, compositionally—Quiet Riot gives us two bars of drums before an otherwise unaccompanied DuBrow begins bellowing the hook, shrewdly altering the original “Girls, grab the boys” lyric to something more befitting hair metal’s self-referential foregrounding of rocking. There’s no building of tension here, no anticipation; the song starts at 11 and stays at 11 until it’s done. The primitive quality of the drums, moreover, is key to the song’s transformation. Where the original is propelled by Slade drummer Don Powell’s crisp snare work, which combined with overdubbed maracas gives the groove the feel of a shuffle, QR’s Banali just pounds a two-four beat into the ground, the eighth-note delay of the second kick (1-2-&-4) imparting whatever swing the cover might be said to possess.
The other key ingredient is the guitar, for the original’s Chuck Berry-style rock chording easily transforms into the eighth-note pulse of power chords that is perhaps metal’s most defining characteristic, short of shredding itself. And there’s no shortage of shredding itself, courtesy Carlos Cavazo. Clearly no one told Carlos they were trying to make this suck, for the guitarist plays the hell out of his solo, implying an ecstatic version of the melody throughout while still managing to get in a convincing display of shredding. His tone is joy itself, infectious and soaring, stratospheric, even transcendent as it makes its merry way through the solo and during the fade. The job of the bassist in hair metal is to stay out of the guitarist’s way, and Rudy Sarzo does it admirably. While altogether lacking the power and inventiveness of Slade bassist and song co-writer Jim Lea, Sarzo does exactly what he should here, and even helps sell the “Girls, rock your boys” bit with a little rising lick.
Quiet Riot’s translation of “Cum on Feel the Noize” from glam to hair metal is entire. Even the backing vocals—written to induce audience participation in the tradition of the workingmen’s clubs of Slade’s Midlands—are cold and remote in the throats of Los Angelenos. Remarkably, without fundamentally altering the instrumentation or even the arrangement, Quiet Riot concocted that rare cover that vies for supremacy with a definitive original. It may even exceed it. Equally fascinating is the inability of all concerned to fully capitalize on Metal Health’s sextuple platinum success, unless you count Pasha Records, which rode out this score for a decade or more without ever birthing another hit. When pressed for a second Pasha band, the best commentators can do is Saskatchewan hair rockers Kick Axe, a band more heard of than heard.
It’s true Quiet Riot maintained enough momentum for the following year’s follow-up, Condition Critical (Pasha/Columbia, 1984), to hit #15 and go triple platinum. That “Cum on Feel the Noize” is responsible for these sales despite not being on Condition Critical is evident from the band’s failed attempt to revisit their success through another Slade cover. From the perspective of Slade’s oeuvre it may well be the most superficially similar song to “Cum on Feel the Noize,” but that doesn’t make “Mama Weer All Crazee Now” any less suitable to a hair metal makeover. Here the derring-do of their original attempt to sabotage their own recording gives way to anxious calculation, and something about this meditation on whiskey-drinking and money-spending stubbornly resists translation. QR squanders the opening on chant-at-you vocals and turgid tom fills, the hook lacks its predecessor’s innuendo, the solo sputters off into nervous unmusical shredding. This is enough to peak at #51 on the singles chart, the last time Quiet Riot will approach a radio hit. Their Wikipedia page characterizes this period with the apt heading “Steady Decline.”
It’s also true the magnitude of Quiet Riot’s “Cum on Feel the Noize” rejuvenated Slade’s career after a disastrous period during which they sacrificed their domestic momentum in a failed bid to break the American charts, only to return home to punk rock. On the brink of break up in 1980, they agreed to step in for Ozzy’s last minute cancellation at the Reading Festival and pulled a Queen-at-Live-Aid avant la lettre. The group had rolled with the times since the psychedelic era, but their name recognition as authors of “Cum” finally earned them a willing audience with the American public that years of opening for the likes of Humble Pie and ZZ Top had failed to secure. And so what did Slade trot out before this expectant audience crying, Author! Author!?
Somewhere in the bowels of youtube exists footage of co-author and lead singer Noddy Holder blithely telling a TV presenter about Slade’s long-cherished ambition to record a Scottish jig, which you might recognize as exactly the opposite of the right way to exploit the American success of “Cum on Feel the Noize.” In Slade’s defense, the electric fiddle-driven “Run Runaway” was simply the hit at hand, peaking at #7 in the UK and considered there a return to form. It was enough to score them their first American deal since the 1976 Warner Bros. release of Nobody’s Fools failed to chart at all in the U.S. And the U.S. liked “Run Runaway” far more than Quiet Riot’s “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” well enough to land Slade their one appearance in the American top 20, the bottom rung of a June ’84 list topped by Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” But the U.S. was still confused, and learning the Slade of “Run Runaway” was the same Slade of “Cum on Feel the Noize” was as if learning “Stairway to Heaven” were secretly written by Dexy’s Midnight Runners. In England, the violin had been in the Slade’s arsenal since their first UK charttopper “Coz I Luv You” (1971), but in America in ’84 such instrumentation condemned you to an eccentric pop category close to novelty. A more anthemic follow-up single “My Oh My” managed to hit #37, but a further two albums on CBS failed to yield another American hit. The group’s one hour of American triumph slid into crushing defeat as Slade straggled on until Noddy finally pulled the plug in 1991, quitting to become a TV and radio presenter for the BBC. Slade bassist and hits co-writer Jim Lea slipped into a sullen if restless retirement, while non-songwriters Dave Hill and Don Powell immediately succumbed to touring East European metal festivals as a second-rate Slade cover band called Slade. There’s a documentary here on the level of Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) should some intrepid filmmaker choose to step into breach while they’re all still alive.
There’s a coda to Quiet Riot’s cover of “Cum on Feel the Noize,” by which I don’t mean the Oasis cover, which matters not in the slightest. I mean rather the anecdote once confided by Frankie Banali to Ludwig Drums and perhaps only still extant on the song’s wikipedia page: “I was shopping in Kensington Market and ran into (Slade bassist) Jimmy Lea, who co-wrote the song. I wanted to shake his hand and thank him for writing a great song. He looked into my face, and walked away leaving me with nothing in my hand but air!” This is a perfect illustration of the trials and tribulations of the music industry: everyone feeling bitter and betrayed; no one happy. It’s hard to imagine another ending to the story.
Garrett Caples is the author of several poetry collections, including Power Ballads (Wave, 2016), and a book of essays, Retrievals (Wave, 2014). He has edited many books including the forthcoming Preserving Fire: Selected Prose (Wave, 2017) by Philip Lamantia. He also works as an editor for City Lights, where he curates the Spotlight Poetry Series.
matt vadnais on "teas'n, pleas'n"
A school bus with brown seats makes its way toward a regional student council meeting in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. It is 1988 and the world for Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble has just started to include a musical score. He listens on a Walkman to cassette tapes he has either made from the radio or purchased at Pamida, a third-rate K-Mart located on the edge of Crookston, Minnesota near a bridge that goes over the Red Lake River, a bridge with a construction access ladder that he and his friends will eventually go down to discover a series of platforms hidden from the world, platforms on which, with the help of a pulley system, they will bring up a tire for a fire pit, several rugs, and a rocking chair so that they can create a floating home beneath the bridge but at least forty feet above the river and its banks where, years later, the police will find the body of a dead University of North Dakota Student.
On the bus, though, Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble hasn’t found the music he will be listening to when he and Pat and Tyler and Tom discover the bridge and its liminal hideaway; on the bus, he’s listening to the fourth or fifth tape purchased with money from his paper route, a Poison album, one that he realizes is being played on a boom box in the back of the bus by the portion of Crookston’s student council that knows how to use hair gel. It annoys him that they aren’t listening to the whole album, rewinding their own copy of the tape to listen to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” again and again, but he nonetheless takes off his headphones and listens to their Poison, singing every word in an exaggerated way that asserts, every time, that he knows it better than they do so that he quickly embarrasses his friend Pat who will eventually find the bridge platform and declare “If I am ever on the lam, you boys can find me here” but for now is also on this bus, trapped with the Poison, troubled by the fact that Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble hasn’t realized that there is nothing to be gained in studying the fine art of hair gel in the 80s.
Unlike Pat, who listens to as little hair metal as he can get away with and openly mocks “Talk Dirty To Me” as a high-definition knock off of 50s songs asking a sweetheart to whisper in my ear, Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble listens to hair metal because it is popular—they are the only bands that come to Fargo or Grand Forks and the songs about parties and women might as well be pop country—and he thinks, honestly, that knowing the words to the music that everyone listens to will perform some kind of alchemy and he will be more likely to know the words when he is no longer on the right bus (without a seat partner) but at the right party (without a date). This fails him, on the bus and after, when no one acknowledges that he too had purchased this tape and others, or that, unlike the hair gel set, he actually has a Cinderella flag on the wall of his basement bedroom, or that he will later subscribe to Metal Edge and, eventually, in a twenty-four-hour period, steal several metal CDs and tapes from a different store, this one downtown, and be sentenced to community service and grounded for just long enough to reject hair metal as a life choice.
And though, on the bus, he can already feel notion of heavy metal as a way in to the hegemony that is junior high failing him, miserably, as such enterprises always do, the heavy door (the hair metal door is not as heavy, it turns out, as one might think) is all the way open and, though he first opened it in hopes of the secrets of Apollonian homogony, he will keep going as discovers a different kind of cool, all Dionysian with a messy bedroom, long hair to whip, and jackets to wear without shirts. The cool is genderless but, without question, gendered. If his first glimpses of hair metal were about being a part of the only Apollonian couples who danced more than once with each other at every sock hop held in the girls’ gym, the whirls and gyrations of next-level hair metal are about the allure of no longer needing to care about those dances at all.
He doesn’t get MTV because Crookston doesn’t get MTV so he has to watch Headbanger’s Ball in hotel rooms where he takes his VCR so he can record grainy copies of videos including “Teasin’ Pleasin’” by Dangerous Toys. He watches this tape again and again in his basement bedroom and concludes that there is, absolutely, something dangerous about these Toys: the high octave stutter, the trappings of glam coated in grime, the out-of-control emotion strapped to what is (he’s already pretty sure) a very tired trope of a jealous husband with a gun and a protagonist who limply claims to be in the wrong house. He feels, for the first time with hair metal, a little guilty about watching this video, as if it were a loaded gun.
Later, after a massive change in politics, he will be pretty sure that what he was afraid of was the loaded gun of toxic masculinity, but for the moment that’s also the draw of the video and the genre. It promises him a salvation through weaponized apathy, a disavowal of Mall fashion, vestments of honest, manly, living that are marked as Texan in the video but feel more like smoking an illicit cigarette behind the Hobby Shop, hundreds of feet from the high school (which he’s never done) or riding his bike with a heavy bottle of EJ hanging in a paper bag from one of his handlebars (which he has). It offers him a story of mastery of women without the complication of women being in the video or needing to be talked to or acknowledged.
And though he makes fun of the song title “Sportin’ a Woody,” he buys this album, and memorizes its guitar solo. He feels misgivings but he also feels powerful and entitled to his apathy and whatever is under that—probably something like a selected misanthropy for those who don’t rock mixed with an unwillingness to understand anyone who can’t be a white man with long hair in a shirtless jacket as a person—and, though there is no way to prove that this feeling is connected to his short-lived profession as a shoplifter, he will eventually spend a day thinking that laws are stupid and there is no reason not to return to the same drug store multiple times in the same coat to stuff his pockets with more music, all of it heavy metal, all of it guided by a sort of Platonic masculinity (skuzzy and white). Alone in the police station where his parents will let him sit for hours after his accomplice has gone home, he will, one at a time, bend every one of his fingers back until it lies flat against his hand. Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble will feel perhaps the purest self-loathing he will ever experience and he will still know that something about his self-loathing is incongruous with the music he’s been looking too for guidance. Watching this video years later, he will wonder if it is self-loathing’s shadow, Jason McMaster’s strutting attempt to justify everything, make it theatrical, performative, not about self-hatred at all but about the notion that this kind of living is just fine. The song is a high-octane, unstoppably masculine anthem designed to avoid asking the question of what a person like Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble could possibly be if this kind of manhood is not real, a three-minute Bacchanal that embraces and eventually transcends the embodied masculine so that it—and Little Matt Vadnais In Trouble—might become metal.
As he begins to recognize the ways in which heavy metal as a team name is hard to separate from a Nerf nihilism fueled by a raced misogyny, he will try to find other team names—Alternative and Indie—but he will always be searching for the gnostic frenzy that Dangerous Toys reaches again and again on his grainy video, the thirty seconds before the two-minute mark that start with a Scott Dalhover guitar solo that tries and manages to escape being a guitar solo, one that cranks up and deconstructs and ultimately becomes Jason McMaster scatting “shoobadeemama shoobadeemama shoobadeemama” and that’s it, that’s what he’s really after, a feeling that defies and undermines the language necessary to express it.
Later, when he is perhaps less in trouble, he will teach a class called Magic and Metafiction, one that includes text after text demonstrating the power and importance of the Dionysian as a means of resistance. When he teaches, he will make jokes about his hometown—“eating good in the neighborhood at Apollobees” he will say—and acknowledge the way Crookston attempted to wall off the manic, the discordant, the polymorphic. He might even acknowledge that his first passage into the Dionsyian included Dangerous Toys, a crime spree, and the coercive (though, in this instance, probably rightly so) power of the state, but he will never acknowledge until volunteering to write this essay that the wordproof feelings he got from this song kindled and relied upon—even if, through fury alone, the song defied it—a manifest ethos that he can’t help but conflate with the darkness that, long after he and his friends had left Crookston, led a man to kidnap a University of North Dakota student and torture and kill her on the banks of the Red Lake River beneath a bridge near Pamida.
He will laugh off his heavy metal days, try to salvage his fondness for the bridge platform that held so many of his favorite memories while also being the scene of someone else’s terror and death, and swallow his guilt about how his rebellion was really a more irresponsible replica of the misogyny and systemic racism driving the Apollonian world he was attempting to reject, but, in all of this, it remains true that this Dangerous Toys song was a big part of why he still holds out hope that art can destroy language, break time, and ultimately shoobadeemama, shoobadeemamamamama.
Matt Vadnais writes reviews and essays for Cover Me and is the author of All I Can Truly Deliver, a collection of stories exploring the notion of the cover in a variety of literary contexts. He wrote extensively and autobiographically about music in a social media project, The Best 200 Songs in My iTunes Library. He hosts The Liminal Space, a weekly radio show on WBCR, the campus radio station for Beloit College where he is an assistant professor of renaissance literature and creative writing.