SIDE A: THE DIRT
The new Netflix movie The Dirt depicts the life, times & misdemeanours of one of the 80s’ most notorious rock bands, Motley Crue and captures a period in the 80s when hard rock – or “hair metal” – ruled the roost. The scene centred around a single stretch of Boulevard in Los Angeles, The Sunset Strip. The hair metal scene didn’t just emerge from LA, but regenerated LA. The LA music scene was dead as a dodo before the big hair bands pulled up in their limousines.
I remember it well. As a young teenager, I remember cruising LA’s bars and doing Dave Lee Roth high kicks on the dance floor. Not as high as Dave’s but high enough to once rip my stripy drain pipes along the seam of the arse and cut that particular evening short. This was LA’s nightclub, in Hull - Metal Night. I think it was Tuesdays. What was going on in West Hollywood at that time I have no idea, but it couldn’t have been that much better than the time I was having.
You might be thinking that any connection between a grim-up-North English town and the glamour of Los Angeles is tenuous at best, but you would be wrong, for the LA hair metal scene has its roots (haha) in British Metal, and British Metal was born in the North (okay, and the Midlands). Besides, wherever you where in world, for good spell of the 80s, metal represented youthful rebellion and made it possible for teenage kids from council estates in northern England to connect with teenage kids from main street USA.
I remember a trip to HMV (may the Canadians preserve it for another day) with my friend Mark (‘Jenks’) Jenkins. We took along our fivers and made our choices. I bought Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy and Jenks bought Bon Jovi’s 7800 Fahrenheit. History suggests that Jenks made the popular choice, but let me tell you, that Ratt record burned a hole in my turntable. Listen for yourself with two choice cuts from the record on this playlist, along with Ratt’s bona fide smash hit (in the USA) Round & Round.
In another ‘days of metal madness’ story, I remember Jenks and I crashing a council estate party – the sort of gathering where literally anything could kick off at any moment with so much as a misconstrued look – and switched the soundtrack from what was probably Simply Red or Spandau, to Van Halen’s Panama, thinking we might convert the locals to our more transatlantic way of thinking. The ‘dance floor’ cleared, and we swiftly made our exit. But wow, that track still just burns even when I hear it now.
Of course, one particular northern English band straddled both the British Metal and LA rock scene as their career ascended steadily through that decade. If anything, Def Leppard made records with a more stateside flavour, which explains their massive US success, but also why they of all bands wired-up the psychology of the teenage brain whether you were from Hollywood or Halifax. So Def are the only band to feature on both this playlist as well as Living After British Metal.
It’s easy to dismiss this music as ridiculous in the current day & age, but that would be a misjudgement, musically speaking. The bands in question were influenced by many other music styles that had gone before. Motley Crue bassist and songwriter Nikki Sixx recently told the BBC’s Front Row: “We were from the 70s the and cut our teeth on punk rock, British glam rock and heavy metal”. Like many of the bands emerging on the scene then, the influences were far and wide. In that Front Row interview Sixx rattled off The [New York] Dolls, Elton John, T-Rex and Black Sabbath as formative for Motley Crue’s own early sound. Elton John no less! But as I referenced in Living After British Metal, some of those bands were influenced by The Beatles, The Kinks and others. It does help explain why there are plenty of tunes among the thumping bass, clattering drums and frantic riffing.
To a large extent, the bands from the scene may have been known for hell-raising bad behaviour but they were very much first & foremost about the music. Many of the cohort of bands featured here were ultra-competitive in terms of songwriting, musicianship, recording and performance. And yes, some of it was about the looks as well.
The guitar was always to the fore. Eddie Van Halen was well known for being the virtuoso of the time, but the whole scene was full of remarkable drummers, bass players and of course guitar players. For me, Warren DeMartini from Ratt was among my favourites. He was technically brilliant but melodic too and was one of those rock guitarists that could border on jazz solos and sound like Frank Zappa. But then fans of the genre will each have a favourite axeman that’s for sure.
I guess no one really said those things about Motley Crue’s Mick Mars though. Since he suffered from a chronic illness, he wasn’t able to showboat too much, and was never quite the dexterous soloist to match many of his peers. But Mars’s sound was just of the elements that made Motley Crue different though I guess. I was a fan, but not that much, so I wonder how much the movie will have me diving back into the catalogue more deeply.
I absolutely tore through the book though. The Dirt remains one of the best and most unconventional books about the rock & roll lifestyle ever written, and it will shock you. In the current age of female empowerment, it is distinctly out of time. The bad behaviour and primitive attitude towards women perhaps casts a cloud over the music from the period to some extent.
But back to the music and the movie. These music films will keep on coming. As with Bohemian Rhapsody, the bigger the film the bigger the resurgence in catalogues, and I find this relationship fascinating. Allen Kovac, Motley Crue’s manager told the BBC’s Front Row “Record companies push Hip Hop and pop almost like drug dealers, but 80% of streaming is catalogue. The [current crop of music films] will bring a resurgence to artists who write and make and perform their own music. That’s a very astute point and should make every catalogue band of significance think: hey, let’s make a movie!. “Now pass the JD, and someone get me Reed Hastings’ phone number…”
SIDE B: DIRTIER
To celebrate the release of the The Dirt we’ve put together not one, but two playlists. While the bands and songs on The Dirt may be familiar, Dirtier is new territory. Our rock & metal aficionado Bruce Frampton has compiled this playlist of lesser-known bands or tracks, with a little cross-over to those bigger names on the Dirt.
A playlist literally playing to my youthful ears, as they were in the late 80s and early 90s. It brings back fond memories of an early 20s rock fan visiting the Holy Grail of hard rock, the Sunset Strip, L.A. Sipping Jack (even though I don’t really like bourbon - does anyone really?) because that was the only drink for all discerning rock stars, and for watching the world go by from the sidewalk on ‘The Strip’. I recall fitting right in, with long blonde hair, a sun tan and - waist coat. Just the London accent gave me away. But being a limey wasn’t so bad given the roots of the scene owing something to British heavy metal.
The Dirtier gets to the underbelly of the L.A. scene at the time. These bands were the, arguably, sleazier side of the story. ‘Off Boulevard’ metaphorically speaking, though in reality these bands filled up Whisky A Go Go, Viper Rooms and Troubadour without too much bother, such was the popularity of the whole scene. You had to be part of the culture to know these guys however. Raw and uncut, and riding off of (or hanging onto more like) the ripped jeans and cowboy boots of the genres trail blazers, but still sticking it to the man!
As with much of the music in The Dirt, these records rarely see the light of day in today’s world, unless you know where to look. That said, as musicians, all these bands cut their teeth live and could all play with passion and fury. Their energy was infectious. Back in London, I remember the charged atmosphere at the Skid Row and Vain gig at Hammersmith Odeon, November 1989. As I compiled this playlist, I had great fun reminiscing through long forgotten albums, gigs and rock nights at Busby's, Tottenham Court Road. Enjoy responsibly, don’t take it too seriously and you’ll have just as much fun listening!
We hope both The Dirt and The Dirtier will allow you to re-evaluate the music just a little bit, enjoy it for what is was then and at the very least get one of the best gym workouts you’ve had for a long-long time. And after the gym? Cool down and re-hydrate with a Jack & Coke a? I mean who drank mineral water in the 80s, Chrissakes!?
Playback notes: Loosely scheduled, but sure you can shuffle, but only if you promise not to skip!
Bruce Frampton curates rock, metal and grunge. He has been to a lot of gigs…