HEAVY METAL BOOK CLUB: Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion

Songs about getting reckless, getting wasted, and getting naked tend to fall in and out of fashion frequently, but for the better part of a decade, they absolutely dominated the airwaves. The hair was high, the clothes were tight, and the dudes looked like ladies, because hard rock ruled, the supply never ran dry, and it seemed like the party would never end. Of course, it did, as all good times do, and no matter how many bands have tried, a true hair metal revival has always been perpetually around the corner, and also forever out of reach. What that era left behind is a legion of true believers, semi-regular airplay in strip clubs and sports stadiums, and the stories. Holy shit, the stories.

If you've read Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain (and if you haven't, you should), then you'll be familiar with the format of Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock's Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. Told through collected snippets of interviews with the musicians, managers, publicists, music execs, photographers and creatives that made the 80s hard rock and hair metal scene a reality, this book is full of stories, told straight from the horse's mouth. 

Unfortunately, those who, like me, came seeking sex and scandal, might find themselves somewhat disappointed. Yes, the sleaze and seediness of the scene is an undercurrent of the book, however, some of the best (or perhaps worst, depending on your perspective) stories don't really appear here. When Mötley Crüe's eye-watering, but excellent, autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band was published in 2001, this was a very different world. The interviewees in this book seem all too aware that, given its publication in 2021, many of their stories would get the protagonists cancelled, if not outright indicted. While some bad behavior is named, explained, and even correctly shamed, this is not the filthy tell-all for which you might be hoping.

Sex and drugs take a backseat to business deals in this book, which is fitting for an era in which investors and pencil pushers rushed into the music industry ready to profit. At some points, the book reads like a long discussion panel between very well-off men in their 50s and 60s about the choices they made that made them rich, despite having blown through the GDP of a small country on overblown music videos and recording sessions. Ultimately, what emerges is a comprehensive, if a tiny bit dry, chronology of a scene, and this is what I appreciated about it the most. 

While some of the threads it weaves together are a bit snarled, by the end of the book you can pick out the whole picture. Young men, some still in their teens, flocked to one street in Los Angeles (or, to a lesser extent, New Jersey) with the goal of getting a record deal and getting laid (not necessarily in that order). They gigged and promoted relentlessly, hopped in and out of each other's bands, and some of them ended up richer than they could ever imagine, while the rest still play state fairs and club shows on the weekend for a respectable income. Around them, the music industry machine assumed that the incredible amounts of money generated by these acts would last forever, and the signings got increasingly indiscriminate, and the money thrown at the bands more ludicrous. By the time Nirvana's Nevermind altered the course of music history, some of those bands were dropped from labels owing half a million dollars in advances that would never be recouped. In some ways, the story of the hair metal era is the canary in the coal mine of music industry greed as a whole. Of course, it would become much easier to blame Napster a decade later. Despite all this, the popularity of the genre persists, and while the many young bands of today inspired by this scene have yet to break through in any meaningful way, lightning sometimes strikes twice, and only time will tell. 

Over its dense 500+ pages, I was fascinated by how women are both simultaneously omnipresent and somehow invisible throughout the stories told in the book. Though the role of women as the backbone of contemporary music fandom and consumption is being increasingly explored in rock criticism, nowhere is this clearer than in the hair metal era. Hundreds of unnamed female fans fed hungry musicians, cleaned their apartments, and in some cases outright bankrolled the development of bands that have gone on to sell millions of records.  Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, and Poison, to name just a few, relied on the love and free labour of their fans to launch their careers and become household names. While some of these women do get recognition, notably Vicky Hamilton, whose impact on that entire era easily eclipses every other player in the book, I was left wanting a parallel book with the stories of all the groupies, girlfriends, fans, and hangers-on that made these men gods. 

In 2009, VH1 released a documentary called Do It For The Band: The Women of the Sunset Strip. Though only one excerpt exists online, it hints at what could be, and that's what I'll leave you with here. (Incidentally, if anyone out there happens to have the full doc, please PLEASE get in touch!) 

Read previous installments of Angelica's Heavy Metal Book Club here:




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