THE TOP TEN BANDS MOST OFTEN MISCATEGORIZED AS HAIR METAL: #10, BULLETBOYS
Since its inception by the typings of some clever music journalist in the 80s, the categorization “hair metal” (or “glam metal”) has been as amorphous and, consequently, as misused as “metalcore” has been in the aughties. And since it’s hair metal week here on MetalSucks, we thought we’d try to address this issue by pointing the spotlight on ten bands that are often, and incorrectly, deemed “hair metal.” And to that end…
It must’ve been an uphill battle for L.A.’s BulletBoys, the group that in 1988 was packaged as a Van Halen for disenchanted Hagar-haters. Living up to that billing is basically impossible, especially with a bluesy, Les Paul-playing, Slash-meets-Jeff Tyson guy in one of the bands and a technicolor fretboard wizard in the other. Of course, one can understand why Van Halenism entered the discussion of how to market the BulletBoys in a crowded glam rock marketplace: In addition to sharing with Van Halen a producer, record label, and configuration, BulletBoys also resist lazy categorization. (Also, some endorse the uncomfortable comparison of BulletBoys singer Marq Torien to David Lee Roth, cuz Torien can do the steamwhistle-scream thing and also favors the flimsiest of double-entendres. But it ends there.) On the surface, each band puts on a carnival of crotch bulges and dirty imagery, but that’s just the flannel shirt or nappy beard or sleeve tattoo of the time. For the BulletBoys, a closer listen reveals high-level performance (if not consistently great songwriting) and a commercially icky element of sleaze. They may have looked the part, but their sound was too unfriendly, too minor key, and too darkly nasty to be glam.
There’s more. On the BulletBoys’ three major label records, one finds no keyboards, no anthemic choruses, no ballads. And when pressed for a radio-friendly material, the band twice responded with unhelpful remakes — one a ’70s soul classic, and the second a mumbly, tuneless Tom Waits song about driving or something. Are not those selections kinda cool, kinda punk? No “Your Mama Can’t Dance” here. And now that I think about their bona fide big hit, I wonder if that vulgar shit was even playable on daytime radio in the late ’80s. MTV abridged its title to “Smooth Up,” and that means a lot coming from the source of videos in which it’s suggested that Madonna fucks donkeys. Talk about heavy metal guts! Or stupidity! Same difference?
The point is that without the populism and pandering, the BulletBoys catalogue doesn’t much resemble those of the genre’s defining bands. Shit, even the BB songs about parties/panties are kinda angry and harassing, which is the sure sign of a band not cute enough for Billboard sales awards. In this era, only Skid Row mustered big sales of a heavy rock record and only with the aid of super-babe Sebastian Bach and a platinum-selling debut. That didn’t happen for the BulletBoys, though few would dispute that their best route to success involved a seat on the hair rock bandwagon. So yeah it made sense at the time, but given the chance I’d Hut Tub Time Machine back to the hair era to assemble and manage BulletBoys (along with Badlands, Junkyard, and Dangerous Toys), presenting them as brethren of AC/DC, The Black Crowes, and other bands that experienced little post-Nirvana slippage. And as a result, no Nickelback would ever happen and everybody wins.