Hard rock/metal took a bad turn in the mid 80’s. There were a few places to put blame, but I believe the number 1 culprit for this was Motley Crue. The band’s debut record was a great mix of metal and glam rock. The Crue’s follow-up, Shout at the Devil, was someplace between Ozzy and Alice Cooper, with it’s Satan worshipping themes and wild stage show, but it still was a good rock record. From that point forward, excess and success had them more focused on partying than putting out good records.
What was worse found LA bands following their template, as the makeup and the cheesy rock ballads being the main focus, taking the edge and anger the music was meant to have. Before Motley Crue, Van Halen was the band the LA scene was trying to emulate, but it was a lot easier to create cheesy songs like what followed in the mid-80’s, than it was to produce music like the Van Halen brothers did.
While bands like Metallica were pushing Metal to a heavier place, it was still pretty underground to most. Headbangers Ball was filled with Europe, White Lion, Firehouse, Slaughter, Winger, Warrant, and of course, Poison. While it is definitely the case that Nirvana was the final nail in this shit music, there were a few bands that bridged the gap between them. Gun and Roses came from this LA scene, but had some integrity to their music, even though their excesses were still the same as this hair-bands. The 2 groups in the late 80’s, though, who really sounded different and made a big mark on MTV were Living Colour and Faith No More. That is where I will begin with this edition.
Type- Living Colour
Vernon Reid was a guitar shredder on an Eddie Van Halen level. Corey Glover had the pipes of a soul-singer, but with range and emotion of metal god. The rest of the band was tight as hell. When Cult of Personality came out in 1988, it was pretty revolutionary in sound and message. This wasn’t some dumbass party band, this was a group with thought and emotion. I chose Type because it rocks and it is from 1990.
Digging the Grave- Faith No More
The 2 songs that knocked me out the most the first time I heard them in the 80’s was Came0’s Word Up and Faith No More’s Epic. They sound like nothing else I had ever heard before and managed to push their genres ahead. I chose Digging the Grave, as Epic came out in 1989 and thought I would turn some people on to some of the later stuff Mike Patton and the guys came up.
Born of a Broken Man- Rage Against the Machine
I think you could argue that Rage was a mix of the 2 bands above, making even better music. Definitely one of the most important bands of the decade and I don’t think any other rocked harder. They were so good, even young right-wingers were banging their heads and singing along to the leftist political screeds Rage were professing.
Dogman- King’s X
A great, but forgotten band to many, this band always had a hard time finding a place in the musical world, as they were so diverse in styles. Beginning in the christian rock scene, their music was some crazy mix of metal, the Beatles, and progressive rock bands like Kansas. They came out in the late 80’s and despite their religious overtones opened for bands like AC/DC.
Here was another band that had a hard time fitting any classification, but they slammed as hard as any group of the decades.
She Got Me- Masters of Reality
With Ginger Baker on drums, this was as close he ever came to sounding like a reboot of Cream. Lots of great songs to look out for with Masters of Reality, like John Brown and The Candy Song.
Another revolutionary band whose sound is still a major influence on music 20 years later. Maynard Keenan was an art student who brought more depth of thought to the music and videos of his band than what the typical metal scene had experienced. His future groups A Perfect Circle and Puscifer are great, as well.
In Bloom- Nirvana
I can remember when Nevermind came out and what made it so different was how the whole record was great from beginning to end and that the sound production by Butch Vig made the songs jump out of the speakers. To me, the first 25 seconds of In Bloom rock as hard as any, while the screaming chorus by Kurt is him at his best.
I’ll Stay High- Dig
So many bands followed Nirvana into the grunge pit. Here is one of the best, with grungy guitars, but Stone Roses-type vocals.
Good Idea- Sugar
Bob Mould was never better than in his band Sugar. The production values with this band were almost on the opposite extreme as the lo-fi punk of Husker Du.
Sure Gavin Rossdale seemed like a bit of a wanker and their instant success was a little much, but guitar player Nigel Pulsford is one of the best of the decades. This song rocks hard, even if it does lift from the Nirvana playbook.
Crank- Catherine Wheel
Here was another solid band from England who featured as the lead singer the brother of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.
Snakes of Christ- Danzig
From the punk movement, Glenn Danzig met up with Rick Rubin. If the Cult was Rubin mixing Zep and the Doors, this was Sabbath and the Doors.
Space Lord- Monster Magnet
Just your average psychedelic metal band from New Jersey. Space lord Motherfucker!
Thunder Kiss 65- White Zombie
It’s not surprising considering his films that no music ever sounded more like a horror movie than Zombie.
Just One Fix- Ministry
An industrial dance band for a couple records became as heavy as an band was in the world. While the Peppers, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam are always discussed being on the same bill at Lollapalooza 2, it was Ministry that dominated the stage at the show I was at.
Head Like a Hole- Nine Inch Nails
This was another song that just leaped out the first time you heard it. Mixing metal guitars, punk like vocals, with a Depeche Mode like backbeat. The first time I ever heard it I was at a strip club. Single best strip club performance I’ve witnessed. (Proud moment to admit)
Feed Me- Barkmarket
Just might be the best virtually unknown band of the 90’s. Heavier than NIN, but with the same darkness.
Welcome to the Fold- Filter
A couple former members of NIN break loose mixing industrial rock with grunge.
Cherub Rock- Smashing Pumpkins
Want to test your car stereo? Play this song. Cherub Rock was as heavy as the music from the Pumpkins debut, but made better with the hooks and sweet choruses of Siamese Dream. Oh and did I mention that Butch Vig knows how to make a record sound great?
Cosmic Dick- Gwen Mars
Not everyone ripped off Nirvana. Listen to the great Smashing Pumpkins song not written by Billy Corgan. The first 2 of this band’s might have been overlooked, but you should seek them out.
Bound for the Floor- Local H
A great 90’s band from Chicago, they never reached the heights they deserved. They had the music, but until searching this song out, I had never seen one of their videos. Are you copacetic?
Piece of Pie- Stone Temple Pilots
The world’s greatest Seattle cover band, STP took a mix of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam and often made them better than the originals. To me they were kind of like Denis Leary ripping off Bill Hicks. Not that original, but damn if they didn’t often improve on the concept.
Jesus Christ Pose- Soundgarden
The heaviest of the Seattle bands, Soundgarden wasn’t grunge, but more of a metal band with a singer who had pipes on the level of David Coverdale. This is the darkest song in their discography and it might be their best.
Man in the Box- Alice in Chains
Many forget that both Soundgarden and Alice in Chains had released records way before Nevermind came out. This song came out in 1990 and I can recall hearing this and thinking this is what I wished Metallica sounded like. I was not quite on board with the longer metal jams, as I’ve always preferred tighter songs.
Who mixed chugging metal riffs with the occasional country hook while singing about a dog? Another forgotten band who I will tell you played during the roughest mosh-pit I was ever a part of.
Monumental song as it was the first heavy rock band I had seen that physically looked like your average guy. The riffs are mammoth here.
Thorn in My Side- Quicksand
Very Helmet-like, but with a little more punk edge.
Liar- Rollins Band
This is my favorite moment of Henry Rollins career. A beautiful mix of punk rage and his sense of humor.
100%- Sonic Youth
One of the most influential bands of alt. music, this is the peak moment of them mixing distortion and melody.
Super Fire- Girls Against Boys
Lollapalooza 1996 was a cash grab. Metallica and Soundgarden didn’t even sound very good at the show I was at. But on the 2nd stage, I did see 3 groups who totally saved the day for me; Soul Coughing, Ben Folds 5, and a group I’d never head before named Girls Against Boys. Despite it being 100 degrees out, this guys came out onstage decked out in all black leather and spit at the crowd with their music and attitude.