Part 3: The Year in Rock/Metal
The year in rock for 1991 was a truly crucial year for the genre. While veterans like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Genesis, Rush, Ozzy Osbourne, and Van Halen released new albums that year that solidified their longevity. It was also a period where some of the 1980s heavy hitters would face new challenges. One band that emerged in 1990 to be bigger in the new year where the Black Crowes. The Georgian-based Southern blues-rock band hit it big with 1990’s Shake Your Moneymaker while landing a slot to open for the veteran power-rock trio ZZ Top for their Recycler tour. The tour however, got attention for singer Chris Robinson’s open disdain towards corporate sponsorship as his band was kicked off the tour.
Robinson’s criticism of corporate sponsors wasn’t anything new yet it would create a new division over what was becoming acceptable in the world of rock. Neil Young who gained a comeback in 1989 with his album Freedom reunited with Crazy Horse in 1990 as he was one of the new rock veterans that was acceptable to a younger audience. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Ozzy Osbourne, and Van Halen also proved to connect with a new audience in 1991 while Rush maintained their own cult status in their return-to-rock roots period with Roll the Bones that followed 1989’s Presto. Genesis meanwhile, continued with their pop approach with their album We Can’t Dance that ultimately would become Phil Collins’ last album with the band as he left the group in 1996 to work on his highly-successful solo career.
While a lot of the veterans were able to maintain their status as rock heavyweights. The same couldn’t be said another group of rockers who had dominated the 1980s as they were definitely on their way out in 1991. Since the emergence of pop-metal in the early 80s through bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Quiet Riot that helped put heavy metal to the mainstream. It created a new wave of band with big hair, spandex pants, some makeup, and a large sound to come out and dominate the 1980s. Often called glam metal or hair metal, it’s colorful videos filled with huge stage shows were the big thing in the late 1980s. Yet, glam metal had a formula for success where they release the big rock song first and then the power ballad to bring in the pop audience.
It was a formula that worked but for many bands that were a full-on hard rock/metal band from the start. Fans of their earlier work would accuse them of selling out as the ballads suddenly became acoustic where the band Extreme gained a massive hit with the acoustic ballad More Than Words that was followed by a more up-tempo acoustic song called Hole Hearted. While it may have given the funk-metal band success, it also pegged them as part of the hair metal genre. The commercialization of glam metal was taking its toll as groups were pressured to make rock ballads while the decadent lifestyle that they preached was finally taking its toll.
Many critics pointed the death of hair metal to a series of events from the arrival of Guns N’ Roses in 1987 and the release of Penelope Spheeris’ 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. More signs over its death came in the form of the 1989 Moscow Peace Festival and the pressure from record labels to be more commercial to the masses. Spheeris’ documentary and the Moscow Peace Festival both presented cases about the decadent lifestyle for these bands. The latter of which was a festival to celebrate sobriety as all of the bands, with the exception of Motley Crue, didn’t get the message of the festival.
It was in this careless lifestyle of booze, drugs, and unsafe sex, at a time when AIDS was present with the public at large, was now seen as irresponsible and uncool as two bands of the glam metal genre were coming undone by their excesses. In 1990, Ratt released their fifth album Detonator as they were having trouble dealing with the substance abuse of their guitarist Robbin Crosby. During a tour in Japan in early 1991, Crosby’s addiction finally took a toll during a show where he was playing out of tune with the rest of the band that ultimately led to his departure. Even as it would lead to a period of the band unraveling as they would officially break-up a year later.
Then there’s Poison, the premier hair band who were huge in the late 1980s as their third album Flesh & Blood that came out in June of 1990 became another hit. Yet, the band was becoming undone from within by creative tension between vocalist Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. Deville as well as excessive behavior from the entire band. During the tour to promote Flesh & Blood in 1991, dates were cancelled as fights were happening which culminated at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. Deville, who dyed his hair pink, was shown seemingly intoxicated as the band played their hit single Unskinny Bop when they weren’t on the air and then they went into Talk Dirty to Me where Deville’s guitar got disconnected in mid-performance. Deville’s performance led to a backstage fight with Michaels as he was kicked out of the band for seven years.
Poison’s infamous 1991 MTV Awards performance was a sign of not just glam metal’s lack of musical evolvement but also the silliness it provided to metal fans that wanted serious metal music. Poison’s MTV Awards performance provided another nail in the coffin for the hair metal genre as metal purists were looking for something that could keep heavy metal alive.
Fortunately, the arrival of new bands like Type O Negative and Sepultura helped keep metal vital as it also brought out new sub-genres that would emerge in the coming years. Another new band that emerged was Kyuss, a band that brought a stoner element to metal as it featured future Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme. The 80s thrash metal band Anthrax scored a major hit with their collaboration with Public Enemy on the latter’s song Bring The Noise that would help lay the groundwork for the fusion between metal and hip-hop. Another band that helped maintain metal’s vitality is Skid Row. Though Skid Row were considered to be a hair band in 1989 with their debut album, it was their sophomore release Slave to the Grind that showed a more aggressive side as it was the first metal album to debut at number one.
Yet, the year of hard rock and metal would anticipate to massive releases that would help shape the music scene from two of its biggest bands. The first was Guns N’ Roses who spent the large part of 1990 recording a brand new album that was to be their major follow-up to their 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction that was also followed by their 1989 EP G N’ R Lies. The recording of the new album was difficult largely due to original drummer Steven Adler’s drug abuse as he was kicked out of the band and replaced by Matt Sorum. The band also added keyboardist Dizzy Reed to the mix as singer Axl Rose wanted to create album that had more ambition than the hard and heavy Appetite. The result would be the double album Use Your Illusion I & II.
While both albums would prove to be major hits, it also marked a change of pace as their blues-heavy hard rock sound was mixed in with orchestral, piano-driven ballads reminiscent of Elton John as some felt the band got bloated. Within the band, things were unraveling as Axl Rose’s desire for control led him to gain the band’s name for himself. Founding members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Izzy Stradlin reluctantly convinced him to give him the band name so the band wouldn’t break up as the album’s September release was preceded by a tour that featured an infamous riot in St. Louis caused by Rose. The Use Your Illusion tour lasted through nearly two years as in late 1991, Stradlin left the band due to Rose’s behavior and the substance abuse relating to the band as he had just became sober. Stradlin was replaced by Gilby Clarke as the end of the year saw GN’R be the premier band of hard rock/metal as they would share it with another band.
Since the release of their debut album Kill ‘Em All, Metallica had been one of the most revered bands of the 1980s with a string of influential albums that won the hearts of true metal fans. After 1988’s …And Justice for All, the band took thrash metal to new heights but felt that there wasn’t really anywhere to go with the genre. Collaborating with producer Bob Rock, the band’s fifth album would prove to make a change in the band’s sound and fortunes. A self-titled release that is often called The Black Album would become the band’s biggest success of their career that was followed by a massive world tour that lasted for nearly three years.
While The Black Album would yield major hits for the band, not everyone was happy with Metallica’s new direction. The simplified songs and polished production was part of the criticism that some fans had though the band didn’t change their sound completely as it reached a worldwide audience. Metallica’s success would also inspire bands to aim for ambition but also not betray their sound as it helped keep metal alive.
Despite these big moments for rock in 1991, there were also some sad moments in the world of rock music. The rock band Kiss suffered a major loss with the death of drummer Eric Carr on November 24, 1991. Carr’s death was a big deal to hard rock but his death was overshadowed by another individual who was bigger than life. Queen’s Freddie Mercury died that same day just a few days announcing to the world that he had AIDS. Mercury’s death proved to be tragic as the band had released their album Innuendo earlier that February which was a major hit that year. Though Queen would release another album that featured Mercury’s vocals in 1995 entitled Made in Heaven. It would mark the end of one of rock’s greatest vocalists as a tribute concert was held in Wembley Stadium a year later.
The end of the year saw metal still moving forward while the end for the hair bands was just approaching. Some of rock’s veterans continued to thrive proving they still had a place in the changing times while the loss of Freddie Mercury proved to be the end of an era. While it was clear that rock was about to emerge into a new direction, it would part of an entirely different movement that would change everything about what rock music is.
20 years later as pop, rock, and hip-hop has evolved through many trends and ideas, some things have changed while some things haven’t. The end of that year saw new things happen but also some harsh realities of what was happening. With the new Soundscan sales tracker, it became clear that album sales were in decline not just due to trends that were overstaying their welcome. It was also because the desire for something new to happen as the concert industry was also struggling despite successful tours from established acts like Van Halen and ZZ Top along with packaged tours from Metallica and other thrash-metal bands.
Yet, both album sales and concert attendances couldn’t deal with the recession that was happening that year as people stayed home during that year. The year itself proved that things were changing as Michael Jackson’s reign as the king of music was coming to an end as the events that were happening proved to have an impact in the 20 years since. Pop music remains more vital than ever though many of the stars that became big in 1991 didn’t survive with the exception of Mariah Carey. Some like Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, and Amy Grant strayed from pop music while others chose to capitalize on their brief fame through movies or TV shows. Other such as Michael Bolton ended up becoming a punch line though his career has had some resurgence through shows like Dancing with the Stars and Saturday Night Live.
A lot of the music of that era would be sold as compilation CDs all over television or appear as jingles for ads. Yet, many of the changes that 1991 brought for pop music is still relevant through artists like Lady Gaga. While some believe she’s making it interesting again, some feel that she isn’t really doing anything new. Even as the idea of dance music and pop has now become synonymous with what is hot on the charts.
Hip-hop since 1991 has become the dominant music force of the last 20 years as it grew worldwide. When it went into 1992, the idea of the slick-flashy rap music that M.C. Hammer was synonymous with became irrelevant with the African-American community. Instead, gangsta rap became more dominant since it played true to the events that was happening that year as it helped drive hip-hop sales despite the controversy it courted.
While the music itself has been going through some creative issues over the years between commercialism and artistic integrity, it has reached an audience bigger than what people has expected in the past 20 years. While gangsta rap managed to die out in the mid-90s and it became more acceptable for hip-hop to be in ads or be played on top-40 radio. Still, there is a conflict among purists about the music as well as its association with pop which remains an ongoing debate.
While pop and hip-hop has managed to evolve throughout the past 20 years, rock music however has been the one musical force that hasn’t done a lot to change itself. Since the arrival of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, rock music went into a big change as all of the hair bands that had dominated in the 1980s pretty much found themselves playing arenas one day and could barely fill a club the next day. Many of the hair bands of that era either broke up, went through line-up changes, or fell back into obscurity. Motley Crue and its singer Vince Neil split up in 1992 as they didn’t speak to each other in four years while they hired a new singer in John Corabi that didn't list very long. The only hair bands that managed to maintain some commercial power during the 90s while finding a home in the international market were Def Leppard and Bon Jovi as they both made changes to their sound.
In the world of metal, Metallica’s success would help usher in a brief period for metal’s dominance into the music scene for bands like Megadeth, Pantera, and many others. Yet, metal struggled to maintain an audience and a commercial profile through advent of grunge rock and alternative music. It took one of metal’s forefathers in Ozzy Osbourne and his wife/manager Sharon to create the metal festival Ozzfest to help keep metal alive in the U.S. Since then, metal still remains vital while the hair bands has had a resurgence through nostalgia tours and reality TV shows.
Rock music itself however since the arrival of grunge and alternative rock had a good five-year period of dominance until pop struck back in the late 1990s along with hip-hop. Many felt that since the arrival of grunge and its commercial impact, the music itself became more watered down for the masses. Bands that have been successful by 2011 like Nickelback and 3 Doors Down spouts not just grunge’s sound but also the sappy power-ballad elements of hair bands to create something that mainstream audiences like. Yet, rock purists find them to be unoriginal and moronic as they offer nothing new to the sound as the music itself has gone through various trends since 1991 but not a lot of it stayed except for the safe-grunge sound that is commonly known as post-grunge.
By 2011 as rock, hip-hop, dance, and pop music still becoming vital to the public at an age where the music industry is dying. It’s clear that 1991 has had a lasting influence on the music that was made at the time. Yet, the impact of that year didn’t really dwell much on rock and pop music. Hip-hop was the real winner along with another music scene in alternative/indie and electronic music where it was pushing boundaries with the music. Even heavy metal has somehow managed to stay alive by 2011 by refusing to go away. Still, it was an incredible year in popular music and probably one of the last great years in that ever changing world of music itself.
© thevoid99 2011