Remembering Big Hair

What were they thinking? What were we thinking?

Concert scene. Photo by GoDaddy stock photos.

The late eighties were a time of unique musical experimentation.  Namely, a popular genre had emerged where pop music intersected heavy metal.  This cross-pollination of two seemingly unrelated styles took hold among America’s culture, spawning Big Hair Bands.

One of the contributions of the American music scene of the two decades prior to Big Hair were young men and women shunning conventionality in their music as well as in their lifestyles.  Longer hair and flagrant clothing were seen as a sign of rebellion. While the rebellion in the music world was palpable, this rebellion was a microcosm of a larger movement against societal norms and values that many in the younger generation felt limited freedom and personal growth.  

Big Hair bands, also known as Glam Metal, Poodle Bands, Bubble Gum Rock and Pop Metal, took this social rebellion and elevated it to the theatrical.  Hair did not just hang lower, but, with the assistance of voluminous hair product, it expanded outward as well. The clothing was ostentatious with makeup employed liberally on both men and women.  Tight leather pants with denim jackets were the standard uniform and headbands were worn for apparently no reason at all.

When the youth of the 60’s and 70’s embraced the struggle to normalize acceptance toward style, fashion and music, they opened the door for Big Hair.  In the 80’s Big Hair music epitomized and commercialized the struggle, re-making the image of the traditional rocker into a farcical figure. The aesthetics of rock music became a caricature of itself while the fans, roadies, and music industry went all-in.  If music was sport then big hair bands was professional wrestling.

Although this music was a perverse spin on the social gains made by musicians against the Establishment of earlier years, the Big Hair style should not be shunned.  In many ways it was a parody of the anti-war, anti-government, anti-establishment protest music that added so much to the American lexicon of music. When a musician wears ripped jeans and an old tee-shirt to illustrate that material possessions, such as clothing, are irrelevant he is making a statement to the world.  When an 80’s rocker pays top dollar to buy a new outfit that is made to appear old and ripped he is making a different statement altogether. Big Hair music provided levity and reminds us that it’s only rock-n-roll and sometimes we take ourselves too seriously.  

Most importantly though, this music should be enjoyed because it is enjoyable.  Behind the makeup, hair, spandex and tight fitting denim were many talented musicians with acute songwriting skills.  The music of Big Hair stood on it’s own and the theatrics only added to the presentation.

For me, the highlight of this musical style was the power-ballad.  It was a chance to show that behind the glossy photos, bad boy images and the cheers of adoring fans these performers were really just fragile boys and girls who got their hearts broken just like the teens who idolized them.  In customary style these ballads have the tendency to be over-the-top drippy, sentimental and melodramatic. Coming from Big Hair Bands I would expect nothing less.

I have included a few power-ballads for your perusal.  I encourage you to take a listen and I hope you appreciate them as much as I do.

What are you listening to tonight?  Do you have any power ballads that will make you rock out and cry at the same time?  Post a few songs of the gaudiest bands that you enjoy.

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