Poison - Look What The Cat Dragged In
There are a lot of things that have been said about 80s rock. In the decade following the release of Nirvana's Nevermind, most of those things were negative. In 1992, almost overnight, fun rock n' roll suddenly became one of the most maligned genres of music in American history. The misanthropic Kurt Cobain became the new arbiter of cool, and he lashed out against hedonistic hair bands on multiple occasions. These bands were the first victims of Kurt's hatred, but they would not be the last. Cobain also grew to hate a large portion of his fans. Condescending bastard that he was, Kurt was convinced that football players and other assorted suburbanites were not smart enough to "get" his music. As a high school dropout, Cobain had no real right to claim any sort of moral or intellectual superiority. In later live performances, Cobain refused to infuse his playing with any energy or excitement, opting instead to shoot lots of heroin and stare at his shoes while he played. Finally on April 5, 1994, Kurt decided he had had enough and killed himself. In the aftermath, he became remembered as a tragic hero of sorts. Whiny cynical teenagers everywhere finally had their iconoclast.
There are a lot of unfair criticisms of hair bands which I'm going to address right now. One of the most common complaints is that hair metal is too derivative of what came before. Unquestionably, the rock bands of the 80s borrowed heavily from the rock bands that preceded them. They took showmanship cues from bands such as KISS, Pink Floyd, and The Who. They took musical cues from the likes of Boston, AC/DC, The Ramones, and Aerosmith. Their wild rock n' roll lifestyles were surely inspired by legendary stories about Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Motörhead. And so what? The bands that formed in the 1980s were comprised of the first real children of rock n' roll. These were all guys who had grown up in the 60s and 70s listening to all the classic rock bands, so of course they're fucking derivative. Isn't that why most people ultimately decide to learn guitar or electric bass, because some song on the radio made them want to learn to play? There's also a blatant double standard here at work here. Phish has been showered with critical acclaim as one of the greatest jam bands ever. Perhaps they are, but they also make no secret out of the fact that they're ripping off The Grateful Dead. The self-important coffee house liberals who write for major music publications are willing to euphemize in this case. Phish is simply "carrying on the tradition" of The Grateful Dead. The result is that Trey Anastasio is regarded as some sort of musical savior, but C.C. DeVille is persona non grata.
Another common belief is that 80s rock is somehow less intelligent than what came before. In the minds of some people, every great rock song from the 60s and 70s is about social change or Vietnam. They're not. The Beatles, who are often considered the be all and end all of classic rock, didn't write a single fucking song about Vietnam. The vast majority of Beatles songs were about silly things such as yellow submarines, gardens owned by octopi, strawberry fields, and wanting to hold your hand. So while Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" doesn't have any deep metaphorical meaning, neither does "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". It's about fucking LSD, you can't get any less intellectual than that. Many classic rock fans like to pretend there's a profundity in the rock music of old, but it simply isn't there. "Purple Haze" is a great song because when you listen to it, it sounds amazing. There's no life-altering message hidden anywhere in it. Of course, there certainly were politically-charged artists in the 1960s such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Country Joe MacDonald. But they had Vietnam to sing about, a brutal and unpopular conflict that was killing thousands of young men. The 80s were a far less turbulent time than the 60s. What was Poison supposed to sing about, the Iran Contra scandal? The Ramones tried something like that. Their song "Bonzo Goes To Bitburg" was a very catchy tune that was supposed to be a scathing attack on President Reagan. The song refers to a 1985 Reagan visit to West Germany. During his visit, Reagan had originally planned to visit a cemetary where Holocaust victims were buried, but he changed his mind, citing that it would be distasteful to open up old wounds. After all, the West Germany of the 1980s was not Hitler's Germany; there was no reason to lay a guilt trip on a new generation for sins that were not theirs. Reagan ultimately decided to lay a wreath at Bitburg, a cemetary where German soldiers were buried. Among them, there were men who had fought for the Nazis in World War II. The message was that Germany too had been a victim of Hitler's fascist war machine and that the toll of war is far too high. The Ramones focused in on the word Nazi and subsequently went apeshit. The final outcome is that Ramones had a well-written song about an absolutely irrelevant historical event. Most people who hear the song these days probably have absolutely no idea what the fuck it's about. Other musical attempts at politics from the 80s such as "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "Sun City" were recorded for good causes, but they were horrifically bad songs. The rock of the 1980s was generally marked by populism instead of the leftwing activism that had sometimes defined previous rock. The so-called hair bands threw a big party and they invited everyone. It didn't matter who you were, what you looked like, or what you believed in. Anyone could join in the fun.
In 1986, Poison released their debut album, Look What The Cat Dragged In. It would become one of the quintessential rock albums of the 80s, alongside Slippery When Wet, Hysteria, and Appetite For Destruction. In a very short period of time, Poison amassed numerous fans and an equal amount of detractors. The album cover, which almost seems like a perverse parody of Let It Be, became an easy target for their critics. Admittedly, the cover is far too glam for its own good. Rikki Rockett is particularly frightening with his red lipstick, ridiculous eyeshadow, and excessive blush. If that weren't enough, he's also winking. Ewww. Either by accident or design, the band toned down their look a little bit starting with their second music video, "Talk Dirty To Me". So while you might mistake Bret and Rikki for girls on the album cover, it would be almost impossible to make the same mistake if you saw them on MTV. Rock bands had been sporting long hair and outlandish costumes for over 15 years at this point, so you'd have to be pretty fucking dense.
Poison knew their image was rather ridiculous; their album title is an obvious acknowledgment of it. But they also reveled in it. Consequently, Poison seems to be remembered more for their appearance, wild lifestyle, and pyrotechnic concerts than for their songs. However, Poison wasn't all smoke and mirrors; their exciting stage show was backed by some very good songs. In fact, there's isn't a bad track on the album. From the Ronettes-inspired drumbeat of "Cry Tough" all the way through "Let Me Go To The Show", Poison offers up a solid rock n' roll experience. The album is not flawless though. "I Won't Forget You" may be a decent track in its own right, but it lacks the power that later Poison ballads like "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" and "Something To Believe In" deliver. Other than that, the album is a whole lot of fun. "I Want Action" and "Want Some, Need Some" find Bret Michaels singing about sexual frustration, while the infectious "Talk Dirty To Me" is an adolescent fantasy. The latter was also a #2 single for the band. But the best song on the album by far is the nasty "Look What The Cat Dragged In", an anthem which pays tribute to the post-party hangover. Although the song was never released as a single, Poison has opened with it at every concert they've ever played. With a lesser band playing them, songs like "#1 Bad Boy" might seem contrived; this is not the case with Poison. They play through every song with a sincerity and conviction that can only come from having lived that type of reality. And they did live it. The members of Poison lived in near-poverty and worked their asses off in the sleazy LA club scene in the hopes of landing a record deal. What followed was a meteoric rise to fame that was far more intriguing than anything Horatio Alger ever wrote. They were a living, breathing representation of the American Dream.
We now live in a world where the 1980s are no longer universally derided. VH1 is largely responsible for this. Behind The Music and I Love The 80s were instrumental in exposing a new generation to the music and culture that their grunge-oriented older brothers and sisters had tried so hard to forget. Reagan's death earlier this year also renewed interest in the 80s. In malls across America, Hot Topic stores are now filled with Mötley Crüe and Metroid t-shirts. As a result, bands like Poison are finally starting to get the respect they deserve. Contrary to what some people believe, hair bands were not the 1980s equivalent of boy bands. Poison played their own instruments, wrote their own songs, and invented their own image. They also competed vigorously against dozens of other bands on the Sunset Strip in a battle to win club gigs and a record contract. The boy bands of the 1990s did none of those things. They were easily replaceable corporate tools. Every year, American Idol breeds more of them. These braindead losers are nothing more than glorified karaoke champions. Poison is generally dismissed as being "fake" by cynics, yet they have a level of authenticity that 90% of mainstream rock is currently lacking, whether it 's the "I hate my parents" posturing of alt-metal bands or the coldly calculated sensitivity of whatever indie rock band The O.C. has been paid to hype this week. Most of all, modern rock lacks the grandeur of the 1980s. Back in the day, anyone with even a casual interest in rock could tell you who Axl Rose, Bret Michaels, and Dee Snider were. Instead of embracing their status as rock stars, assholes like Fred Durst now dress like fratboys and feign everyman status. MTV gives us up to the minute updates on what Jessica Simpson's farts smell like, but fuck if anyone knows the name of that wa-ah-ah guy from Disturbed.
The bottom line is this: Poison's songs were pretty damn good in the 1980s and they are still good today. If you enjoy classic rock, you should at least own their greatest hits CD. If you don't, I suggest you obtain some Poison (legally or otherwise) and dose yourself.
Posted by: Syd Lexia