Every generation is partial to the music that defined their youth, so it stands to reason that 80’s hard rock will always be the decade of choice for those who grew up during that time period. As a member of Generation X, I fall squarely in the middle of those who grew up on 80’s hard rock and heavy metal. However, that is not the reason that I believe that the 80’s are the greatest decade in the history of hard rock music. The main reason for this opinion has more to do with the culture than the actual music. Truth be told, I spend much more time these days listening to the modern-day hard rock bands played on stations like Octane than I do listening to the music of the 80’s played on Hair Nation (see Hard Rock Daddy’s Top 52 Hard Rock Songs of 2013).
So, if it isn’t the music that made the 80’s the greatest decade in the history of hard rock music, what is the determining factor?
While the music was definitely a large part of it, the unity that was felt between fans of the genre created an “us against the world” mentality that made the decade the most memorable one in hard rock music history. There was a magic that will never be captured again because of the splintering of one powerful genre into numerous subgenres.
People the world over are proud to call themselves “metalheads,” but nowadays, the word is open to interpretation by fans of the various subgenres. The division of the once-united fanbase has caused infighting amongst the genres at both the fan and band levels.
Because of technological advances in the way that we consume music today and the ubiquity of social media, there will never again be a united front when it comes to the hard rock and metal genres. If anything, there will be more splintering into niche subgenres that will continue to divide the fanbase in the future.
Because of the subgenre mentality of today’s metal fan, it has become increasingly difficult for bands to push the envelope of musical creativity without feeling the backlash from a portion of their fanbase on social media.
In the season 13 premiere of That Metal Show, Avenged Sevenfold frontman, M. Shadows, discussed the intense scrutiny that the band is under with each new record because of their constant change of direction. Shadows said that the fan reaction to the band’s transition from metalcore to traditional heavy metal was so vitriolic that you would have thought that the band had murdered someone’s newborn child. He also said that he stays offline to avoid the immense amount of negativity that exists on social media.
Avenged Sevenfold is one of the most successful hard rock bands of this era, but Shadows admitted that it was difficult being one of the first major acts to contend with the pitfalls of social media while trying to build a career.
While there was an eventual backlash against hair bands in the 80’s after Nirvana came onto the scene in the early 90’s, most metal bands were revered by fans of the genre. They were, in many cases, larger than life and put up on a pedestal. Even if they were criticized at times for their musical direction, they didn’t experience constant negativity and impossible scrutiny of their every move.
In the 80’s, most hard rock bands had at least one power ballad, and the fans embraced them whole-heartedly. Fans filled arenas, and would sing along in unison when the power ballad was played live in concert. The entire audience swayed together and held up their lighters as a show of support.
Today, bands are mocked for selling out and becoming soft if they deviate from their normal hard rock sound. The arena show is something of a dinosaur in America, although it still exists in other parts of the world. And the pain of a burning finger from a lighter has been replaced by a much less intense show of support from illuminated smartphones.
In the 80’s, the cost of attending a concert was so reasonable, that hard rock fans attended virtually every show that came to town. To this day, I still remember the exact area of the parking lot where the metalheads from high school would tailgate before each arena show. We didn’t necessarily travel in the same groups within the confines of the school, but we were bonded just the same by a shared passion for all things hard rock and heavy metal.
The world was a very different place in the 80’s, and the music and lyrics reflected the joy of simpler times. We never gave a moment’s thought to terrorism in America, and with the exception of learning about current events for homework assignments, by and large, we were blissfully ignorant of the pain and sadness in the world.
We were the “youth gone wild.” We desired “nothin’ but a good time,” and found it in hard rock and heavy metal. We simply wanted to “rock and roll all night, and party every day.” Our music made us feel happy to be alive, and bonded us in a most powerful way.
We worked menial jobs and spent our hard-earned money buying records, concert tickets and other band paraphernalia. And if, by some good fortune, we were given the opportunity to meet one of our rock and roll heroes, we treated them with reverence for the gifts that they had given to us, not disdain for a song or two that might not have been to our liking.
Hard rock bands today must work harder than ever to earn a living playing music. All the while, they must deal with constant negativity from the squeaky wheels who would rather spend their time bemoaning the things that they don’t like instead of praising the things that they do.
Admittedly, time has a way of turning nostalgic moments into glorified memories. A generation from now, today’s youth may very well long for the way things were when they were growing up.
While hard rock music of today is arguably as good as it has ever been, for my money, the 80’s will always be the greatest decade in the history of the genre because of its profound impact on an entire generation.