When I was about 18, in 1990, I was about to enter the University of British Columbia, located near my home. I was still living with my parents at the time. In late August, after signing up for the courses I’d be starting that fall, I went to the bookstore to buy the required books. My arms laden with such tomes as Plato’s Symposium and the autobiography of Gandhi, I staggered through the store before happening upon the performing arts section. There I found, and on impulse bought, Chuck Eddy’s somewhat maligned book Stairway to Hell – The 500 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe. I’m still not exactly sure why I bought it; classic rock was my thing at that point, not heavy metal. So I’m guessing it had something to do with the decidedly cool picture of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on the cover. I was already a Zeppelin fan, so I figured I’d at least find SOME commentary on bands I already knew and liked. Or on Led Zep, at least.
I arrived home with my bags of books, and unpacked them on the kitchen table. My mom noticed Stairway to Hell and made some comment about how it was a waste of money. So I guess that was my own personal parents-don’t-understand-heavy-metal moment. (Not that I really did either just then, but that’s not the point.)
I said a moment ago that Stairway to Hell was somewhat maligned. I didn’t know that when I bought it (not that it would have necessarily made much difference – like I said, the cover photo was pretty cool). But reading through it, even from the perspective of somebody unfamiliar with its subject matter, I could tell there were some fairly – how to put it – “daring” inclusions in the list. You can probably judge that yourself from his top ten:
- Led Zeppelin IV
- Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction
- Alice Cooper – Greatest Hits
- Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic
- Kix – Kix
- New York Dolls – New York Dolls
- Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping
- Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Rust Never Sleeps
- Teena Marie – Emerald City (?!?!?!?)
- The Jimmy Castor Bunch – Phase Two
Equally daring were some of his omissions from the book. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, e.g. Even I knew that was a bit weird.
Eddy’s prose style is a bit of an acquired taste, but to summarize, he explains that he included any decent loud guitar music that could theoretically be enjoyed by heavy metal fans. Oh, and this includes stuff that would have been considered metal at any time during the existence of metal, whether it was considered to be metal when it came out or not.
In other words, he cast his net pretty wide with his book. So wide, in fact, that it included punk (Sex Pistols), blues (Miles Davis), funk (Funkadelic), and pretty much any classic rock album that had anything resembling distorted guitar (ZZ Top, Queen, The Who, Cheap Trick, Bryan Adams).
Oh yeah… and Prince. And REO Speedwagon. And the Osmonds. The fucking Osmonds.
So wide was his net, in fact, that one reviewer on Amazon, many years after the fact, pointed out that the book was basically “Chuck Eddy’s 500 Favourite Albums”. Which would be fair enough, except that, around about number 150 or so, the tone of his writing changes radically and he begins systematically slagging almost every album he reviews. So it’s not even his favourites; more like “500 Random Albums from Chuck Eddy’s Music Collection”.
Anyway, I suppose one truism that you could take from Eddy’s book is this perfectly fair observation: heavy metal defies easy definition.
Just maybe to not quite THAT degree.