Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Albums That Defined My Musical Tastes – Extreme’s “Extreme”

Did you realize that you used to pay $56 for a cd back in the 80’s? Adjusting for inflation, this was the average cost of a single album cd when they were exploding in popularity. But the way I like to think about it is this - with a minimum wage of around $4 in 1984, a young person would have to work for approximately 5 to 6 hours to afford to buy one cd. Now, in 2020 with a minimum wage of $14 per hour, a young person can work just one hour and afford a month’s worth (that’s 730 hours) of unlimited listening to practically any album ever recorded, using a service like Spotify or Apple Music. Type in any song or artist and it magically pops up. That is so mind-bendingly incredible that it is hard to fathom, never mind explain this concept to a young person now. Buying a cd back in the day was a major decision because you could only afford to buy one or two per month, so you took the utmost care in what you chose because buying a dud could result in months of remorse and double shifts at the convenience store. In Europe, the prices were even worse – this weekend I came across an old receipt from when we lived in the Netherlands, and in 2002 I paid 22 euro for a Starsailor cd – that was something like $35 in Canadian funds!

The first cd I ever bought was Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” and I remember paying $25 bucks for it from Sam the Record Man in Saskatoon. My mom and dad had spent a fortune on a ghetto blaster with a cd player, but when I put that cd on and the opening guitar rang out, those long hours I had to work to afford it was were all worthwhile as the sound was so much better than cassette tapes (into which I had invested a small fortune).

When it comes to hair metal, I could easily list out dozens of influential albums I loved, but the one I am choosing to represent them all is Extreme’s self-titled debut. Their image wasn’t stupid like many of them (Stryper anybody?), the singing was solid and not off-putting, they didn’t wear makeup, the guitar playing was nutso, and they weren’t overly popular yet. During that time in my life I was spending most of my time with my buddies Darren Bessette, Martin Lepage, and Jemal Kobussen driving around in our crappy, yet awesome, first cars, blasting the music as loud as the stereo would go. I had also met a crazy dude from Denmark – Martin Olsen - who had been banished by his family for various misdeeds and sent to live with his uncle in Saskatoon. A damning punishment indeed – especially when his first month was February. He started hanging around with us and LOVED Extreme, just like we did. 

Remember, it wasn’t called “hair metal” or “glam metal” back then – I think we just called it hard rock. Many (most) of those albums haven’t aged that well (Tora Tora, Bulletboys, Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, Warrant, Bang Tango, Tesla, Britny Fox, Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, and Lord Tracy are a few that come to mind) but some of them have, including Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Def Leppard, Skid Row, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith. And don't forget Billy Idol. He's not exactly glam metal, not exactly punk, not exactly pop, but somehow all of these at the same time and was frequently spun on Olson family stereos. 

I have never lost my love of glam metal, but my tastes certainly have moved onto much heavier and more extreme rock genres. But without that early exposure to glam metal, I’d probably still be listening to Wang Chung and Tears for Fears.

Lastly, just this past week I made a startling confession to my family. I have this strange thing where there’s almost always a song playing in my head, over and over again. And there’s one song that’s stuck in there about 90% of the time. That song is Smoke Signals by Extreme. Specifically, it’s the guitar riff at the beginning of the song. Thankfully it’s a masterful intro, so I don’t mind it, but this is why Extreme is never far from my mind.

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