Headbanger's Ball started on April 18, 1987, and ran for nearly eight years. With little regard for a narrow definition of what constituted metal, the show's programmers seemed to embrace it all. So you would see a Poison video, something from Motorhead and then something from the Cult. The early host was Adam Curry, but he was replaced in 1990 by Riki Rachtman, who, as one of the owners of L.A.'s Cathouse, had substantial street cred.
Because of its seemingly diverse playlist, Headbanger's Ball could be uneven. Interspersed between videos would be interviews, many hilarious, and most were informative in some sense because both Curry and Rachtman seemed to have a reasonable knowledge of the music.
In the last decade, Headbanger's Ball was brought back on MTV2, initially with Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed as the host, because of the resurgence of metal in styles that weren't often seen on the show's original run and styles that have emerged since the show was initially canceled. Here are five of the most memorable videos of the program's first run.
5. Voivod - "Astronomy Domine"
In 1989, other than Soundgarden being marketed as metal, this disturbing little gem of a video was released by Canadian progressive metal band Voivod from its Nothingface album. Besides being one of the greatest Pink Floyd covers of all time, this video made heavy metal seem edgy, arty and genuinely scary for a change, without sacrificing what makes the music compelling in the first place. In the era of glam metal dominating Headbanger's Ball, Voivod stood out in vivid contrast for being more lyrically interesting and sonically inventive than most of its peers.
4. Danzig - "Mother"
When this came out in 1988, Glenn Danzig effectively ended any connection he had with Misfits and Samhain for maintaining a viable musical career. Even people who don't like Danzig or heavy metal can probably sing sections of this song and do their best Elvis from Hell impression that is Danzig's signature sound. "Mother" became a hit for old Glenn not just in 1988, but again in 1993 with the Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP, which included a live version of "Mother" and a live video to go along with it and made the rounds on Headbanger's Ball to reintroduce Danzig to a younger audience.
3. Soundgarden - "Black Hole Sun"
Soundgarden was in a weird position in the world of music in the late '80s and early '90s: Its songs didn't seem out of place on show like Headbanger's Ball, but they fit equally well on shows like 120 Minutes -- maybe better, because, well, let's face it, Soundgarden was always a little too weird to really be a metal band. But with the release of 1994's Superunknown, Soundgarden didn't need to break barriers or choose sides (not that it would have bothered), as it had a string of hit singles on its hands -- including this song, with its disturbing and darkly beautiful video.
2. Metallica - "Enter Sandman"
When Metallica put out the video for "One" in 1988, the band was still really only listened to by fans of thrash and the heavier end of metal with its connection to punk. And yet Metallica still managed to have a top-selling record with that year's ...And Justice for All. But the "black album," released a month before Nirvana's Nevermind, received heavy airplay first on Headbanger's Ball and then went into regular MTV rotation. As a result, Metallica crossed over as thoroughly as Nirvana, and Metallica became one of the few popular metal bands to survive the rise in popularity of "alternative" rock intact, largely on the strength of this single as promoted with this video.
1. Guns N' Roses - "Welcome to the Jungle"
Appetite for Destruction had been out a good year or more before it became a massive record in America and beyond. This video and the subject matter of the song spelled out pretty well that GN'R, like it or not, was not cut from the same cloth as many of its Los Angeles brethren on the hard-rock circuit. By looking more gritty and authentic than, say, Poison or Ratt and the like, Guns received heavy airplay on Headbanger's Ball before getting regular rotation on MTV, establishing in the minds of people who normally wouldn't give this kind of music the time of day that this band had something -- and that something has resulted in a sale of more than 28 million copies of the album.
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