Band of the Week: W.A.S.P.

Resident sound-nerd thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don’t have to. Here are his weekly recommendations…

#16: W.A.S.P.

Who: Blackie Lawless, Chris Holmes, Randy Piper, Tony Richards.

When: 1980’s-Present.

Where: USA.

Why: At some point in the mid-80’s heavy metal lunacy reached its apex. While Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses and Poison are the generally accepted archetypes of glam metal debauchery, I’d argue that W.A.S.P. gave them all a run for their money in terms of ridiculous stagecraft, preposterous looks and hair-ripping riffs. Formed by the inimitable Blackie Lawless in the gutters of L.A. in 1982, along with such esteemed peers as Ratt, Quiet Riot and L.A. Guns, the band quickly got the knack for controversy. Their name, for example, supposedly stands for ‘We Are Sexual Perverts’, as those words were carved into the runoff vinyl of their debut album. However, other potential expansions on the acronym include ‘We Are Satan’s People’ as well as a self-effacing ‘White Anglo Saxon Protestants’. When probed for the true answer, Lawless summed up the confusion wittily by responding ‘We aint sure, pal’.

Their early assaults on the stage were less ambiguous. Looking like cannibal warriors from the post apocalyptic wasteland, covered in spandex, circular saws and animal bones, they certainly turned heads. Lawless would routinely wield chainsaws, toss raw meat about and tie semi-nude models to torture racks during their heyday, taking Alice Cooper theatricality to new levels of stupid. But it was the tunes that really landed the band in hot water. They reached the height of their infamy when Tipper Gore, wife of future presidential candidate/environ-mentalist Al Gore and head of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre) heard their anthem ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)‘ echoing from the radio and swore vengeance on the band. Along with a other offenders as diverse as Prince and Mercyful Fate, they courted bomb scares at gigs and death threats from right-thinking right-wing mums. But that only spurred them on; sophomore effort The Last Command was their finest LP, with a deft mix of hard rock & roll and scything metal soaring on Blackie’s wolf-man howl. The song-writing was as poppy as any rock on MTV but was toughened up by supercharged, relentless guitar; Lawless’s hyperbolic, wild-eyed lyricism ensuring that the band secured a place in the cartoon metal pantheon alongside their heroes KISS.

But this sort of fast-living insanity was never going to last. The 1988 film ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years‘ captured the highs and deep, deep lows of the L.A. glam metal era. One of its questionable highlights is the sight of Chris Holmes lounging on a lilo in a swimming pool in full stage garb, watched by his mother as he drinks himself blind on vodka. The image was a harbinger of the times; Holmes soon left to become the house-husband of renowned ballcrusher Lita Ford of The Runaways. Lawless’s boogieman notoriety almost ended him up playing T-1000 in the blockbuster ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘ (Arnie forbade him the part as he was ‘too tall’), and he continues to make music as W.A.S.P. with various line-ups (sadly almost always with appalling results) to this day. That said, seeing them live two years ago at Hellfest, ‘Wild Child’ still sounds as scintillating and fist-pumpingly anthemic as ever.

Influences: KISS, New York Dolls, Judas Priest, Van Halen, Ted Nugent.

Influenced: Marilyn Manson, Steel Panther, Buckcherry, Children of Bodom, Vains of Jenna.

Sample Lyric: ‘A pelvic thrust and the sweat starts to sting ya / I fuck like a beast’.

Which Record: The Last Command (Capitol, 1985)

2 comments

  1. Sadly almost always with appalling results? JUST WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!!!!! I saw wasp last year in St.Petersburg Fl. and they RIPPED that place apart!! Granted, Blackie has a different Line-up,and you saw Chris in the pool, how long did you think that was gonna last? I am glad to see him doing good with his new band,”Where Angels Suffer”. Because he will always be one of my favorite Guitar Gods!! But you just dogged on Blackie for no apparent reason whatsoever! When was the last time YOU got onstage and rocked the house? WASP will always rock as long as there is a sawblade in my heart and someway to crank up the volume,because Rock and Roll will never die,and Blackie will be giving the faint of heart bloody nightmares,for YEARS to come!!!

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  2. WASP was definitely a band that made the 80s a golden age in heavy metal. I dutifully bought the Last Command album because it was the first album to have a PMRC label. Also saw them live twice. They have some great singles like the contraversial one you name as well as Wild Child and Blind in Texas.
    In my recently published book, Rock and Roll Children, I try to give them their full due and report on how surprisingly good they were at the 1987 Monsters of Rock Festival in England.

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