In the annals of rock ’n’ roll history, W.A.S.P. has never really been given its due respect. It’s not that the band members wrote important or interesting songs, but they were undoubtedly trailblazers in the field of profanity, sex and shock value. While hundreds of artists have since made millions of dollars on similar subject matter, the Los Angeles metal band is never credited for making it acceptable. Despite predecessors like Alice Cooper, who may have had the aesthetic down, when it came to actual shocking lyrical content, W.A.S.P. was the first of its genre to be worthy of soap in its mouth.
Formed in 1982 by Blackie Lawless, the band came from the same Los Angeles metal scene that spawned more commercially successful bands like Quiet Riot and Motley Crue. Signed to Capitol Records in the midst of the Sunset Strip metal boom, W.A.S.P., a name that over the years, has been rumored to stand for everything from We Are Sexual Perverts to We Are Satan’s Preachers, instantly went raunchier than its contemporaries.
The band’s debut single, “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast),” was omitted from the U.S. release for fear that stores wouldn’t stock it. It was set free in the United Kingdom, however, complete with a cover that featured a bloody saw blade codpiece. (Go ahead, Google it; I dare you.) The song instantly became popular in the metal world, and W.A.S.P. made good fodder for interviews and photo shoots.
Predictably, the band also caught the attention of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). For those too young to remember, there was a time when records didn’t come with warning stickers, and we have Al Gore’s wife, Tipper, to thank for that. The PMRC went all the way to Capitol Hill in its quest to save the nation’s youth from corruption, releasing the “filthy 15,” a list of the supposedly most depraved songs in rock. As one can easily imagine, the aforementioned W.A.S.P. anthem made the top 10, a badge of honor in the metal world. W.A.S.P. concerts were complete with mannequin murders, half-naked women laid out on torture racks, and lead singer Lawless’ penchant for throwing raw meat into the crowd. In a fitting and often forgotten move, Lawless even managed to win a case against the PMRC for copyright infringement.
Time moved on though, and by the ’90s, rap music in particular went off the deep end in the sex and violence department. Sadly, due to no fault but their own, many rappers actually did end up dying from sexually transmitted diseases and murder. Culture shifted, and congressmen spent more time being busted for lewd acts than admonishing artists for singing about them. Parents became more worried about Marylin Manson turning their kids into potential school shooters than Blackie Lawless turning their kids into sex-crazed metal-heads. Nine Inch Nails aped W.A.S.P. in the subject matter department, and its song, “Closer (I Wanna Fuck You Like an Animal),” was a bona fide radio and MTV hit. Meanwhile, as things got fouler in the music world, W.A.S.P. became less and less relevant in terms of shock value.
So whatever happened to W.A.S.P.? While its contemporaries like the satanic-focused Slayer and the groupie-fixated Motley Crue became legends, W.A.S.P. faded from metal’s limelight but nonetheless forged on. With Lawless being the only original member left, the band still records and performs to a much smaller but loyal fan base. In a strange twist, since the good old days of decadence, Lawless has found God, and refuses to sing some of the band’s more offensive material.
So in an era when Eminem is allowed to drop F-bombs during a prime-time Grammy performance, or when kiddie-pop icon Justin Timberlake can whip out Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show, it’s a shame that no host or announcer has ever jumped to his or her feet and demanded that the nation thank W.A.S.P. for allowing free speech in music to go “all the way.”
W.A.S.P. will perform on Friday, Feb. 26, at the Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. For ticket information, visit www.canyonclub.net.