Circus Magazine February 28, 1987
I would just like to say that whoever owned this before apparently sprayed the middle of it with cheap cologne, but the inside of this magazine stiiiiiiinks.
You would be forgiven for thinking that Circus is a publication created as a read along to Barnum’s Animal Crackers back when the package looked like those trailer cages from an old timey big tent. No, it’s not that, but those cookies are delicious. Anyway, the magazine began as Hullabaloo in 1966, but changed the name to Circus in 1969. Contributors to the magazine include Kurt Loder, Patti Smith, and Lenny Kaye. It was a main competitor or Rolling Stone and outsold Creem. Originally focusing on hard rock, they shifted to Hair Metal in the mid-80’s. This was great for sales, until Grunge showed up.
While the magazine ceased publication in 2006, holy shit is there a lot of drama still ongoing. I’m not going to link it here, but if you just search Circus Magazine, you will find it. It’s an incomprehensible site, this guy bought the brand it seems, and it has a paid subscription section with animated GIFs? But if you scroll far enough, you get to see some Celtic crosses and knot-work, one page has two John Carpenter soundtrack YouTube videos for absolutely no reason at all, and then you get conspiracy theories such as anti-fluoride, anti-vaccine, human meat in fast food, and some reptilian space overlord shit. People, it is a fucking ride.
We’ll go a little deeper, but as an overview, this magazine is 90 pages… 59 pages after ads, and that’s only taking out full page ads. That doesn’t even take into account the half page ads. So many ads! Who do you think gets the most ink? Bon Jovi is all over this thing, he’s on or mentioned on 12 different pages. The surprising thing, David Lee Roth is also on 12 different pages, where Van Halen is only on 7. The magazine mostly talks about how Van Halen is merely ok now, but he can still play guitar (and synths! They mention synths On purpose) like no one else. The timeline goes like this: 1.) Roth decides to record a solo EP with “Just a Gigolo” and “California Girls”, and it comes out in January 1985. 2.) August 1985, Roth says, “Hey, I don’t need these boneheads, I can go solo!” 3.) Eat ‘Em and Smile comes out July 1986, but instead of leaning on cheeky covers of songs from the 1920’s like Crazy From the Heat, he’s leaned back into Hard Rock, and it’s seen as a return to form. Whereas Van Halen released their yacht rock opus 5150 in March of that year.
Motley Crue really wins with 13 pages of coverage (although it’s mostly full page pin up photos). Meanwhile, Cinderella is on 11 pages, and Kiss is on 8 pages. Shockingly, Metallica is on 9 pages. There is some coverage about Jason Newsted stepping in, and they actually have a four page spread with them. At this time, they are touring on Master of Puppets and opening for Ozzy, which in early 1987 still carries some weight. Meanwhile, Anthrax gets a brief mention in the section for guitar gear where they talk about Dan Spitz’s set up. No mention of Megadeth or Slayer.
The thing about this magazine, it is very right now, which is funny considering the lead in times for magazines back then. One group that is absent is Guns N’ Roses. A year from now, they will be inescapable, but their first EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide came out very close to the release of this if we assume that the cover date is about 2 months after the street date. Their EP comes out on December 16, 1986, but there’s zero evidence they even exist in this magazine. Further, the magazine never looks back (except for the previous year), no mention of Ozzy’s history, no details on how Bon Jovi and Crue got where they were at the end of 1986.
The reader’s letters are here, there are only 6 and they aren’t that interesting. But here we have Sly from Kansas asking why other magazines are more up to date on information. The editor says, “Hey, you know, Lars talked to us 3 weeks after Cliff’s death, what more do you want?”
Capitalism on Display
The ads, oh my god, the ads. So many to look at and explore. But first, we have not one, but two ads featuring INXS. I really liked INXS! I wasn’t serious about music back then, I had just turned 11, so it’s a couple years before I even start buying these magazines. What’s weird, Kick won’t even come out until later this year, so the instrument manufacturers are trading on Listen Like Thieves, which is fine… but it’s a weird flex for a “metal” magazine.
This is interesting. Beastie Boys were not a household name yet, and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” was just released in December of 1986, so theoretically they aren’t even reaching the suburban meatheads yet. But, at least Kerry King played on this album… not seeing any ads for Reign In Blood which had just come out in November.
So, music fans, do you want to bulk up your collection on the cheap? Tired of third generation cassette dubs of Bark at the Moon with more tape hiss than music? Are your parents at their wit’s end after bailing your time and time again for shoplifting W.A.S.P. and Accept tapes from Bradlees? We have the solution for you! You can sign up for Columbia House or… RCA Record Club? We all know our Lord of Darkness Columbia House, but I had never heard of RCA having their own club. I remember seeing some inserts in some old records, but I thought they were just direct mail order and less a subscription. Everyone knows BMG Music Service, who swallowed up RCA, and in a twist, also swallowed up Columbia House in 2005. Growing up, everyone had Columbia House. I guess all those teens bankrupted them so badly that they had no choice. So, here, I’m giving you a penny, which albums will you choose?
There are a lot, A LOT, of ads for instruments… as well as several pages of reviews for equipment. Mostly, the funny things are all about the fashion, but this one is so idiotic. Look at this trust fund jerk. This apartment is spotless… where are the rats? Where are the junkies and other assorted hangers on? I see what is presumably his girlfriend back there, bored to tears while he jerks off on guitar, forming a chord, screwing it up, then going, “wait, wait” and repeating the whole process over again. Look at your finely washed and pressed denim jacket and jeans, my dude… buy your girlfriend a Gameboy or something. You can clearly afford it.
Remember when home taping was going to kill the music industry? Yeah, me too. That’s why we still buy albums on cassettes. What? Ugh, really? Guess I better dig out my yellow Sony Sports Walkman. Anyway, there are three blank cassette ads in here. One just shows a dork air guitaring, one shows a whole bunch of (now) vintage cassette decks, but my favorite is this one. I mean, I get it, but it’s just so stupid.
Ready For Your Close Up?
The full color photos were a big deal, but no one said they were good photos. Here are some very unflattering photos of our rock n’ roll heroes from 1986. There are a couple of black and white ones as well, for good measure.
17th Annual Readers’ Poll
Is it that time of year again already? Who knows, I didn’t read about any of the other years, so who cares. Let’s talk about 1986. It’s really mostly just the same six artists over and over again, but what the hell.
Best Artist or Group:
Motley Crue won this one. It’s easy to forget that they just dominated everything before Guns N Roses showed up. No wonder Vince Neil hates Axl Rose so much. Runners up: 2.) Bon Jovi 3.) Metallica 4.) Van Halen 5.) Kiss.
Best New Artist or Group:
Cinderella wins here. I never cared for them, I didn’t think they were bad, they just weren’t popular in my circle. Maybe they’re good? HAHAHAHA Just kidding. Here is a choice pull from the article: Bassist Eric Brittingham, co-founder of Cinderella and the band’s sole blond, enthuses, “It’s a great feeling – I wasn’t expecting it, that’s for sure.” (Emphasis mine)
Also, look at how HUGE this other guy’s hair is:
I make fun, but they seem actually nice and thankful and thoughtful, they talk about how they wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for their fans and they talk about getting signed and being afraid of playing to empty rooms when they go on their first nationwide tour. It’s refreshing from the bands talking about having sex in a dumpster and using their girlfriends for groceries. The runners up were: 2.) David Lee Roth 3.) Metallica 4.) Poison and Bon Jovi (tie) 5.) Stryper and Vinnie Vincent Invasion (tie). I don’t think the magazine knows how ties work, which is fine because the readers don’t know what “new” means if 3 bands on their third album and a singer who made his major label debut in 1978 count as “new”.
Best Male Vocalist:
Vince Neil wins here, which means we all lose. I mean, seriously the only singer of this era worse than Vince Neil is Gene Simmons, but at least he knows his limitations and stays within his defined parameters. I’ve been known to rock a little Shout at the Devil, but so often Neil’s reach exceeds his grasp and he sounds like a bleating calf.
Best Female Vocalist:
Lita Ford. The magazine even mentions that despite not having an album or tour, she’s still voted best. This is an excellent example of how male dominated hair metal was. Ford’s most recent album was 1984, and her biggest album is still 2 years away. Rounding out the top five: 2.) Ann Wilson 3.) Pat Benatar 4.) Nancy Wilson 5.) … Madonna? I mean, the magazine is ostensibly a pop magazine, but really? I want to know, where they hell is Joan Jett? She had an album out in 1986, where Heart and Pat Benatar’s most recent albums were 1985. Anyway, the little article about her states that she’s had problems with the label, and that’s why she’s been out of the public eye for a while, and this is her third win for this category in a row. It strikes me that even as hard as it is to be a woman in the music industry now, it must’ve been exceptionally hard in this era, and in the sausage fest of this genre. They called it Cock Rock for a reason, I suppose. Even being in The Runaways didn’t protect her from this sort of nonsense.
Comeback of the Year / Disappointment of the Year
David Lee Roth has Comeback tied up, with runners up: 2.) Van Halen 3.) Ozzy Osbourne 4.) Boston 5.) Bon Jovi. Meanwhile, Van Halen wins Disappointment, with runners up 2.) Motley Crue 3.) David Lee Roth 4.) Twister Sister 5.) Def Leppard. So, to summarize:
David Lee Roth has the best comeback of the year, and was also the third biggest disappointment.
Van Halen was the biggest disappointment of the year, and also the second best comeback of the year.
Motley Crue was the second biggest disappointment despite being a.) the best group, b.) the best in concert group, and having c.) the best male singer, d.) the best drummer, e.) the best bassist, and f.) the second best guitarist (Sorry, Mick Mars). Also, Def Leppard was a huge disappointment despite their most recent album being released in 1983. Kids are dumb.
They should call is CLASSLESS-fieds! Har har har. Anyway, this is a treasure trove of madness.
Maybe you would like a photo ID card… but only for entertainment purposes, of course. Strictly for nothing else!
Are you a Kiss fan? A Def Leppard fan? Perhaps you’re lonely and you need a mail order bride or a prison husband?
Now we know where all these dudes get their clothing. My user name may be Testicles of Doom, but I would not buy something called “Rock Huggers”.
Maybe, just maybe, you are interested in the occult after a Dio listening binge?
Or, maybe you just had a milestone birthday.
…and Now Onto the CD!
Of course, there is no CD, so we’re going to look at their column, Longplayers, where they tell us “the ten most important hard rock releases of 1986”.
#10 – Van Halen, 5150
Hey, remember how these guys we’re the biggest disappointment of 1986? Well, that may be true, but they are still better than 1,000 other albums released in 1986… just not better than 9 other albums released that year. I have this one on vinyl, but I’ve never listened to it. I bought it in a thrift store in 1994 (I remember because I finally had my own car and I spent way too much time trolling thift stores as everyone dumped their vinyl there, and they cost 3/$1.00). The magazine notes that Van Halen made the shift from “big rock” to “a more Journey-esque brand of pop metal”, and that’s kind of apt.
#9 – David Lee Roth, Eat ‘Em and Smile
The magazine notes that “Roth took no chances on this one”, and I agree with that. He enlisted Steve Vai (guitar, Frank Zappa) and Billy Sheehan (bass, 100 bands before Roth, and 100 bands after). I never owned this, but over the pandemic I swear I heard “Yankee Rose” 40,000 times on SiriusXM. Every time I got in the car. I decided to listen to this on the way to the grocery store. It’s ok, but I’m having a hard time thinking this is better than either Roth or Hagan fronted Van Halen (Let’s just forget Gary Cherone). It’s not terrible, but it just kind of sounds sterile. Alex and Eddie and Michael have good chemistry, and Roth and his band are definitely going to early VH knock-off tracks, but they’re just knock-offs. Strangely, the album is most fun when it reaches back into bluesy songs from the early 60’s, desperately trying to recreate the success of Crazy From the Heat.
Oh! This is weird, Roth also cut the entire album in Spanish after finding out that over half of the Mexican population was in the prime record buying age. This version, Sonrisa Salvaje, was out of print almost immediately after being poorly received. Whether it was a cash grab or not, it’s pretty ambitious.
#8 – Ratt, Dancin’ Undercover
Circus notes that this will not sell as well as Invasion of Your Privacy, home of “Round and Round”, but gives them credit for taking a “grittier, heavier rock approach”. This writing is weird because “Round and Round” came from their first album (which went triple platinum), and Invasion is their second (double platinum), so the writer is kind of grasping with this analogy. This album did go single platinum (as did the next one). I was actually afraid of what listening to this would do to my Spotify algorithm. This isn’t terrible, you could do a whole lot worse (Poison), but it is really just standard hair metal of the era.
#7 – Poison, Look What the Cat Dragged In
I’m piecing this together from some fragments of memories. I had this on cassette, I bought it in a drug store. Back then, everywhere had cassettes for sale. The compact nature made them more available than vinyl at the time. I had a cool aunt who would take myself and my cousins for a weekend, and we’d rent horror movies and eat junk food, and watch MTV in between. I think I must’ve seen the video for “Nuthin’ But a Good Time” (from 1988’s Open Up and Say… Ahh!*), because that is seared in my brain. I know I bought the tape from a bargain bin, possibly as a “Nice Price”, and I probably liked the video but couldn’t remember the title after only seeing it once.
So, I bought the tape, with the four Boy Georges on the cover. I may have listened to it twice, it bored me to tears. I was never into Poison much, I probably did borrow other kids’ tapes and dubbed the singles, though.
*The original cover art for Open Up and Say… Ahh! is so disappointing, in the way that you expect the music to be so much better than it is.
#6 – Ozzy Osbourne, The Ultimate Sin
Ozzy Osbourne, the Prince of Darkness, was a mess. He was newly freed from The Betty Ford Clinic in 1985, guitarist Jake E. Lee (briefly in Dio’s solo band, and an early version of Ratt) showed up with a ton of music and said, “Yo, Goober, here are some songs, but you can’t have them unless I get a contract saying you won’t screw me out of songwriting credits.”
While Osbourne was locked away, Lee played with bass player Bob Daisley (Rainbow, Mungo Jerry, Uriah Heep) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (future Megadeth, Alice Cooper, White Lion, David Lee Roth, Ministry, Dokken, Ratt… dude will be busy in a few years) writing material. Once it came time to record, DeGrasso was out, as was Daisley. Randy Castillo was brought in on drums (Lita Ford, future Motley Crue), and unknown bassist Phil Soussan (future Billy Idol, and… Vince Neil) to record the album.
After the tour, Lee was fired by phone by taskmaster Sharon Osbourne, and Soussan quit. Later, Soussan sued over royalties for “Shot In the Dark”, and Lee and Daisley sued over royalties for the rest of the album. As a result, the album was reissued once in 1995, but has been left out of all other reissue campaigns since.
Frankly, while the album cover is great, the album is mostly dull.
#5 – Metallica, Master of Puppets
What am I going to tell you about this that you haven’t already heard? Almost universally regarded as the best thrash metal album of all time (contrarians will say Ride the Lightning), this record has been thinkpieced to death. Let’s see what Circus says of it in the moment, “What is important about Master is not so much the fact that it was the first speed metal album to crack the Top 30 and go gold, but that it accomplished these feats without a video or any substantial airplay. Now imagine where they’d be if they had a hit single”.
Well, we know the answer to that: it’s an album that goes 16 times platinum, and kicks off 6 albums that debut at #1.
#4 – Judas Priest, Turbo
This Judas Priest’s tenth album, which is pretty amazing. I’m not familiar with it, Priest has been on my periphery forever, but it looks like it was pretty poorly regarded when it came out, and it was the end of a string of platinum selling albums for them. Even Rob Halford thinks his lyrics for this album are subpar, but most complaints come from the more synth driven pop sounds. The album was a time of turmoil when Halford was mired in substance abuse and his lover committed suicide in front of him. Halford went to rehab during the middle of the recording sessions.
After having listened to it, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily terrible, but it’s certainly not Screaming For Vengeance. Anyway, Circus thought it was good enough… or important enough.
#3 – Iron Maiden, Somewhere In Time
How good must this album be if it was only out for less than 3 months to make this list of the best of the year? Sorry, “most important” of the year. Maiden was definitely too scary for me back then… and was too scary for me up until about 6 months ago. But seriously, all the scary kids in school loved the mascot Eddie, so as a kid it was creepy to me, but by the time it was no longer creepy, it became cheesy because this style was definitely “out”.
Anyway, singer Bruce Dickinson turned up with a bunch of acoustic songs feeling that the band needed to make their Led Zeppelin IV, but the band messed up his hair, shoved him a locker, and then flushed his songs down the toilet. It’s surprising it took him until 1993 to quit, isn’t it? Anyway, there are a lot of parallels between this album and Priest’s Turbo above. Both albums are the end of a run of platinum albums for each band, and both make extensive use of guitar synthesizers. Is two things a lot? But really, the difference is that Somewhere In Time doesn’t sound over synthed. This is a classic Maiden album, long songs, guitar noodling, epic song topics, you know the drill.
#2 – Cinderella, Night Songs
Singer / guitarist / keyboardist Tom Keifer formed Cinderella in 1983 with bassist Eric Brittingham, guitarist Michael Schermick, and drummer Tony Destra. They were immediately cool enough to star in this chili dog commercial:
By 1985, Schermick and Destra left Cinderella to join Britny Fox. I bet this caused a few embarrassing interactions at the spandex pants store. I hear you saying, “We already know they get them through mail order,” and that’s true, but they have to have a store for emergencies like when they have a total crotch blowout. Be real.
Anyway, Cinderella put together an album with a session guitarist and drummer, then replaced those vacancies for real and went on tour. See, even Cinderella thinks people don’t want to work. Anyway, Night Songs went triple platinum. Their next album also went triple platinum, but their third album only went single platinum. But it was 1990 and the end was nigh. Cinderella ended in 2014, and Britny Fox has multiple break ups and reunions, but they are still going right now with one original member (neither of the dudes from Cinderella).
#1 – Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet
When VH1 was doing all those I Love the ____ shows, they were branching out into other countdowns, such as one hit wonders and something like “Most Metal Moments”. I really hate using “Metal” in that way, but it’s way bigger than I am now. When I think about Bon Jovi, I think about Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider saying about Jon Bon Jovi, “I hated that, there’s no smiling in metal.”
Songwriter Desmond Child was enlisted to co-write some songs for this album. This is the huge jumping point for Child, prior to this he co-wrote with Kiss, Billy Squier, Cher, and Bonnie Tyler. But after, he wrote with all of those again, plus Aerosmith, Ronnie Spector, John Waite, Jimmy Barnes, Joan Jett, Michael Bolton, Roxette, Alice Cooper, Ratt, and so many more. This dude is still co-writing songs with top artists and sleeping nude on a bed of sterilized hundred dollar bills every night. Then he sets the bed on fire, and has a new one set up for the next night.
Jon Bon Jovi is a land of contrasts. Since 2005, he has done lots of charity work, and has his JBJ Soul Kitchen that routinely gives out free meals where he sometimes actually works. But he and Richie Sambora also cajoled Skid Row into signing a contract that gave Bon Jovi and Sambora the band’s publishing. When Skid Row went public, Sambora gave back the publishing, but Jon Bon Jovi did not.
Also, an outtake from this album, “Edge of a Broken Heart” (not to be confused with the Vixen song of the same name), didn’t make the album. It did land on the soundtrack to the Fat Boys film Disorderlies. For some reason, I find that hilarious. But don’t worry, the song sucks out loud, so listen to this instead.