31 Years Ago: ‘W.A.S.P.’ Finally Becomes ‘Somebody’
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On Aug. 17, 1984, W.A.S.P. put a new face on shock rock via their loud, brash, and simply impossible-to-ignore eponymous debut. In fact, both the band and its new album were already drenched in controversy before W.A.S.P. even hit the streets.
The project’s original opening track, their provocative “Animal (F— Like a Beast),” was removed at the last second by Capitol Records after pressure from the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC’s censorship campaign was just then gathering steam with a list of “Filthy 15,” which conspicuously included W.A.S.P.’s wicked ditty. The song was subsequently issued as a single by independent labels and, for years, enjoyed a very healthy mail-order business.
One could argue, however, that this 11th-hour concession actually worked in W.A.S.P.’s favor, when their debut album’s new introduction became the heavier, faster “I Wanna Be Somebody.” It set the tone for what followed, as Blackie Lawless explored the pent-up desire and frustration he’d accumulated over years of trying to break through in the business.
Once known as Steven Edward Duren, he actually got his first taste of rock and roll celebrity all the way back in 1975 as a touring guitarist with the New York Dolls — just months before the glam-rock forefathers collapsed in ruin. He then moved west with erstwhile Dolls bandmate Arthur Kane to found the short-lived Killer Kane, trying his luck in Los Angeles’ bustling, but still largely underground, hard-rock scene.
Years later, after paying his dues with increasingly outrageous bands like Sister (which first paired him with future W.A.S.P. band mate Randy Piper as well as eventual Motley Crue co-founder Nikki Sixx) then the amusingly conceptual Circus Circus (which you simply have to see to believe) and then London (initially again with Sixx), Lawless would finally launch W.A.S.P. in 1982.
Over the next two years, the group (now consisting of Lawless, Piper, second guitarist Chris Holmes and drummer Tony Richards) developed its club act into an arena-sized shock-rock extravaganza complete with flames, explosions and a stage show in which they drank blood from a human skull, “tortured” scantily clad women on a rack and flung raw meat into the audience.
As outsized as that scene sounds, it actually tied back seamlessly with the songs on W.A.S.P.’s debut, which ranged from basic anti-authority misdemeanors such as juvenile delinquency (“B.A.D.”), truancy (“School Daze”) and pyromania (“The Flame”) to more serious offenses — including violence (“Tormentor,” “The Torture Never Stops”), occult ritual (“Hellion”), and varying shades of S&M (“L.O.V.E. Machine,” “Sleeping (In the Fire)” and “On Your Knees”).
Add to this the all-important promotional muscle of a major label, a few over-the-top music videos tailor-made for MTV, and the escalating popularity of heavy metal across America in general, and W.A.S.P. possessed all the tools necessary to follow in the pioneering footsteps of Alice Cooper — delivering maximum audio/visual entertainment at very high decibels.
Finally, as perhaps their most recognizable song once said, they were somebody.