W.A.S.P. is an American heavy metal band formed in 1982 by Blackie Lawless, who is the only remaining original member of the band. They emerged from the same Los Angeles scene that spawned Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, Dokken, Ratt, Quiet Riot, Guns N’ Roses, Great White, L.A. Guns, Leatherwolf and others. The band’s popularity peaked in the 1980s, yet they continue to record and tour, making them one of the most enduring of the West Coast heavy metal bands. W.A.S.P. gained notoriety for their shock rock themed image, lyrics and live performances. They have sold over 12 million copies of their albums.
The band was a prominent target in the mid-1980s of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), an organisation that pushed for warning labels on recorded music. The band immortalised its fight with the PMRC on the song “Harder, Faster” from their 1987 live album, Live…In the Raw. “I Wanna Be Somebody” was the most successful single from W.A.S.P.’s debut album and it was ranked at No. 84 in VH1’s 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs of All Time. Their most recent album, Golgotha, was released in 2015.
There has been much speculation over the origin of the band’s name, and whether it actually stands for anything, since it is written as an acronym. One possible interpretation is “White Anglo-Saxon Protestants”, being the original meaning of the acronym. The song “Show No Mercy”, the B-side of the band’s first single “Animal”, contains the repeated lyric, “White Anglo-Saxon / A violent reaction”.
The original U.S. release of the band’s debut album W.A.S.P. had the words “We Are Sexual Perverts” inscribed on both sides around the label in the centre, while “Winged Assassins” is inscribed on the spine of the first vinyl pressing. When asked about the band’s name Lawless has avoided giving a straight answer: in one interview he answered, “We Ain’t Sure, Pal.” In another, broadcast on the radio program Metal Shop, Lawless said that if you didn’t know what it meant (implying White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), “It’s a bug”.
In a February 2010 interview, Lawless stated the main reason for the name was the periods. He claimed no band had ever used them before (in fact R.E.M. formed two years earlier) and, in essence, the periods created a “question mark of uncertainty” to make W.A.S.P. stand out more. He then went on to say, “Look where we are: it did!”
W.A.S.P. began following the demise of Circus Circus, an L.A. band featuring Blackie Lawless and Randy Piper. The original lineup of W.A.S.P. was formed in Los Angeles, California in 1982 by Lawless, Piper, Rik Fox, and Tony Richards. The band became notorious for its raunchy and, at times, shocking live shows. Lawless was known to tie semi-naked models to a torture rack, and to also hurl raw meat into the audience. The band’s debut single, entitled “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, and its cover were equally controversial.
The first lineup didn’t last for long, as Rik Fox was let go and went on to join the band Steeler with vocalist Ron Keel and guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. He was replaced by Don Costa. Shortly afterward, Don Costa also left the band and his position on the bass was filled by Lawless. At the same time, guitarist Chris Holmes joined the band.
W.A.S.P. signed to Capitol Records for their debut album, W.A.S.P., released on August 17, 1984. The debut was at one time planned for release with the title Winged Assassins. The band’s first single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” was omitted from the album in the United States to prevent it from being banned from major chain stores.
“L.O.V.E. Machine” and “I Wanna Be Somebody” helped the album sell, and set the band up for “Blind In Texas”, a song written in St. Paul, Minnesota, by Blackie Lawless. The song was released on their next album The Last Command in September 1985. The Last Command is still W.A.S.P.’s highest charting album, peaking at No. 47 on the Billboard album chart. “Blind In Texas” is perhaps their best known song, more than 20 years later. The Last Command was also the first album with new drummer Steve Riley. The former Keel drummer replaced Tony Richards at the beginning of the 1984-85 tour.
After The Last Command tour, guitarist Randy Piper departed the band. Former King Kobra bassist Johnny Rod joined W.A.S.P. as Lawless went back to playing rhythm guitar.
On September 21, 2012, the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of their first ever live show by kicking off a world tour at The Forum in London. The set for the tour was split into three sections: songs from the first four albums, a cut-down rendition of the Crimson Idol performance and a final segment for newer material.
W.A.S.P.’s fifteenth studio album, Golgotha, was released on October 2, 2015. The album took four years to materialise.
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