Few things in the annals of heavy metal inspire as much awe and reverence as the initial run of MTV’s Headbangers Ball. From its official inception in 1987 through its unceremonious cancellation in early 1995, “The Ball” was a celebration of everything great about the scene.
Although the focus of the program was squarely on pop-oriented hair metal in its early days, Headbangers Ball developed with the culture and became an essential springboard for the young and extreme bands of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. From midnight until 2am on Saturday nights, videos from future superstars like White Zombie, Tool, Pantera, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots were part of the regular Ball rotation years before they broke into the mainstream.
The bedside manner of host Riki Rachtman provided viewers with a sense of comfort and community. Those of us lucky enough to grow up with Headbangers Ball remember watching the show and feeling like we were part of a family. For people who were either too young to go to shows or lived far away from major cities with vibrant live scenes, tuning in provided a way to be an active participant in the world they loved so much. Much of that is due to Rachtman’s warm, welcoming attitude. I am speaking from experience here. As an awkward 11 year old kid with no friends and no social graces, watching Headbangers Ball was the only time I didn’t feel entirely alone. Hanging out with Riki granted me a few hours of reprieve from unbearable loneliness every week (when there wasn’t a Bevis and Butthead Moron-a-Thon playing instead, that is). I don’t know the guy but he had a profound impact on my life. I’ll thank him forever.
Headbangers Ball wasn’t just a repository for emerging pop-culture talent, as the program fiercely championed the darker corners of the underground. Through the guiding hand of cohort Dominick “The Man on the Street” DeLuca, we were presented with some of the heaviest hardcore, death metal, and grind of the day. Though short lived, the “Into The Pit” segment showcased videos from some of the most brutal bands in the world.
Now, some benevolent mega-genius has gone ahead and assembled a YouTube playlist of every single video ever played on that first initial Headbangers Ball run! While it can never replace the experience of being there (and I’ll never get rid of the dozens of VHS tapes with episodes on them that are collecting dust at my mom’s house), it provides an amazing resource for those of us who occasionally like to travel back in time and recall some of the best times of our lives.
And remember to always keep one foot in the gutter, one fist in the gold.
Watch Every Video From Headbangers Ball