In the first half of the 1980s, glam metal conquered mainstream hard rock, and then largely took over the rest of the world for the remainder of the decade.
For many existing acts, an “adapt-or-perish” impulse arose to mousse their coifs, add pop hooks to their riffs, and otherwise glam it up as the genre’s hair-hopping Sunset Strip aesthetics dominated radio, MTV, concert showcases, and 7-Eleven parking lots.
Similar to how numerous classic rockers went disco, new wave, or both at the end of the ’70s,, the cultural zeitgeist and commercial pressure of money-printing spandex glam jamming plunged DNA-deep even into hard rock and heavy metal’s most remote and unlikely extremes.
Come the ’90s, many of the hair bands, in turn, would attempt to play catch up with grunge to various degrees of embarrassment. In the ’80s heyday of Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Ratt, though, an array of old-school arena rockers, hardcore brawlers, and even radically anti-capitalist crust punks felt compelled to emulate those platinum pretty-boys.
Here now are ten hard rock and heavy metal artists who went glam for one album (give or take a single or two).
Eat the Heat – Accept (1989)
In coping with the departure of pint-sized powder keg frontman Udo Dirkschneider, Teutonic demolition crew Accept adapted to the style of their new vocalist, Minneapolis metal belter David Reece. That meant slicker songwriting, cleaner production, and aiming their wrecking ball abilities at glam’s then-gushing goldmine. It was a swing and a miss.
Edge of the Century – Styx (1990)
Styx imploded in the wake of the 1983 behemoth Kilroy Was Here. A year later, the group scored an MTV hit with “Music Time,” a swipe at Devo-esque new wave, then shut down for more than half-a-decade.
They returned at the dawn of the ’90s, minus crucial singer and guitarist Tommy Shaw, with Edge of the Century. The first single, a typically glossy power ballad by frontman Dennis DeYoung, gained some traction, in the manner of Bette Midler’s “From a Distance,” as an unofficial theme song of the first Gulf War.
The rest of the album, shaped largely by new member Glen Burtnik, attempts to keep pace with hair metal’s pomp and bombast just as the genre rolled past its peak and barreled toward being kaput. Styx would follow suit.
Holy Water – Bad Company (1990)
Former Ted Nugent vocalist Brian Howe joined long-running English supergroup Bad Company in 1986, replacing founding frontman Paul Rodgers, who split to work with Jimmy Page on the Firm (remember “Radioactive”?).
Fame and Fortune, Howe’s first Bad Company album, is a keyboard-drenched misstep. The band fared better but upping their wall of guitar sound and acting like a newborn commercial metal act on 1988’s Dangerous Age.
Holy Water doubled down on the hair sound two years later, launching an adult contemporary power ballad, “If You Needed Somebody,” and moving more than a million units.
Modern Times – Jefferson Starship (1981)
The evolution of late-’60s psychedelic vanguard definers Jefferson Airplane into the mid-’70s singles-bar-balladeers Jefferson Airplane took a turn for the harder at the end of the decade on the album, Freedom at Point Zero.
Power-piped vocalist took over for departed legend Grace Slick, and the band fired off a killer collection of hard rock songs, much to the horror and dismay of establishment critics who still wanted Paul Kantner and company to be tripped-out hippies.
Jefferson Starship responded by going full-blown proto-hair-metal with a few timely new wave touches on 1981’s Modern Times. Band members dolled themselves up in colorful leathers and wielded giant guitars like weapons.
Highlights of the record include the enduring hit “Find Your Way Back,” and the invigoratingly vitriolic “Stairway to Cleveland,” which hinges on a phrase Kantner spat out in a letter to Rolling Stone following the magazine’s bomb review of Freedom at Point Zero: “F—k you, we do what we want!”
Grave New World – Discharge (1986)
The group’s harsh blasts of noise, severe political imagery, roared vocals, and relentless overall onslaught ignited revolutions in thrash, hardcore, black metal, death metal, grindcore, power electronics, and still evolving offshoots of music’s most brutal frontiers.
Then came Grave New World.
It’s an absolutely schizophrenic abandonment of everything that defined Discharge previously. The record boasts clean production, upward soaring guitars, an absence of the group’s signature “d-beat” drum pummeling, and, most jarring of all, frontman Kevin “Cal” Morris suddenly no longer shouting and chanting calls for insurrection, but instead wailing in a high-pitched falsetto.
All involved have since expressed regret for Grave New World; Morris pins the bizarre move on his rediscovery of Led Zeppelin. Of course, Zep has inspired countless greatness in countless other bands. Discharge, however—no.
Hit and Run – T.S.O.L. (1987)
True Sounds of Liberty—T.S.O.L. for short—erupted out of late-’70s Long Beach, California in the form of an eight-fisted hardcore bruise platoon.
The band evolved between 1981 and ’82, in the course of two EPs (T.S.O.L., Weathered Statues) and one long-player (Dance With Me), the band mutated from anarchic political bomb-chuckers to goth-punk groundbreakers.
The changes kept coming from there, with each subsequent T.S.O.L. release leapt in a different direction than the one before it, leading up to 1987’s Hit and Run, an absolute rejection of punk and immersion in glam metal.
It sort of worked, at least momentarily, as Hit and Run remains the only T.S.O.L. record to reach the Billboard charts (topping out at #184). Still, the group’s original audiences of crew-cutted brawlers and black-clad death mopesters took the album as an affront, and hair-metal audiences just remained baffled.
Regardless, T.S.O.L. dug in their freshly purchased high heel boots and aimed to emulate their rock scene pals in Guns N’ Roses with 1990’s Strange Love. Yeah… that didn’t happen.
Metal Magic – Pantera (1983)
Pantera represents the opposite of all the other acts being considered here. Rather than starting out with straightforward hard rock, incendiary punk, or extreme metal and then going glam, these Texas terror tornadoes did it the other way around.
Pantera actually commenced their existence as hair-piling glitter-spritzers, subsequently battling their way to becoming bulldozer metal gods over the course of their first four albums.
Piloted largely by guitarist Diamond Darrell Abbot, Metal Magic (1983), Projects in the Jungle (1984), and I Am the Night (1985) largely emulate the group’s heroes in Kiss, Van Halen, and Def Leppard.
The arrival of vocalist Phil Anselmo on 1988’s Power Metal pushed the group off in a dynamic new direction that would take full flight on their 1990 breakthrough, Cowboys From Hell.
By then, Diamond Darrell had changed his named to Dimebag Darrell, and all was right in the Pantera world (and everywhere else).
Trash – Alice Cooper (1989)
Alice Cooper notably took on new wave on a trio of successive cult albums, Flush the Fashion (1980), Special Forces (1981), and Zipper Catches Skin (1982). A handful of wrongly calculated duds followed, leading up to newly clean and sober Alice catching on to the fact that he was, above all else, the very father of ’80s glam metal.
For his ’89 comeback Trash, Cooper teamed with hair-metal hit-making songwriter Desmond Child to create “Poison,” one of the best and biggest hits of his entire career.
Trash also contains writing collaborations with Joan Jett, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, as well as vocal guest shots by Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, and Stiv Bators.
In every sense of the term, Trash is a follicle-elevating knockout.
Turbo – Judas Priest (1986)
“I’m your turrrrr-bow LOVE-ahhhhh!” Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford wails on the propulsive lead single from the group’s Turbo LP. “Tell me there’s no OTH-ahhhhh!”
That song and its high-tech video, like the rest of synth-driven Turbo, proved a mite rich for Priest fans. Such a sudden degree of glam came as quite the stunning left hook in the wake of the group’s relentless, all-butch-metal-all-the-butch-time run from British Steel (1980) to Point of Entry (1981) to Screaming for Vengeance (1982) to Defenders of the Faith (1984).
Turbo proved to be Judas Priest’s final platinum-selling album to date. Its impact still stings-ahhhh.
Cold Lake – Celtic Frost (1988)
Switzerland’s premier progressive black metal mystics Celtic Frost astonished extreme rock devotees with their first three classic releases: Morbid Tales (1984), To Mega Therion (1985), and Into the Pandemonium (1988).
Having pushed metal to deeper, darker, and more challenging places that any group had previously conceived, Celtic Frost mastermind Tom G. Warrior came up with one more way to shock the living sh-t out of everyone: the band got a full-glam poodlehead makeover and unleashed the ludicrous pop metal overload Cold Lake onto a public that could not believe what they were seeing and hearing.
Warrior has subsequently said Cold Lake arose from how stark and gloomy Celtic Frost’s initial undertakings had been, and what a painful place he had to go to when creating them. Like Tom G.’s non-peers in Poison, he suddenly didn’t want nothin’ but a good time.
Nonetheless, when Celtic Frost reissued its back catalogue in 1999, Cold Lake notably did not make the cut. “It was the absolute worst I could do in my lifetime,” Warrior said, “an utter piece of s—t, possibly the worst album ever created in heavy music.”