Super-mega-ultra-max-stardom loomed as the goal of all ’80s mousse-rock practitioners. To note just how very important arena-packing success was to the hair-heapers, just contrast the anti-establishment punk rockers of the original 1982 Decline of Western Civilization documentary with the Sunset Strip strutters who had dollar signs floating in front of their mascara six years later in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.
Please note: this is not a knock on glam metal ethics. It’s quite the contrary.
After Metallica was accused of “selling out,” Jason Newsted responded brilliantly: “Yes, we sell out—every seat in the house!” That drive and ambition, then, is what prompted poodle-noodlers to storm the stage and play every dive bar and basement hell-pit as though they were Madison Square Garden or the Hollywood Bowl.
As The Hair Metal 100 soars closer to #1, passion and professionalism mix with glitter and guitar magic to combust into some of the decade’s absolutely most dynamic sounds… and, of course, sights, too.
Here are numbers 40 to 21.
Oakland’s Yesterday and Today—better known as Y&T —had been slugging it out for ten years before they hit in ’85 with Down for the Count and its flawless swelter-season single, “Summertime Girls.” Make a point, then, of going back to investigate there first three LPs, Earthshaker (1981), Black Tiger (1982), and Mean Streak (1983). Along with the criminally underappreciated Starz, Y&T mastered the middle-ground between line between power-pop and powerful metal.
39. Mr. Big
David Lee Roth’s bass player Billy Sheehan leapt out on his own in 1988, and pieced Mr. Big together from the cream of L.A.’s best available hair-happy hard rock musicians (a lot of jobs were taken in those days). Japan embraced Mr. Big first. However, after “To Be With You”—the group’s “More Than Words”-esque acoustic pop-metal ballad—swallowed radio whole, the rest of the world followed suit. Mr. Big remains at it today, actively slugging it out.
Village Voice writer Chuck Eddy once declared Kix to be “the best guitar band of the ’80s.” Some rock critic nerds scoffed, but hair-ified headbangers knew all along that greatness resided in the riffs and licks of these metallic Maryland mischief makers. Kix (1983), Cool Kids (1984), and Midnite Dynamite (1985) paved the way for Kix’s 1988 breakthrough, Blow My Fuse. Yes, they’re named after the cereal.
Zebra galloped out of New Orleans and, interestingly, became local early ’80s superstars in the metal-crazed market of Long Island, New York. The group’s self-titled ’83 debut delivered the lush power ballad “Who’s Behind That Door?” and the monumentally rocking “Tell Me What You Want.” Zebra stumbled a bit the next year with No Tellin’ Lies, then regrouped and rebounded in ’85 with 3.V. The record stiffed sales-wise, but 3.V remains a cult object both in the realm of hair metal and beyond. Aficionados hail it as a troubled work imbued with (a word that actually comes up in many reviews) genius.
36. Bang Tango
They looked gothy-piratey like the Cult and they played metal funky enough to warrant comparisons to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More, but Bang Tango found their biggest audience among mousse boosters. Psycho Café, BT’s 1989 debut, took hair metal in a direction that, in large part, led to the genre’s undoing. Had the album come out a year later, Bang Tango might have been lumped with the alterna-friendly likes of Infectious Grooves and the Royal Crescent Mob. Regardless, glam crowds loved them and the Tango kept banging all the way to 1995.
Canadian conquerors Helix spent nearly a decade as a dependably solid heavy rock squad before dirtying things up on 1981’s White Lace and Black Leather and fully flowering to glam glory on ’83’s No Rest for the Wicked (a title that Ozzy Osbourne, also in colossal coif mode, would cop for his own album in 1988) and ’84’s Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge. Global success ensued, especially in Sweden, and Helix even landed “It’s Too Late” on the same Iron Eagle soundtrack to feature King Kobra.
Bitch made musical history as the very first act ever signed to the mighty Metal Blade record label. Fronted with dominatrix flair by demonically deep-throated Betsy Bitch, the group reveled in sonic sadomasochism and boasted a hard-kink theatrical stage show that slayed all comers. The Damnation Alley EP (1982) and (especially) their debut long player Be My Slave (1982) poised Bitch for the big time, but legal hassles delayed The Bitch Is Back until 1987. In between, the PMRC provided Bitch with priceless publicity, and the group later thanks Tipper Gore in their liner notes.
34. Honeymoon Suite
Honeymoon Suite hailed from Niagara Falls, Canada, which is, fittingly enough, the honeymoon capital of popular culture. The group’s self-named first album in ’84 made significant waterbed waves. The Big Prize, two years later, kept up the moment, even scoring an international hit with “Feel It Again.” Years later, HS guitarist Derry Grehan said, “I think our best record was The Big Prize.” He wasn’t wrong.
33. Britny Fox
Cinderella set the bombastic bar high for their fellow Philadelphia follicle fops in terms of both pumping out power and dressing light years beyond the concept of mere “dandies.” Britny Fox resplendently rose to the challenge. “Girlschool” (the exact name of another band in The Hair Metal 100) was their big hit, and frontman “Dizzy” Dean Davidson proved a highly popular pin-up inside young ladies’ lockers located in the institutions of the title. The guest musicians on the Fox’s third album, Bite Down Hard, indicate the two extremes that Britny navigated with such flamboyant flourish: Poison drummer Rikki Rocket and Ozzy Osbourne axe-brute Zakk Wylde.
“Turn Up the Radio” is how and why you know Autograph and it will reign forever as one of the ’80s absolute tip-top anthems for shouting along to while cruising with your Trans Am’s T-tops and your female companion’s bikini top both decidedly off —even if one or both were imaginary (in fact, especially then). They based their name on “Photograph” by Def Leppard, appeared live on Headbangers Ball three times in one year, and Quiet Riot frontman Kevin Dubrow once paid awestruck respect to Autograph after sharing a multi-act bill with them. “They smoked us all,” he said. “They got a better response than us and Van Halen. Autograph also turned the 1987 Kirk Cameron-Dudley Moore switcheroo farce Like Father, Like Son into a heavy metal movie by turning it way, way up during a concert scene.
Krokus came forth from the Swiss metal mines that have somehow begotten Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, Coroner, and Tryptikon (no cheese jokes please). After several years playing prog rock, Krokus members caught a 1979 AC/DC show and saw the loud, fast light. One Vice at a Time (1982) boasts the knockout “Long Stick Goes Boom.” Headhunter followed a year later, featuring a guest back vocal by Rob Halford and showcasing Krokus at their absolute Krokussiest. Frontman Marc Storace was built like the like a lost member/ gym buddy of Manowar; consult their power ballad video “Screaming in the Night” for some screamingly uproarious evidence. The Blitz (1985) paid admirable tribute to ’70s glam with its semi-hit cover of Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz.”
30. Great White
More infamous now for a nightmarish, lethal rock club fire during a 2003 show, it’s not easy to separate Great White’s musical legacy from their tragedy. Still, it’s there, and it’s rich. GW’s smash cover of Mott the Hoople’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” is the greatest nod by an ’80s glam crew to their ’70s predecessors. Mark Kendall’s shark head guitar is an object of unparalleled hair-metal perfection. Above all, as hit-makers in a field of pretty-boys, Great White had to be the least pretty boys among their puffed-up peers. All that, plus they played on Solid Gold.
It’s one of the most brutal drive-by character assassinations in rock-and-roll: when Mike Judge designed the characters for Beavis and Butt-head, he clad the two titular heroes in Metallica and AC/DC shirts respectively. Their wussy, butterball semi-nemesis Stewart Stevenson, by contrast, wore a Winger tee. And so effectively ended the general public’s ability to take bassist Kip Winger and his semi-prog, whole-lotta-prettified self-named metal outfit with any degree of seriousness. Really, it’s a shame, as Winger himself is an ace player and composer, and the group really could slay when necessary. On the other hand, it’s still funny. Sorry, Kip. (Heh-heh, heh-heh).
Vixen ruled not just because they were hair metal’s biggest all-female act and not just because they co-star in the jizz-your-jam-shorts hilarious 1984 teen sex comedy, Hardbodies. Vixen ruled because they rocked as hard as glam’s most electrifying elite and, really, it was not easy to determine gender just by looking at bands back then, so the fact that they were all women really didn’t matter. Also, in truth, the Hardbodies connection actually does launch them to a glorious level all their own.
Slaughter was an extreme metal combo from Canadian whose trainwreck tempos and ferocious full-frontal sonic assault has been posthumously credited for profoundly influencing death metal. Oh, wait—not that Slaughter. The Slaughter in question here is an especially glossy Las Vegas lipstick crew piloted by singer Mark Slaughter and bassist Dana Strum, who had previously played in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. Stick It To Ya (1990) yielded three MTV staples, “Fly to the Angels,” “Up All Night,” and “Spend My Life.” Slaughter even go on the Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.
“It’s the final countdown!” It’s as familiar a chorus as any in rock. In addition, the fist-pumped medieval keyboard refrain of “The Final Countdown” may actually be the most popular example of such to ever blare out of boom-boxes for years before just becoming part of humanity’s DNA to the point that TV commercials still goof on it, and kids born thirty years after the fact get the joke. There’s more to Europe, of course, than just that and/or the group’s other big smash, “Carrie.” There’s exquisite musicianship, particularly from lead axe-ace John Norum and keyboardist Mic Michaeli, plus there are the pipes of frontman Joey Tempest. If any band could claim to sound like an entire continent, Europe never failed to make its case.
Loudness roared out of Osaka, Japan in 1981. After building a monster reputation in Asia and among metal musicians around the globe, Loudness signed with Atco, becoming the first Japanese rock group of any sort to sign with an American major label. Thunder in the East (1985), the band’s first English-language effort, is a classic, and throughout the ’80s these monster-maned metal mavens repeatedly knocked audiences for a loop in much the manner Godzilla did to their homeland in all those (very metal) movies.
The shocking reality of Stryper is not that they were a Christian metal band, nor even that they were an extremely popular Christian metal band (in fact, the biggest of all time). The shock is that these dolled-up Jesus freaks kicked ass on par with their most wildly unhinged metal brethren, many of whom made a point of shouting out how hot and hard they were playing for Heaven’s opposing team.
Of all the names that get casually tossed around as having been “pop metal,” Florida’s Savatage might be the least pop, and if they’re not the most metal, they’re right up there. Fight for the Rock (1986) lit the fuse; Hall of the Mountain King (1987) was the megaton explosion. Always operatic in scope, Savatage went more and more literally symphonic following Gutter Ballet (1989)—and they’ve just kept going. Worldwide, they remain one of metal’s most severely loved outfits. Savatage also spawned the fascinating side project, Trans-Siberian Orchestra. You hear them a lot at Christmastime.
That Metal Show host and all-around hard rock guru supreme Eddie Trunk has long expressed frustration with Tesla being classified as “glam,” let alone “hair metal.” His point is salient—Tesla was a sly, sophisticated hard rock, heavy blues collective with serious underpinnings and canny wit above and beyond that of their aerosol-enhanced mane-mangling contemporaries. Still, Tesla happened when they did, and Hair Nation embraced these Sacramento boys in full, and, really, doesn’t that just expand their total impact and appeal? Either way: killer band. Tesla’s fun 1990 cover of the ’70s AM radio nugget “Signs” alerted the world to their three complex, challenging previous albums, and won them fans carrying onward into the future smack up until now.
21. Night Ranger
“Sister Christian” is the one that stuck, and, really, that’s as it should be. It’s an oddball power ballad with cryptic lyrics and that strange “Motorin’…” chorus that lots of us thought was “Motorhead” and we still kept singing it that