At last, we approach the apex of flared-up follicle and shredding Flying V resplendence. The Hair Metal 100 has run the gamut from the ridiculous (Nelson) to the sublime (Warlock) to the ridiculously sublime (Love/Hate) to the sublimely ridiculous (Odin).
And isn’t that the very spirit of hair metal itself?
With #1 in sight, let’s all tease up our epic tresses, coat our kissers in candy-colored cosmetics, slip into the gaudiest spandex and/or most lascivious lace-up leather the world’s trashiest lingerie shops can provide, and storm the stage of unbridled rock-and-roll overwhelm along with our glamtastic heroes.
If you’re ready to rock in that fully, insanely committed manner, here now are numbers 20 to number one.
20. L.A. GUNS
Deeper and darker than the bulk of their pop-pumped contemporaries, L.A. Guns has been a crossbreeding powerhouse for ’80s Sunset Strip metal at its mightiest. Founded by guitarist Tracii Guns, the group merged with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin’s Hollywood Rose to become Guns N’ Roses—and then stay that way after Tracii left and took his original band name with him in 1985.
The history-making L.A. Guns lineup consisted of Tracii on guitar, former Girl singer Phil Lewis on the mic, ex-Faster Pussycat Kelly Nickels on bass, and ex-W.A.S.P. drummer Steve Riley slamming the skins. The group’s self-titled 1988 debut is a knockout, and they only got better a year later with Cocked and Loaded.
L.A. Guns actually managed to peak with Hollywood Vampires in the cultural deep end of ’91, the year a different form of hard rock so famously broke. As indicated by that title, L.A. Guns’ music will live forever.
19. FASTER PUSSYCAT
Faster Pussycat copped their moniker from a breastsploitation movie classic by upper-female-anatomy-obsessed cinematic visionary Russ Meyer, and then even hired the Baron of Boobs to direct some of their music videos.
More importantly, Faster Pussycat’s rollicking, reckless raunch-and-roll bombastically reinterpreted Meyer’s vintage 1960s and ’70s fixation on superhumanly stacked sexbombs for the absolutely anything-goes ’80s.
Vocalist Taime Down even boasts the greatest made-up metal singer name of any era.
18. QUIET RIOT
The very first heavy metal debut album to hit #1 on the U.S. pop charts belongs not to Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or Metallica. That honor, in fact, is the proud domain of 1983’s Metal Health by Quiet Riot. The group had been slugging it out for ten years at that point and had even famously lost guitar genius Randy Rhoads to Ozzy Osbourne in the interim.
Alas, axe-slinger Carlos Cavazo proved to be a perfect fit among vocalist Kevin DuBrow, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and drummer Frankie Banali. However hot glam had been boiling just below the mainstream, Metal Health proved to be the explosion that took it over the top.
If Quiet Riot’s subsequent efforts didn’t make quite the same splash, the group always gave it their all (even through a multitude of lineup overhauls)—and they still do.
“Get rockin’ with Dokken!” That was good advice when vocalist Don Dokken teamed with monster guitarist George Lynch for the group’s 1981 debut, Breaking the Chains, and it was great advice when Dokken hit full stride with their three pronged attack of Tooth and Nail (1984), Under Lock and Key (1985), and Back for the Attack (1987).
16. WHITE LION
What the public thinks of when White Lion comes up is the lush pop of “Wait” and/or the heartstring-plucker “When the Children Cry”—and both are (way) more than fine. For true metalheads, though, White Lion served as the primary awesomeness delivery for guitar wizard Vito Bratta. Listen past the hits and hear just how brilliantly White Lion could roar.
15. LITA FORD
She went to a party last Saturday night. She didn’t get laid. She got in a fight. Uh-huh. It ain’t no big thing. Except that “Kiss Me Deadly,” the breakthrough Lita Ford hit from which those sentiments come, was a huge thing.
It’s a pop-metal masterpiece by one of the founders of the form (by way of the pioneering Runaways) so magnificent that it couldn’t possibly matter that the singer and lead axe-slinger was female, but—Lita being Lita—she lets you know she’s all woman, loud and proud.
Lita, the album that launched “Kiss Me Deadly,” was actually Ms. Ford’s third solo LP, and the one that captures her place in ’80s metal to perfection. She co-wrote “Can’t Catch Me” with Lemmy, co-wrote “Falling In and Out of Love” with Nikki Sixx, and co-sings “Close My Eyes Forever” with Ozzy Osbourne. That last one you already know, because that thing was a monster hit.
Also, say hello to the only solo artist in the whole Hair Metal 100!
Much irony surrounds “Cherry Pie,” the career-defining signature sex anthem by Warrant. The song incandescently crystallizes absolutely every element of 1980s hair metal excess with unrepentant glory (even way above and beyond Warrant’s other genre-defying smashes, “Down Boys” and “Heaven”), yet it didn’t hit until 1990.
On top of that, Warrant frontman Jani Lane later famously proclaimed that he hated “Cherry Pie,” adding: “I could shoot myself in the f—ing head for writing that song!”
Jani subsequently recanted, saying: “I’m happy as a clam to have written a song that is still being played and still dug by so many people. It’s hard enough to write a song, let alone one that sticks around.”
It’s a great glam tune, and, as evidenced by the rest of their work, Warrant were great, glamalicious tunesmiths. Sadly, the music outlived Jani himself.
Whitesnake’s roots date back to 1978, when vocalist David Coverdale created the group after departing Deep Purple. Always popular in their native England and elsewhere throughout Europe, Whitesnake finally broke globally by plugging into late-’80s glam vibes.
Also, Coverdale took up with model-actress Tawny Kitaen, and her explosive starring in the group’s music videos “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love” not only crystallized one of pop metal’s peak moments, she launched much of an entire male generation into puberty.
We Are Sexual Perverts? We Are Satan’s People? We Are So Perfect? We All Smoke Pot? We Appreciate Stinky P-ssy?
Whatever the four letters of the acronym-named W.A.S.P. may actually stand for, the band themselves always stood loud and lewdly for ’80s glam metal at its most unbridled and berserk.
Aside from their incendiary body of recorded work and legendary live shows, Blackie Lawless and the boys made U.S. history by scandalizing the PMRC.
W.A.S.P. also appear in the killer cult flick The Dungeon Master and provide the theme song to Ghoulies II, a pair insanely of awesome heavy metal horror movies, and guitarist Chris Holmes delivers and amazingly uncomfortable blind-drunk interview in The Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years.
11. DEF LEPPARD
Def Leppard emerged as high-octane leaders of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal before tapping into an all-out gusher of platinum with their 1983 breakout, Pyromania.
The Leps perhaps never dressed as quite so outlandishly as many of their Britny-Fox-level glamtastic brethren, but their albums throughout the remainder of the ’80s certainly fit the sonic landscape and proved profoundly influential on their contemporaries.
The enduring popularity of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in strip clubs alone is testament to how hair-metal their music actually was.
Philadelphia’s most illustrious contribution to glam, Cinderella named themselves after a killer softcore porn fairy tale parody flick and gussied themselves up more elaborately than even the most indulgently prettified princesses in the annals of Mother Goose.
Frontman Tom Keifer could right the hell out of a song, too, and—yowza—could these boys play. Night Songs is Cindy’s terrific 1986 debut; Long Cold Winter kept the train running two years later; the bluesy, brawny Heartbreak Station is the band’s masterwork—an eternally glimmering glass slipper of greatness.
The makeup, the theatrics, the steroid-pop rock riffs—it’s ludicrous to even point out how ’70s Kiss overwhelmingly shaped and even begat ’80s hair metal.
What can’t be remarked upon enough, though, is how Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley rolled with the changes and evolved to fit metal’s mega-mascara era by scrubbing their faces clean!
Guitarist and songwriter Vinnie Vincent primarily piloted Kiss’s transition on Lick It Up before splitting to launch the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, but the canny adapters he left behind kept the platinum party going by pumping out much of the era’s most intoxicating commercial rock: no face-paint necessary.
Ratt became one of the first purely Sunset-Strip-launched poodle-noodle powerhouses to kick keister on a worldwide scale immediately upon the 1984 arrival of their debut long-player, Out of the Cellar.
The following year’s Invasion of Your Privacy only fanned the flames higher and hotter. As a result, Ratt burned brighter and harder than any other glam gods for a while before the inevitable flameout. They still count among the movement’s best loved bands.
Ratt also beat Whitesnake to the Tawny Kitaen punch by casting her on the cover of Cellar. Plus, the music video “Round and Round” will never not be a thing of wonder if only for multi-character cameo by classic TV comic Milton Berle. Uncle Miltie dons drag for the clip, of course, but then, too, so does the band pretty much.
7. SKID ROW
Skid Row bolted out swinging in 1989 by way of a self-titled debut album that launched the still-reigning glam anthems “18 and Life,” “I Remember You,” and hair metal’s unofficial national anthem, “Youth Gone Wild.”
Frontman Sebastian Bach boasted an angelic voice tinged with dirty-devil underpinnings, and he looked like he sounded—and sometimes behaved.
Controversy such as Bach’s two-fisted freak-out over a thrown bottle and a tasteless AIDS joke t-shirt suggested Skid Row played even rougher off-stage than their contemporaries who might have been overly concerned about messing up the coifs.
Skid Row confirmed that they were metal first and glam maybe not at all anymore with Slave to the Grind in 1991. The same year Nirvana’s Nevermind is thought to have instantly and permanently put all hair-bands to pasture, Slave to the Grind debuted at #1.
6. BON JOVI
In our present century, Bon Jovi is country-tinged soccer mom rock at its most adult contemporary pop palatable, but these Garden State goombahs spent the back half of the ’80s as glam metal’s flashiest lady-(s)layers.
Bon Jovi (1984) and 7800° Fahrenheit (1984) cast BJ as a hard rockers on par with, say, Billy Squier, but just a few boot-stomps and a searing guitar solo or ten more explicitly heavy metal.
After Slippery When Wet overtook every form of mass communication in 1986, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and their cohorts scaled unprecedented peaks of hair-metal mega-stardom.
Two years later, New Jersey only made Bon Jovi bigger. By then, headbangers bitched about BJ plenty, but there’s still no denying the pop-metal mastery inherent in those Bon Jovi’s smashes that made the whole thing possible in the first place.
5. TWISTED SISTER
The importance and impact of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” on ’80s rock in general and on glam metal in particular simply can not be over-shouted.
Under the Blade (1982) and You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983) positioned these local Long Island legends to conquer pop culture and, with 1984’s Stay Hungry, that’s just what Dee Snider and the boys did.
Twisted Sister’s hit output didn’t prove to be prolific, but their landmarks still positively define commercial metal at that time and place. Pile atop that Mr. Snider’s heroic stand for free expression against the PMRC, and Twisted Sister’s place way high in the hair metal pantheon can never be sanely questioned.
4. HANOI ROCKS
Really, it all starts with Hanoi Rocks, and, in a large sense, glam metal never entirely recovered from the ferocious Finn packing it up in the aftermath of drummer Razzle’s horrific 1984 car crash death (compounding the tragedy is that Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neil was the one drunk driving).
The demise of Hanoi Rocks instantly depleted music of a true band of bawdy, burly, brilliant trailblazers that fused ’70s glam on the order of Sweet, Sparks, New York Dolls, and Roxy Music to brazen ’80s metal with greater wit and impact than any artists before or since.
Take comfort, then, in revisiting the Hanoi Rocks nonstop knockout catalogue: there’s not an unlovely dud in the bunch.
The cover art of Look What the Cat Dragged In arguably stands (and winks and pouts and blows kisses) as the single most definitive photo-based image of the entire ’80s glam metal movement.
The music on the record itself—especially the instantly anthemic “Talk Dirty to Me”—hurled the entire hair-heaping phenomenon a quantum leap forward, combining Kiss pop hooks with Sex Pistols riffs, Van Halen guitar leads, and Bay City Rollers bop-along beats.
Open Up and Say …Ahh! (1988) and Flesh and Blood (1990) further perfect the alchemical formula and amped up the hysterical histrionics. Decades later, Bret Michaels reigns as a reality TV star and a cleaned-up Poison continues to knock dead all comers live.
The pomp and potency of Poison’s lift-off proved powerful enough to keep these pretty-boys perpetually rocking and rising.
2. GUNS N’ ROSES
Are Guns N’ Roses the single greatest rock-and-roll band to appear on this list? Absolutely. Are they glam metal? Well, much like when pondering if the New York Dolls were “punk rock,” per se, the answer is “Yes, but….” The connection is there and it runs soul-deep.
Yet, in an inversion of how there would have been no punk without the Dolls, without ’80s Sunset Strip glam metal, there would have been no Guns N’ Roses.
That sound and that scene lies both deep and just below the surface of GNR’s DNA—it defines their origins, it informs their music, and it’s absolutely responsible for Axl Rose’s teased-up hairdo during the performance portions of the “Welcome to the Jungle” video.
And so Guns N’ Roses—the last, best, gutter-grown gang of rock outlaws to scorch pop culture before grunge and alternative came to define the ’90s—is the overall most powerful and important group within The Hair Metal 100.
Ironically, that very reach and impact and larger place in music history is exactly what prevents GNR from being the ultimate hair metal ensemble…
1. MÖTLEY CRÜE
Mötley Crüe is nothing less (and, in fact, a whole lot more) than the biggest, best, most outrageous, most unhinged, most extreme-in-every-sense over-the-top and off-with-their-tops living, rocking, wrecking embodiment of 1980s hair metal itself.
From the Crüe’s 1981 debut Too Fast for Love on through their bust-out Shout at the Devil (1983), their multi-layered masterwork Theatre of Pain (1985), the volcanically voluptuous Girls Girls Girls (1987), and their decade-defining, genre-upending Dr. Feelgood (1989), no other ensemble of maniacal mavens more electrifyingly and more completely lived, breathed, puked, played, and nearly died (more than once) as the human incarnations of Sunset Strip glam.
Each Crüe member is an icon unto himself: one-man-wild-party Vince Neil on vocals, dark sorcerer Mick Mars shredding guitar, mastermind Nikki Sixx thundering on the bass, and mega-star beat pounder Tommy Lee tearing up the drums.
Four giants, one band, The Hair Metal 100’s absolute number one—hands down, horns up, and hair way, way high.