The Hair Metal 100: Ranking the ’80s Greatest Glam Bands, Part 1
Hair metal, glam metal, poodle metal, sleaze metal, mall metal… call the 1980s-based phenomenon anything you think fits it best, but don’t call its musicians late for a party. And most definitely do not call it false metal.
Because just as one can inherently recognize that a Chihuahua, a pitbull, and a Great Dane are all somehow all dogs, one can also hear Black Sabbath, Pig Destroyer, and Poison and just somehow understand—yes, that, too, is heavy metal.
Of course, come the ’80s, it took a special breed of practitioners of music’s darkest and most outrageous genre to properly alchemize metal and pop into the preeminent commercial hard rock of its decade.
The Hair Metal 100 salutes these dolled-up, decadent, occasionally even diabolical artists with a countdown to humanity’s single most definitive mousse-maned riff-slingers.
Stuff yourself into the nearest spandex now and join us for a look at the first twenty hair-ifying honorees, from #100 to #81. Come back tomorrow for the next twenty. Until then, keep your hair high as possible above the ground, and keep reaching for guitars.
Yes, much is made of how Pantera began as a glam group before adding Phil Anselmo on vocals and coming to dominate extreme metal throughout the 1990s. Less is made, though, of how admirably catchy and fitfully swinging Pantera’s glam period could be, particularly on their 1983 debut, Metal Magic. Everybody is still glad that Diamond Darrell eventually evolved into Dimebag Darrell, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t still glimmer way back when.
Odin makes the cut due their unforgettable appearance in director Penelope Spheeris’s hair metal documentary masterpiece, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988). Taking the stage at Gazzarri’s, the Sunset Strip rock club that launched (among many others) Van Halen, Odin gets introduced by vintage gangster-style owner Bill Gazzarri himself, who chants “Odin! Odin! Odin!” It’s just that when the gruff, grizzled Gazzari barks the name, it comes out as one syllable. Then the band plays and they’re pretty good.
As rock royalty and a first rate percussionist himself, Jason Bonham—son of Led Zeppelin’s behemoth drummer, John Bonham—has launched several noteworthy musical projects. During the glamtastic ’80s, Jason’s focused on the eminently respectable commercial metal band Bonham. The groups spawned several rock radio hits with their 1989 bow, The Disregard of Time, then managed a 1992 follow-up, Mad Hatter, before folding it in.
97. CYCLE SLUTS FROM HELL
Beating the Spice Girls by a full decade and being infinitely cooler just by virtue of their heavy metalness, the Cycle Sluts From Hell consisted of Queen Vixen, She-Fire of Ice, Honey One-Percenter, and Venus Penis-Crusher. Dudes played the music; the Cycle Sluts sang. Aside from a popular series of live gigs, including an opening slot on tour with Motörhead, the Cycle Sluts are now best remembered for being immortalized on Beavis and Butt-head. Those two knuckle-noggins, as you might guess, fell (almost) speechlessly in love with these ladies. Who could blame them?
As the twin sons of 1950s TV teen idol and one of rock’s very first superstars, Rick Nelson, ass-length blonde-maned Matthew and Gunnar Nelson honored their pop’s legacy by way of their pin-up good looks and platinum record sales. Nelson most unmistakably had the hair, but were they metal? Come the end of '80s glam and just before the dawn of grunge—more or less exactly when Matt and Gunnar hit with After the Rain—commercial hard rock could take what it could get, and, yes, Nelson got lumped in with infinitely more legit shredders. Still, it's hard not to call them pop metal, and sometimes there's just more pop in that particular equation. On that front, Nelson hit hard (enough). Plus, you know, they get style points through the goofy roof.
95. SHARK ISLAND
As a live act, Shark Island dominated L.A.’s Sunset Strip rock scene at the dizzying height of hair-metal mania. Somehow, they never broke out beyond that insular world of strippers, sleaze, and Marshall stacks. The group’s two studio albums, S’cool Buss (1986) and Law of the Order (1989) are worth a listen. Their concert EP, July 14, 1989, Bastille Day – Alive at the Whiskey is the real keeper.
94. SLEEZE BEEZ
Dutch treats Sleeze Beez buzzed out of the Netherlands in 1989 on the strength of the MTV favorite “Stranger Than Paradise,” from the near-hit album Screwed Blued and Tattooed. They kept it together until 1994 because, alas, grunge gutted northern European glam, too.
93. ELECTRIC BOYS
Radio kingmaker Howard Stern gave funky Swedish glamsters Electric Boys a jolt of his power when he repeatedly praised the group’s music video, “All Hips and Lips,” and then even had the group perform the song live on air. Electric Boys never really took off in America, but at least that got to meet Ba Ba Booey.
Wales, the land that gave unto music Badfinger, Tom Jones, and Bonnie Tyler, also begat Tigertailz, a maximally glammed-out combo that hit biggest in 1990 with their album Bezerk. Centered on the sizable UK hit “Love Bomb Baby,” Bezerk is a hugely agreeable overload of pop-metal pomp and glory.
It took the collapse of Welsh singer Kal Swan’s band Tytan and British guitarist Tony Smith’s band Lone Star to enable these mighty musicians to join forces in ’80s hair metal L.A. to form Lion. Following that momentous occasion, in 1986, Lion composed and performed the cosmically fist-pumping theme song to Transformers: The Movie. Thereby, Lion lives—and rocks—into eternity.
90. SMASHED GLADYS
Down-and-dirty New York denizens by way of Toronto, Smashed Gladys brought glam metal heat to the punk-clogged gutters of the ’80s Rotten Apple. Between 1985 and 1988, tawdry, two-fisted frontwoman Sally Cato belted booze-and-blues-soaked vocals over the band’s nasty riffs, gathering fans that included the mighty Ace Frehley. After two albums, Smashed Gladys—reportedly named for Sally’s drunk aunt—cashed it in as one of NYC’s great “shoulda been” contenders.
Steeler remains noteworthy as the launching point for founding guitarist and vocalist Ron Keel, who’d go even further glamtastic as the frontman of Keel. Oh, yes, Steeler also introduced the world in 1983 to a 19-year-old Swedish guitar player by the name of Yngwie J. Malmsteen. He, too, went on to later projects.
88. LILLIAN AXE
New Orleans hair-hoppers Lillian Axe rocked with their city’s signature Big Easy style, attracting Ratt axe-man Robbin Crosby to produce their self-titled 1988 debut. Although Lillian Axe didn’t break big, they remained hometown favorites and, in 1993, drummer Tommy Stewart joined the group en route to his bigger success touring with Godsmack.
87. BABYLON A.D.
While the most celebrated segment of the mid-’80s San Francisco Bay Area metal scene was thrashing, the members of Babylon A.D. were gussying themselves up and going full glam. The group’s self-titled first album is a solid collection, while the single “The Kid Goes Wild” proved cool enough to be used as a tie-in music video for RoboCop 2.
After storming the Sunset Strip in the groups Killerhit and Brunette, teased-up tress-sporting brothers Joey and Johnny Giolli upped their star power in Hardline by virtue of Journey guitarist Neal Schon joining the band. Hardline pumped out some expertly executed material that missed the radio but found its way on to movies and TV, most notably in the Brandon Lee flick Rapid Fire and during a typically hypnotic montage on Baywatch.
85. KINGDOM COME
Kingdom Come got pegged as “Kingdom Clone” due to the unmistakable musical debt this L.A. combo owed to Led Zeppelin, especially in how German-born vocalist Lenny Wolf howled in a manner that suggested he’d only ever previously listened to Robert Plant. Still, as pseudo-tribute acts go, KC rocked and their “Get It On” became the (one-and-done) hit it deserved to be.
84. ROUGH CUTT
As an ’80s Hollywood hair band, Rough Cutt delivers the good (enough) stuff. As a farm team for major future metal talent, Rough Cutt is sort of in a league by itself. Lead guitar slinger Jake E. Lee took over for the late Randy Rhoads alongside Ozzy Osbourne. Keyboardist Claude Schnell and guitarist Craig Goldy graduated to performing on classic Dio albums. In 1988, singer Paul Shortino replaced Kevin Dubrow in Quiet Riot.
83. MADAM X
Sister act Roxy and Maxine Petrucci launched Madam X out of Detroit in 1981 and, three years later, discharged the group’s one and only long-player, the affably snarling and smutty We Reserve the Right, produced by Rick Derringer. After a revolving lineup that briefly included future Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach, Madam X collapsed, freeing Roxy Petrucci to join Vixen in 1986.
Thor is the musical vehicle for near-mythic heavy metal titan above-and-beyond all other contenders, Canadian bodybuilder turned multimedia entertainment machine, Jon Mikl Thor. With one superhero boot always firmly planted in power metal, Thor naturally consumed and incorporated glam metal flashiness in the ’80s, and never more spectacularly than in Jon Mikl’s heavy metal movie supreme, the 1987 wonder-work, Rock-n-Roll Nightmare.
81. GORKY PARK
The Soviet Union’s late-’80s openness (just prior to falling) allowed numerous Russian heavy metal devotees to, at last, freely and openly bang their heads in public without fear of banishment to the gulag. Bands that existed as underground operations rushed to the surface, with Iron Curtain curling iron enthusiasts Gorky Park landing commercial Russian metal’s first big bang. The group landed a spate of hits on MTC and, in 1989, ruled as hometown heroes during the Moscow Music Peace Festival that showcased Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Skid Row, and Cinderella.