The syndicated television phenomenon Solid Gold premiered in January 1980 as Solid Gold ’79, a two-hour special counting down the 40 biggest hits of the previous year with a mix of lip-synched performances, concert clips, an occasional music video, and sporadic comedy bits, the best and bawdiest of which boasted puppeteer Wayland Flowers and his ultra-campy mouthpiece, Madame.
On September 13, 1980—35 years ago—Solid Gold launched as a pre-MTV weekly go-to for music fans in the final period before everybody caught up with cable and home video. Each episode emulated the premiere by showcasing top names pantomiming their latest releases in between a Top 10 countdown that immediately stood out as the series’ signature.
While booming-voiced L.A. radio jock Robert W. Morgan announced a succession of the previous week’s most popular songs, the bodacious-bodied, superhero-spandex-encased Solid Gold Dancers, who hurled themselves into broad gesticulations, and more thumping abandon outrageously beyond that which organic being could possibly be expected to work themselves into while keeping time with "Key Largo" by Bertie Higgins or "You Can Do Magic" by America.
The program’s most frequent musical performers were Rick Springfield, Air Supply, and sometimes host Andy Gibb, who usually contributed a tune or two. Solid Gold’s supremely mellow mood, then, was set early on and rarely strayed.
Nonetheless, the ’80s being rock’s supreme decade of decadence, an occasional hard-and-heavy combo crashed Solid Gold’s primetime wine (cooler) and (processed) cheese party.
Here’s to ten who turned Solid Gold, at least momentarily, into semi-solid metal.
“Rock Me” – Great White (1988)
Bluesy glam noodlers Great White perk up Solid Gold with a shot of Sunset Strip sizzle/sleaze by way of a run-through of their Scorpions-esque MTV hit “Rock Me.” The true star of the appearance is Mark Kendall’s shark-head guitar, a remarkable instrument that appears to be devouring its own neck.
“Satisfied Man” – Molly Hatchet (1984)
Southern rock hellraisers Molly Hatchet always came off more heavy metal than their swamp boogie actually sounded. Case in point: the group's down-home rave-up of "Beatin' the Odds" on Solid Gold in 1981. Alas, come the arrival 1984’s The Deed Is Done, though, someone in the Hatchet organization had clearly been hipped to Twisted Sister and Quiet Riot. “Satisfied Man” is a slick boot-stomper that rocks sonically in the realm of hair metal, which makes the incongruous physical appearance of Molly Hatchet’s members all that much more of a hoot to watch as they fake their way through the song on Solid Gold.
“Hot in the City” – Billy Idol (1982)
First-generation London punk Billy Idol turned new wave quick and forged a hit strain of hard-rocking yet highly danceable pop metal unique enough to be deemed his own genre. Idol’s sultry, slow-building “Hot in the City” provides his perfect entrée into the easy-does-it milieu of Solid Gold. Billy also belted out "Mony Mony," to the doubtless accompaniment of unsupervised adolescent audiences at home chanting along the "secret" dirty parts everywhere.
“Turn Up the Radio” – Autograph (1985)
Given Solid Gold’s concurrent run with power ballads and peak hair metal, it’s surprising more glam groups didn’t drop by in between Juice Newton and Christopher Cross. Pasadena poodleheads Autograph rather definitively represents the mousse-imbued movement as the five-piece mounts the Solid Gold stage and pounds out their one hit, semi-wondrously.
“Runaway” – Bon Jovi (1984)
If you’re old enough to remember Solid Gold, you’ll also recall that—yes, 2000s-era Soccer Mom Nation—Bon Jovi started out as heavy metal. New Jersey’s premiere non-Springsteen contribution to rampant rock radio rotation first hit with the keyboard-pumped bad girl ode “Runaway.” They look even more at home aping the song on Solid Gold than they do in their spandex and headbands; Jon even manages to pull off what appear to be crepe paper streamers worn as scarves. BJ graced Solid Gold again a few years hence with “Only Lonely.” They weren't, really.
“Bang Your Head (Metal Health)” – Quiet Riot (1983)
The first heavy metal debut album to hit #1 on the pop chart belongs not to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, or Metallica. It’s the 1983 opus Metal Health by Quiet Riot. After the group’s Slade cover “Cum on Feel the Noise,” frontman Kevin Dubrow, guitarist Carlos Cavazo, bassist Rudy Sarzo, and drummer Frankie Banali stormed Solid Gold with “Bang Your Head (Metal Health).” As Dubrow insistently wails throughout the anthem, it will drive you crazy!
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” – Twisted Sister (1984)
Joined on the Solid Gold set by goof-wad L.A. morning radio jock and erstwhile “Disco Duck” crooner Rick Dees, Twisted Sister look really scary but, as always, the band comes off both hilarious and monumentally head banging.
“I” – Kiss (1981)
As the one act that could possibly outshine the Solid Gold Dancers, Kiss did double duty on the show while promoting their affectionately remembered misfire concept album, Music From “The Elder.”, Andy Gibb intros the face-painted foursome and they tear through “I” in front of the audience. Eric Carr plays drums. Paul Stanley sports a closer-cropped-than-usual coif, plus a pioneering gross ’80s scarf-as-headband. Later on, comedian Marty Cohen (remember him? Of course not) and sassy puppet Madame, each done up in Kiss drag, joke hard for a bit before showing the “World Without Heroes” music video. Perhaps that explains Gene’s single, dramatic tear at the end of the clip.
"Bark at the Moon" - Ozzy Osbourne (1984)
The Prince of Darkness lit up the Solid Gold stage to effectively pretend to perform the mighty "Bark at the Moon." Ozzy circa '84 could not deliver anything less than a rip-roaring good time, and that comes through loud and lip-synchingly clear here. This appearance also marks the first time Ozzy worked with Tony Fields. The two reunited in 1986 for the heavy metal horror movie Trick or Treat. Ozzy cameos as a televangelist, while the tall, intimidating Fields portrays the classic cult flick's villain, Sammi Curr. He got the role after Gene Simmons passed on it, preferring to play a late-night hard rock DJ in the film, and Blackie Lawless couldn't make the movie's shooting schedule fit in with his W.A.S.P. duties.
“Black Leather Monster” - The Plasmatics (1981)
The Plasmatics top the list because, as the most terrifying punk-metal shock-rock stormtroopers of their day, they were the exact last band any rational thinker could ever imagine turning up on—and tearing down—Solid Gold.
Alas, 1981 proved to be an even weirder than usual moment for Plasmatics front-beast Wendy O. Williams and her band of hate-amped hooligan ghouls. Dan Hartman, a classic rock producer (.38 Special, Edgar Winter) and two-hit pop wonder (1978’s “Instant Replay” and 1984’s “I Can Dream About You”) happened upon a Plasmatics record and fell in love with the screaming sonic intensity and anarchic, anti-everything aesthetic .
Hartman took the group under his wing and produced the 1981 EP, Metal Priestess, which contained the single “Black Leather Monster.” It was that rampaging battle-storm of a track that the Plasmatics took to Solid Gold. That our republic remained standing the next morning remains one of history’s enduring wonders.