50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums of All Time - Rolling Stone
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50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums of All Time

The best LPs from the age of Aqua Net


C.C. DeVille and Bret Michaels of Poison (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Catchy, concise and more committed to getting parties rolling or groping groupies than conquering Valhalla or thinking depressive thoughts, what first passed as metal on Eighties MTV didn’t have much in common with what gets called metal now — or even what had mostly been called metal in the Seventies. Visually flamboyant and prone to shout-along hooks in ways that made them saleable in a video-single format, bands like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Ratt owed way more to British glam-rock or Aerosmith than to Black Sabbath. In any other era they might’ve just been labeled “hard rock,” but at some point somebody came up with the probably pejorative term “hair-metal,” and the name stuck. As did the music, at least through the rest of the decade — and most of it grew increasingly prettified and prefabricated, until it didn’t.

Swept under history’s rug and summarily dismissed as fake when thrash and grunge came along, hair-metal’s been out of the spotlight long enough by now to be forgiven for all but its sleaziest sins. More holds up musically than you might guess: Trimming this list to a mere 50 albums was so tough that in the long run Guns N’ Roses had to be disqualified for transcending the form and W.A.S.P. for sounding too legitimately heavy. Timewise, the perimeters were clearer: mid Eighties to early Nineties, pretty much. Call them superficial, but blasting these is still a headbanger’s ball. By Chuck Eddy

Lord Tracy - Deaf Gods Of Babylon

Lord Tracy, ‘Deaf Gods Of Babylon’ (1989)

From Tennessee among other locations, and fronted by a fellow named Terry Blaze who'd previously fronted Pantera when they were still a glam band, Lord Tracy were as refreshingly idiosyncratic as sleaze-metallers named after a porn star go. Their best non-jokey tracks are probably early Cheap Trick ringer "Whatchadoin'," catchier-than-Crüe cruiser "Rats Motel," metalbilly hoedown "King of the Nighttime Cowboy" and "Submission," which sounds like a heavier version of Boston fake-new-wavers the Fools. Best joke track is "Piranha," a sort of super-fast metal version of Descendents-type hardcore, "about a fish." Most offensive is frat-party rap "3 H.C." whose fake African jungle chants are a politically incorrect minstrel show. The guitarist steals some tasty Eddie Van Halen tricks here and there. And the four shortest songs, if you can call them that, check in at 0:22, 0:35, 1:26, and 1:27. C.E.

Mr. Big - Lean Into It

Mr. Big,’ Lean Into It’ (1991)

Fresh from his collaboration with Steve Vai in the David Lee Roth band, bassist Billy Sheehan teamed up with another terrifyingly fleet-fingered guitarist, Paul Gilbert of L.A. shredders Racer X, to form Mr. Big. The group, which also featured vocalist Eric Martin and former Tina Turner drummer Pat Torpey, released their solid Atlantic Records debut in 1989, but it was on 1991's Lean Into It that the band hit artistic and commercial paydirt. The album explodes out of the gate with "Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)" a double-time shuffle that features both Gilbert and Sheehan — you guessed it — playing solos with guitar-pick-equipped power tools. But Lean Into It ultimately settles into a tuneful, mid-tempo groove that is ultimately much more satisfying. Gilbert's tapped intro to the psychedelic "Green Tinted Sixties Mind" is nothing short of hypnotic, while "CDFF — Lucky This Time" would not sound out of place on a Foreigner greatest hits collection. And then, of course, there's the hit acoustic ballad "To Be With You" which would rise to Number One on Billboard's singles chart — the final song of the hair metal era to hold that position. As Martin recently told Songfacts.com, he had been keeping that song in his back pocket since his youth. "I wrote 'To Be With You' when I was 16, 17 years old," he said. "Mainly to impress my sister's girlfriends." T.B.

Precious Metal - Right Here Right Now

Precious Metal, ‘Right Here Right Now’ (1985)

Maybe these five California girls from all over wouldn't count if they didn't have "metal" in their name — but, hey, a major label (Mercury) put their album out even if nobody bought it. And it was the Eighties, so anything went. "Girls Night Out" ("wanna do what the boys been doin' for years") is Girlschool-glamabilly tough, but most of the rest bridges we-got-the-Burundi-beat Go-Go's and early Poison — hard rock with a modern K-Pop smile. Leslie Knauer had had a couple late Seventies Europop-ish intercontinental hits in the family band Promises, and here she sings loud and thin, proclaiming her love for a same-sexed free spirit named "Emily" and heavy-breathing sultry come-ons over the Diddley-glam of "Cheesecake." And though the drummer and one guitarist go for black leather and metal scowls, the other three opt for bright colors and look very happy. C.E.

Lita Ford - Lita

Lita Ford, ‘Lita’ (1988)

The post-Runaways success story most told after Joan Jett's is the polar opposite of the "I Love Rock & Roll" singer's stripped-down punky pop. The third blistering album from Lita Ford was a platinum smash built on big hair, big guitar solos, big ideas (her new manager was Sharon Osbourne). Big hit "Kiss Me Deadly" recalls her old group's fierce attitude ("I went to a party last Saturday night/I didn't get laid, I got in a fight,"), but lets a synthesizer duke it out with the electric guitar for its catchy chorus. Ford also embraced all-star collaborations with Lemmy Kilmister, Nikki Sixx and Ozzy Osbourne. Ford and the Prince of Darkness hooked up to co-write the acoustic ballad "Close My Eyes Forever" after a night of playing pool and drinking wine — giving Ozzy his only Top 10 single ever. But did they ever perform their hit duet live? "No," said Ford, "because he could never remember the lyrics." R.F.

Kik Tracee - No Rules

Kik Tracee, ‘No Rules’ (1991)

L.A.'s Kik Tracee came across unboundedly optimistic even though their sound mostly recalls negative nellies GN'R and their subgenre was clearly on the way out. They released only one full album, but what a thoughtful, listenable album it is. The clear centerpiece, "Big Western Sky," feels as expansive and full of possibility as its title, and it's surrounded by awesomeness: a call-and-responding/cheerleading opener to get fans involved ("Don't Need Rules"); a "Mrs. Robinson" cover that should've prevented the Lemonheads; a dance groover shifting from "Stranded in the Jungle" Dolls to funky GN'R ("Soul Shaker"); a then-timely train track with "My Generation" st-st-stutters ("Generation Express"); the best Van Halen imitation of the Nineties ("Velvet Crush"); odes to strange girlfriends and dirty cities. In "Tangerine Man" and "Rattlesnake Eyes (Strawberry Jam)," there's even some fruit! C.E.

Pretty Boy Floyd - Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz

Pretty Boy Floyd, ‘Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz’ (1989)

Named after the notorious bank robber and armed with enough hairspray to rip a hole in the ozone, this quartet of glam overachievers was, of course, from Hollywood. Their debut's sonics mirrored their over-the-top looks, taking that more-the-better aesthetic and turning it into larger-than-life hooks — "whoa-oh-oh"s sounded like they were constructed from choruses of militias, lyrics were about taking over the world with the power of rock & roll. A faithful, if amped-up, cover of Mötley Crüe's early offering "Toast of the Town" proved that they knew their history; the syrupy ballad "I Wanna Be With You" proved that they knew how to lure in the ladies. Leather Boyz is glam metal at its most extreme, turned up to 11 on every possible level. M.J.

Kiss - Lick it Up

Kiss, ‘Lick It Up’ (1983)

Through sheer pop-culture dominance alone, Seventies-era Kiss wielded some measure of influence over every band that dared to poof their hair and play a candy-coated guitar riff in the following decade. And yet, by the early Eighties the New York foursome were teetering on the brink of irrelevancy. Lick It Up, however, resuscitated the band through reinvention. Never ones to pass up a good gimmick, Kiss shed their kabuki greasepaint and replaced it with . . . well, just another type of makeup. On the musical end of things, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley openly embraced songwriter and hotshot shredder Vinnie Vincent, who dragged Kiss into the modern era by infusing album cuts like "Exciter" and the indelible title track with a tougher, more metal-influenced chug. Simmons recalled removing the facepaint in his 2001 autobiography, Kiss and Make-Up: "We made the best of it, but I was scared stiff." R.B.

Vixen - Vixen

Vixen, ‘Vixen’ (1988)

Hair-metal's most successful all-woman band, for this one slick if somehow vocally muffled album at least, had pretty much the same hair all their male contemporaries had — just less makeup, maybe. The members all came to L.A. from colder climates and constantly had to prove themselves to dumb guys even though guitarist Jan Kuehnemund had started them as a working band in Minnesota way back in 1981, and Roxy Petrucci had been slaughtering drums since her days with shredding sister Maxine in Detroit's over-the-top Madam X. Beyond Girlschool-worthy road raver "Cruisin'," most of their debut was handled by a formidable team of songwriters: Souped-up schlock-ballad smash "Edge of a Broken Heart" came from Fee Waybill of the Tubes and co-producer Richard Marx; "I Want You to Rock Me," which funk-clanked like Billy Squier via Sly Fox's "Let's Go All The Way" was partially written by co-producer and future C+C Music Factory technician David Cole; and "American Dream," a vaguely protest-y number that quotes "Jesus Loves the Little Childen" ("red and yellow, black and white"), is credited to AOR blues-rock also-ran Jon Butcher. C.E.

D.A.D. - No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims

D-A-D, ‘No Fuel Left for the Pilgrims’ (1989)

Disneyland After Dark, as they were called before Walt put his foot down, came from Denmark and hence carried on Hanoi Rocks' great continental sleaze-glam tradition. But they sounded more Australian — not so much in the sense of AC/DC's riffs, which plenty of bands steal, but thanks to Jesper Binzer's Bon Scott-like vocals, a much rarer trick. They were Bon-worthily philosophical and funny, too — they start with their best-known song, "Sleeping My Day Away," which doesn't sound as lazy as its words and may well have inspired Slaughter's "Up All Night" (which also involved sleeping all day). Next comes "Jihad," which for some reason concerns gasoline bombs in Vietnam and provides the album title. "Rim Of Hell" says there are really smelly parties down there but it's "too hot for the D.J." And "ZCMI," whatever that means, is fast enough to almost excuse the unfortunate Andrew "Dice" Clay routine "Siamese Twin." C.E.

Winger - Winger

Winger, ‘Winger’ (1988)

Winger may have been lambasted by those arbiters of suck, Beavis and Butt-Head (not to mention Metallica's Lars Ulrich, who threw a dart at a picture of frontman Kip Winger in the video for "Nothing Else Matters") but the band's musical pedigree was practically unmatched in Eighties metal. Kip and keyboardist Paul Taylor had worked as backup musicians for artists like Alice Cooper; Berklee-educated guitarist Reb Beach played with everyone from Chaka Khan to the Bee Gees; and drummer Rod Morgenstein hailed from jazz-fusion pioneers Dixie Dregs. Together, the band crafted an album that combined hard-pop melodies with, not surprisingly, plenty of proggy, technically dazzling instrumental work. All of which was summarily eclipsed by their singer's pin-up good looks — and the lecherous undercurrent of tunes like "Seventeen." But, Kip later explained, "Seventeen was legal in Colorado [his home state], so I didn't even get the joke, dude. I didn't get it." R.B.

Stryper - To Hell With the Devil

Stryper, ‘To Hell With the Devil’ (1986)

To Hell With the Devil hits like "Calling on You" and the piano ballad "Honestly" sounded like nothing so much as ultra-melodic odes to a loved one, and they were — only in Stryper's case, that loved one was Jesus. To Hell With the Devil became the first Christian metal record to go Platinum. One of the keys to their success was in how Stryper adopted devices associated with heavier metal — harmonic guitar lines, operatic vocals — and transformed them into delivery systems for sweet pop hooks. Brothers and band founders Michael and Robert Sweet first came to Christianity through the sermons of Jimmy Swaggart; and, ironically, in the wake of To Hell With the Devil's mainstream success, the soon-to-be-disgraced televangelist became one of their fiercest detractors. "It hurt, because we respected him," Michael Sweet said. "But the Bible's very clear: When you judge, you will be judged." R.B.

Vinnie Vincent Invasion - Vinnie Vincent Invasion

Vinnie Vincent Invasion, ‘Vinnie Vincent Invasion’ (1986)

After a stint as a staff songwriter for Happy Days and a tenure as the lead guitarist for Kiss, Vinnie Vincent (née Vincent John Cusano) struck out on his own to form Vinnie Vincent Invasion. "Putting my own band together was the ultimate vehicle for myself," Vincent told Canada's Much Music at the time of Invasion's release. "It gives me the ability to write the songs that I want and play and produce them the way I want." How he wanted it, evidently, was a balls-to-the-wall celebration of sonic excess. When Vincent's lightning-fast guitar solo rips through album opener "Boyz Gonna Rock" you can actually hear the microphones distort from the sheer volume of his amplifiers in the studio. Former Journey vocalist Robert Fleishman's muscular soprano manages to rise above the guitar maelstrom on full-blown rockers like "I Wanna Be Your Victim" and "Shoot U Full of Love, while on the poppy "No Substitute," which demonstrates Vincent's pro songwriting chops, Fleischman even gets a chance to strut his melodic stuff — until, of course, he's cut off at the knees by another barrage of Vincent's unhinged shredding. T.B.

Britny Fox - Britny Fox

Britny Fox, ‘Britny Fox’ (1988)

Even more than fellow Philadelphians Cinderella and Central Pennsylvania-bred Poison, Britny Fox were spiritual and musical disciples of the totally obscure but locally ubiquitous turn-of-the-Eighties Berks County bar band Dead End Kids — sort of Pennsy's footnote answer to the New York Dolls. Britny'd later cover the same Sensational Alex Harvey Band track that group had, but on their debut they stick to Slade, who they're more suited for than Quiet Riot ever were. Their greatest moment, though, remains the massively riffed, AC/DC-ripping opener "Girlschool," about cigarette-smoking young ladies who don't follow rules. That song's "Hot For Teacher" vibe (schoolbells even) later recurs amid the gargantuan drumbeats kicking off apparent PMRC rejoinder "Rock Revolution." "Fun in Texas," their big-bottomed ZZ boogie, rules as well. But mainly, from the shag carpeting atop their scalps to the Spinal Tap-ish remedial-reading lyrics of starving-children protest "Save the Weak," they were ridiculous. Lovably so. C.E.

Bang Tango - Psycho Cafe

Bang Tango, ‘Psycho Café’ (1989)

You'd think more hair-metal vocalists would've gone the slithery Billy Idol/Ian Astbury route, but nope, only Joe Lesté of L.A.'s Bang Tango — see, for instance, the white-wedding way he exclaims "shotgun!" in two different songs. He also claimed Bang Tango were trying to give the Cure or Gene Loves Jezebel balls; and the pulse of "Love Injection" and tropical breakbeats opening "Sweet Little Razor" prove they didn't fear disco, which reached these guys via Prince and INXS. By 1991's more realized Dancin' on Coals they'd upped the goth and funk ante even higher while bemoaning Seattle-style "psychedelic crap coming through the front door" before Nirvana even hit. But the debut's got their own lone MTV smash "Someone Like You," a real wailer, plus "Breaking Up a Heart of Stone" echoing the iced perfume of early Nineties French pop — all in a post-Aerosmith/GN'R context, no less. C.E.

Alice Cooper - Trash

Alice Cooper, ‘Trash’ (1989)

After surviving decades of decadence, shock-rock icon Alice Cooper sobered up, teamed up with a big-haired bassist named Kip Winger and staged a quiet comeback in the mid-Eighties on a couple of middling hard-rock albums that hovered below the Top 50. But he didn't have another platinum record until he teamed with glam-metal songwriting guru Desmond Child and a star-studded guest list (Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler and Kip Winger, who'd earned his own hits by then) for 1989's Trash. The hit quasi-ballad "Poison" contained lyrics lascivious enough for Kiss fans but snarky enough for Alice fans; "House of Fire," which Joan Jett co-wrote, is a perfectly dude-ly relationship song; "Bed of Nails" features gang-vocals singing "ow-ow-ow"; and "Only My Heart Talkin'" is the sort of hair-metal crooner Nikki Sixx would write if he could be contrite. "I would get into my Corvette, turn on the radio and hear all these great songs by Bon Jovi and Aerosmith," Cooper told Raw in 1989. "When I found out how many Desmond had been responsible for, I knew he was the man to get." K.G.

Badlands - Badlands

Badlands, ‘Badlands’ (1989)

Summarily dismissed from Ozzy Osbourne's band (via telegram no less), guitarist Jake E. Lee licked his wounds and formed Badlands with another former Black Sabbath singer, Ray Gillen. Despite the employment history of its principals, the group eschewed gothic themes and textures on their self-titled debut, embracing instead the bluesy swagger of Led Zeppelin and Montrose. Within the first few seconds of album opener "Live Wire" it becomes clear that Lee and Gillen made a wise stylistic choice, as the guitarist's swinging riff and vocalist's gravelly howl are electrifyingly compatible. The kinetic interplay is sustained through Badlands' eleven tracks, particularly on the fast boogie of "Hard Driver" and the album's first single "Dreams in the Dark." Perhaps because of its rawness — even "Winter's Tale," the album's sole nod to the power ballad genre, morphs rapidly into a full blown rocker — Badlands failed to live up to commercial expectations and Gillen and Lee would only make one more album together, 1991's tepid Voodoo Highway, before parting ways acrimoniously. T.B.

Junkyard - Junkyard

Junkyard, ‘Junkyard’ (1989)

"When Guns N' Roses got signed, every other label was looking for the next big thing and we were just in the right place at the right time, playing the right kind of music," Junkyard frontman David Roach said in 2012. "We were a little harder and a little uglier, but still rock & roll." GN'R's lesser-known Geffen labelmates — Axl Rose wore a Junkyard T-shirt in several photo shoots — had actually cut their teeth in some of American hardcore's most revered bands, including Minor Threat, the Big Boys and Decry: The band wasn't just a sign of hair metal's boom times, but a symbol of punk's identity crisis at the end of the Eighties. Riding Roach's ripped larynx and Chris Gates' rapid-fire axe, 1989's Junkyard has bone-crushing moments, especially "Hollywood." But "Simple Man" shows an equally strong proclivity for ZZ Top-style slide guitar and blues riffs. R.F.

Saigon Kick - The Lizard

Saigon Kick, ‘The Lizard’ (1992)

Florida quartet Saigon Kick was one of the many bands of the era that seemed misfiled as "hard rock" — their first album's flights of fancy included a kazoo solo, after all. On album Number Two, The Lizard, guitarist and chief songwriter Jason Bieler got even weirder: He indulged his twisted Beatles vibes with the jaunty yet vicious kiss-off "Chanel," got proggy on "Peppermint Tribe" and blended chugging thrash riffs with off-kilter harmonies on the title track. The guttural generational anthem "Hostile Youth," which Bieler co-wrote with frontman Matt Kramer, could have crossed over to the Lollapalooza crowd had the genre boundaries between melodic rock and then-nascent "alternative" not been so firmly drawn. The majestic, rueful ballad "Love Is on the Way," however, hit the pop charts thanks to its glittering guitars and soaring backing vocals. M.J.

Great White - Twice Shy

Great White, ‘…Twice Shy’ (1989)

Of the thousands of metal vocalists attempting to scale Robert Plant's stairway, few succeeded like Great White's Jack Russell. Before a tragic 2003 fire claimed the lives of 100 Great White fans in Rhode Island, the supremely coiffed Los Angeles band's legacy centered on their fourth album, 1989's …Twice Shy. Russell's soaring rasp, paired with Michael Lardie on keys, provided melodramatic fireworks. Their signature tune, a cover of Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter's 1979 glam sensation "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," broke the Top Five. "Our manager came to us with that song," guitarist Mark Kendall told Guitar World. "We played and recorded it, never figuring they'd make it the first single . . . . But the record company insisted that it was the 'big song,' and sure enough, it was a big hit." R.F.

Slaughter - Stick it To Ya

Slaughter, ‘Stick It to Ya’ (1990)

"It was 1990 when our album was released," Slaughter singer Mark Slaughter said, "and it was already changing. We were really the last big part of that whole wave." Formed out of the ashes of the Vinnie Vincent Invasion by the eponymous vocalist and bassist Dana Strum, Slaughter didn't appear on the hair metal scene until the genre was well into its third act. But Stick It to Ya, released in January of 1990, grabbed hold of the final moments and wrung every last multiplatinum drop from them. The album spawned three hit singles, including the crunchy "Up All Night" and the acoustic "Fly to the Angels," both of which pitted Mark Slaughter's Robert Plant-esque wail against a straightforward — and, in contrast to the VVI, less shred-crazed — hard-rock attack. By the time they followed it up two years later with The Wild Life, hair metal — and Slaughter's — glory days were over. R.B.

Bulletboys - Freakshow

BulletBoys, ‘Freakshow’ (1991)

Having already established themselves as carriers of the Van Halen torch with their self-titled debut, the BulletBoys decided to get a little weirder on their follow-up. "We just refuse to pander to tastes other than our own," guitarist Mick Sweda told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1991. Tracks like the saucy "Do Me Raw" and the yowling "Good Girl" revealed that raunch remained a key part of their arsenal, but they had artier things on their dirty minds. The album's first single, the paranoid, sludgy "THC Groove," had a video that opened with an homage to Battleship Potemkin — and was hastily clarified by a drug-resistant MTV as being parenthetically called "The Hard Core Groove." Instead of going the power-ballad route (a surefire ticket to Dial MTV), the band released covers of the Tom Waits growler "Hang On St. Christopher" and J.B. Lenoir's pestering "Talk to Your Daughter" as singles. Both became minor hits thanks to frontman Marq Torien's oozy charisma. M.J.

Dangerous Toys - Dangerous Toys

Dangerous Toys, ‘Dangerous Toys’ (1989)

Like much of their Headbangers Ball brethren, this bloozy Texas quintet had sex on the brain — the sleaze-romp "Teas'n Pleas'n" had a spoken-word breakdown where lead singer Jason McMaster hastily apologized to a husband who found him in flagrante with his squeeze, and the similarly contracted "Sport'n a Woody" is, well, kind of self-explanatory. But where McMaster and his bandmates transcend their sex-and-drugs-and-riffs peers was on the Alice Cooper homage "Scared," a freaked-out look at life at the bottom of a bottle that feels like an exploding locomotive. Its unsteadiness mirrors its subject matter so effectively that it stands up as one of the era's finest singles. M.J.

Black 'N Blue - Black 'N Blue

Black ‘N Blue, ‘Black ‘N Blue’ (1984)

Portlanders who naturally found their way south to L.A. before getting their shot at stardom, Black 'N Blue are excellent evidence that, in 1984, "false metal" and "true metal" hadn't really split in two yet. They definitely got the gorgeous locks and pouts down, and they cover "Action" by Seventies glamsters the Sweet, but their debut album is cranked-up, bruising stuff. "I'm the King" and the perfectly titled "Autoblast" are basically thrash metal with a better beat, and closer "Chains Around Heaven" was covered a few years back by super-cool Toronto thrash throwbacks Cauldron. On the sillier side, "School of Hard Knocks" (which rhymes with "rock your socks off") presages the guitar riff of the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!), while "Hold On to 18" (which rhymes with the ambivalent "I know what I might be") modifies its title from John Cougar's "Jack & Diane." C.E.

L.A. Guns - Cocked and Loaded

L.A. Guns, ‘Cocked and Loaded’ (1989)

Having established themselves as one of hard rock's snarlier outfits on their self-titled debut, L.A. Guns expanded their palette on album Number Two. The chugging roar of "Rip & Tear," the drag-race pep talk "17 Crash" and the swaggering "Give A Little" all possessed the bullet-belt bravado that made 1988's L.A. Guns a thrill ride. But Cocked & Loaded didn't stop there: The slinky fallen-angel fairy tale "Sleazy Come Easy Go" nodded at the hard-living knowledge that the band acquired during its first trip around the major-label block, while the whirling "Magdalaine" and the abyss-plumbing "Malaria" allowed the band to stretch out and indulge their proggier side. Cocked & Loaded gave L.A. Guns its highest-charting single, the sweetly mournful Mansfield eulogy "The Ballad of Jayne," but "Never Enough," a slice of blue-balls blues that burned up the Dial MTV phone lines, felt like the hit, its frustrated power-pop punch given extra heat by Phil Lewis's flinty yowl. M.J.

Poison - Open Up and Say... Ahhh

Poison, ‘Open Up and Say… Ahh!’ (1988)

Based on just the album cover and title alone, Open Up and Say… Ahh! screams "quintessential hair metal." Add in weekend-warrior anthem "Nothin' But a Good Time" and Number One single "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," and you have a genre classic. The latter tune, from the opening acoustic strums, to the lighter-waving chorus, to singer Bret Michaels' shirtless sigh as he rolls out of bed at the beginning of the music video, is a master-class in Eighties metal power balladry, and has since been tackled by everyone from Miley Cyrus to Tom Cruise. And the female protagonist responsible for breaking Michaels' heart? A stripper, of course. "I was out on the road, getting to play music for a living, which was the rose," Michaels said. "But then there was my exotic dancer back in L.A., who I was positive would never cheat on me — or so I thought. That was the thorn." R.B.

David Lee Roth - Eat ‘Em And Smile

David Lee Roth, ‘Eat ‘Em and Smile’ (1986)

"Eat 'Em and Smile. It's both positive and aggressive . . . and maybe it's a lifestyle." David Lee Roth had a lot to feel positive and aggressive about when he riffed on the title of his soon-to-be-released debut album in a 1986 promo video. Having recently exited (or been shown the door, depending of who you ask), Van Halen, the singer was not only eager to establish himself as a solo artist, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to thumb his nose at his old band. To this end he enlisted "the Power Twins," former Alcatrazz and Frank Zappa guitar wizard Steve Vai (one of few players with the chops to leave Eddie Van Halen eating dust at the starting blocks) and Buffalo-bred bass master Billy Sheehan along with former big-band drummer Gregg Bissonette. Together, they produced ten tracks of relentlessly exuberant hard rock. Numbers like "Elephant Gun," "Shy Boy" and "Yankee Rose" showcase not only the singer's sassy delivery, but also the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Vai and Sheehan, whose licks and riffs all benefit from a light-hearted slyness that many other shredders of the era could have done well to emulate. T.B.

Enuff Z'Nuff

Enuff Z’Nuff, ‘Enuff Z’Nuff’ (1989)

With a sound heavily indebted to fellow Prairie Staters Cheap Trick, Blue Island, Illinois' Enuff Z'Nuff delivered one of glam-metal's most impressive debuts. All of the era's obligatory signifiers — explosive drums, Halen-inspired whammy-bar guitars — are present on songs like the anthemic "New Thing," "For Now" and the hit ballad "Fly High Michelle," but it's the deep Lennon/McCartney melodic DNA that distinguishes these works from some of the less evolved songcraft of the era. "We were true power-pop but we got signed at the worst possible time in the whole metal frenzy," Z'Nuff vocalist Donnie Vie said in a 2011 Q&A with Legendary Rock Interviews. "I would write something and by the time the production was all through it would have 20 seconds of nonsense guitar jabberwocky and all these crazy vocal and drum effects on it." It's hard to argue with Vie's assessment that Enuff Z'Nuff's over-the-top production consigns it to a certain page of rock history, but it's a unique document of what happens when you encase the teachings of the Fab Four in a full metal jacket. T.B.

Hanoi Rocks - Self Destruction Blues

Hanoi Rocks, ‘Self Destruction Blues’ (1982)

Finland's missing link between the New York Dolls and Guns N' Roses lacked the vocal and instrumental oomph of either — but then so does Buckcherry and they never made a record this entertaining. Also, unlike Hanoi's Michael Monroe, W. Axl Rose never stole their haircut. The rest of the band all wanted to look like Johnny Thunders, and their punk roots show everywhere: "Kill City Kills" is an Iggy-with-James Williamson reference, "Nothing New" sounds exactly like the Buzzcocks with Steve Tyler yelps, "Problem Child" is pure speed rock and "Taxi Driver"'s wolf-howling garageabilly Travis Bickle tribute could be easily mistaken for Sweden's Nomads. And though deceptively celebratory bookends "Love's an Injection" and "Dead by Xmas" obviously mirror the proto-GN'R album title's romantic fatalism, there's something charmingly naïve about a band whose real idea of a seedy good time is an avenue with lots of cafés on it. C.E.

White Lion - Pride

White Lion, ‘Pride’ (1987)

Feather soft, partial to ballads and led by a poster hunk from a foreign land, White Lion was the Drake of the glam metal era. The A-side of their breakthrough, Pride, is gooey marshmallow metal, vocals multi-tracked into gushy pillows of harmony and reverb, synths that could make a killer new age record, bridges that lean heavy on the acoustic guitars — all broken up by nimble, tappy, whammy-crazed guitar solos by Vito Bratta. (Said no less authority than Zakk Wylde, "Vito Bratta is the only guitarist I've heard who sounds cool doing taps.") But the B-side — which included all three of the album's charting singles — occasionally pushes the envelope of what could safely be called "metal." "Tell Me" is basically over-over-overproduced Big Star; "Wait" is glimmering and shiny pop; and the finger-picked "When the Children Cry" is a voice-cracking antiwar weeper. "Imagine being a kid from Copenhagen, Denmark, sitting there in Staten Island and writing, 'No more presidents, and all the wars will end' at the time when Ronald Reagan is the president," remembered vocalist Mike Tramp to Guitar World. "But it was how I felt at the time." C.W.

Dokken - Under Lock and Key

Dokken, ‘Under Lock and Key’ (1985)

Although Dokken's 1987 Back for the Attack charted higher — thanks to a hit song in the third Freddy Krueger movie — Under Lock and Key remains their quintessential release. It's a streak of confused love songs including the tough-guy-gone-soft rocker "In My Dreams," the rejection manifesto "It's Not Love" and the literal "will I ever find love . . . on these lonely streets?" anthem "The Hunter." Helium-lunged frontman Don Dokken sounds haunting at every turn, while guitarist George Lynch commands some of the best hard-rock riffs of the Eighties. However, these tough guys were as fragile in real life as the characters Dokken wrote about in his songs: At the peak of their career, billed over Metallica on the Monsters of Rock tour, they broke up in 1989. K.G.

Love/Hate - Black Out In The Red Room

Love/Hate, ‘Black Out in the Red Room’ (1990)

Depicting themselves on their album cover as cubist psychedelic indigenous hippies camped out around a rattlesnake-engorged hookah, Love/Hate smoldered like an itchy if inevitable L.A. intersection between very early Guns N' Roses and very early Jane's Addiction — but with a rhythm section punking their constricted herky-jerk funk into slice-and-dice pieces like some mid-Eighties death-to-trad-rock Brits reared on Gang Of Four. Almost every song on their debut concerns getting wasted (and in fact, Wasted in America is what they named their also astounding 1992 follow-up); their world is one big bad-trip party that mama told you not to come to, and you feel sorry for the "gang-bang slave girl" and "little slutsy tipsy" and "rock queen 13 buxom blonde" who didn't stay away. But their sound twists itself like no other hair metal — all the way to the surf-thrash Beach Boys "Hell, Ca., Pop. 4" conclusion. C.E.

Warrant - Cherry Pie

Warrant, ‘Cherry Pie’ (1990)

Though the MTV-dominating, virgin-deflowering, baseball-batting, pom-pom-rhymed sweet-tooth title track inevitably had Warrant painted as frivolous, Cherry Pie is the album where the eternally underrated Midwesterner-led L.A. boys started getting serious. They'd get even more serious later, on their grunged-up next couple albums almost nobody heard, but the real meal ticket here is the small-town murder mystery "Uncle Tom's Cabin," less Harriet Beecher Stowe than their answer to Charlie Daniels' "The Legend of Wooley Swamp." Warrant invert Johnny Paycheck ("You're the Only Hell Your Mama Ever Raised"), cover Blackfoot ("Train Train") and simulate power-pop-era .38 Special ("Mr. Rainmaker") too, so Southern rock's definitely part of the equation — ménage à trois "Love In Stereo" has even got some boogie-woogie piano. Plus: No hair-metal singer ever sounded as heartbroken as Jani Lane does in "I Saw Red." C.E.

Cinderella - Night Songs

Cinderella, ‘Night Songs’ (1986)

The debut album from Cinderella is masterful in both its economy and mood-setting abilities. Tom Keifer's yowl had Brian Johnson's bite and Janis Joplin's yearning, while the muscular take on bluesy hard rock put forth by his bandmates helped the punchy "Somebody Save Me" and the pummeling title track stand out in an increasingly crowded landscape. As for the title, even the saucy "Shake Me" has an afterhours edge, although the embittered, runny-mascara-stained "Nobody's Fool" might be the best early example of how hair metal's indulgence of its latent goth tendencies could result in the sublime. M.J.

Def Leppard - Pyromania

Def Leppard, ‘Pyromania’ (1983)

Initially lumped in with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal as denim-clad teens even though they'd later insist they'd been weaned on Seventies glam rock, Def Lep were still young and sprightly enough to manage pop-metal's Stateside breakthrough with their third album, one of the year's biggest selling in any genre. They got even bigger on 1987's Hysteria, but here they're still more a working band than Mutt Lange's studio concoction. Both sides close with mythic mini-Zep power-prog, and "Stagefright" still sports that NWOBHM overdrive. However, three huge hits are what sold it: pretty power-popper "Photograph," stuttering bombast ballad "Foolin'" and AC/DC approximation "Rock of Ages," which of course kicks off with fake German words and a Neil Young quote. One suspects, though, that Mutt encouraged all the sunburst-harmony choruses — not to mention the incidental sound effects like wind, helicopters and strange industrial loops. C.E.

Twisted Sister - Stay Hungry

Twisted Sister, ‘Stay Hungry’ (1984)

Twisted Sister always looked less like mascara-ed, gender-bending hair farmers than they did some steroidal version of New York Dolls. But thanks to a mix of tunes that rocked harder than their contemporaries and genuinely ebullient pop-metal MTV anthems like "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock," they led the glam-metal pack in 1984 with Stay Hungry. It was all so confusing that Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center fingered the band in its list of the Filthy 15 songs at the time (for ostensibly inspiring teenage violence), leading frontman Dee Snider to testify before the U.S. Senate in protest of "Parental Advisory" stickers. "The video 'We're Not Gonna Take It' was simply meant to be a cartoon with human actors playing variations on the Road Runner–Wile E. Coyote theme," Snider said in 1985. "Each stunt was selected from my extensive personal collection of cartoons." K.G.

Quiet Riot - Metal Health

Quiet Riot, ‘Metal Health’ (1983)

Metal Health was perfect cocktail of Eighties metal benchmarks: a song about headbanging ("Metal Health"), a catchy anthem embracing "the noise" (a cover of original glam rockers Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize") and an ode to driving recklessly ("Slick Black Cadillac). It's no surprise it was the first-ever heavy metal record to reach Number One. The band had existed from 1975 to 1980, issuing two records only in Japan, before breaking up when Ozzy Osbourne called guitarist Randy Rhoads up to the majors. After Rhoads' tragic death, singer Kevin DuBrow got the band back together to record a tribute to their fallen comrade, Metal Health's Elton John-on-steroids power ballad "Thunderbird" — and only then they realized they could make another go of it. They'd score another hit record with 1984's Condition Critical (thanks to another Slade cover, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now") but their quality control slipped as the decade wore on. "It says 'bang your head,' which I think is the new rebellious statement of the Eighties," DuBrow said of one of their big hits in 1983. "It's relating back indirectly to what the Beatles and Elvis Presley tried to say, which is, 'We're the band parents love to hate and kids love to love and it's time to have a party.'" K.G.

Warrant - Dirty, Rotten, Filthy, Stinking Rich

Warrant, ‘Dirty, Rotten, Filthy, Stinking Rich’ (1989)

Warrant's first taste of wall-to-wall radio fame came with the wistful ballad "Heaven," which reached Number Two on the Hot 100, its notoriety derived from the libidos of its members — particularly that of frontman Jani Lane, whose sweet singing voice was belied by his salty bon mots. Their first album is an effective primer in hard rock's striving spirit, which one could argue was made even more obvious by the hairspray and leather that covered it up. The title track speaks to rock-star dreams of "insulat[ing] my body in green" and "light[ing] my cigarettes with 100 dollar bills"; "32 Pennies," which opens the album, shimmies as Lane declares his lack of tangible assets; and "Big Talk" brings its big choruses back to life lessons Lane learned at his father's knee. M.J.

Extreme - Extreme II: Pornograffiti

Extreme, ‘Extreme II: Pornograffiti’ (1990)

Extreme's second album went double platinum largely because of "More Than Words," the delicate duet between vocalist Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt that topped the Hot 100 and turned the band into MTV staples. But the "funked up fairytale" surrounding that megahit was a grooving, swaggering lost-innocence story full of unease about the planetary ("Pornograffiti," "When I'm President") and the personal ("Li'l Jack Horny," "It('s A Monster)"). "That was subversive of us, wasn't it?" Cherone said to Rolling Stone earlier this year. As probably the hair metal era's most successful concept album in both sales and execution, Pornograffiti is powered by Cherone's majestic voice and the fleet solos of future Rihanna sideman Bettencourt, with even the more paranoid moments being sweetened by world-swallowing hooks. The album's journey culminates with the sweepingly optimistic "Song for Love" and the breezy "Hole Hearted," which might be about being saved by higher powers or could be just a walk-into-the-sunset ending. M.J.

Whitesnake - Whitesnake

Whitesnake, ‘Whitesnake’ (1987)

By 1987, former Deep Purple vocalist David Coverdale had been churning out bloozy, sexed-up pub-rock with Whitesnake for a decade, and received little more than a collective shrug from America for his troubles. But with his band's seventh album he went full-on Bon Jovi, trading the denim and leather for frillier duds and more slickly rendered rockers and power ballads. Tellingly, the album's big hit, "Here I Go Again," was actually a redo from Whitesnake's 1982 effort, Saints & Sinners — only the original's bubbling organ and choppy riff were replaced by shiny synths, sweetly overdriven guitars and a video that featured Coverdale's then-girlfriend Tawny Kitaen dry-humping the hood of his Jaguar XJ. "As George Harrison would say, 'It became an evergreen,'" Coverdale told the Boston Herald about the song's success. "And thank God, because it helps the mortgage." R.B.

Tesla - The Great Radio Controversy

Tesla, ‘The Great Radio Controversy’ (1989)

An enigma marinated in a paradox, Sacramento's Tesla were not only somehow a respectable hair band (perhaps presaging the Black Crowes even), but also bizarrely conflicted about technology: Named for radio pioneer Nikola Tesla, they nonetheless bragged on album covers about not using "machines" in their music — which apparently meant synthesizers, not electric guitars, at least until they put out an acoustic album (metal's first ever?) in 1990. Their second album goes down easy with no bitter aftertaste, sort of like the band U.F.O. in the Seventies (but just like with U.F.O., good luck remembering the songs). Close inspection, however, reveals an intricate inability-of-escape number with slide guitars ("Heaven's Trail [No Way Out]"), a moral lesson on masculinity ("Be a Man"), some stressed-out power metal ("Flight to Nowhere"), a Top Ten pop power ballad ("Love Song") and plenty of epic sadness. C.E.

Cinderella - Long Cold Winter

Cinderella, ‘Long Cold Winter’ (1988)

A mere half-decade after their unbelievable commercial for Pat's Chili Dogs in Philly, Cinderella made this meticulously paced masterpiece. Not until 1990's more blatantly nutritious Heartbreak Station did the intelligentsia realize they were something more than mere poodle-dogs, but in retrospect Long Cold Winter ranks with any blues-rock of the Eighties. The back porch instrumental picking opening each side digs persuasively deep, but the band lets hooks — in four charting singles, for starters — evolve naturally out of the slide and pedal steel. Sneakily kicking off with "Bad Seamstress Blues"/"Falling Apart at the Seams," both world-weary Janis-style weepers and hopped-up Nazareth-style ravers unfurl seamlessly. Vocalist Tom Keifer clearly yearns to get back home, but his gypsy road won't take him there. So he grows his hair to the sky and dares you to poke fun of it and drives all night just to keep his rat in the race. C.E.

Motley Crue - Too Fast For Love

Motley Crue, ‘Too Fast for Love’ (1981)

Mötley Crüe's earliest days have become the stuff of legend — the roach infestations, the wild parties, the egg burritos (don't ask). The band's 1981 debut, initially released on their own Leathür Records then reissued by Elektra, shows how they used the influences offered by Los Angeles — whether musical or sensual — to galvanize a rock genre that would eventually become a major cultural force. The breakneck "Live Wire" succinctly illustrates Love's appeal; Vince Neil's voice is more about communicating his pent-up agitation than about hitting the right notes, while Mick Mars's scraping guitar riff and Tommy Lee's drum assault combine glam's swagger with punk's brisk get-'er-done spirit. The saucy grind of "Come On And Dance" and Mars' counterpoint squeals on "Piece of Your Action" presage Crüe's later world-beaters. M.J.

Kix - Blow My Fuse

Kix, ‘Blow My Fuse’ (1988)

Hagerstown, Maryland hicks obsessed with blowing things up and dirty metaphors thereof, Kix made six joyfully rocking and frequently hilarious pop-metal albums between 1981 and 1994. Thanks largely to the shivery suicide-prevention P.S.A. "Don't Close Your Eyes," an atypical-in-Kix-land power ballad that just missed Billboard's pop Top 10, this is easily the one the most people bought. It's also the one where AC/DC became their primary inspiration (before that, they'd fluctuated just as much between the Who, the Knack and Foreigner), and it's probably their most solid. "Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT" and "She Dropped Me the Bomb" do the explosion dance, as does the title track, where the fuse blown might well be a body part. "Red Lite, Green Lit, TNT" and "No Ring Around Rosie" (note the AC/DC references) are also both inspired by children's games, a bubblegum tradition since the Sixties. C.E.

Faster Pussycat - Faster Pussycat

Faster Pussycat, ‘Faster Pussycat’ (1987)

Faster Pussycat's debut actually beat Guns 'N Roses' debut to the racks by a couple of weeks and, though nobody remembers it now, at the time the future Rock & Roll Hall of Famers and the future footnotes were frequently reviewed together, their Aerosmith-indebted sleaze somehow simultaneously perceived as both just more L.A. hair-metal and a more authentically trashy alternative to the same. Both bands had played early gigs at (future MTV VJ, past Angry Samoan audition flunker) Riki Rachtman and (Pussycat wailer) Taime Downe's World Famous Cathouse, so in one of this album's best songs "the best Cathouse in town" might therefore not be a house of prostitution. Rachtman is credited with "scratching" on the ahead-of-its-time rock-rap "Babylon," which owes equally the New York Dolls and Beastie Boys. C.E.

Ratt - Out Of The Cellar

Ratt, ‘Out of the Cellar’ (1984)

Has any producer ever applied more echo to a rock singer's yelp than Beau Hill does to Stephen Pearcy's on Ratt's Out of the Cellar? At first it seemed as cloying as all that eye shadow and mascara, but even then there was no denying the power of "Round and Round," a tightly chugging ball of post-Nuggets street-punk snottiness for all times. Plus, Milton Berle was in the video, and he'd been dressing up in women's clothes forever! Van Halen and Aerosmith fans and Mötley Crüe pals who'd made it north to L.A. from San Diego, the erstwhile Mickey Ratt paid to play plenty just to get this far. And while it'd be easy to dismiss most of their first full-length as filler, "She Wants Money" and "I'm Insane" work up an enviable propulsion, and "Lack Of Communication" and "The Morning After" are no slouches where song structure and guitar tone are concerned. C.E.

Skid Row - Skid Row

Skid Row, ‘Skid Row’ (1989)

After slugging it out in Jersey clubs in the mid Eighties with another singer, Skid Row hired Bahamian howler Sebastian Bach and catapulted to instant success. Heavy MTV play of three Mötley Crüe-styled rebel-with-a-heart-of-gold anthems — "Youth Gone Wild," "18 and Life" and "I Remember You" — pushed their debut record to sell more than two million copies before the decade was through, even if the band didn't think that was their appeal at the time. "I don't want to have to live up some stupid label about being a 'bad boy' or being a leader of a brat pack," Bach said in 1989. "We just care about singing on key, but we don't care that much about it. Playing as best we can and making sure our hair looks nice on TV." K.G.

Motley Crue - Shout at the Devil

Mötley Crüe, ‘Shout at the Devil’ (1983)

Get past the shock value of the pentagram on the vinyl cover and the quote adapted from Nazi educators ("Those who have the youth have the future") in opener "In the Beginning," and Mötley Crüe's second full-length album is a mine of melodic, hard-rocking paydirt led by "Looks That Kill." "We're just like Journey, aren't we?" said the ever-quotable Nikki Sixx after the album's release. "We could write like a punk rock song on speed and still have it come out with a melody on it. Then it's still a song, it's still good. We don't think melody is just limited to slow Beatles songs or Journey songs or love songs. It doesn't have to be." Speaking of the Beatles, "Helter Skelter" arrives here done up in molten Mick Mars riffage and Vince Neil's piercing wails. R.F.

Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet

Bon Jovi, ‘Slippery When Wet’ (1986)

Slippery When Wet saw Bon Jovi rise from moderately successful New Jersey hard rockers to one of the world's biggest acts, inside or outside of spandex. Loaded with storytelling ("Wanted Dead or Alive") and Richie Sambora's wall of guitars ("Raise Your Hands"), the album has moved more than 12 million copies to date. With key songwriting assists from Desmond Child (Aerosmith, KISS, Cher) on "You Give Love a Bad Name" and the Guide to Trickle-Down Economics for Stadiums of "Livin' on a Prayer," Slippery endures as a karaoke classic. "It's working class, and it's real," Bon Jovi has said of "Livin' on a Prayer," probably one of the only hair metal songs to mention union strikes. "That's what most of our fans can relate to, not the limos and groupies. That's where I still find my heart." R.F.

Poison - Look What The Cat Dragged In

Poison, ‘Look What the Cat Dragged in’ (1986)

Bret Michaels might claim his inspirations were Zeppelin and Skynyrd and his band had no connection to Seventies glitter, but Poison still came out of nowhere like the Bay City Rollers trying to be the New York Dolls — and that's what made them fun. Their 1988 follow-up Open Up And Say . . . Ahh!" probably wins in terms of consistency, brawn and brains, but their quickly recorded indie-label debut was the all-time epitome of kindergarten metal, from the "Be My Baby" drumbeats opening opener "Cry Tough" to the bubblegum Sex Pistols riffs in the great "Talk Dirty to Me." "I Won't Forget You" was a dreamy love letter to fans, "I Want Action" their answer to the Dolls' "Looking For a Kiss." And until they chickened out and ditched the pink guitars a few years on, no boy hair band looked girlier. C.E.

Def Leppard - Hysteria

Def Leppard, ‘Hysteria’ (1987)

With Hysteria, Def Leppard and producer Mutt Lange set out to create, in guitarist Phil Collen's words, "a hard-rock version of Thriller." Which meant leaning hard on the "pop" side of the pop-metal equation, and putting the focus on rhythm and vocals rather than guitars. The result? More than 20 million copies sold. Most impressively, the songs were surprisingly varied, from the Burundi-beat thump of glitter ode "Rocket," to the nursery-rhyme electro-rap of "Pour Some Sugar on Me," to the cyborg country ballad "Love Bites." Recalled Collen to Guitar World, "When Hysteria came out a lot of people went, 'This isn't rock. It's wussy.' But it had the absolute effect it was supposed to have had. Because the point was to not just play to the rock audience but rather to play to everybody. And we achieved that." R.B.

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