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

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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