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