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Decade of Decadence: A Timeline of the Eighties Sunset Strip

Mötley Crüe, Poison, Guns N’ Roses and the street behind rock’s most excessive scene

Guns and roses, Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Slash, Steven Adler and Duff McKagan

Guns N' Roses in 1985

Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

"Livin' in L.A. is so much-a . . . fffuuuun!" screeched Faster Pussycat's Taime Downe in 1987. And nowhere was the party crazier, sleazier or more glam-rockin' than the Sunset Strip, where big-haired dudes and the girls who loved them turned the boulevard into their own personal playground.

Of course, Eighties metal men were far from the first rockers to run wild in West Hollywood — just ask the Doors, who functioned as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go in the late Sixties, and whose singer, Jim Morrison, balanced on a railing on the roof of a 16-story building on the Strip as if it were a tightrope. Or Led Zeppelin, who in the following decade would rent out up to six floors of the Hyatt on Sunset, a.k.a. the Hyatt House, a.k.a. the Riot House, and initiate a groupie-shagging, television-smashing, motorcycle-down-the-hallway-driving den of debauchery.

A lot to live up to, perhaps, but it was a challenge that Mötley Crüe, Guns N' Roses, Ratt, W.A.S.P., Poison, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat and the rest of the Eighties glam lot were more than happy to take on. "You had to be able to put up . . . not 100 percent, but 1,000 percent," says Poison singer Bret Michaels. Or, as Crüe frontman Vince Neil put it in the band's gloriously degenerate 2001 autobiography, The Dirt. "We'd get drunk, do crazy amounts of cocaine and walk the circuit in stiletto heels, stumbling all over the place. The Sunset Strip was a cesspool of depravity."

Which is more than enough reason for Rolling Stone to take a look back on what is quite possibly the Strip's greatest decade of decadence — the 1980s. And while not everything chronicled in the timeline below happened on Sunset Blvd., per se, the Strip has always been as much a vibe as a locale. Welcome to the jungle, baby, where you can learn to live like an animal and — if you're really, really lucky — even sell a record or two.

wasp

Tony Mottram/Getty

September 28, 1982: Meat Blackie Lawless

W.A.S.P. main man Blackie Lawless ups glam metal's live game at his band's second-ever gig, which takes place at the Troubadour (another club, incidentally, that isn't on the Strip proper; rather, it's located a few miles west of the Starwood, on Santa Monica Blvd). W.A.S.P. debut a new stage gimmick at the show — hurling raw meat at the audience. Lawless claims inspiration for the stunt from hearing about a form of Sixties experimental theater called psychodrama. In time, he adds to the "psycho" part of that drama by drinking real blood (collected from that same raw meat), "torturing" a naked woman on a rack and donning a codpiece outfitted with a 12-inch round saw blade.

lars ulrich

UNITED STATES - MARCH 01: Photo of METALLICA and Lars ULRICH; Lars Ulrich performing live onstage (Photo by George De Sota (ID 5073478)/Redferns)

George De Sota/Redferns/Getty

1982: Nikki Sixx Chases Lars Ulrich Down Santa Monica Blvd.

At the same time that glam is kicking into high gear on the Strip, bands like Metallica and Slayer are busy creating thrash metal in the same So-Cal environs. How well did the two factions get along? Not very, of course. "It was 1982 and Mötley Crüe had just put out Too Fast for Love," Ulrich recalled. "One night out in front of the Troubadour we're standing there in our Iron Maiden shorts and after a couple of, you know, cold Schlitz malt liquors, we saw Nikki and Tommy. And it was like, 'Fuck Mötley Crüe!' And I remember Nikki started chasing after me. And the one thing I could do, all five-foot-six of me, is I could run faster than he could in his 16-inch platform boots."

stryper

NEW YORK: (L-R) Oz Fox, Robert Sweet, Michael Sweet and Tim Gaines of the Christian metal band Stryper pose in the studio for a group shot in 1989 in New York. (Photo by Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns)

Krasner/Trebitz/Redferns/Getty

1982: The Yellow and Black Attack at Gazzarri’s

Another house band that often plays on bills with Ratt at Gazzarri's is Roxx Regime, which later morphs into yellow-and-black Christian metallers Stryper. "We would do three sets at Gazzarri's and make $150," Stryper frontman Michael Sweet recalled to axs.com.

Fun Fact: For a second, guitarist C.C. DeVille, later of Poison, joins — or, depending on who's telling the story, almost joins — Roxx Regime.

joe elliott

UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Joe ELLIOTT and DEF LEPPARD; Joe Elliott (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty

April 1983: Brits Hit the Strip

"We were so far away from that Strip mentality that we didn't even know what it was," says Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott. "But we put out Pyromania and we were in the States touring with Billy Squier. We had just done American Bandstand, and it was [Leppard guitarist] Steve Clark's 23rd birthday. So we went to the Rainbow, and then we invited a few people back to the Sunset Marquis, where we were staying, for drinks and stuff. We wound up having, like, 65 people trying to walk into Steve's room. It just got stupid. We had to start turning people away — and it was guys like Dio. But we had to say, "Dude, we can't let you in." Imagine saying that to Dio! But it was crazy. I mean, we were a band from Sheffield. We had never seen a scene like that."

nikki sixx and vince neil

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 02: COLISEUM Photo of Vince NEIL and MOTLEY CRUE and Nikki SIXX, Performing live on stage L - R: Nikki Sixx, Vince Neil (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

1983: Nikki Sixx Swings

After partying at the Rainbow, Nikki Sixx and Vince Neil (with Sixx's then-girlfriend, Lita Ford, in tow), are accosted by a group of bikers. Soon, the cops arrive on the scene. Recalled Sixx to Hit Parader, "I was so busy fighting for my life that I didn't even notice them. All I knew was that this guy was running towards me with a mean look on his face, so I hit him with a chain. He turned out to be a cop." The bassist receives a beatdown and a trip to the pokey in return. Sixx later pens the Shout at the Devil tune "Knock 'Em Dead, Kid," about the incident.

wasp

June 23-25, 1983: W.A.S.P. Draw Blood

The Troubadour offers W.A.S.P. $10,000 to play a three-night stand, and Lawless comes up with a good-Samaritan gimmick to promote the shows: The performances will double as a blood drive. Blackie manages to rope in the American Red Cross, but the organization almost pulls out at the last minute after the National Director confronts Lawless about his own bloody onstage indulgences. Lawless manages to smooth things over, and Red Cross trucks park outside the club for the three-day stint. Every kid who donates a pint gets in for half price.

poison

LONG BEACH, CA - 1987: Brett Michaels (left), lead singer for the "big hair" metal rock band, Poison, and guitarist Bobby Dall prance on stage during a 1987 Long Beach, California, concert at the Long Beach Arena. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

George Rose/Getty

March 1984: Look What the Cat Drags In

Poison, the band that would recast the Strip in their own good-time, day-glo image, arrive in L.A. from the decidedly very un-glam environs of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. "We drove cross-country with everything loaded into an old ambulance van, a Chevette and a green pickup truck," lead singer Bret Michaels says. "Nothing but gear and a dream. When we finally pulled onto the Strip it was, 'Holy shit!' We're driving past the Rainbow, Gazzarri's, the Roxy, the Whisky, and there's gotta be, like, 100,000 people walking around. And they all look like they're in a band. For a bunch of small-town guys, that's a lot to take in."

The members didn't have anywhere to live at first, "so we wound up staying at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd., which was a big rock and roll hangout — there was a coffee shop there named Duke's where everyone would go," Michaels continues. "Kim Fowley had heard our demo and he was interested in us. So we met with him and a bunch of other people and they took us to see Hollywood Rose in Chinatown. And it's like, here's the band that would eventually become Guns N' Roses….and they're playing in Chinatown….on a Monday night. To me that was awesome."

tower video

West Hollywood, California, USA --- Headlight Streaks on Sunset Boulevard at Night --- Image by © Robert Landau/CORBIS

Robert Landau/Corbis

1984: Axl Rose and Slash Break Up, Make Up at Tower Video

Slash and Axl Rose briefly played together in Hollywood Rose, but the union quickly fell apart. One day not long after, the guitarist phoned his former bandmate at his place of work — Tower Video, across the street from the famous Tower Records on Sunset. Slash wanted to confront Rose about rumors that the singer had slept with his girlfriend. According to Slash in his autobiography, "[Axl] told me that of course he did, but that at the time I wasn't fucking her, so what did it matter?" The two reconciled and Axl tipped off Slash about a job opening at Tower Video. Wrote Slash, "Axl always chose to patch things up with grand gestures."

Fun Fact: In 1989, after Axl and Vince Neil embarked on a war of words in the press, Neil publicly challenged Rose to settle the score, mano a mano, in a backstreet brawl. The proposed location? The Tower Records parking lot. 

poison

UNITED STATES - MARCH 20: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of POISON and CC DEVILLE and Bret MICHAELS and Bobby DALL, L-R CC DeVille, Bret Michaels and Bobby Dall performing on stage (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

1984: Poison Opens Up

Not long after arriving in L.A., Poison play their first show on the Strip, at the Troubadour. "We got thrown on as an opening-opening-opening act," Michaels says. "Like, you go on at six but the doors don't open until seven. One of those things. We were the first of four or five bands on the bill. But there were a few people there."

One of those people? Jeff Duncan of Odin. "I saw Poison's first gig ever in L.A.," he confirms. But, he adds, "I was there because Odin had a full page ad in BAM for a show we had coming up. So I was taking all the copies they had at the Troubadour and folding them open to our page in the magazine."

the roxy

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 31: Marquee of the venue The Roxy Theatre the first time the rock band "Guns n' Roses" performed there on August 31, 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

1984: Ratt Moves From the Cellar to the Roxy

Following up the success of Out of the Cellar single "Round and Round," Ratt shoot a video for another track off the album, "Back for More," which shows them performing at Strip hotspot the Roxy. It features cameos from Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, playing LAPD officers.

Fun Fact: The Roxy's upstairs VIP afterhours club, On the Rox, was the site of many parties hosted by notorious Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.

slash and poison

Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty; George Rose/Getty

September 1984: Slash Auditions For . . . Poison?

After Poison's original guitar player, Matt Smith, quits the band to return to Pennsylvania, he suggests Slash try out for the position. The guitarist packs up his gear and heads down to Poison's rehearsal space — actually the back half of a dry cleaners on West Washington Blvd. and South Palm Grove Ave. In Slash's own estimation, he kills the audition. "I played the shit out of those songs," he says. "And I got called back — twice." But at the final tryout he realizes it wasn't meant to be. "As I was walking in that last time, C.C. [DeVille] was coming back the other way. He came in with his hair all done up and was wearing stiletto heels. I had on a pair of moccasins. The Poison guys looked at me and asked, 'What do you wear?' I was like, 'This is . . . it,' you know? When I got the phone call that C.C. got the job, I wasn't surprised."

Michaels, for his part, concurs, "Slash really did kill it. And, actually, C.C. came in and he had barely learned our songs. He started playing his own stuff, like, 'I got these other songs! You gotta hear 'em!' So we immediately butted heads. But it all worked out for the best."

tracii guns

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Photo of Tracii GUNS and LA GUNS; Tracii Guns (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)

Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

March 26, 1985: Guns N’ Roses Debut . . . Sort Of

Guns N' Roses make their live debut at the Troubadour, but they're not exactly the Guns N' Roses. The band at this time features Axl Rose and bassist Izzy Stradlin, along with guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Ole Beich and drummer Rob Gardner. A flyer promoting the gig reads "L.A Guns and Hollywood Rose Presents the Band Guns N Roses." Not long after, Tracii Guns splits and continues on with his previous outfit, L.A. Guns. "Things had become really intense in the band and I wasn't having fun anymore," Guns says. "I skipped three rehearsals in a row and Axl calls me, screaming. Then Izzy gets on the phone, all calm — which is very Izzy. I was like, 'Look, I want to do this band, but this is really crazy, you know?' And that was that."

guns and roses

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 1985: (L-R) Duff McKagan, Izzy Stradlin, Axl Rose, Steven Adler and Slash of the rock group 'Guns n' Roses' pose for a portrait in a booth at Canter's Deli adjacent to the Kibitz Room bar in June 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

June 6, 1986: Guns N’ Roses Debut . . . For Real

Guns N' Roses play their first show with the classic Appetite for Destruction lineup in place, again at the Troubadour. The flyer this time? "A Rock N Roll Bash Where Everyone's Smashed" [sic].

guns and roses

LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 10: (L-R) Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, Axl Rose, Slash and Steven Adler of the rock group 'Guns n' Roses' in a still from the video shoot for the song 'It's So Easy' at the Cathouse which was also a warm-up gig for when they were to open for the Rolling Stones a week later on October 10, 1989 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Marc S Canter/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

1986: The Cathouse Gets Claws

Taime Downe and future Headbangers Ball host Riki Rachtman launch the Tuesday night "rock n' roll dance club" the Cathouse, inside Osko's, a rundown disco on La Cienega Blvd. Though opening night is hardly a smashing success, Lita Ford does give the club an auspicious start by puking in the bathroom. The Cathouse goes on to become a legendary den of excess, with the members of Mötley Crüe, Faster Pussycat and Guns N' Roses among its regulars — the latter two bands play the venue several times, and Rose can be seen wearing a Cathouse shirt in the "Paradise City" video.

Fun Fact: In October of 1989, Guns N' Roses film a video for the Appetite for Destruction track "It's So Easy" at the Cathouse. During the shoot, which includes Axl's then-girlfriend Erin Everly decked out in bondage gear, a drunk David Bowie shows up and proceeds to hit on her, setting Rose off. "That was when David Bowie was in the band Tin Machine," recalled Rachtman in an interview with Yahoo. "So Axl was running [down the street], yelling, 'I'm gonna kill you, Tin Man!'"

guns and roses

1986: The Flyer Wars

When glam-metal boys aren't at clubs, bars or strip joints, chances are you can find them at an office supply store, printing up massive amounts of flyers to promote their next gig. "The whole Sunset Strip was a big confetti factory, from the Whisky all the way up to Gazzarri's," Taime Downe said on VH1's When Metal Ruled the World. And it's serious business: "We'd be putting our posters up on telephone poles, [and] the next band would come along a couple hours later, rip yours down, put theirs up," added Dokken guitarist George Lynch. "It was a very competitive scene."

How to stand out, then? "Your promotion had to be a bit rude and crude to get the attention," Warrant guitarist Jerry Dixon told LA Weekly. "If you just put a nice happy picture of a band on there, nobody was gonna show up. We started being as crude as possible on the flyers and came up with some creative slogans for each show." Some of these creative slogans? "L.A.'s Number One Muff-Diving Team" and "Quality You Can Taste" — the latter accompanied by individual shots of each of the five Warrant members posing with a woman's face smashed into his crotch.

But by most people's estimation, the undisputed kings of flyerdom are Poison. "We were workaholics with a dream," Michaels says. "We would go out at midnight, paper the city and disappear by morning. You staple 'em up and you're gone. We'd find hot girls walking around the Rainbow parking lot and ask them to do a photo session up against a brick wall, and then we'd put 'em on a flyer." Poison's distinctive lime-green logo even comes about as a result of a fortuitous flyer-related accident. "We went to Sir Speedy on Santa Monica Blvd. and asked for white. Too expensive," Michaels says. "We asked for yellow. Too expensive. But they had a shitload of fluorescent green paper that they couldn't give away. We took all of it for a few bucks. So that became our color."