Very few bands bands refer to their own work as "hair metal." They feel the term reduces their art to haircuts they had three decades ago, and many prefer "glam metal" or just simply "hard rock" or "metal." The media and many fans have a different take and groups like Poison, Cinderella and Mötley Crüe are widely labelled "hair metal" despite their fierce objections. It gets a little more complicated when you talk about bands like Def Leppard and Guns N' Roses. They certainly had big hair in the 1980s and one might feel that "Sweet Child O' Mine" isn't all that different from "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." Still, it's clear to many people that GN'R and Def Leppard don't quite qualify since they have a broader spectrum of influences and their songs didn't celebrate a lifestyle of sex and hedonism, and least not to the extent of Poison and Mötley Crüe's work. We asked our readers to select their favorite hair metal songs, allowing them to interpret that however they saw fit. Click through to see the results.
The entire ethos of the hair-metal movement is summed up by the title of this song: "Nothin' But a Good Time." These bands weren't fighting against apartheid or confessing their deepest secrets. They just wanted to churn out tunes about fast women, hard drinking and good times, essentially creating a fantasy world of debauchery without consequences for their listeners. The video for "Nothin' But a Good Time" shows a dishwasher with a miserable boss that fantasizes about entering the mythical world of Poison. The song was the debut single from Poison's 1988 album Open Up and Say… Ahh!. It reached Number Six on the Billboard Hot 100.
Cinderella never got as much press and attention as Poison and Mötley Crüe, but many rock fans that dismissed the other hair metal acts as cheese absolutely loved this Philadelphia four-piece. They got their big break when Jon Bon Jovi saw one of their clubs gigs and soon enough they were opening up for Bon Jovi on the Slippery When Wet tour. Along the way, they scored a Number 13 hit with the power ballad "Nobody's Fool." The hits dried up by the early 1990s, but they remain a popular live band. They're also one of the few bands of the era to still tour with the classic lineup.
This pick is bound to anger some people, though we do admit that early Guns N' Roses did have many commonalities with hair-metal bands. They were a Los Angeles sunset strip group with wild hair, crazy parties, crazier groupies and songs about sex and drugs. One could make a very strong argument that they began as a hair-metal band, but there are some crucial differences. Most songs on Appetite For Destruction ( with the exception of "Nightrain") reveal the brutal consequences of a hedonistic lifestyle. Even the very title of the album proves that the band knew they were playing with fire, and "Welcome to the Jungle" compares Los Angeles circa 1987 to a jungle guaranteed to kill anyone foolish enough to enter. Also, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin had a bluesier sound than many hair metal bands. All that said, our readers have spoken and they've picked "Welcome to the Jungle" as the 8th best hair metal song of all time.
Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx took the debauchery of hair metal to its absolute extreme one night in 1987, when he took so much heroin that his heart stopped and an EMT pronounced him dead, before two shots of adrenaline right into his heart woke him back up. It was a grizzly scene and a much-needed wake-up call that eventually lead to Sixx kicking the drug. Two years later, he wrote about the experience on "Kickstart My Heart" for Dr. Feelgood. It only reached Number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it's widely seen as one of the group's greatest songs. Even people that don't love The Crüe have a hard time hating on this one.
The hair metal lifestyle wasn't a non-stop carnival of good times. Sometimes you're on tour, sleeping with three or four groupies a day, only to call your girl back home and hear another guy's voice in the background. That's what happened to Bret Michaels when Poison was on the road in 1987. He was super bummed out, and he poured his heartache into "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." It spent three weeks at Number One on the Hot 100 and remains Poison's most famous song. In recent years, Micahels' then girlfriend has claimed that she didn't cheat on Bret, but that he cheated on her countless times.
The guys in the Crüe were clean when they recorded Dr. Feelgood in 1989, but they were still writing songs about drugs and, in the case of the title track, drug dealers. "I knew it was a classic from the time I heard that very first 'bomp bomp bomp bomp' — that intro just kind of grabs you," Vince Neil told Rolling Stone in 2009. "This song has been popular for 20 years. It was funny because I was watching VH1 and they had the Greatest Hard Rock Songs and 'Feelgood' was 15 or something. I was like, 'Wow, of all time.' Then you have Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith and AC/DC and 'Feelgood.' I was like, 'Wow, that's cool.' It's our signature song in some ways."
Many great songs have hidden meanings that reveal themselves very slowly, sometimes requiring years of study to fully understand. Mötley Crüe's 1987 song Girls, Girls, Girls isn't one of those songs. It's a tune about how much the four guys in Mötley Crüe love girls. Sometimes they pay to watch them strip. Sometimes they meet complete strangers and have sex with them, occasionally on video. It's the Mötley Crüe way. This song references many real-life strip joints, like the the Marble Arch in Vancouver, BC and the The Dollhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It reached #12 on the Hot 100.
There weren't a lot of British hair-metal bands, and Def Leppard broke onto the scene long before the genre really became a thing. Their primary influences were 1970s icons like Mott the Hoople and David Bowie, but by 1987 they had long hair and they scored a massive hit with a sexually charged song. It was the peak of hair metal, and even though Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliot has even compared the label to a "bad case of herpes" he can't quite shake, many still see them as hair metal. The group even gave up fighting the term a few years ago when the toured with Poison, a band Elliot had slagged in the past. So we doubt they'd find this very good news, but our readers are calling "Pour Some Sugar on Me" the third best hair metal song of all time.
Ratt's story is very familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the hair metal scene. They were an obscure group that spent years and years playing tiny clubs on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, when all of a sudden major labels started signing up any group that had long hair and any sort of a following. Before they knew it, Ratt were signed to Atlantic and their debut album Out of the Cellar was flying up the charts. Their single "Round and Round" went into heavy rotation on MTV and even featured Milton Berle, whose nephew managed the band. For a couple short years, it was very good to be a member of Ratt – until everything fell apart in a spectacular fashion and they turned on each other like vicious dogs. The surviving members tour together to this day, and they wouldn't dream of leaving the stage without busting out "Round and Round."
In many ways, Mötley Crüe are hair-metal pioneers. They were teasing their hair and singing "Smokin' in the Boys Room" on MTV before most other hair metal bands played a single gig on the Sunset Strip. They established the hair metal code of ethics with their insane partying and womanizing, and with their 1985 classic "Home Sweet Home" they practically invented the hair-metal power ballad. It was an enormous hit, and countless other hair metal bands copied the formula by recording a tender, stripped-back song where they expose the true feelings of the men behind the hairspray and makeup. None of them did it better than Mötley Crüe. "Home Sweet Home" is an absolute classic that's been covered by everybody from Carrie Underwood to Limp Bizkit.