Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of the Eighties
Yeah, they dressed funny and their lyrics often lacked the angst and agonized self-awareness that we’ve come to expect in this decade of the rock and roll sissy-band, but the pop metal acts of the Eighties produced some top-shelf albums during their short reign.
In chronological order, these are the 20 best records woven, steamed and blow-dried by the most esteemed members of rock and roll’s Hair Club for Men before they were abruptly given the hook.
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WARRANT—Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1988) The guitar duo of Erik Turner and Joey Allen was certainly nothing to write home about. But Warrant’s few shortcomings should never be allowed to eclipse the fact that Jani Lane was one of the most accomplished song writers of the pop metal genre. If you can’t get down with anthems like "Big Talk,” the classic “Down Boys” and the moving ballad “Sometimes She Cries,” seek medical attention—your heart has stopped.
WHITE LION—Pride (1987) White Lion was one totally ferocious beast of a band, and Vito Bratta was the most tasteful, lyrical and inventive guitarist of his generation, adding structure, style and an unerring pop sensibility to Van Halen’s oft-tapped fountain of inspiration. All of White Lion’s albums were strong efforts, but with such ditties as “Don’t Give Up,” “Wait” and “All Join Our Hands,” this is the record that the band should definitely have been most proud of.
WHITESNAKE—Whitesnake (1987) Fans of ex-Deep Purple vocalist David Coverdale’s more stripped-down, bluesy incarnations of the ’Snake may have found this album reeking of sell-out, but those of us first introduced to the band via this collection of Zep-inspired riffage couldn’t help but be blown away by its baroque majesty. John Sykes’ vibrato and Jack-the-Ripper technique never falter. “Still of the Night” is the best song Led Zeppelin never wrote.
FASTER PUSSYCAT—Faster Pussycat (1987) It’s a shame Faster Pussycat felt compelled to “evolve” after releasing this album. If they had stayed their course, they might be regarded as LA’s answer to the New York Dolls. It’s unlikely Greg Steele or Brent Muscat bothered to tune up during tracking, while Taime Down emulated Dolls vocalist David Johansen’s disregard for pitch. Downe shared Johansen’s flair for injecting wit and wordplay into otherwise lowbrow lyrics.
GUNS N’ ROSES—Appetite for Destruction (1987) The massive ’do sported by Axl Rose in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video justifies this album’s inclusion on this list. It’s vital to note that Appetite, with its combination of angry, Stones-on-steroids riffs, unbridled attitude and punk rock nihilism may also be one of the 20 best rock records of all time ... so good, that GN’R had no choice but to self-destruct in order to avoid the daunting task of topping it.
TESLA—Mechanical Resonance (1986) While their jeans-and-T-shirts getups made Tesla the regular Joe’s of the hair-metal era, this album was anything but average. Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon were a formidable duo who graduated with honors from the Thin Lizzy school of dueling guitars. Tesla produced a series of high quality albums, but this, their debut, displays a combination of spontaneity and attention to detail that sets it above the rest of the band’s output.
POISON—Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986) All those who claim their first reaction to the jacket cover of Poison’s debut wasn’t, “Whoa! These chicks are hot!,” is a lying sack of shit. Second, C.C. DeVille was the funniest, coolest and most reckless player to ever sell out an arena. Third, if “Talk Dirty to Me” had been recorded by the Sex Pistols for Never Mind the Bollocks, rock critics would be hailing it as the greatest punk rock song of all time.
CINDERELLA—Night Songs (1986) It’s no surprise frontman Tom Keifer eventually managed to blow out his voice. But on Night Songs, the singer’s pipes were as strong as his songwriting and guitar chops. Even though the album cover depicts the band sporting some of the most hideous day-glo Spandex duds imaginable, Keifer’s bluesy instincts managed to imbue songs like “Somebody Save Me” with an authenticity so many bands of the Aquanet Army so sorely lacked.
BON JOVI—Slippery When Wet (1986) Had Bruce Springsteen been a big-haired boy, it’s safe to say this is the album he would have made instead of Born In the U.S.A. The fact that this record, with its guy-next-door narratives, mammoth choruses and whammy happy guitars, completely blurred the line between candy-ass pop and hard rock, and sold a billion records in the process, still has many of us confused as to what kind of band Bon Jovi actually was.
DAVID LEE ROTH—Eat ’Em and Smile (1986) With top guns Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan backing him, David Lee Roth proved that he, and not Eddie, was the keeper of Van Halen’s fun-lovin’ spiritual flame. Combining shred and slapstick with an ease and grace that the overly earnest and lumbering Sammy Hagar-fronted Van Halen could never hope to achieve, Eat ’Em and Smile has all the elements of a great VH album.
KIX—Midnite Dynamite (1985) Even those who consider the hair metal era to have had all the redeeming characteristics of a nuclear winter are quick to give the Kix their props. Was it their self-deprecating sense of humor? The fact that manic mouthpiece Steve Whiteman often sounded like he was recovering from a severe head cold? Whatever it was that made these perennial underdogs cool was in full effect during the writing and recording of Midnight Dynamite.
RATT—Out of the Cellar (1984) If the metal world learned one lesson from Ratt’s Out of the Cellar it was this: a shit-kickin’ attitude and head-banging classics like “Round and Round” and “Lack of Communication” will triumph over shortcomings like gruesome looks and a piss-poor lead singer any day. Truly, the good, the bad and the ugly.
DEF LEPPARD—Pyromania (1983) The album that formulated and proved the hair band theorem, pretty boys + loud guitars = megabucks. With mad-scientist producer Mutt Lange behind the board, Def Leppard made the transition from New Wave of British Heavy Metal lightweights to pop-metal heavyweights with flying colors and more overdubs than you can shake your Union Jack at.
VAN HALEN—1984 (1983) Regardless of how you feel about A Different Kind of Truth, for a long time, this was considered "the last real Van Halen album," serving as a fitting epitaph for the band that ceased to exist at all but in name. With their blonde lead singer, hot shot guitar player and chick-obsessed pop songs, the group had created the template for a generation of big-haired rockers.
MÖTLEY CRÜE—Dr. Feelgood (1989) The greatly underrated Mick Mars dished out sizzling guitar tones and ultra tasty solos. Vince Neil found his inner voice. And bassist/songwriter Nikki Sixx perfected his already rock-solid riff-writing. “Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart,” “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” and “She Goes Down” are as good as pop metal ever got, and the album’s undeniable quality was reflected in its blockbuster sales.
WINGER—Winger (1988) Propelled by the fusion-honed chops of drummer Rod Morgenstein and guitarist Reb Beach’s Vai-like fluidity, Winger were in it for the music as well as the money, and the group never failed to throw at least one flawlessly executed prog-rock stunt into their otherwise slick pop ditties. However, you can't miss the totally deplorable cover of Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze.”
EXTREME—Extreme (1989) Extreme’s flawless musicianship, spot-on backing vocals and white-boy funk grooves, plus Nuno Bettencourt’s domination of his instrument ensured that this quartet would forever be remembered as Boston’s second-best hard rock band. There’s nary a clunker on the group’s 1989 debut, and “Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go to School Today)” succeeds in ripping off Van Halen’s “Spanish Fly,” “Eruption” and “Unchained” in one fell swoop.
SKID ROW—Skid Row (1989) While they started out as protégés of Jon Bon Jovi, Jersey’s Godfather of Metal, this album, would quickly prove that Skid Row didn’t need to ride on anybody’s coattails for long. Sebastian Bach established that his good looks and the almost offensive power of his bullet-proof voice were only two of his three most important attributes—the third, of course, being his uncanny and totally sociopathic ability to get into shitloads of trouble.
THE CULT—Sonic Temple (1989) Produced impeccably by Bob Rock, the King Midas of metal, Sonic Temple was one of the last great hair metal records or, perhaps, the first real neo-metal album. Thanks to the recent rise of cock-rock revivalists like Buckcherry and Loudmouth, Temple tracks like “Fire Woman,” “Sweet Soul Sister” and “New York City” sound uncannily au courant many years after their release.
MÖTLEY CRÜE—Too Fast for Love (1981) Permeated by a genuine punk sneer and an obvious devotion to such Seventies power pop luminaries as Cheap Trick and the Raspberries, Too Fast for Love’s take-no-prisoners abandon still sounds fresh today, while Tommy Lee’s I’ve-got-a-cowbell-and-I’m-gonna-use-it drumming may be the best example of hard rock sticksmanship committed to tape since John Bonham laid it down on Led Zeppelin.