The Top 5 Hidden Gems of the '80s

If the phrase "Size matters" could be applied to any time period, it would be the 1980s.

A time of big solos and even bigger hair, the '80s were excessive, to say the least. In the music scene, glam metal was king, and with every new band to set foot on the Sunset Strip, you could bet your 6-inch heels that around the corner was a guitarist who could blow the doors off all the previous trailblazers.

In a time driven by the guitar solo, it's very easy to overlook a lot of phenomenal material. There's an extensive library of music, good and bad, to dig through to really find gold. Luckily, you don't have to. I've done it for you.

Here are my top five hidden gems from the '80s.

05. Shotgun Messiah: "Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll"

Sweden natives Shotgun Messiah originally consisted of vocalist Zinny J. Zan, bassist Tim Skold, guitarist Harry Cody and drummer Pekka Ollinen. After their 1989 self-titled debut album, Tim Skold took over vocal duties while his position as bassist was filled by American bassist Bobby Lycon.

In 1991, the band released their sophomore album, Second Coming. "Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll" is the first track and it features a mean solo by Harry Cody filled with tasteful phrasing and some wicked bends beginning around 2:10. The song in and of itself is what the '80s were all about: sleazy, greasy, mean rock 'n' roll.

04. Extreme: "Smoke Signals"

Formed in the late 1980s by founding members Nuno Bettencourt (guitar), Gary Cherone (vocals), Paul Geary (drums) and Pat Badger (bass), Extreme is mostly known for their hit ballad "More Than Words" off their second album, Pornograffitti. Unfortunately, the brunt of the band's catalog gets overlooked as a result.

"Smoke Signals," off their 1989 self-titled debut album, is a rippin' Van Halen-esque tune featuring Nuno's signature style of fretboard wizardry. His phrasing and notable use of volume swells is demonstrated very well in the solo, beginning around 2:29.

03. Def Leppard: "Rock Brigade"

One of the first bands to bring the New Wave of British Heavy Metal over to the States, Def Leppard broke into the mainstream with the release of their debut album, 1980's On Through The Night. Only this and the band's sophomore release, High 'n' Dry, feature the guitar playing of Pete Willis, as he was fired during the recording of 1983's Pyromania. Hardly any of the first album is ever played live, and as a result most people are unfamiliar with Willis' spectacular playing. Thus: hidden gem.

"Rock Brigade" off Def Leppard's first album showcases Pete Willis' guitar skills very well. For someone who was roughly 18 or 19 around the time the album was recorded, his skill level is way above that of his peers. The solo, starting at 1:26, features some really neatly phrased runs and interesting but not terribly "out there" note choices as well as a distinctly unique musical voice.

02. Loudness: "Soldier of Fortune"

Though little known in the United States, Japanese heavy metal band Loudness has experienced a long and storied career throughout the decades. In 1989, in an attempt to garner a spot on the charts in the States, the band's label replaced their recently departed vocalist with Mike Vescera, their first and only American vocalist. The resulting album was Soldier of Fortune, which unfortunately slipped under the North American radar.

The band would only produce one more album with Vescera before hiring a new Japanese vocalist. In spite of the lack of critical attention, Soldier of Fortune contains some killer songs, in particular the title track. If you're reading this, and you're unfamiliar with the playing of Akira Takasaki, then please. Fix that. From being hailed as a technical pioneer on the guitar since his first musical success at age 15, to starting his own Japanese-made line of instruments, Takasaki is an incredibly accomplished musician.

That being said, his work on the track below is phenomenal, particularly his use of inverted tapping and the furious accuracy of his picking hand. And you know what? Even if you don't enjoy his playing (which would be a damn shame), this television show makes no attempt to conceal the fact that the performance is playback and at points it's pretty hilarious.

01. Winger: Madalaine

After having played bass for Alice Cooper for several years throughout the '80s, Winger frontman Kip Winger started his own band featuring himself on vocals and bass, guitarists Reb Beach and Paul Taylor, and former Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein. They released their self-titled debut album in 1988 to much critical acclaim, however the brunt of the attention went toward singles "Seventeen" and "Headed for a Heartbreak."

The first track off of Winger, "Madalaine" features an amazing tapping section by Reb Beach (1:56 roughly) followed by a fantastic solo. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Beach's playing, he utilizes an incredibly unique tapping technique where he effectively and very fluidly sounds the next string with his ring finger as he progresses up the neck. Of course, it's much better explained by the man himself as seen here.

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