Through reckless use of hairspray, spandex, make-up, just plain goofy stage moves and even sillier videos, '80s hair-metal bands made themselves the butts of some pretty obvious jokes. Like any genre, hair metal had its share of lousy bands and inept performers, bland careerists and overconfident idiots. But there were some bands worth remembering.
Ranking them gets weird. Aside from the top 12 or so, the rest could probably switch places without anyone noticing. And while perhaps the Darkness should appear as a modern day example, I held off and stuck to bands who reigned when there was a reign to be had. And for those looking for AC/DC, Metallica, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden--they had plenty of hair, but too much denim and leather and not enough "pop" for this crowd--I let the Scorpions stand in for all of them.
Break out the Aqua Net and grab your Bic. Time to start a fire.
25) Winger: Poor Winger. Once the loser friend on Beavis And Butthead showed up wearing their shirt, it was all over. Crowds eager to hear "Seventeen" and "Headed For A Heartbreak" suddenly didn't want to be seen listening to them. But Winger guitarist Reb Beach deserved a better fate than this. And he did go on to play in Alice Cooper's band! But he also got stuck playing with Dokken. But when time rewrites history--or, heck, when I rewrite it--Winger will finally get that Aretha Franklin-accorded R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
24) L.A. Guns: Known by many for being the band that once contained (if one could actually "contain" such a volatile gas) Axl Rose, L.A. Guns managed to be a legitimate threat on their own. However, if you're one of those people who likes to keep a "family tree" of band members, you've got a virtual forest on your hands here, as it appears that every musician in L.A. spent at least a week in this band.
23) Queensryche: I could've given this slot to the Dogs D'Amour, but then I thought someone needs to represent the progressive side of all this hair. We've got enough guys who want to be Johnny Thunders. Queensryche were far more serious than their contemporaries and worked on concepts that fit more comfortably next to the works of Rush than the New York Dolls. I've never really understood what "Silent Lucidity" means. Please explain--in 50 words or less.
22) Enuff Z'Nuff: Is it because they came from Illinois? Or because you could hear the Cheap Trick and Beatle influences? Or because rock critics liked them while all the other bands were getting mercilessly slagged? (Crap, Rolling Stone named them "Hot Band of the Year" in 1991, the year Nirvana broke!) For whatever reason, Enuff Z'Nuff never caught on, the victims of bad spelling and a deadly conspiracy. There is still time to rectify this injustice. But not much, so hurry.
21) Hanoi Rocks: Mostly known for Razzle, the drummer who died in a car accident with Motley Crue's Vince Neil at the wheel, Hanoi Rocks were a legitimate hard rock group with influences that went back to the Stooges, New York Dolls and any variation of a band with Johnny Thunders in it. Let's make these guys more than a footnote. Let's name a potato chip after them.
20) Angel: Conceived in some ways to be the "white light" to their fellow labelmates Kiss' black darkness, Angel were too early (1970s) to cash in on the primping pop and slick guitar leads that would be all the rage once the band went their separate ways. They were clunky. They were corny. Their keyboard player--Greg Giuffria--ended up being the most successful member, when it was clearly obvious that Punky Meadows, who even got mocked by Frank Zappa with "Punky's Whips," should've been the big star. But their LOGO read the same upside down!
19) Loverboy: I wouldn't blame you if you confused these guys with Night Ranger, who almost made this list until I decided that guys who worked for the weekend and told us the kid is hot tonite deserved to be here more. Besides, singer Mike Reno wore one heck of a headband and even had a miserable hit with "Almost Paradise," a song very well-liked by my cat, Tiger, the ultimate critic and, at 20, the boss of the house.
18) Faster Pussycat: Speaking of cats, Faster Pussycat, named after the Russ Meyer film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, had the misfortune of releasing their debut album just as Guns n' Roses were issuing theirs and the charts just weren't big enough for the two of them. Timing is everything.
17) Bon Jovi: There will be those who argue that these boys from New Jersey should be higher on this list. And if these boys didn't embrace every cliché as if they'd discovered a brand new idea, they might have moved up a few notches. But there's no shame in coming in just below the legal limit. And "You Give Love A Bad Name" makes up for "Bad Medicine" and "Wanted Dead Or Alive" and kept them off the "Worst" list for good. I'm originally from New Jersey. We have no cowboys. We do have Bruce Springsteen. I understand your confusion.
16) RATT: "Round And Round" and "Back For More" were two catchy hits and for that RATT contributed more to the total sum of human knowledge than most groups with far greater critical pedigrees. That the band could never quite recapture their early success is pretty typical of the fickle musical world. Had they only figured out the right Slade songs to cover...
15) Quiet Riot: If you had suggested to someone in the early '80s that the road to quick riches and radio fame would be to cover some tunes by the band Slade, well, I'm sure more than one record executive rolled their eyes at the time and said "No, thanks." That would be like expecting pop and punk groups to achieve success singing the Simon and Garfunkel catalog! Yet, these things happen. There is no logic to explain why "Cum On Feel the Noize" should suddenly become a radio anthem in 1983 after it had already been a hit a decade earlier. But it did and people got paid and careers were established and people like me went back to writing horoscopes and weather predictions.
14) Kix: A great cereal and an underrated band. Kix never achieved the success of many of their fellow foot soldiers, but when Kix did have their brief moment of breakthrough it happened in classic hair-metal style. With a ballad. Like nearly every other band on this list, the band connected with the masses with a song--"Don't Close Your Eyes"--that doesn't best represent their sound. But the money was green and after years of mayonnaise sandwiches, I'm sure the band was only too happy to add some ham to the mix.
13) Vixen: Metal is a man's man's man's world--even if they did it by specializing in looking like women. It's also an ironic world. Since only--who?--Girlschool, Heart, Lita Ford, Bitch and Vixen come to mind when thinking of fine female metalists. (Joan Jett was always more of a punk.) Just to add insult to injury, freakin' Richard Marx wrote their hit "Edge Of A Broken Heart." Richard Marx?
12) Scorpions: I leave these good Germans to represent all the hard rockers (Rainbow, Dio, Judas Priest...) who were less about the hair and platform shoes but still managed to entertain the masses with very loud guitars turned to 11 and anthems that required singers trained in vibrato and operatic arias. "Rock You Like A Hurricane" may be their most known tune, but "Blackout" and "No One Like You" deserve to be put in the time capsule as well--if only for their great approximation of the English language.
11) Cinderella: Cinderella were the one glam band who started making other plans before the bottom fell out. They'd mastered the pop metal genre with Long Cold Winter but with Heartbreak Station were already finding their way back to their Stones-like roots, so when the trends shifted they wouldn't be left looking backdated. Yet, it didn't work out. Singer Tom Keifer suffered throat surgeries that put the band on hiatus for the early '90s and effectively stalled their momentum. And they really were better at pop metal than blues.
10) Twisted Sister: They deserve to be here for their videos alone. Sure, they were obvious and crass. Their tunes were juvenile and filled with self-parodic rage. They weren't going to take it. And if it I knew what "it" actually was, I probably wouldn't take "it" either.
9) Spinal Tap: Yes, and there's also no Santa Claus. You say Spinal Tap aren't real? Is "Big Bottom" not really a song? Is "Stonehenge" not a hard rock classic? Was keyboardist Viv Savage not the great unsung member of the group? "Have a good time all of the time" is as profound a philosophy as anything by that Nietzsche guy. And if Bobbi Fleckman and the rest of the label had promoted them properly they would never have landed in the "Where Are They Now?" pile.
8) Motley Crue: Mick Mars may be the creepiest looking guy in music--and that's saying something. And Tommy Lee may only be "lovable" to women who regularly appear in centerfolds. But I wasn't planning on inviting these guys to dinner. On some level, you expect to hear that your rock stars do not behave like choir boys or even decent human beings. Whether they drink the blood of goats or indulge in enough recreational narcotics to have a poppy field named after them, it goes with the territory. Their greatest sin isn't heroin, it's their inherent corniness.
7) Ozzy Osbourne: With Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne invented the glorious sludge end of heavy metal. On his own, he discovered a guitar player named Randy Rhodes who resuscitated Ozz's career at a critical juncture and set the bar for the rest of the '80s. Even Osbourne himself couldn't match up to his first two solo albums. And while he's known to an entire generation of kids as that guy with the wacked-out family, he'll always be known to me as that guy with that wacked-out voice. Has any singer ever sounded so on the constant verge of self-combustion?
6) Kiss: This is a tough one. Because technically Kiss were at their best in the 1970s when they were a complete circus act. By the time the '80s rolled around and they switched members and dropped the face paint, they hit and mostly missed. Then again trying to explain to someone why "Firehouse" and "Love Gun" are genius and "Let's Put the X in Sex" is not requires a level of intricate logic that only a true Kiss fan can explain and/ or understand.
5) Aerosmith: Aerosmith were supposedly done. By 1983, their two guitar players were gone and they were barely a band. Their success in the 1970s was nothing more than a hangover. But then they reformed in every way. Got straight. Worked with professional songwriters who knew their way with a hit and the lead singer even had a daughter he could put in the videos so it wouldn't just be a bunch of ugly old dudes. And it worked. And suddenly a guy old enough to be your dad (and my dad) was kicking the butts of people 20 years younger. On paper, this is wrong and even impossible. But apparently these guys dig beating odds--and hiring out when they have to.
4) Def Leppard: Their producer, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, deserves to stand alongside them. These English lads knew a thing or two about writing catchy tunes when they first arrived on the scene, but it was their apprenticeship with Lange that led to the meticulously crafted pop-metal that defined the era and put these guys a solid foot if not yard ahead of their competition. Others tried to copy them and ended up with corporate sounding, lifeless junk. These boys found a way around that where that was the point.
3) New York Dolls: Every '80s hair-metal band owes a debt to David Johansen, Johnny Thunders and the rest of the crew, for the lipstick, for the hair, for the clothes and sometimes even the riffs. Mocked in their time--but loved by the critics--they couldn't hold it together. Because dysfunction drives the music. If musicians were normal, they'd get day jobs and be done with it.
2) Van Halen: Not really glam in the traditional sense, Van Halen with David Lee Roth at the helm were the flashiest dudes on the scene. Punks mocked them, but Roth was always in on the joke. He knew he was being absurd. Of course, reams have been written on Eddie Van Halen's guitar prowess. But what really drives this band is the chemistry of the band itself. The rhythms are virtually jazz, the guitar licks are avant-garde and DLR's sense of scream pure camp. They put the blues in a blender and made it shake. And have you seen junior's grades?
1) Guns n' Roses: Appetite For Destruction ensured this volatile bunch of ne'er-do-wells their place in hair-metal history. (And Axl was pretty quick to tone down the aqua-net.) Combining punk, metal and pop in one slamming freight train, Guns n' Roses in one brief flicker of tension jumped to the head of the class and apparently will spend the rest of their days doing other things. Even if Chinese Democracy ever does surface, who will really think of it as the work of Guns n' Roses? Without Slash? Without Izzy? Without Duff? It's like getting a peanut-butter cup with no chocolate, no peanut butter and only an oily rapper.