Top 10 Hair Metal Bands of All Time

Top 10 Hair Metal Bands of All TimeWell, here we are in 2015, and just like ‘Back to the Future 2’ forecasted, the ‘80’s are cool again!  It seemed the least likely prediction not too many years ago, even taking the flying skateboards into account, but the era of ‘80’s nostalgia is upon us with a vengeance.  And when you think back (if you can) memories return to the hot and heavy days of excessive consumption, shoulder pads that would do a linebacker justice and ostentatious flamboyance.  This is Hair Metal, the not entirely complementary term for the whole genre of post-MTV big-haired pop-rock pretty boy bands whose reign (if you are generous) ran from the late ‘70’s to early ‘90’s before Grunge’s more downtrodden, angsty vibe made popular culture view these bands as dated has-beens, burnt out on a clichéd diet of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

With the benefit of a little distance, we can view these bands for what they were.  OK, so they were strong on visual image in a world still coming to terms with the impact of the pop video, and this was perhaps to the detriment of some of their music.  The spandex and make-up are hard to get past, but the music develops themes and styles which links to the past and still resonates today.  So, turn the clock back thirty years, pump up the stereo and rock like its 1985 once more!

10. Hanoi Rocks

Many credit Hanoi Rocks as paving the way for the whole Hair Metal scene.  In-part inspired and at the same time furthering the styles and sounds of the both punk and glam rock bands of the ‘70’s, Hanoi Rocks started the trend for a flamboyant, showy visual image which in their case linked an almost androgynous sense of style (pushed to the extreme by their lead singer) with hard rock.

Hanoi Rocks were a Finnish band formed by guitarist Andy McCoy and singer Michael Monroe in 1979, although the band’s line-up changed several times during the next few years.  During their most successful and productive period, McCoy and Munroe were joined by guitarist Nasty Suicide, bassist Sam Yaffa and ‘Razzle’ Dingley on the drums.  When the founder members first moved to Stockholm, most of the band lived on the streets begging.  There first single I want you/Kill City Kills was released in 1980 with some success, which led to them embarking on the longest rock tour in Finnish history in early 1981.  This coincided with the release of their seminal debut album ‘Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes Hanoi Rocks’.

Over the next two years, Hanoi Rocks gained significant and considerable critical success and commercial popularity in the UK, Scandinavia and Japan, but tragedy struck whilst on tour trying to break into the US market in 1983.  Whilst partying hard in the best rock and roll traditions between gigs with Motely Crüe in California, Razzle and the Crüe’s lead singer Vince Neil hit the road to buy more beer.  Both heavily under the influence, they were involved in a car crash on the way to the liquor store, and although Neil, the driver, suffered limited injuries, Razzle was killed instantly on impact.  Although Hanoi Rocks limped on without Razzle some of the spark was lost forever and the band slowly broke apart by the mid-1980s.  However, their legacy should not be overlooked; Hanoi Rocks can certainly be said to have broken the mold and set the scene for something new.

9. Mötley Crüe

With their histories intertwined with Hanoi Rocks, second place on the list must go to Mötley Crüe, who certainly lived the hedonist rock star life to the fullest possible extent.  With classic tunes such as “Shout At The Devil,” ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’, ‘Theater of Pain’ and ‘Dr. Feelgood’, Mötley Crüe wrote heavier songs that left little to the imagination when considering their reputation for booze, drugs and women.  On stage, Mötley Crüe were the wildest and craziest band of them all, reaching new levels of showmanship and indulgence – and the fans loved it.  With the founding members, drummer Tommy Lee and bass player Nikki Sixx, along with guitarists Mick Mars and lead singer Vince Neil, Mötley Crüe secured their position as one of the biggest American rock acts in history.

Mötley Crüe, like Hanoi Rocks, had a strong punk influence and was a much harder rock band than many Hair Metal bands to come but still had a heavy dose of power pop in their DNA.  The band’s 1981 debut album, ‘Too Fast for Love’ is still considered classic metal, albeit with deep and noticeable roots into the punk movement.  Perhaps the most amazing thing about them is that the entire band have even survived to the present day, although only just as Nikki Sixx overdosed on heroin in 1987 and was dead for two minutes before being revived.  If Hanoi Rocks gave Hair Metal the look, then the Crüe gave it its dark hedonistic soul with as many tattoos as girls, close run-ins with the law and struggles with addiction.

8. Def Leppard

Def Leppard grew out of the British New Wave Metal scene back in 19  77.Their first album was a solid success and saw them gain a significant following in the UK, but when they came to the attention of AC/DC producer ‘Mutt’ Lange, his professionalism helped Def Leppard hone their sound in the studio.  Although their second album, ‘High ‘n’ Dry’ saw only mediocre sales, the steady evolution from a UK metal band to a softer, more mainstream band led to their video for ‘Bringin’ on the Heartbreak’ from the album being one of the first metal acts to be shown on MTV.  This gave the band greater visibility in the US, and with their third album, ‘Pyromania’ released in 1983, Def Leppard hit the big time.  The album was certified a diamond seller in the US, a ten-times platinum record which most musicians can only dream of.  The single ‘Photograph’ pushed Michael Jackson’s off the spot of most-requested video clip on MTV.  Amazingly, this was not their peak; their fourth album, ‘Hysteria’ was a slow-seller to start with in 1987, but led to even greater sales than Pyromania following the release of the fourth single, ’Pour some sugar on me’.

Def Leppard has had their share of tragic moments over the years, but they stand out with their resilience in surmounting these problems which would have felled a lesser band.  From drummer Rick Allen losing an arm in a car crash on New Year’s Eve 1984 and going on to learn to use a modified drum kit with pedals (to the band’s everlasting credit, they never looked for a replacement) or Steve Clarke’s long-term battle with alcoholism, stints in rehab and eventual death in 1991.  Def Leppard were a mainstay of the Hair Metal genre with a signature sound featuring effects-laden guitars with harmonized vocals and significantly more musical talent than many of their rivals.  However, their clever use of the video and thus trademark hair metal look was a massive part of their vast success.

7. Van Halen

Van Halen was a California-based band formed way back in 1972.  The classic Van Halen line up comprised of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, singer David Lee Roth, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony.  By the early 80’s they were one of the most successful rock acts of the time.  With their blonde lead singer, hot shot guitar player and chick-obsessed pop songs, Van Halen typified the generation of big-haired light rockers with mass appeal.

1984’, released in, you’ve guessed it, early 1984 was Van Halen’s high-point, selling 12 million copies in the US and with the lead single ‘Jump’ becoming a genuine global hit.  However, 1984 is equally often considered the last of the ‘real’ Van Halen albums as the band fractured beyond recognition a little after release.  During the 1984 tour, conflict over different visions for both the band’s sound and image between Roth and Eddie Van Halen, eventually tore the band apart.  With Roth replaced on vocals by Sammy Hagar, Van Halen went on to continued success and a significant rebrand in the mid to late 80s, but in many ways it was a different band with a new catalogue and few links to its past.  Despite a near-reunion of the original line up in 1996, big mouths got in the way and old wounds remained unhealed.

6. Twisted Sister

Mid-table but impossible to ignore are Twisted Sister, a household name in the mid-80s who were responsible for such anthemic tunes as ‘I Wanna Rock’ and ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, both from 1984’s ‘Stay Hungry’.  Both songs harked back to their rebellious punk roots which made the band an icon for the teenagers of the mid-80s.  Their image was unmistakable with Dee Snider’s unforgettable curly blond locks and sneer which looked like he was about to leap out and bite you.  Twisted Sister’s harder than average yet accessible sound and amazingly in-your-face image was made for MTV, and once again, the video was crucial in their rise to massive commercial success.

Twisted Sister had more attitude than most, as can be heard in both their debut album ‘Under the Blade’ released in 1982 and the later ‘You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll’s’ from 1983.  Their music often focused on parent-child relationship problems and open criticism of the education system.  This courted controversy, and led to Tipper Gore and other politicians targeting the group specifically and Heavy Metal in general through the Parents Music Resource Centre (PMRC) in 1985.  Snider, to his great credit, stood up for what he believed in and testified in support of the music before a hearing in Congress – check it out online.  However, success due to image can work both ways, and when MTV banned the video for ‘Be Chrool to Your Scuel’ in 1985, their current album, ‘Come Out and Play’ saw much lower sales.  By 1987, Dee Snider had left the band and without him, the record label canceled the contract.  However, Twisted Sister deserve their place on the list; Hair Metal with teeth.

5. Tesla

Something of a departure from the look developed by the bands listed so far, Tesla had a far more classic look and sound.  Formed as City Kidd in Sacramento in 1982 Tesla performed in jeans and t-shirts for the most part, their 1986 offering, ‘Mechanical Resonance’, saw their name change to Tesla and stands above the rest of the band’s output with its spontaneity and energy, even though they themselves do not rate it so.  The changed name referred to the inventor and archetypal mad scientist, Nikola Tesla, and many of their album and song titles were taken from events relating to his life.

Unlike other Hair Metal Bands Tesla’s music and lyrics remained true to the rock of the previous decade.    Both Tommy Skeoch and Frank Hannon were far more influenced by the guitar riffs of bands such as Thin Lizzy, and were clearly better musicians than many of their more image-obsessed peers.  It took three years for the band to produce their next album, ‘The Great Radio Controversy’, in which even Tesla couldn’t resist indulging in a little power ballad, the classic ‘Love Song’ which was a huge hit for the band.  In many ways, Tesla are part of the hair metal scene by association, having toured with David Lee Roth and Poison to name but a few.  They were booed off stage when supporting Def Leppard, but they are a quality act and prove these years weren’t just about hairspray and tight pants but did include a quality tune or to.

4. Poison

Poison are firmly the real deal of hair metal, and if their song writing ability didn’t exactly shine (they are responsible for ‘Unskinny Bop’, which says it all), they were a massive band of the late 80s hair metal scene and spawned a discography of huge radio and MTV hits.  Formed in Pennsylvania in 1983 with an original line up of lead vocalist Brett Michaels, lead guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Bobby Dall and Rikki Rocket on drums, they developed a strong local following.  In 1984, they decided to relocate to LA to try for the big time, taking gigs where they could find them in some of the famous clubs of West Hollywood and the Sunset strip.

Times were hard, and Smith left the band to support his newborn child back in Pennsylvania.  The band auditioned for a new guitarist, accepting C.C. DeVille for his fire.  The chemistry was there, and the combination of Micheals’ huge vocal range and DeVille’s reckless charisma on stage saw Poison on the road to superstardom.  Poison hit the national scene with the multi-platinum, top-ten success of their debut album ‘Look What the Cat Dragged In’ which included several hot singles including the classic ‘Talk Dirty to Me’. The band began touring as the opening act for David Lee Roth but soon went out on their own. Their second album in 1988, ‘Open up and say… Ahh!’ was a huge hit and went on to sell over 8 million copies, boosted by singles such as ‘Nothin’ but a Good Time’ and ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’. The the rise of grunge in the early ‘90s and C.C. DeVille’s public sacking after a fistfight with Micheals backstage at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards saw the band’s popularity wane.  Nevertheless they remain a popular band, producing regular albums and touring right past the millennium.

3. Bon Jovi

The epitome of the hair metal pretty boy, Jon Bon Jovi stands proud in the role-call of the gods of ‘80s rock, even though many people have difficulty saying what kind of band Bon Jovi even was.  Striding the blurred line between power pop and hard rock and the fact that it embraced every rock cliché in the book, Bon Jovi earned a massive following and churned out a seemingly never ending string of hits starting with ‘Runaway’ in 1984.  This song only really got its chance as Jon Bon Jovi persuaded one of the New York radio stations he wrote and sang jingles for back in ’83 to include the song on their playlists.  The song was picked up by other radio stations in the New York area.  The new band got a record deal, and Runway was their first hit single.

Bon Jovi decided to mix things up for their third album, the result was ‘Slippery When Wet’, inspired by a visit to a strip club in Vancouver.  The album spent eight weeks at No.1 on the American Billboard 200 album chart, and two No.1 singles.  Bon Jovi were catapulted from support act to headliners where their brand of rock/pop sold stadium after stadium grossing $28 million dollars by the end of 1987.

The band recorded their fourth album, ‘New Jersey’ in 1988.  Again, it hit number one and was the source of five top ten hit singles, a record for any rock album.  Bon Jovi went on to tour where no American band had gone before, including headlining the Donnington ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival in UK and playing in the Moscow Music Peace Festival.

Already suffering from a certain tongue-in-cheek criticism over their musical credentials, Jon Bon Jovi and Ritchie Sambora performed both ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ and ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ live on two acoustic guitars at the 1989 MTV Music Awards.  This led to the huge popularity of live and unplugged acts for years to come, including the MTV Unplugged series itself.  However, the endless recording and touring for years since ‘Slippery When Wet‘ took its toll, and by 1991, the band drifted apart into solo projects with no desire to record more albums.  Although a soul-baring discussion on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas in 1991 led to the reformation of the band, the move away from power cords and heavy drums, and even Jon’s haircut made a their break from hair metal a finality.

2. Skid Row

Springing onto the hair metal scene in the late ‘80s as protégé’s of Jon Bon Jovi, Skid Row’s best and most well-known line up was guitarist Dave ‘The Snake’ Sabo together with bass player Rachel Dolan, Scott Hill (also on guitar) with Sebastian Bach as front man and Rob Affuso on drums.  Skid Row fused the styles of hard rock, ‘glam’ rock and metal in a way which owed much to the vocally talented Bach with his beautiful blond hair.  From throwing bottles into a crowd to Back’s regrettable choice of t-shirt slogan (AIDS Kills Fags Dead) Bach’s ability find trouble in any location at any time made Skid Row a favorite with the fans and a villain in the press.  The band’s two first albums (‘Skid Row’  and ‘Slave to the Grind’ are still important parts of hair metal’s scene, late as they were join the party.  Seattle’s Godfathers of Grunge, Nirvana was asked to open for Skid Row, but they declined, accusing the band of homophobia.  The clash of cultures between the hedonistic and unrepentant world of Hair Metal and the new dawn of Grunge heralded the beginning of the end.

1. Guns N’ Roses

1987 saw the release of probably the definitive hair metal album and with the added bonus that it’s actually good – in fact, one of the best rock albums ever recorded.  Guns N’ Roses formed in 1985 in Los Angeles with a far more glam-look and sound than is obvious from their recorded material.  After serving their time, GN’R was signed in 1986 and released the seminal debut album ‘Appetite for Destruction’ in 1987.  Instant success?  Not quite.  The first single, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ showed little popularity at first, malingering in the bottom of the charts until the founder of GN’R’s label, David Geffen personally convinced MTV to play their video.  A slow burner, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ went from the 4 am slot on a Sunday to a heavily requested video.  Success was really sealed with the release of the second single, ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ which became the smash hit of the summer in 1988.  ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ was re-released to massive support, and by the time ‘Paradise City’ hit the airwaves, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was No.1 in the USA, with 18 million units sold, the best-selling album in history.

What gave GN’R the power to break out from hair metal was the on stage relationship between Axl Rose and guitarist Slash. Together with original members of guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bass player Duff Mackagn and Steven Adler on the drums, Slash’s power chords and Axl’s vocals, Guns N’ Roses, without a doubt, outmatched all other hair metal contenders.  Their 1991 effort, the simultaneous release of ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘Use Your Illusion II’, and subsequent world tour solidified their status. Having sold an estimated 90 million albums worldwide, they are considered one of America’s most successful hard rock bands today.



So there you have it.  A trip down memory lane for some, and perhaps an opportunity to discover some of the gems that lie in amongst the rest.  Hair Metal is as excessive as its times, but fun for all that.  The rock star image was as important, if not more so, than the tunes, and the power of the video and their vehicle, MTV looms large over all these bands.  Packaged rebellion?  Sure, but as with all music, it’s a time-machine back to the past.  Just sit back, listen and take me home to the time when the grass was green and the girls were pretty…