So-called “hair metal” is not my favourite kind of music; it’s not even my favourite kind of metal – but the elements of accessibility/tunefulness, sleaze/glamour and the anachronistic visual appeal (or otherwise) of the record sleeves make it easy to be nostalgic about, and the best records are no worse than those of any other specific niche genre. It’s also interesting to explore as it was, for a couple of years, pretty pervasive both in itself and as an influence on other music.
Glam metal was of course not the first glam explosion, but nor was it simply a repeat of 1971-4 with younger bands; the background of metal and punk, instrumental virtuosity and attitude was entirely different, although the rebellion against musical boredom (Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, ELP in 1971, Jethro Tull, Dire Straits and the tail end of disco in ’81) and underlying grimness (the death of flower power as protest, strikes & heroin in the early 70s, right-wing politics and post-punk brutalist fashion in the early 80s) shared some parallels. Both were concerned ultimately with fun, shallowness, image and sex, and therefore are as valid artistically as anything else, especially if that anything is an epic concept album made by millionaires with tortured souls.
It would be pointless to deny that the USA (and very specifically LA) was the true home of glam metal, but its roots are more wide ranging:
Although in many ways a pop-rock act, Finland’s Hanoi Rocks are perhaps the true progenitors of 80s hair metal, their sleazy glam image (and Michael Monroe’s prettiness) being as important an influence as their 70s, Stones-ish rock was.
AC/DC (okay, the members’ Australian-ness is debatable but as a band they definitely came from Australia) gave glam metal much of its apparently simple riff-based anthemic quality, in addition to a fun, panto-esque irreverence clothing-wise. Rose Tattoo were in some ways similar but perhaps even more influential, not least on Guns ‘N’ Roses.
Although the glam elements in UK metal in the 80s weren’t the finest products of UK metal, much of the hair metal genre had its roots in the 70s UK glam explosion (The Sweet, Slade, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex), punk (Sex Pistols for attitude), UK-based hard rock like Whitesnake, Rainbow, UFO, Deep Purple etc and of course the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, although that movement (if you could call it a movement) was on the whole fairly anti-glam. A key band here is Def Leppard, who were widely derided by their UK contemporaries for their glossy, US-influenced sound, but were definitely an influence on the more AOR Bon Jovi wing of hair metal. Judas Priest’s leather & studs image was also taken on board by bands like Mötley Crüe, albeit with more of a sense of post-Mad Max style
The New York Dolls and Kiss are the most obvious American influence on hair metal, both in sound and with their flamboyant visual flair, although NY Dolls’ sleaziness was more convincing than that of Gene Simmons & co. Aerosmith too were a key band, especially as, like Kiss, they joined the younger generation, helping to shape hair metal during the 80s (see also Van Halen & David Lee Roth). Another key influence in the late 70s was the rise of soft, radio-friendly hard/soft rock like Journey, Boston & Anglo-American and British contemporaries like Foreigner and Supertramp.
Glam/hair metal itself
When glam metal truly broke it was a genuinely international movement; the US dominating to a degree, but bands from all over the world played an almost equal part (key examples; Ratt – USA, Def Leppard - UK, Scorpions – Germany, Europe – Sweden, White Lion – Denmark/USA).
The pervasiveness of glam
The nice thing about glam or hair metal (depending on your point of view) is that you could buy into it as much or as little as you wanted; semi dinosaur David Coverdale revived Whitesnake with a post-Van Halen guitar player and some makeup and they became definitively hair metal while hardly changing at all; actual dinosaurs like ZZ Top and Rainbow wrote the most commercial, melodic music of their careers. Even resolutely non-glam icons Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith started to look more fashionable than the rest of the band and released a very US-influenced solo album as ASAP (Silver & Gold), while fellow NWOBHM-ers Raven made semi-okay glam albums like Stay Hard and The Pack is Back. Even goth rockers The Cult (always an image-heavy band) embraced hard rock, making first the AC/DC-ish Electric and then their masterpiece Sonic Temple; Swiss death/black metal pioneers Celtic Frost bought into the image wholesale and made one of the most peculiar and reviled of all hair metal albums, Cold Lake. It’s no coincidence either that many of the heavier/punkier bands of this era, from Voivod to DRI to Anthrax made their most accessible music during the period 1984-89.
There was a backlash of course; the heaviest bands got heavier, more humourless; death and black metal and grindcore were spreading, but in the end it wasn’t only glam that suffered around 1990; the whole of metal was to evolve beyond recognition, leaving not only young bands like Skid Row and Pretty Boy Floyd seeming out of time and place, but suddenly the NWOBHM seemed as far off and quaint as the flower power era, the mighty Iron Maiden faltered, along with the thrash bands who couldn’t or wouldn’t move with the times and even the short-lived funk metal bands of 89-90 seemed antique by 1993 pr so.
Despite the neatness of the 'grunge-killed-metal' theory, a lot of this had happened before grunge hit; in the interregnum, albums like Faith No More’s The Real Thing (now easily as dated as Warrant or Nelson), The Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Mothers Milk and the emergence of bands as diverse as Prong, Ministry, Pixies and White Zombie were making the 80s seem like a different era, as in fact it was.
So what is left of hair metal is – like punk - a time capsule of songs, videos and album sleeves; evocative, poignant even, and for those young enough not to remember, either a source of bemusement or inspiration. But the era of glam can never come again, except as a pastiche or tribute; nor would one want it to, any more than a new ‘beat group’ explosion or new New Wave movement. It’s been done, it’s still there and out of context it’s just plain silly.
In the pictures:
A cross-section of some of the hair metal albums in my collection; not all classics.
PICTURE 1 (top of page)
Clockwise from Top in a spiral (why not?):
Vixen – Rev It Up ( EMI, 1990)
Second album by the most famous female hair metal band. Quality songs throughout, but not very sleazy or attitude heavy; more like a metalled-up Stevie Nicks than anything else, sentimental but rocking.
Vinnie Vincent Invasion – S/T (Chrysalis, 1986)
Shrill, totally OTT, screeching glam from ex-Kiss “axeman”. Pretty good actually but ex-Journey singer Robert Fleishman has a voice your dog will hate.
Lionheart – Hot Tonight (Epic, 1984)
Tatty but loveable attempt at radio rock by former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton. A half-decent production would have made all the difference.
Living Colour – Vivid (Epic, 1988)
Not true glam maybe but Vernon Reid’s take on melodic hard rock was flamboyant, catchy and definitely image conscious.
Kix – Cool Kids (Atlantic, 1983)
Not as glam (or as good) as some of their later stuff, but the title track is pretty cool, naturally.
Mötley Crüe – Theatre of Pain (Elektra, 1985)
By album number three, the glam legends were already sounding tired, and this is a half-hearted, patchy record, albeit one with a classic in Home Sweet Home and their influential cover of Smokin’ in the Boys Room on it.
Yngwie J Malmsteen’s Rising Force – Odyssey (Polydor, 1988)
Yngwie had made his name as a ‘proper’ metal guitarist but as soon as he joined forces with Rainbow’s Joe Lynn Turner he became (briefly) a hair metal artist. This album is packed with completely ridiculous but fun anthems.
LA Guns – Cocked & Loaded (Vertigo, 1989)
LA Guns should have been bigger; not only did they feature vocalist Phil Lewis of UK glam metal pioneers Girl, they had Tracii Guns, one of the glammestly-named people ever and the ‘Guns’ of the original lineup of Guns ‘n’ Roses. This album is good.
Wolf – Wolf (Mausoleum, 1984)
Atmospheric and melodic NWOBHM – a great, sadly obscure LP by Wolf (aka Black Axe). Their only album and almost faultless.
Wrathchild [UK] – Stakk Attak (Heavy Metal, 1984)
Despite taking their name from an Iron Maiden song, this band were far more Gary Glitter (musically!) than NWOBHM – silly, simple rock anthems like ‘Trash Queen’ dominate; it’s great.
Loudness – Hurricane Eyes (ATCO, 1987)
Stalwarts of Japanese metal, Loudness, like many bands the world over, ‘turned hair’ in the mid-80s and this album, though not their best, is a high quality release. There are Japanese and English language versions, either is good.
Mötley Crüe – Dr Feelgood (Elektra, 1989)
The band’s last good album until their reunion, this is nevertheless a bit annoying; Kickstart my Heart is good though.
Nasty Idols – Gigolos on Parole (HSM, 1989) – peeking in at bottom right
Forgettable, over-slick Swedish glam – except for the immortal ‘Give Me What I Want’, as good a slab of sleazy Euro-glam as you will ever hear.
Whitesnake – 1987 (Geffen, 1987)
The albums leading up to this one, like Slide It In and Saints & Sinners were almost hair metal, but with many behind-the-scenes lineup issues and the recruitment of Dutch shredder Adrian Vandenberg, the band became hair metal royalty with the release of this album; ‘Is This Love’, ‘Here I Go Again’, ‘Still of the Night’. Enough said.
Ratt – Ratt EP (Time Coast, 1983)
Like all things Ratt, their debut ep is terminally patchy but heavy on attitude, with the band projecting a ‘gay pirate’ feel on the back of the sleeve. It does have the definitive version of ‘Back For More’ on it though, slappy bass and all.
Skid Row – S/T (Atlantic, 1989)
One of the last great debuts of the hair metal era, this was somewhat overrated at the time, but it still stands up pretty well.
Poison – Open Up And Say...Ahh !(Enigma, 1988)
Much maligned glam superstars earned the displeasure of millions with the inclusion of the hideous ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ but that aside this is one of the true classics of tacky glam.
D-A-D – No Fuel Left For the Pilgrims(too lazy to look up label, 1989)
Hmm, “Disneyland After Dark”. The album title is peculiar too but these Danish rockers made some good melodic but characterful hair metal.
Mötley Crüe – Girls, Girls, Girls (Elektra, 1987)
Dramatic return to form showcasing harder sound and image; peerless glam masterpiece.
DiAnno – DiAnno (Heavy Metal, 1984)
Weak and lame but with a couple of good songs, ex-Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno cemented his (largely undeserved) reputation as a hapless oaf with this peculiar soft hard rock album.
Marionette – Blonde Secrets & Dark Bombshells (Heavy Metal, 1985)
Kerrang cartoonist Ray Zell led this sleazy, tacky, punky UK glam band, who would have been genuinely great if he could sing. Great atmosphere though; they tried.
Alice Cooper – Trash (Epic, 1989)
Like his contemporaries in Aerosmith, the great Alice Cooper seemed a little tired around the mid-80s, but the hair metal explosion gave him a burst of energy and his best album of the decade, led by classic single ‘Poison’.
White Lion – Pride (Atlantic, 1987)
It was easy to like White Lion in the UK; they had very little airplay, zero presence on TV, and lots of catchy songs, despite some icky ballads.
Celtic Frost – Cold Lake (Noise, 1988)
Despite the Swiss death-black-thrashers’ pedigree, everything about this album, down to the reinvention of the band’s logo, is steeped in glam. Strange, seedy, morbid glam though; and I love it. ‘Seduce Me Tonight’, ‘Petty Obsession’ et al are not for everyone, but despite their reputation they are for some people.
Dave Sharman – 1990 (Noise, 1989)
Obscure UK-based instrumentalist. Great guitar player but this album lacks the character of Joe Satriani or (Christ!) Guy Mann Dude.
David Lee Roth – Skyscraper (Warners, 1988)
Better than anything Van Halen recorded without him – all you need to know.
Raven – The Pack Is Back (Atlantic, 1986)
Geordie speed metal pioneers go glam in the dodgiest way possible. Quite fun at times.
Chastain – The 7th of Never (Shrapnel, 1987)
Attempted guitar god David T Chastain made lots of ‘alright’ albums in the 80s, of which this is one.
Shout – In Your Face (Frontline, 1989)
Stryper weren’t bad, but if you only buy one Christian hair metal album for your collection make it this one; tough, Whitesnake-ish riff-laden hard rock with tons of feeling. Ludicrous but strangely nice.
Cities – Annihilation Absolute (Metal Masters, 1985)
Anonymous power metal – does not belong here.
Kiss – Crazy Nights (Mercury, 1987)
Kiss may have been among the architects of hair metal, but they weren’t above copying the style/image of the younger bands who they inspired. They were pretty good at it, though his album features some of the worst music of a very patchy career.
Shotgun Messiah – S/T (Relativity, 1989)
The re-branding of Kingpin (one of the greatest glam bands of all time) as Shotgun Messiah seemed to work, and this marginally toned-down rerecording of their Welcome to Bop City is still pretty great, despite the slightly drab image.
Show N Tell – Overnight Sensation (Medusa, 1988)
Presumably one of the many thousands of club bands that managed to release an album with zero impact, this is a loveably bad LP; the ambition is audible, the talent only marginal.
Kingpin – Welcome To Bop City (CMM, 1988)
Zinny Zan of iconic early Swedish glam band Easy Action went on to make this all-time tacky dayglo masterpiece with Kingpin. It got good reviews, made no impact and the band moved on. Sad.
Madam X – We Reserve The Right (Jet, 1984)
The Petrucci sisters (later of Vixen) first made this silly but good glam rock/metal LP. Fun fact; Sebastian Bach was briefly the band’s vocalist.
Phantom Blue – S/T (Shrapnel, 1989)
Proper, melodic heavy metal made by fashionable and pretty girls; good stuff.
Warp Drive – Gimme Gimme (Music for Nations, 1989)
Anonymous virtuoso hair metal; one good song.
Steve Stevens - Atomic Playboys (Warners, 1989)
Two or three good songs on this album by Billy Idol’s guitar player.
Lion – Dangerous Attraction (Scotti Bros, 1987)
Extremely polished hard rock album that is strangely obscure for something so commercial.
Slave Raider – Take the World By Storm (RCA, 1988)
They didn’t, because there are only two good songs on the album. Nice piratical image though.
Sleez Beez – Screwed, Blued & Tattooed (Atlantic, 1990)
Good solid sleazy glam from Holland, arrived just too late to make a really big impact.
PICTURE 2 (above, but not as high up as picture 1)
Clockwise from bottom left in a spiral (why not?):
Guns N’ Roses –G N’ R Lies (Geffen, 1988)
Disappointingly bits & pieces-y as a follow up to Appetite for Destruction, this is still probably the only thing the band has released that didn’t suck by comparison with it.
Alien – Cosmic Fantasy (Ultranoise, 1984)
Patchy but loveable cheapo sci-fi glam.
Lita Ford – Out For Blood (Mercury, 1983)
Debut solo album from the Runaways’ guitarist shows the glam image in place, but the music; slightly stodgy forgettable hard rock, still to catch up.
Glorious Bankrobbers – Dynamite Sex Dose (Planet, 1989)
Good, tough Swedish glam, only let down by some silly lyrics.
Guns N’ Roses –Appetite For Destruction (Geffen, 1987)
One of the cornerstones of hair metal; but actually not as good as it seemed at the time. The best songs are very good though.
Hanoi Rocks – Back To Mystery City (Lick, 1983)
Great pop-rock, not really like anyone else, and good even if you don’t like 80s hair metal.
Dokken – Tooth & Nail (Elektra, 1984)
Often considered Dokken’s masterpiece, but it isn’t – that would be Under Lock & Key. Still, classy melodic hard rock with the piercing vocals of good old Don Dokken.
Helter Skelter – Welcome to the World of Helter Skelter (Metronome, 1989)
Utterly ridiculous German glam metal masterpiece; barely metal, but very catchy.
King Kobra – King Kobra III (Music For Nations, 1989)
Not up to the usual King Kobra, Iron Eagle soundtrack standards, but Mark Free’s replacement Johnny Edwards is pretty good and there are a handful of pretty decent songs.
Keel – The Right To Rock (A&M, 1985)
Middle of the road, meat & potatoes hair metal; not bad but hard to get excited about on this occasion.
Keel – Keel (Vertigo, 1987)
More like it; sillier, more attitude laden and with proper sleaze anthems like ‘Cherry Lane’.
Easy Action – S/T (Tandan, 1983)
Absolute Swedish classic, grounded in 70s glam and Hanoi Rocks; nearly every song is great and the band went on to star in a horror move, Blood Tracks.
Def Leppard – Pyromania (Vertigo, 1983)
Obnoxiously good radio-friendly hard rock. ‘Photograph’ actually did (does?) get played on the radio a lot.
D’Molls – S/T (Atlantic, 1988)
Great attitude and sound let down by mostly weak material; 1990’s Warped is a million times better but this is more definitively glam.
Dogs D’Amour – Errol Flynn (China, 1989)
Scummy, laidback UK glam, influenced by Rod Stewart & the Faces but somehow still good.
Dogs D’Amour – In The Dynamite Jet Saloon (China, 1988)
Earlier, glammier, better version of the above.
Fastway – Trick or Treat OST (CBS, 1986)
Classic soundtrack to the horror movie of the same name, the best songs are like a glammed-up AC/DC.
Faster Pussycat – S/T (Elektra, 1987)
One of the greats of hair metal, should’ve been bigger than Guns N’ Roses; there’s no justice in the world.
E-Z-O – S/T (Geffen, 1987)
Slightly eccentric Japanese glam metal; some good songs, but somehow surprising that they briefly made an impact in the USA.
And basically the same pics with a few more albums visible....