The 411 Music Top Five 03.11.13: The Top 5 Hair Metal Bands
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.12.2013
From Guns N' Roses and Def Leppard to Scorpions, Motley Crüe, Whitesnake and more, the 411 staff counts down their top 5 hair metal bands!
THE TOP 5 HAIR METAL BANDS
Criteria: Hair metal, also known as glam metal, was a subgenre of rock and metal that saw its height of popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s before the grunge movement came along and largely killed it off. For our top 5 this week, we're looking at the best Hair Metal bands. Keep in mind that the line between what is and isn't hair metal is a blurry one so there was some solid leeway given here.
NOTE: : I personally have a healthy disdain not only for the term "hair metal" and what it has come to represent but the mid 80's L.A. culture that really beget the whole thing. (to better understand my thoughts as to why, look no further than The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years). Then there is also the question of iffy musical 'talent' (Looking at you, Poison), overall shallowness not only of the music and those that produced it, as well as the over-saturation that resulted, which indeed killed the whole movement off. My top 5 will be notable in that there will not be any Gn'R or Bon Jovi (in my eyes, both overrated and overplayed) and will mainly consist of acts that actually pre-date the mid 80's craze but had both an influence and contributed greatly either commercially or critically during that time.
Honorable Mentions: Ratt, Loverboy and Def Leppard (despite the fact that Joe Elliot is a smug, arrogant self-important bastard that likes to think he's far greater than he really is.)
5. Motley Crüe
The one true "hair band" on my list. Their initial commercial success (Alongside Quiet Riot, who unfortunately were one album wonders) was the true kicking off point for the whole movement. Shout At The Devil put them at the verge of mainstream success, but it was Theater of Pain that they kicked the door in. The reason why they have continued to enjoy as much success as they have has to do with the catchy songwriting prowess of Nikki Sixx & Co. Outside of Tommy Lee as their drummer, I wouldn't refer to any of them as "great musicians" per se, but one can't argue either with their longevity or their catalog.
David Coverdale's band had success in Europe, but had never broken wide in the states for whatever reason. Cut to the mid 80's, and the popularity of hair metal on MTV. Finally seeing a chance to cash in, Coverdale fired his entire band, replaced them with a band of more photogenic all-stars (Adrian Vandenberg, Vivian Campbell, Rudy Sarzo & Tommy Aldridge) to appear in the videos and go out on tour. And oh, yeah. He had the bright idea of having his sexpot better half at the time Tawny Kitaen be the focus and star of said videos. Good move, as it shot the band into the popular stratosphere. When it came time to record the follow up? When Vandenberg couldn't do it due a wrist injury he suffered, he was replaced with Steve Vai. Talk about your musical credibility.
The German rockers had been toiling at their craft all throughout the 70's, (Animal Magnetism is a freaking great album) but it wasn't until MTV came along that their brand of hard rock and ballads broke through here in the states. All through the 80's they released classic albums (Blackout, Love At First Sting, etc.) that begat classic stadium anthems. A great combination of memorable songs, genuine musical talent and the ability to provide a memorable live show elevates them towards the top of my personal list.
Again, unfair to paint them with the "hair metal" brush, as they predate it by a large margin and had many successful years beforehand. However, their resurgence to the spotlight during that point in time was a high point in terms of fans of theirs, but also the fact that these old pricks had gotten their collective shit together and had started to produce some really great music as a result. Not only did they emerge back from the ashes, but in comparison to many of their "hair metal" contemporaries of the time? They completely wiped the floor with them.
1. Van Halen
Before "Hair Metal" was even a term, this band embodied it. Raucous, fun hard rock that had its own indescribable vibe that was all its own. While it had musical credibility due to the groundbreaking efforts of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, it was frontman David Lee Roth that embodied the free, fun loving, hard partying spirit that defined the band's early days, and truly set the template for what "Hair Metal" would eventually become. After a famously acrimonious split with Roth, he was replaced by Sammy Hagar, and many longtime fans decried it as a sellout. But if anything, with Hagar in the fold, Van Halen emerged as a more mature entity, not only in terms of the song subjects, but Eddie's willingness to explore his personal musical creativity.
Of course, now Dave's back. So all bets are off.
Here are two divergent examples of why this band remains important and vital.
Disclaimer, HUGE disclaimer. I'm the metal guy on the site (at least I like to think so), there is not a genre of metal I dislike. But if there were to be one, it'd be hair metal. It's never really resonated with me like the other genres. So this list is pretty much limited to what bands I actually like (you'd never see Poison on this list, you can thank Guitar Hero), and know enough of to talk about them. But when we have a Top 5 thrash metal bands, watch out!
Celtic Frost - ...I'm kidding, the glam metal album, 'Cold Lake', was, and has always been seen as a turd, as well as a weird career move. Because hair metal was waning during this time. But I just had to mention them, because I still find this album hilarious.
Spinal Tap - They actually are a real band! Kinda...they have released other albums besides the one from the movie. They're awesome enough to get on here, so that's all that matters.
Skid Row - Yeah, they should be higher. But as much as I enjoy them when they're on the radio, I don't really know many songs outside of them, to be honest. The songs I do know, are pretty rocking, and "18 and Life" is a pretty nice ballad. I think that'd enough to land them here.
5. Steel Panther
It's odd that I have a parody band on a "best" list, because usually they're all jokes and no substance. While these guys don't quite have the awesome solos that I will admit come with some of the better hair metal bands, they are competent at their jobs as musicians. Not to mention, they're funny as hell. They do a great job of parodying the aspects of the glam scene (most of them being the look, the pop tinges, and the culture; none of which appeal to me), but at the same time, you can tell that they love glam, and they're having fun. Judging by the album charts, they're starting to get pretty successful, and I wish them all the best, because they're as fun as a barrel off monkeys.
4. Guns N' Roses
Guns N' Roses, do I have to give them any introduction? They're relevant even today, though some people may question whether or not they are glam metal. I don't really think so, which is one of the reasons that they're lower than most would expect. They're a great band; that is without a doubt. But I find them to be a bit overrated. It's probably because I wasn't around for their debut heyday, but they feel like a band that is great, but has been blown up to be better than they are. Case and point, VH1 (I know, great source for musical opinions) named "Welcome to the Jungle the #2 great heavy metal song of all time, as well as the #1 greatest hard rock song of all time. It is a great song, a classic even, but I don't feel like it's quite that good (though the whole metal list was severely flawed). But enough of my bitching, why are Gn'R on this list? Simply because they were/are (when Axl shows up) a great band. They have many classic songs, even though they only have 4 albums and an EP released in all the time they're been around. Which is impressive. It launched Slash's career, as well as countless other musicians. I am looking forwards to the debate (and by debate, I mean insults) on whether or not they belong on this list. But at least we could all agree on Axl Rose being a bleeding anal wart of a man.
I had to include this here. Despite what Pantera wants to you to believe, 'Cowboys From Hell' was NOT their first album, nor the first one with Phil Anselmo, they had 4 albums, and 9 years where they were not the Pantera we all know and mostly love. They started out being a KISS-inspired glam band, then melded speed metal into the sound. While their first album, 'Metal Magic' is a cheese fest, the other 4 slowly get faster and faster, to where I can honestly say that I find them to be more speed than glam. I think the high point of this period is the last album before they become heavy, punch your face, flip you off and then go eat the sandwich your mother made for you. That album, is called, 'Power Metal'. In my opinion, it is the high point of this era of Pantera (Glamtera, if you will), the riffs are killer as always, Rex and Vinnie sound great, and Phil Anselmo is wailing high notes like they're going out of style. I'd say go try to buy it, but it's a bitch to find any of these albums in physical form, or digital for that matter, because the band never wants these albums to be found. So I think youtube is your best bet, it's a shame that this era isn't as well known as their popular stuff (which I have now come to the theory that a lot of women like Pantera), but alas, it's still awesome stuff.
2. Def Leppard
Without my buddy Randy, this band would have never even sniffed this list. Because I had never been impressed with the band, just saw them as typical hair metal. But after a recommendation or two (as well as some Phil Collen guitar solos), I can say that I find Def Leppard to be a pretty good band. Their earliest stuff is the best, in my opinion (though I'll admit, I'm no expert on them), because they has the most NWOBHM influence in them. Where are they slowly start to feel a bit more hair metal as their later 80s stuff would show (the singles are the ones that make this the most obvious). Their hair metal run is fine though, it's about what you would expect. If you've seen them recently (I haven't but my friends Randy and Nick did), they apparently are pretty damn heavy, I assume to try to accompany the now lower vocal range of Joe Elliot. But that's no problem, they actually sounded pretty good by what I've heard, so long live them.
1. Motley Crüe
This is probably of no surprise. These guys are the first hair band that I listened to and really rocked along with. They were catchy as hell, but still heavy enough to earn my respect. They have had countless hits, and success. Both Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx are great guitarists, and Nikki Sixx has managed to take his fame in the Crüe, and go do his own band, Sixx A.M., which I hear is quite good. Vince Neil is not quite what he used to be, but in his glory days, he was a good voice and frontman. Tommy Lee is a pretty good drummer, but I think he's more known by some for his third drum stick, rather than the other two. The four of them have been around forever, as well. It's safe to say that even if you look at their collective resumes, as well as discography, they deserve this spot. But the fact that they were one of the bands that helped get the genre on the map (for better or worse) is something to be commended. I think their bite has gone long ago (at least if you listen to their latest single release, it was called, "Sex", and was tame as could be), but when you look at their influence and past works, they deserve the spot at Number One like no other band.
The Crüe were an absolutely essential part of hair metal. Everything that Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars and Nikki Sixx did screamed the hair metal scene. They're one of the best-selling musical acts of all time and yet they are often remembered more for their antics than their music. That's not to say that their music is bad though. It isn't lyrical genius, but it is enjoyable music that fit firmly within the 1980s without seeming dated today. That's a stamp of longevity and it's by and large the reason why they're still rocking (trips to the hospital mid-concert aside) to this day.
4. Spinal Tap
For the record, I am aware that the members of Spinal were fictional characters, and I am ready for the arguments of "Spinal Tap isn't even a real band!" Oh, really? Did This Is Spinal Tap not register on the Billboard Charts? Is "Stonehenge" not an absolute classic in the hair metal Even if the band was formed for a mockumentary (and what a mockumentary it was), they were still a band and they were phenomenal. Lots of parodies make fun of their targets but suck at it. Spinal Tap not only successfully skewered the genre; they were also a very good hair band themselves. They've also released actual albums in each of the last three genres, all of which have been successful albums. Hate away, but they deserve their spot on the list.
3. Def Leppard
Def Leppard was Bon Jovi with an edge. They were a far better band than their New Jersey counterparts during the 80s and yet they had the same level of success as them. Hysteria is a watershed album of the genre and era, with instantly recognizable classics like "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Love Bites." What makes Hysteria even more amazing is the fact that it was the first album after Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident and his drumming work still blows most of his contemporaries away. The band has never seen the heights they reached with Pyromania and Hysteria, but they've maintained a longevity and stayed successful which also earns them a lot of points.
There are two truly great frontmen in hair metal. One of them is Bret Michaels, who helped lead Poison to an enormous level of success. A lot of people looked down on this band for one reason or another but I always appreciated their work. It's not revolutionary but we're talking about hair bands here, people. With such hits as "Talk Dirty To Me," "Nothin' But a Good Time" and of course the hair ballad to end all hair ballads "Every Rose Has It's Thorn," this is a band that created so many die-hard fans that after the fall of hair bands in the '90s and all the way through the '00s, they still have people who love seeing them perform. Not many aging hair metal stars can say that.
1. Guns n' Roses
Axl Rose and Slash are THE faces of hair metal. I know that there are a lot of people who very strenuously debate that Guns N' Roses are not actually hair metal, and those people are usually the ones who want are ashamed of the genre and don't want to associate the beloved GNR with such a genre. However, there is no other band that people think of more often than those two when discussing hair metal and Guns n' Roses was the band that had it all: consistently great songs, heights of mainstream success and influence. Sure, things may have turned to disaster when grunge came along and wiped hair bands away--personally I blame The Spaghetti Incident? in small part of the downfall of hair bands--but no one was better at the hair band game than Axl, Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steven Adler. These guys ruled the late 1980s and for damn good reason.
The Final Word
As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:
5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it