Hair Metal: The 30 Essential Albums

Rolling Stone recently compiled its "50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums." Here's how it introduced the subject:

"Visually flamboyant and prone to shout-along hooks in ways that made them salable in a video-single format, bands like Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Ratt owed way more to British glam-rock or Aerosmith than to Black Sabbath. In any other era they might've just been labeled "hard rock," but at some point somebody came up with the probably pejorative term "hair-metal," and the name stuck.

"Swept under history's rug and summarily dismissed as fake when thrash and grunge came along, hair-metal's been out of the spotlight long enough by now to be forgiven for all but its sleaziest sins. More holds up musically than you might guess: Trimming this list to a mere 50 albums was so tough that in the long run Guns N' Roses had to be disqualified for transcending the form and W.A.S.P. for sounding too legitimately heavy."

G'n'R's "transcendence" prompted a few remarks on my facebook wall. The consensus seemed to be that they were a breed apart from this animal called hair metal. I agree for the most part, but in 1988, there would have been absolutely no question that Guns n Roses was of the same genre as any band no one in 2015 would think twice of designating "hair metal." W.A.S.P., too. They're right in saying W.A.S.P., musically, might have been more straight-up heavy metal, but their subject matter - at least in the period under examination (roughly '82 to '92) was unabashed cock rock. And scientifically speaking, cock rock is more hair metal than heavy metal.

The Rolling Stone list is quite good overall; I reluctantly raise the sign of the horns in their direction. Nevertheless, it got me thinking. We know the Black Crowes don't belong in the discussion, but we're not exactly sure why. What is hair metal, exactly? Or better yet, where is it? If musical genres were represented on a map, what would the capitol of Hair Metal be? What are its borders and what genre-lands lay beyond them? Is there an army of guitarists that lets visitors know when they've crossed the border?

To answer some of these questions - for myself, sure, but I'm dragging you along - I made myself a spreadsheet and listed all of the albums listed in the Rolling Stone article for starters then added any hair metal album I could think of. (Full disclosure: I spent most of the 80s convinced hair metal was the natural evolution of humanity and its best bet for a maximum-rocking future.) I solicited friends and the internet to accumulate as many choices as I could.

Then I made columns (riff, production, badassedness, context, degree-of-chauvenism - not as cut-and-dried as you might think! Some hair metal gets so extreme in this regard that it might legitimately cross over into Shaktism -, any "YAAAAAAA!!"s (ex: 0:13), calls to reject any external restriction on the amount of rocking that you might want to do, reckless living, confused occultism, and more), assigned points, you-tubed the crap out of everything, and voila. 

This is a Public Service not quite from the frontlines (as the war ended long ago) but from somewhere near where the war once raged. A dispatch from a once fully-embedded correspondent.  

Without further ado:

Honorable mentions: Warrant's Cherry Pie (probably pretty essential, but do you prosper from having the whole album instead of just the singles?), and Firehouse's Firehouse (which may be more emblematic of hair metal than some of the selections below, but is it something I consider "essential?" Apparently not, as I don't feel the need to own it. But lest we forget - this is a pretty airtight example of what hair metal sounded and looked like when it ruled the roost.) And there are plenty of essential hair metal songs (like "Loud and Clear" by Autograph, or "Save Your Love" by Great White) that don't appear below because the album's they appear on don't live up to those particular songs. 

You want to hear a completely off-the-radar precursor to Hair Metal that is instantly recognizable as everything tc come? Look here. Stay for the solo round 1:40. "Within that document" (blam!) "lay the Vietnam war."

I'd recommend not clicking every link. I really went overboard - but that's more or less required any time the topic of discussion is Hair Metal. 

Grim Reaper - Rock You To Hell (1987)

With the band's name and that cover, you'd be forgiven for thinking this belongs on a different list: Best Death Metal or something so-named. But it's very much not. I might as well get this out of the way upfront: metal that sincerely attempts to be scary is a) never scary, b) sillier for the attempt, and c) pointless. This is very much not pointless, though it is very silly. Ridiculously awesome and awesomely ridiculous, let's consider this album a border town that officially announces to weary travelers that they have left other genres and crossed over into Hair Metal proper. Case in point: "Waysted Love."

And really, you can't really improve on the title track. It's just the dumbest piece of metal genius ever written. I mean this with admiration.

L.A. Guns - Cocked and Loaded (1989)

The Venn diagram comprising the early years of L.A. Guns and Guns 'n' Roses is interesting reading. I used to love piecing together that story from interviews in Circus and Hit Parader back in the pre-internet day. The Guns circled the bigtime but never quite hit the bullseye. They might have come closest with this, though some might nominate 1991's Hollywood Vampires. These guys were never a personal favorite, but I always loved  "Never Enough" and still do.

BulletBoys - BulletBoys (1988)

"Smooth Up in Ya" immediately and belligerently blares from my mental subwoofers whenever hair metal is mentioned. Such a classic call-and-response slice of sex devotional. Reducing such sentiments to their crudest form (pretty much 50% of hair metal is a paean to anonymous alleyway sex) and churning them through the standard hair metal format (YAAA! verse/bridge/chorus/solo YAAA!) was just part of the gig back then.

I hadn't heard this album from start to finish since '89 or so, but I gave it a spin in prep for this post. Ditto for Hurricane's Over the Edge, Britny Fox's Britny Fox, Winger's Winger, and Kingdom Come's Kingdom Come. And some others, too, but of the aforementioned, only BulletBoys made the Essential cut. I can't believe I forgot this one over the years.
Another compass reading: we are moving deeper into Hair Metal now, about to come up on a large settlement:

Whitesnake - Whitesnake (1987)

"Still of the Night" was one of my favorites back in the day. Man, that video still looks so cool. (It's completely ridiculous, but it looks cool. That goes for practically everything on here.) And another arrest by the Sex Police! Someone needs to stop those guys. 

When I was in 7th grade, my buddy Jay was a grade ahead of me. He was the kind of self-nominated PR man-on-the-ground that was essential to the old record label distribution of product. (Still today, really - I mean, what are blogs? Touché, universe.) He campaigned for bands in the letters columns of any fanzine that would print him and transmuted impressive amounts of allowance and paper route money into a cassette mini-empire in North Smithfield, RI. I was a beneficiary of this *, and so I was already a Whitesnake fan by the time this self-titled album came out.

* Later, Jay excommunicated me for calling Dirty Looks, a band he loved, a bunch of dicks. Listening to that now, I was totally wrong - that song rocks. Sorry, Jay.

This sold 8 million copies in the United States. I seem to remember reading at some point that Tawny Kitaen - the model in the album's three vidoes - sued for profits from it at some point. But I can't seem to find corroboration for this.

Tawny had a curious relationship with hair metal. She's on Ratt's Out of the Cellar cover, as well. I think she might be right about her video personality greatly popularizing Whitesnake, but whether or not she was entitled to her own royalties from album sales, I don't know. She was married to David Coverdale at the height (I assume) of Whitesnake's earning years, so I'm sure she did okay.

Anyway, these guys had a few years history before '87. "Slow and Easy" is perhaps their most well-known pre-Whitesnake song, but I always liked "Take Me with You." Older metal fans (guys with lots of Deep Purple albums) always seemed to turn their nose up at the "new" Whitesnake when this (and its follow-up, Slip of the Tongue, where they again re-appropriated one of their older songs, "Fool For Your Loving" for the late 80s crowd) was popular.

Kiss - Revenge (1992)

I've covered this album before, but this is the one where Kiss out-Hair-Metaled the Hair Metal era on its own terms. And on the band's own terms, as well.

And I can't let the album go past without a shoutout to the greatest Kiss cover of all time, Die Artze's version of "Unholy." One of Gene's best. Gene often phoned it in during the Hair Metal era, but on Revenge, he shines. 

Tesla - Mechanical Resonance (1986)

I wasn't sure whether to pick this one or its follow-up (The Great Radio Controversy) or even Five Man Acoustical Jam. All are worth having. Their two best-known songs are probably "Love Song" (from Great Radio) or their cover of "Signs" (from Five Man) but my personal favorites are all from this one. So Mechanical Resonance it is.

Tesla always had cool videos. The one for "Modern Day Cowboy" still cracks me up. (I remember all the repurposed old movie footage but forgot they had Strangelove in there.) And because of this song, anytime I see "the U.S.A." in print, I hear it in my head the way Jeff Keith sings it in this song. (3:54 "The U.S.A.! THE U.S.A. now!") 

I actually like this one (and Tesla) much more than the next nine or ten entries, but there's terrain probably closer to the heart of the Hair Metal beast. Speaking of: 

Damn Yankees - Damn Yankees (1992)

This album had a very short shelf life with me. I loved it intensely for a month or two, then never played it again until earlier this week. Of the era in question, this one dominated the rock radio (94 HJY and 107.3 WAAF) of my later high school years more than any other album except for #23. One or other of its songs was just always on the radio, it seemed, every 20 minutes. It's funny to think that the first stirrings of Alice in Chains and Nirvana and Pearljam were in this radio mix, as well. By the end of the year, hair metal was practically memory holed.

Anyway, this one is textbook hair metal stuff, here. Again with the map metaphor: this is the industrial region of Hair Metal. I don't mean industrial-sounding, like NIN or Sisters of Mercy or something. Damn Yankees was assembly-line perfection from veterans of bands both hair metal (Ted Nugent) non-hair-metal (Tommy Shaw of Styx) and hair-metal-curious (Jack Blades of Night Ranger).

Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears (1991)

Again, this isn't a personal favorite. The only solo Ozzy I really need is his first three. But the list feels incomplete without it, and it's arguably solo-Ozzy at its best. It definitely encapsulates the genre into one package and as filtered through one of its most enduring statesmen. 

Around this time, too, I was really into Gary Moore, before he reinvented himself (quite successfully) as a bluesman. He and Ozzy collaborated on a great track, "Led Clones," that eviscerates those bands and producers taking too many pages from the Led Zeppelin playbook. By crafting the song in exactly the sort of structural-swiping as the objects of their criticism, the point is brought home all the more.

Gary Moore (and particularly this album, After the War) was underrated then and now. I considered him for this list, but he has homes in too many genres. Good for him and all, but it made him an uneasy candidate for the company we look at today. Nevertheless, when I think of hair metal, his cover of "Friday on My Mind" and stuff like "Over the Hills and Far Away" or "The Loner" casts a long shadow. He'd have placed quite high.

Did I just exploit Ozzy's entry to link to four Gary Moore tunes? I guess I did. Sorry, Ozzy. But I think your place in all-metal history is secure enough.

(23.5 If Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation and Pump belong somewhere in this countdown - and a few friends / readers made a compelling case that they should - this is where I'd place them.)

Poison - Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986)
Poison - Open Up and Say Ahh (1988)

Okay, any exploration of Hair Metal is incomplete with Poison. They were both enthusiastic acolytes of the genre (Exhibit A: their just-prior-to-megafame coked-up enthusiasm in The Decline of Western Civilization, pt. 2: The Metal Years) and familiar icons of the era. But the truth is: the only time you're really going to love the music is in junior high, or if you first heard it in junior high. If that's you, bonus. If it's not you, you've got about as much chance of getting into Poison as you do getting into the Bay City Rollers or Leif Garrett or Fabian. 

And it's 100% possible to get into any/all the above at any age, of course. But I think you'll agree there are levels of appreciation. The stuff that's new and cool and aimed at you when you're in junior high is For Your Eyes/ Ears if-not-"Only"-then-First. That was the case for me and Poison, so I've no difficulty accepting sublimely ludicrous tracks like "Talk Dirty To Me", "Every Rose Has Its Thorn", "Unskinny Bop" or "Something To Believe In" at face value. You might not be able to get there - I get that. I can't get there with, say, Nicki Minaj. It's all relative.

This is a good place to bring up the Less Than Zero soundtrack, where you can find Poison's rather-flimsy version of "Rock and Roll All Nite," as well as some much better covers, like Slayer's "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" and the Bangles' "Hazy Shade of Winter." 

Skid Row - Skid Row (1989)

Skid Row secured their place in Hair Metal history with "Youth Gone Wild," which when it came along sounded like everything had been waiting for it to appear. We suddenly realized how incomplete our Hair Metal education had been. I bet when Paul Stanley heard it he punched himself in the face for not writing it first. The importance of that track overshadows all else on the album for me personally - I'll never forget cranking this from the VFW Post jukebox the first night I closed by myself and answering each "WHOAH-OH-OH-WHOAH-OH-OH!" call-and-response at the end - but the band hit it even bigger with "I Remember You" and "18 and Life." 

Their follow-up (Slave to the Grind) debuted at #1. Hair metal was so huge in '91. I was outgrowing it day-by-day, though. I never picked up Slave to the Grind, whereas had it come out a few years before, I'd have at least borrowed it and made a copy. But outside of G'n'R and a couple of others we'll get to, I was moving into other genres by then.

Faster Pussycat - Faster Pussycat (1987)

Sheesh - lots of self-titled albums on this list, eh? I'm only just realizing it now.

Faster Pussycat was, like LA Guns, one of those bands that always seemed to be on the periphery of the bands I loved in the mid-to-late 80s. And like LA Guns, their best-known work probably came later on, rising with the just-mentioned tide of Hair Metal popularity. FP's best-known song (and probably even their best - genuine pathos, not just imitated) was "House of Pain." But this earlier album has my three favorites, "Cathouse," "Babylon," and "Bathroom Wall." This album has a real Billy and the Boingers quality to it.

Chuck Klostermann's described them memorably in Fargo Rock City as the kind of music someone high on weed would find physically painful. I'm not sure that's true, but it very well may be that Faster Pussycat is the antipode of something like Pink Floyd. 

(19.5 - if Queensryche counts as hair metal - please see comments for additional details - this is where I'd put Empire. They had a string of singles from it, my favorites being either the title track or "Jet City Woman.)

Cinderella - Once Upon A... (1997)

Whoah whoah whoah - a compilation CD? Isn't that cheating? Maybe. But I'm going to make a judgment call here - Hair Metal is probably a genre ideally suited for the Greatest Hits package. Put charitably, few bands embraced the album-as-art approach. It was about cranking out new product built around a couple of signature tunes / music videos and touring. 

So while late-80s Bryan would very much disagree ("This doesn't even have 'Falling Apart at the Seams' or 'Take Me Back,' kid!") I'm fine saying this collection here has all the Cinderella you're ever going to need or want. "Heartbreak Station" used to be great beach-acoustic-singalong music and that or "Don't Know What You Got (Til It's Gone)" is probably their enduring legacy. But I always preferred their rockier numbers like "Gypsy Road" or "Somebody Save Me," the video for which ended with the girls from the Greatest Hits cover pushing their way past the band to get to Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, who (in real life) helped Cinderella get a record deal.

And speaking of:
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet (1986)
Bon Jovi - New Jersey (1988)

I couldn't decide which of these to occupy this spot. New Jersey is arguably more polished, but Slippery When Wet probably packs a bigger punch. And both have the same number of essential tracks vs. filler. But the level of essential (all their big hits) is great. 

My favorite Bon Jovi is "(I Don't Wanna Fall) To The Fire." Everything about that song (from 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit) is Hair Metal glory. But you could say the same for "Bad Medicine" or "You Give Love A Bad Name," probably their best overall tunes. Some people say "Wanted Dead or Alive," and who am I to argue. (Any time that song comes up I feel compelled to point out the line "I've seen a million faces /and I've rocked them all." Please! Careful with my face, messrs.) 

The Scorpions - Love at First Sting (1984)

The Scorpions may be best-known for "Wind of Change," which the media mercilessly grafted onto images of the Berlin Wall coming down for many months back at the end of the Cold War. If so, a close second is "Rock You Like a Hurricane," which is as much a banner-waving standard of the genre as "Youth Gone Wild" or any other and seems to be one of two go-tos for quick-metal-reference in commercials, TV or film. (The other being Europe's "The Final Countdown.")

The album it came from, Love at First Sting, looms large in memory. Someone (probably my older brother or his friends) always seemed to have it on. "Big City Nights" is one I associate with an 80s boombox and playgrounds. It's actually a little less hair-metal-y than its follow-ups (The Scorpions seemed to get more and more sexually explicit as the 80s progressed) and doesn't even have my two favorite Scorpions songs ("No One Like You" and "The Zoo.") But essential? Absolutely. 

Leatherwolf - Leatherwolf (1987)

If you're like most people, your reaction here is "Who the hell are these guys?" If on the other hand you're anyone with whom I've ever talked Hair Metal, you likely have heard me bang on about these guys/ this album before. (In the old days, you'd already have gotten a mix tape from me with Leatherwolf prominently featured.) 

Leatherwolf never made it big, and their follow-ups (starting with the the abysmally-named Street Ready - then again, naming things was not Leatherwolf's strong point) never did it for me. But holy moley this album. Whether it's their blistering cover of "Bad Moon Rising" (which is how I heard of them in the first place; it was a soft vinyl insert in some metal or guitar magazine I bought back then), their bid for power ballad glory with "Share A Dream," or my personal favorite of theirs, "Gypsies and Thieves," this album is another off-the-radar masterpiece. 

Guns n' Roses - Lies (1988)

Ah, the stir this caused in 1988. "Patience" was a huge hit on MTV, "Reckless Life" was huge with me and my friends, the acoustic "You're Crazy" sounds amazing, and "Used to Love Her" and "One in a Million" stoked controversy.

Of the two, "Used To Love Her" was just a joke in questionable taste (hair metal, amirite) about Axl's deceased dog, but "One in a Million" still has the capacity to shock, mainly for Axl's un-PC language. But I've always been under the impression that the song is sung from the POV of a typical xenophobic bigot, not that the lyrics are the POV of Axl or G'n'R or anything. Axl refused to clarify at the time, though - he was and remains a petulant interviewee - so a lot of genuine bigots latched onto it as an anthem of sorts. 

That's really too bad, as it's a great song, and as a parody of xenophobic bigotry, then or now, it's actually pretty insightful. Pretty uncommon for a hair metal band - or for G'n'R. (Someone somewhere is saying "What about 'Civil War?!' Bad example. It's a song I love, but the lyrics are pandering as hell. At least the lyrics to something like "Night Train" have a docudrama quality.) 

Dokken - Under Lock and Key (1985)
Dokken - Back for the Attack (1987)

The most unreasonable part of my brain occasionally wastes time worrying that these two albums are in danger of never being appreciated for the Hair Metal masterpieces they are. I certainly never see them referred to that way. I wonder why? You've got all your bases covered with these two albums: perfect sing-or-sway-alongs like "In My Dreams" or "Heaven Sent", video classics in "Burning Like a Flame" and "Dream Warriors", or all-out axe attacks like "Mr. Scary" or "Lightning Strikes Again," the last minute of which is for better or worse textbook Hair Metal.

Tip of the cap to Jeff Pilsen, who was, outside of Michael Anthony, Hair Metal's best backing vocalist.

Heart - Heart (1985)
Heart - Bad Animals (1987)

I imagine many will balk at my inclusion of Heart in this list. Surely they can't be Hair Metal. And yet they meet every criteria for inclusion with the exception of the sexually explicit lyrics (though "Walk those legs right over here / give me what I'm dying for" is certainly not subtle). Moreover, like other bands that had more traditional rock hits in the 70s, they certainly altered their look and sound to appeal to the Hair Metal crowd. So screw it - here they are. I've heard "Barracuda" described as metal; if that's the case, then "Alone" or "I Want You So Bad" are at the very least in the hair metal tradition. Heart is Hair Metal's older, unattainable female cousin or something. 

And once you accept that Heart belongs in the conversation, it becomes silly to argue against placing them so high on the list. These albums could be combined into one kickass Hair Metal album by getting rid of every Side Two track (with the exception of "Bad Animals," which is a really wild song that Ann Wilson sings the hell out of.) Can you imagine the power of a single album that started with "If Looks That Kill," followed by "What About Love" and "Never" and "These Dreams," then continued with "The Wolf," "Who Will You Run To?" "Alone," "There's The Girl," "I Want You So Bad", "Bad Animals," then closed with "Wait For an Answer?" Such an album could power the whole Eastern Seaboard, and then some.

Twisted Sister - Love Is for Suckers (1987)

In more traditional Hair Metal territory, Twisted Sister will forever be best-known for "We're Not Gonna Take It" from Stay Hungry, which was a huge hit. (Is it that albums' best track? Nope - that'd be "Burn In Hell" or "Street Justice.") Their follow-up to that wasn't as well-received (though it contains at least one fantastic addition to the Hair Metal cause in "The Fire Still Burns"), and the band pretty much self-destructed after that. Not before releasing this little gem, though.

Apparently it was conceived as a Dee Snider solo record, but the label convinced him to release it as a Twisted Sister affair. Neither it nor the subsequent tour did well, and the band broke up shortly after. I heartily recommend a re-appraisal, people of Planet Earth. From start ("Wake Up the Sleeping Giant" which would be the perfect song for a Star Trek: WORF! series - just saying!) to finish ("Yeah, Right!") it's baffling to me how this never caught on in a massive way. 

Fun fact: I inked the TS logo onto a tabletop in Study Hall one day in 7th grade. When I returned the next day, someone had circled it and written underneath: "...royally rot. Come on, dude." 

Motley Crue - Decade of Decadence (1991)

Ah, Motley Crue. They were tough to place in this here countdown. If the name of the game was just Hair Metal Bands or Hair Metal Songs, the Crue would be top 3 contenders for both categories, possibly even taking the top spots. But when it came to albums, they never really put out a masterpiece. 

Which would, you think, make a good case for Decade of Decadence, on the Cinderella/ Greatest Hits model mentioned above. But DoD was compiled on the "leave off some of the best ones so they keep buying the old records" model. So if you want to hear "Kickstart My Heart" (one of the best songs ever produced; they do include a live version on DoD but it's not as good as the studio version), "Nona", "Don't Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)", "Take Me to the Top", "Too Young to Fall in Love", or "Keep Your Eye on the Money", you're out of luck.

Your best bet is to just to buy everything from Too Fast for Love through Dr. Feelgood and make do with the filler. 

Blue Murder - Blue Murder (1989)

Some readers may recall my enduring love of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. I mentioned Tygers of Pan Tang in that post, who are one of the lesser-known but no-less-seminal architects of that whole scene. Tygers was John Sykes's band before Whitesnake, and after he left them, he formed Blue Murder, handling lead guitars and lead vocals all on his own.

It never really charted in the U.S.A ("The U.S.A.! THE U.S.A. now!" Just seeing if you've been paying attention) and did only marginally better elsewhere. Which is a shame because this is a powerhouse effort. Like Love is For Suckers or the Dokken albums above, whatever kind of Hair Metal you're looking for is represented en force here. How "Jelly Roll" never became at least an underground classic is beyond me. 

And if someone out there could please mash-up scenes from the movie Valley of the Dolls over "Valley of the Kings," I'd be eternally grateful.

W.A.S.P. - W.A.S.P. (1984)

The band Rolling Stone considered too heavy for their Hair Metal list comes in with a crotch buzzsaw at spot #9. What a classic album. Capitol Records bowed to P.R.M.C. pressure and deleted the opening track "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" so that meant I never heard it until years after: when I was too old to appreciate it. I still feel ripped off by this - thanks a lot, jerks. 

I'm actually listening to The Last Command, W.A.S.P.'s follow-up to this record, as I type these words and don't want to stop because "Ballcrusher" is on and I'm enjoying it too much to even pause it. But if I were to do so, I'd link you to "L.O.V.E. Machine", "School Daze", or "Sleeping in the Fire." Chris Holmes was a great guitarist back in the day. He's probably best known, though, for his inebriated (and rather sad) interview in The Metal Years

While I'm here, let me give a shout-out to the little-known soundtrack to the littler-known movie Dudes. It's got some great tracks on it, including
W.A.S.P.'s "Show No Mercy". 


I covered both of these in more depth in my Van Halen post. I think both are probably the same level of Essential. To continue the map/ Hair Metal terrain metaphor, Van Halen is probably a semi-autonomous region, buffering against other genres of rock/ metal/ pop.

Ditto for:

Guns n' Roses - Use Your Illusion I and II (1991)

The most anticipated new release of 1991 was G'n'R's long-awaited follow-up to Lies. The story goes that David Geffen feared one of the members would OD before too long, so he wanted to maximize their profit potential while the original members (sans Steven Adler, whose heroin addiction got him ousted from the band between Lies and UYI) were still above-ground. And while no one has (as of yet) died, Geffen was right to do so, as the band's popularity and influence peaked with the Use Your Illusion albums.

It's commonly accepted that there's too much filler in this pair of albums, and while I can see that, there's a wealth of material here. "Back Off Bitch" might be a little uncomfortable given Axl's real-world problems with women (just as "Get in the Ring" is a little too angry to be funny or enjoyable), and the trilogy of "November Rain", "Don't Cry", and "Estranged" overreaches its mark, despite being individually all great songs. And weaving in and out of the mix is a growling monologue, as if Axl was left alone in the studio at production's end and recorded his own surreal commentary track over the tunes.

I'm not sure which of the two is my favorite. Pt. 1 has "Dust and Bones", "Double Talking Jive", "Coma", "The Garden", and "Dead Horse", while pt. 2 has "Pretty Tied Up", "14 Years", "Locomotive", and "Breakdown". All faves - many of which seem to have been forgotten. 

Not "You Could Be Mine," though. Thankfully. 

Extreme - Pornograffitti (1990)

"More Than Words" drove the sales of this album, but it was one of my least-favorite tracks on the record. It's become a placeholder for "Best Power Ballad Ever," but ugh - I mean, it just never did anything for me. (I prefer The Gang's version of it from Always Sunny.) Luckily, tho, every other track (except "When I First Kissed You," which was just Gary Cherone's demo reel for musical theater) is dynamite. 

Nuno (the guitarist) had some fine chops. The "wounded Bumble Bee" intro to "He Man Woman Hater" (a reference to the Our Gang, not a political statement of any kind, at least not a very coherent one) is the sort of thing he excelled at, but his riffs and all the bells and whistles were all top notch. 

When I saw Extreme in 1993, Gary performed the whole concert in only his silk boxer shorts. I kept looking around the audience to see if there were any women around, but the ratio was like 10 dudes for every girl. And it was a small-ish venue. Misjudged that one, Gary. And they didn't even play "Play With Me" from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which should have been a contractual obligation anytime they appeared anywhere. Ah well. Album still kicks ass.

I think it's safe to say we are nearing the Capitol Cities of Hair Metal. 

David Lee Roth - Eat 'Em and Smile (1986)

I covered this one in that Van Halen post afore-linked, as well, but Essential? I think so. David Lee Roth in general, at least up to and including this album. To understand the hows and whys of Hair Metal, you need to know the MTV Class of '84, Dave TV, the Van Halen schism, and the rise of G'n'R. That'd be my curriculum at the Hard Rock Academy. As well as a twelve-week course in:

Def Leppard - Pyromania (1983)

Yeah, you just can't go wrong with this one. Every song's a classic. As I mentioned when covering Hysteria, if you're ever at a party that doesn't have Prince's Purple Rain or Pyromania in the stacks, find a better party. 

Ratt - Ratt and Roll (1991)
Ratt - Invasion of Your Privacy (1985)

You can mostly make do with just Ratt and Roll, which has everything you probably need, but I'm tacking on Invasion of Your Privacy because the non-Ratt and Roll songs from it (particularly "Give It All", "Closer to My Heart", "What You Give Is What You Get", and "You Should Know By Now") are, in my mind, essential - both to Hair Metal and to Ratt appreciation - in a way the non-Ratt and Roll songs from other albums aren't.

I could be way off on that one, though. But Ratt was another one who never really chased the album-as-art concept. "Dance Dance Dance", "Slip of the Lip", and "Body Talk" are great tunes, but they phoned it for the rest of Dancing Undercover. (An unbelievably stupid album title, that). Ditto for "Way Cool Jr." and "I Want a Woman" vis-a-vis the rest of Reach for the Sky. (Another unbelievably stupid album title.) And ditto for the tracks from Detonator. (Do I even need to say it?)

Whenever power ballads come up, the Crue's "Home Sweet Home" and G'n'R's "November Rain" are often nominated as the best of the lot. I can't argue with either of those, but I always nominate "Givin' Yourself Away." Cotton candy, sure, but for me it's Peak Hair Metal. 

Guns n' Roses - Appetite for Destruction (1987)

And speaking of Peak Hair Metal, here we are. 

I remember my buddy Chris's older brother trashing Appetite when it came out. (He even made me a mix tape filled with Miles Davis and the Dead "to save (me) from any more bad choices.") His problem with it was there was no "variety." I remember him telling me he and his friend threw it on while playing pool with some girls and realizing as the album played out that "there'd be no sex tonight." This demonstrated to me what I already suspected: G'n'R was beyond what metal fans who were a little older than me were prepared to accept. It wasn't just a dividing line - it was an aggressive "Fuck off!" from the upstarts to the older kids. This - as was likely the idea - greatly appealed to my junior high self.

I also remember an interview with Slash in Guitar Magazine where he said he and Duff would listen to "Welcome to the Jungle" over and over, trying to figure out what it was about the song that broke them so big. It baffled me at the time how these guys could write something so self-evidently bad-ass and not know how or why it worked, but less so as the years go on. It's all right place, right time. True for G'n'R, true for life.

What can I say about Appetite that hasn't already been said or isn't immediately obvious once you hit play? Nothing, probably. 

"Here I am / your Rocket Queen / I might be a little young but honey I ain't naive"

(1.5 - if Queensryche counts as hair metal - please see comments for additional details - this is where I'd place Operation: Mindcrime. And what a Top 3 this would make. Between the below, the above, and Mindcrime, you have three very distinct parts of town, each pointing towards other genres. But if we are to consider Queensryche under the hair metal umbrella - and I think the case can be made we should - we have to make room at the top for Mindcrime, unquestionably. 

Since Mindcrime works best as a unified whole - probably the most successfully-realized concept album/ rock opera this side of Tommy - here's a link instead to Queensryche's stalker-song from Rage For Order, "Gonna Get Close to You." I watched that for a full minute, wondering the whole time how I missed this video the first time around and baffled by some of the shots, before scrolling down to see it was a fanmade video. Made more sense in that context. Anyway, that song is great.)

Def Leppard - Hysteria (1987)

Right next door to Appetite in the capitol city of Hair Metal - across the tracks, you might say - is Hysteria. A safer neighborhood, but no less impressive than G'n'R's den of iniquity, and in some ways, even better.

I said pretty much everything I can possibly say about this album when I covered it a few months back. I was happy to see it occupying the top spot on Rolling Stone's list, as well. Like Appetite, I think it has crossover appeal and isn't altogether welded just to Hair Metal. But it's the prettiest bit of Hair Metal ever created. Like I said in the Hysteria blog, that people can go about their daily routine and not stop at least once or twice a day to reflect on how much cooler their lives are for having them around strikes me as damn ungrateful.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to tell me what I got wrong in the comments. 


  1. Guilty as charged for the Hair Metal love. And I can't argue with you, bro. Good, consistent list based on your criteria, IMO.

    I still listen to several of these, even as my tastes have changed over the years. I think these bands were definitely the appetizer to the Queensryche, Dream Theater first courses to the Symphonic Metal main dishes that fill up my digital music library now.

    1. Queensryche was one I tried to fit in here, as well, but while they were definitely in the tradition of Hair Metal, they seemed apart from it. Metallica, Black Crowes, Dream Theater, Slayer (obviously, as well any/all death and speed metal bands), Fifth Angel, Maiden, Saxon, etc. Borderlands to Hair Metal. All awesome, though!

    2. I only know "Cult of Personality" (which rocks about as hard as it's possible to rock), but what say you on the subject of Living Colour?

    3. I had "Vivid" on my original list. But I think it's to one side of hair metal. I agree with your assessment of "Cult of Personality," and another fantastic one from that album is "Which Way to America," which I think of every election season:


    4. To continue to abuse this map metaphor, if we accept the Capitol City having 3 parts of town (Appetite, Mindcrime, and Hysteria), the direction of travel if you left the Mindcrime part would take you to whatever borderland territory houses Living Colour.

    5. If you could manage to draw an epic-fantasy-style map explaining the geography of metal (hair and otherwise), you would almost certainly be crowned King of the Internet for the week.

  2. Solid work here. My list would be different, but only because I didn't listen to the same metal, and maybe less of it I think. ^Ooh Queensryche! I'd have likely thrown Mindrime right the f up there ... and I'd have put Pyromania ahead of Hysteria for sure - always been kinda passionate about that preference!

    1. I probably should have ranked Queensryche. I mean, I've got Heart in there - Queensryche is an easier sell than them.

      Not enough cock rock in Queensryche! That should be my criteria. There has to be at least one song that references the glory of banging. (And no heroin or political assassin priests or silent lucidity funny business!)

      jk, I love Queensryche. If I had made room for them, Mindcrime would have to be in there, and Empire, too. Empire I'd rank probably somewhere around 23 or so; Mindcrime much higher, just not sure where. Top 5, though.

    2. Just had a look and re-think: okay, I'm putting "Empire" at #20 (ahead of Faster Pussycat but behind Cinderella) and Mindcrime all the way at #2. It could reasonably be #1, but I just love Hysteria too much to be reasonable.

    3. I had never heard of Queensryche before "Operation: Mindcrime." And I bought that album -- on cassette! -- based purely on the cover art and on the fact that I was looking for a new album to buy. I felt like I must be the only person in the entire world who knew that album, and continued to feel that way until they had such a huge hit with "Silent Lucidity" and album (I think) later.

      Good stuff; deeply good stuff.

    4. Yeah, "Silent Lucidity" was from Empire. That album was huge back then - hardly ever discussed these days. It's not all that great, but it was definitely part of Hair Metal's Last Wave. Queensryche positioned itself to survive the trough of said wave, though, as they never had to reinvent themselves; they were always "smarter" than the other acts, so to speak.

      Mindcrime is the best. I hear you - I had it on cassette, as well, for many years! I think I still do, somewhere.

  3. This post is so fucking good that I almost can't even stand to read it. Sincerely -- I've had to step away from the computer a few times lest I gibber myself into a frenzy and spontaneously combust. Which would be pretty damn metal of me; normally I kind of wouldn't mind, but god damn it, I've got to hang on long enough for "Spectre" and "The Force Awakens."

    To be continued...

  4. The whole "definition of hair metal" thing is a fascinating topic to me. I'm of two minds about it: the one mind loves to classify things, simply because it finds the resultant decision-making to be fun; and the other mind things it's silly to classify things, because when it comes to the arts, definitions tend to break down as soon as you've made them.

    I think both minds are correct. I don't feel the need to adopt a hard-and-fast set of rules about what counts and what doesn't, because how silly would that be? But adopting loose rules and then hashing them out the way a kid might play with all his action figures in the floor? That's fun, so far as I'm concerned.

    With that ind mind, I feel like hair metal is 33.3% about the look of the band (and their music videos -- a key consideration), 33.3% about the music itself, and 33.3% about the marketing (of which the look is a part).

    So if the hair itself is enormous, and they play guitars, then I'd say it's a shoo-in. Note that I said "enormous." I would agree that eliminating Black Crowes is a good example; they certainly had long hair, but so did Lynrd Skynrd, and nobody in the world would classify them as hair metal. Metal, maybe; hair metal, no way.

    If the hair is restrained, or even conservative, but they've got power chords, horror-movies sensibilities, and are interviewed on Headbanger's Ball, then they might still be able to get in.

    If they've got enormous hair, horror-movie sensibilities, and are interviewed on Headbanger's Ball, they probably get in. But it depends on the music. Speed metal? No. Death metal? No. I could never bring myself to think of Slayer as hair metal; there IS some crossover there, but not enough. I think the music has to contain significant amounts of pop and/or bubble-gum, or at least the potential for it. Failing that, the melodies at least need to be strong. (I could almost see room to argue that Metallica and Megadeth should be included; they get within screaming distance at times, at least. I would not end up actually including them, but I could see why someone else might.)

    Image counts for a lot, as does the way the band is marketed. If, for example, you could make claims about how you hope ___________ "never sells out," then they almost certainly do not count as hair metal. Hair metal bands, by definition, have already sold out; in fact, they may have gotten into the business with the express purpose of selling out. Pussy, drugs, money, booze, fame; not necessarily in that order. That's what they're in it for; they don't want to play tiny clubs, they want to play stadiums. The concept of "integrity" has never once occurred to them, and yet by means of their dismissal of it, they've kind of already found it.

    And so forth. In the end, for me, it's a gut feeling and a sense of nostalgia more than anything else. It almost seems as if it has to be confined to a specific era, too; I'm sure there are bands from both the seventies and the '00s that could be counted, but doing so kind of wouldn't feel right. Early-to-mid-eighties through early nineties is the only thing that feels right to me. Which is ridiculous, of course; but so is hair metal, so that seems appropriate.

    1. As for Rolling Stone's claim that Guns N' Roses should be stricken from consideration because they transcend the form...well, that's just silly. I admit that there is a world of difference between them and, say, Kix; but I don't think the gulf is so wide as to eliminate either of them. That'd be like saying Stanley Kubrick doesn't count as a director because he was too good. Balls to that; balls, I say.

    2. I like your criteria and I agree - a casual spirit should govern all discussion about hair metal or metal in general. (Part of the reason I can't stand most metal post-hair metal; the deathly taking-itself-too-seriously aspect. If you want to be serious, great; choose a less-silly milieu of expression, please! Or just all the growling death-metal shite that survived / re-populated the hair metal wastelands. All slow mutants to me. Get another neck tattoo, JERKS!)

    3. Ah, yes, of course; the attitude of the band and its music does seem like a vital component in hair-or-not. I hadn't consciously considered that, but it's true.

    4. I'm a firm believer in establishing intent! Although, my list has Heart on it, so... not sure what their intent was. This list would likely fall apart in court, or under questioning by the Sex Police that round up David Coverdale at the end of the "Still of the Night" video. (Or Quiet Riot at the end of "The Wild and the Young.")

      The truth is out there! YAAAAAAAAH!

    5. My admittedly-uneducated guess about Heart is that their intent was almost entirely To Sell Records.

      WHICH IS JUST FINE!!!!! That's the thing, hair-metal doesn't necessarily discriminate against posers; if anything, it kind of encourages them. I mean, good lord (pardon the pun): Stryper, after all. Stryper!

      You could also make a very strong case that Heart's tendency toward power ballads anticipates -- created? -- the hair-metal tendency toward same. I mean, is there really a world of difference between "Alone" and "I Remember You"?

  5. "calls to reject any external restriction on the amount of rocking that you might want to do"

    To an alien observer who was only given access to MTV, this might appear to have been the defining struggle of American culture in the late eighties. In which scenario, a guy like Gene Simmons or Dee Snyder practically counts as a civil-rights icon. Man, somebody should write a book from that perspective.

    Speaking of which, I'm also intrigued by the notion that hair-metal taken to its extreme -- which is to say, hair-metal -- practically counts as goddess-worship. As in, "I respect and love women so much that I literally want to fuck every single one of them, and I'm going to start with the really hot ones just to simplify the process a bit." Lord knows Gene Simmons did his part there, so does that mean he counts as a high priest? Yeah, probably so. THERE'S some sort of religious text in need of composition...

    1. Yeah, that "they're coming to take your heavy metal" dovetailed nicely with the PMRC hearings. It really cracks me up across timespace to look back and see so many earnestly marching under that banner. Music got steadily more pornographic since then, even though it chose a different genre, as the waters of metal receded and receded, leaving only humorless death metal and Metallica in its wake.

      Glad someone liked that Shaktism reference! One really has to wonder, making his or her way through these things, if the cock rock sensibility doesn't actually venture into full-on goddess worship (albeit of an unsophisticated variety) with how overboard it gets. I love the idea of a civil rights movie along these lines (perhaps hand-in-hand with the 'DON'T TELL ME HOW OR HOW MUCK TO ROCK!' message) with Gene in the lead. Oy vey!

    2. In a way, one could probably make the claim that the controversies of hair-metal paved the way for the excesses of gangster rap and hardcore hip-hop; without Motley Crue and Poison et cetera bludgeoning the culture into a "fine, fine, whatever" stance, could any of that have happened? I'm sure there are many other forces than that which played into it, of course; but the last world always creates the next one, and to some extent, you've got to figure hair-metal is how we got to 2015. Only the parts of it that are about power chords and women on the hoods of cars, but still.

    3. By the way, I meant to post this in response to your remark on the goddess-worship and its more metal aspects. I am probably way off mark, but... I mean you (or anyone reading these words) tell me: isn't this metal as f**k?


      I'll take the translations at that youtube link at their word. It might not be "Big Guns" by Skid Row, but there's considerable overlap.

      I'd love it if this was the line of inquiry that cracked the whole code of Total Male/Female Metal Symbiosis Cosmic Lovegasm to the Stars. You heard it here first! To Sirius and beyond.

    4. That's SO metal that I feel as if I might have gone into a transcendental state of some sort while watching it. Also, you could easily take the music and cast it in a speed-metal setting; you could even go so far as to make it outright death-metal.

      I'd also like to add that Mola Rom watched this and got a priapism from it.

    5. I confess - I thought of Mola Ram more than once during that.

  6. For years I've trashed Leatherwolf's "Street Ready" (1989) as a lame follow-up to the all-out hair metal blitzkrieg of their self-titled one (1987.) Well it took me almost 30 years maybe, but I've finally warmed up to "Street Ready." I know! Press conference time! Let the record be so corrected.

    While we're here, ditto for Fifth Angel's follow-up "Time Will Tell" (1989) to their self-titled one (1988). In that case, time really DID tell. Still prefer the self-titled ones for both bands, but I hereby swear to cease and desist all public slander of the follow-ups. They rock and so sayeth the court.

    They should totally do a show where a man debates his teenage self about the worth of various hair metal records. Or at the very least, a skit.

    Maybe even a quest.

    1. (I guess this goes for Blue Murder's 1993 "Nothin' but Trouble" album, too. Geez! It's been a week of rewriting the history books at my workdesk...)

    2. I love it when stuff like that happens.