10 Classic Hair Metal Songs for People Who Don’t Know Shit About Hair Metal
It's been derided pretty much from the moment it was born. Despite the commercial success of the music that has been called hair metal, sleaze rock, glam metal and any combination of those words, with the likes of Guns N' Roses, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and more having international smash hits and stadium tours, the genre has never really received the respect that it deserves.
Fans of heavier metal, including the thrash that came out of the Bay Area in the mid-1980s, referred to the hair crowd as posers. It was tough for many to imagine that men (and a few women) who spent so much time putting on makeup and teasing out their hair could be serious about their music. How wrong they were.
Hair metal was born out of an ungodly cocktail of proto-punk (New York Dolls, Stooges, Velvet Underground), British glam (Bowie, T-Rex, Sweet, Slade, Mott the Hoople), first wave punk (Ramones, Sex Pistols, Television), heavy metal (Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead) and '70s hard rock (Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, KISS). Different bands would dip into some of those pots a little more than others, but those were the basic ingredients. And while the groups would come from far and wide, the Sunset Strip was and still is considered the home of the genre.
Here are 10 hair metal songs that, together, illustrate what makes the music so great.
10. “Tragedy,” Hanoi Rocks (1981)
It seems like a geographical oddity that the missing link between The New York Dolls and the Sunset Strip came courtesy of Finland of all places, but facts are facts. Michael Monroe’s Hanoi Rocks took post-Stones dirty blues licks, a rough-around-the-edges vibe and glam-inspired anthems (plus fashion tips) from the Dolls and gave the whole package a touch of spit and polish. Just enough to make the songs a tad more accessible to a wider audience, but not so much as to do away with theit decadent, raw character. “Tragedy” was the first song from the debut Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks album, and it’s the perfect example of a Hanoi gem — memorable yet throwaway riffs and Monroe’s drawl giving way to the poppiest of choruses. Members of Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe and other future stars of the genre were taking note, as a new style of metal was being molded before their very eyes.
9. “Livewire,” Mötley Crüe (1981)
The Crüe had formed in L.A. two years after Hanoi, but their debut Too Fast for Love album was released the same year as Bangkok Shocks. While Too Fast for Love shared a manic energy with Hanoi’s work, it’s clear that Nikki Sixx and the boys had been listening to more heavy metal, from Van Halen to Motörhead, than the Finns. The two bands endured a rocky relationship after Crüe singer Vince Neil drove while intoxicated and was involved in a collision that killed his passenger, Hanoi drummer Razzle. But after Crüe and Hanoi, things were never the same again in Hollywood.
8. “Talk Dirty to Me,” Poison (1986)
By 1986, metal bands like Metallica were well on their way to worldwide stardom. That same year Poison, a band that had formed in Pennsylvania in 1983 and then naturally gravitated to L.A., released its debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged in. Though the record was commercially successfully, Poison were considered fakes and pretenders by metal fans and musicians, including some from within their own scene. But that album is jam-packed with glorious bubble-gum pop (not a pejorative) songs dressed up in sleazy riffs. “Talk Dirty to Me” is everything great about the genre — danceable, sexy, hooky and timeless.
7. “Bathroom Wall,” Faster Pussycat (1987)
If Poison were carrying the hair torch into the living rooms of Middle America and drawing attention to the music by working the industry from the inside, Hollywood reprobates Faster Pussycat were doing their best to drag it further into the gutter, and God bless them for it. The first, self-titled Pussycat album remains an absolute classic thanks to songs such as “Bathroom Wall,” a tune that sets sex-obsessed Taime Downe and his crew on a road that would see them bow to the glories of debauchery throughout their career. Under all that grime, there were genuinely wonderful melodies and some vivid but poetic lyrics. Downe could make you feel as if you were along for the wild ride with him.
6. “Naughty Naughty,” Danger Danger (1989)
By the end of the decade, there were popular hair bands all over the country and indeed the world, though L.A. was always considered ground zero. Danger Danger formed in Queens, New York, in ’87 and were signed to Epic Records for a 1989 self-titled debut. The album gets criminally overlooked, but there isn’t one filler track among the 11, and opener “Naughty Naughty” is phenomenally good. Ted Poley’s suggestive lyrics add swagger to a song that builds and builds to the typically climactic chorus. Like Pussycat’s “Bathroom Wall,” the song is about wild sex, although this song is far more polished and “power-pop.”
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