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Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

See also:

*Def Leppard Are a Bunch of Assholes

*Chuck Klosterman's Favorite Hair Metal Albums

One day I was sitting around thinking I want to write a song about ménage a trois...and the line 'love in stereo' came into my head. Inspiration can happen anywhere at any time. -Jani Lane, Hit Parader magazine

History has not been kind to hair metal. The bulk of the Sunset Strip '80s stalwarts have become resigned to touring out-of-the-way clubs before diminishing crowds. But many of us still have a strong passion for this era. In The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke's titular character and Marissa Tomei's reluctant stripper dance to Ratt's "Round And Round" in a dive bar, drinking beers and agreeing on one thing: The '90s sucked.

Lots of us feel that way. The '80s have come back into fashion because people remember it as a halcyon time. The economy was picking up speed and kids were sowing the seeds of their parents' sexual revolution; in the early part of the decade, anyway, you could hook up without worrying about contacting much worse than crabs. Sure it was heyday of the "me" generation -- epitomized by oversexed pop metalers as much as greedy Wall Street traders -- but it also emphasized self-expression and big dreams.

Hair metal represented both our id and our ego - wild, unfettered, and hell-raising in some ways, but deeply conservative and reactionary in others. It didn't stand for political ideals like the punks, or gender boundary-pushing a la British glam acts like David Bowie. It wasn't artsy like the New York Dolls. Many of the acts comfortably shared the radio dial with both Boy George and REO Speedwagon. Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine maintains that "Glam" is an acronym for "Gay L.A. Music," but though they may have dressed like women, the Sunset Strip bands literally shoved their heterosexuality in your face. They eschewed the politics of punk and the existential despair of thrash because they were focused on winning over the chicks.

Hair metal groups made no bones about their intentions, and probably would have laughed at this sentence. In this spirit, then, West Coast Sound presents the top 20 hair metal albums of all time. -Ben Westhoff

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

20. Junkyard

Junkyard (1989)

Featuring ex-members of punk groups including Minor Threat and The Big Boys, Junkyard were part of a small contingent of bands who could play both Sunset Strip glam slams and L.A.'s punkier spots. Plenty of other bluesy/punky bands were marketed to the boys-in-makeup scene, but Junkyard actually had the goods. Released on Geffen in '89, Junkyard shone brighter than the rest. Sure, it lacked the compelling severity of Appetite For Destruction, but its looser Southern rock feel made way for the Black Crowes. For what it's worth, "Hollywood" is one of the best odes to the L.A. rocker lifestyle in the '80s ever. -Lina Lecaro

19. White Lion

Pride (1987)

White Lion didn't have much cock in their rock. Instead, on songs like "When The Children Cried," they traded in the quasi-philosophical. ("No more presidents," they reasoned, "and all the wars will end.") They most excelled, however, on fast-and-squealing tales of teenage lust like "Wait" and "Tell Me." The production, helmed by underrated hair metal architecht Michael Wagener, is nearly perfect, as are the earnest heart spills of frontman Mike Tramp and fret-board gymnastics of guitarist Vito Bratta. Like the best hair metal there's nothing metal about it; it's pure, transcendent pop. -Ben Westhoff

 

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

18. Dokken

Tooth And Nail (1984)

Formed in 1978 on the streets of L.A., Dokken has at least one thing going for them: they helped create the hair-sprayed look. The official coiffed, spandexed uniform of the times, in fact, came largely from them. They didn't pull it out of thin air, but rather nabbed style cues from The New York Dolls, the manufactured glam of KISS, and S&M black rubber from the streets of England. Adding in the early career prog tendencies of the Scorpions, they put it all together on their second album Tooth and Nail. The slow smoldering guitar whine on ballad "Alone Again" and the hot tease of "Into the Fire" and "Just Got Lucky" helped lay the foundation for many who were yet to come. (No pun intended.) -Nikki Darling

17. Europe

The Final Countdown (1986)

Will things ever be the same again? Sure, The Final Countdown's title track from has become the ultimate hair metal caricature -- damn you, Gob Bluth! But a deeper inspection reveals Europe's 1986 masterwork to be chock full of exuberant, nothing-held-back pop metal anthems. Lousy with hooks, the subjects are that of a 12-year-old boy's fantasy --- ninjas, Indians, space exploration, mysterious beauties, and, um, danger on railroad tracks. This album is lightweight and funny in the same way the wind and the trees and the earth and the stars are lightweight and funny. -Ben Westhoff

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

16. Whitesnake

Whitesnake (1987)

Whitesnake was formed by singer David Coverdale after leaving Deep Purple, and Whitesnake features the still-a-Hollywood-movie-staple smash "Here I Go Again." The chorus was especially fitting, as Coverdale had just fired his entire band; he recruited Dutch guitarist Adrian Van den Berg to re-record some parts, but former axe-man's John Sykes's work remains on standout "Cryin' in the Rain", in which his guitar does not gently weep -- it wails. The album's muscular riffs, synth-textured power ballads and aggressive vocals are all unapologetically massive. -Linda Leseman

 

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

15. Spinal Tap

This Is Spinal Tap soundtrack (1984)

Rob Reiner's brilliant mock-rockumentary sends up longstanding hard-rock obsessions like Druids and getting super-heavy. (Aspiring local hair-metal god Paul Shortino of Rough Cutt even makes a cameo in the film.) Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer seethe with bewildered sexuality on tracks like "Sex Farm," "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight," and "Big Bottom." (You know: "My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo.") Some of the old vets like Aerosmith didn't appreciate the joke, but a new generation embraced Tap as one of their own. Their trick was transcending the parody label, which they did in part by touring as a real band. They even scored an invite to the metal answer to "We Are the World" - famine relief benefit Hear 'n Aid. -Steve Appleford

14. Queensryche

Operation Mindcrime (1988)

A rock opera in the tradition of Pink Floyd's "The Wall," Operation Mindcrime tells the story of Nikki, a heroin addict who -- through his involvement with a cult -- is forced to carry out the missions of one Dr. X. When he wakes up to find his true love murdered, Nikki imagines he is responsible for her death. Sounds and dialogue carry this story though ethereal and violently emotional songs. Highlights "Breaking The Silence," "I Don't Believe In Love" and "Eyes Of A Stranger" make this -- Queensyche's magnum opus -- a masterpiece. -Chris Lane

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

13. Twisted Sister

Stay Hungry (1984)

Stay Hungry has the requisite shout-along anthems ("We're Not Gonna Take It," "I Wanna Rock"), but Twisted Sister had an edge that made them feel more dangerous than other bands featured on this list. Poison and Cinderella, for example, most certainly did not have a "Burn In Hell" in them. Even power ballad "The Price" takes a darker outlook than the slow songs of their contemporaries. All in all, Stay Hungry is satisfyingly bleak. -Jason Roche

 

12. Bon Jovi

Slippery When Wet (1986)

Bon Jovi's third album seems to have sprung from a real-life hit factory. New Jersey's be-coiffed superstars created an album of rousing, stadium-status workouts that is still without peer. "You Give Love A Bad Name" was followed by "Livin' On A Prayer," which is as beloved by teens today as it was 25 years ago. Jon Bon Jovi today cringes when reminded of his hair metal roots, but there's no doubting his prayers sent many to hard rock heaven. -Phillip Mlynar

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

11. Cinderella

Night Songs (1986)

Cinderella was essentially discovered by Jon Bon Jovi, and the Philadelphia rockers toured in support of his band following Night Songs. While the music on that work bears some stylistic similarities to Bon Jovi, singer and guitarist Tom Kiefer has inarguable chops. At heart, he's a bluesman, evidenced in his guitar work and in his unmistakable sandpaper vocals that approach Janis Joplin territory on songs like the title track and "Nobody's Fool." -Linda Leseman

10. Warrant

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989)

RIP Jani Lane. Warrant's lead singer, who was found dead in Woodland Hills this summer, didn't have the strongest voice, or, per this quote, the strongest songwriting skills. But he understood the latter-year hair metal zeitgeist better than anyone. Despite its subject (excess) Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich manages to somehow sound hungry. She may be so damn pretty (should be against the law), but, you know, sometimes she also cries. Cherry Pie was self-satisfied, but DRFSR was a quite tight work that holds up. -Ben Westhoff

 

9. Ratt

Out Of The Cellar (1984)

"Round and Round" is fantastic, and deserves all of the airplay it receives today. There are plenty of other reasons to revisit Ratt's Out Of The Cellar, however, like "Wanted Man," which gives the badass Western tale an '80s rock makeover. Then there's the fact that Juan Croucier's unique bass sound would be replicated by others for the rest of the decade. Finally -- not for nothing, video vixen Tawny Kitaen makes her hair scene video debut on the "Back For More" video, beating Whitesnake by three years. -Jason Roche

8. Def Leppard

Hysteria (1987)

Four long years in the making following the phenomenally successful Pyromania, Hysteria was an act of faith. The band and producer Mutt Lange wanted to kill each other in the studio, and drummer Rick Allen lost his arm in a car accident. But the glue held, and the work is a seemingly-endless string of dramatic, note-perfect gems. No one took themselves more seriously than Def Leppard, and god bless them for it; even if "Pour Some Sugar On Me" makes no sense as a heterosexual come-on. -Ben Westhoff

7. Faster Pussycat

Faster Pussycat (1987)

As vampy and volatile as the Russ Meyers film that inspired their name, Faster Pussycat's self-titled debut captures the sex-charged debauchery of L.A.'s glam scene better than most. For one thing, few rockers were as immersed in it; singer Taime Downe co-created hair metal hub The Cathouse, after all. Downe's sleazy snarl and the group's ballsy, bluesy licks on "Don't Change That Song," "Bathroom Wall" and "Babylon" show them at their blaring best here, referencing the New York Dolls and Aerosmith but with a swagger that was all Hollywood hellion. Sure, they were pretty (guitarist Brent Muscat... swoon!), but this release proved their talents went beyond pouncing and posing. -Lina Lecaro

 

Top 20 Hair Metal Albums of All Time: The Complete List

6. Poison

Look What The Cat Dragged In (1986)

Speaking of feline...Sure, it's hard to get beyond Poison's looks here; with their eye liner, high hair, puckered lips, and even high heels at one point, Poison were the forerunners of cross-dressing in hair metal. But though the band was not initially known for their musicianship, there are real riffs on Look What The Cat Dragged In, courtesy of guitarist C. C. DeVille. As for flagrantly-smutty boasts, it's hard to top Bret Michaels. "I got a girl on the left of me, a girl on the right/ I know damn well, I slept with both last night." Meow! -Phillip Mlynar

5. Motley Crue

Shout At the Devil (1983)

Motley Crue's second record stands as an old fashioned ode to Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and the play-your-records-backwards satanism of the '70s. It's also their hardest album. Though it was initially panned -- Rolling Stone gave it two stars -- it's now seen as the work that defined the band, portraying them as loud, fun absurdists. Of course, one could also argue that they were eerily talented; from the opening chords of "The Beginning" to Mick Mars' slithering shreds throughout, Shout At The Devil established the Crue as the era's band to beat. -Nikki Darling

4. Skid Row

Skid Row (1989)

Skid Row struck a resonant chord with teens on their self-titled debut. Sebastian Bach looked like the kid you would befriend if you weren't scared of him. His "Youth Gone Wild" wail served as a call to arms for misfits, while "18 And Life" trades in some first-rate working class melodrama. We'll gloss over the part about Bach then going on to rock a t-shirt that said "AIDS Kills Fags Dead." -Phillip Mlynar

 

3. Motley Crue

Too Fast For Love (1981)

The hesher-in-leather crotch shot cover almost belies what's inside Too Fast For Love: wistful Cheap Trick-ish power pop that's less about guitar assaults than potent grooves. The work foreshadowed Motley Crue's mainstream accessibility of later years with its dramatic starts and stops, layers of riffs, and Tommy Lee's thunderous drums. Meanwhile, Vince Neil's vocals more than hold their own -- especially on the mid-tempo cuts -- and Nikki Sixx, who did most of the writing, knew what he was creating here: a little pop metal masterpiece with very big balls. -Lina Lecaro

2. Def Leppard

Pyromania (1983)

Pyromania took Def Leppard from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal into the stratosphere. Uber-producer Mutt Lang was known as an incessant micromanager, but it paid off here, as the songs are flawlessly crafted for maximum pop appeal. Pyromania gave the band three huge hits -- "Photograph", "Foolin", and "Rock of Ages," pushing the band into freaking diamond platinum status. 10 million copies sold, baby. -Linda Leseman

1. Guns N' Roses

Appetite for Destruction (1987)

This is the sound of sleaze. Though they're rarely lumped in with the hair metal scene, at the time of Appetite for Destruction's release Guns N' Roses were still very much a part of the Sunset Strip scene. Rude, decadent, and doomed to implode, G N' R crafted their debut amid an alcohol-soaked hurricane of wild sex, rage, and dysfunction -- that managed to capture them in all their grit and glory. Witness the terrifying, beautiful chaos of Axl Rose's shriek and the furious guitars of Slash and Izzy Stradlin. The album's furious tracks of metal, funk, punk -- and no fucking ballads -- sounds as great now as ever. Thankfully, this gang of misfits stayed intact just long enough to get it all on tape. -Steve Appleford

See also:

*Def Leppard Are a Bunch of Assholes

*Excerpt From Duff McKagan's New Memoir: Guns N' Roses Finds Their Identity, Somewhere Between Metal And "Cow-Punk"

*Chuck Klosterman's Favorite Hair Metal Albums

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