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 these 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.
For many the decade is the nostalgic gold-standard, a time of Transformers and Nintendo Entertainment Systems, of the Brat Pack and Cyndi Lauper, neon and leg warmers. Hair metal was a central part of this glorious, shiny, vapidity.
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 ideas 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 them 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 made no bones about its intentions, and probably would have laughed at that sentence. In this spirit, then, West Coast Sound presents the top 20 hair metal albums of all time. -Ben Westhoff
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
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
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
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
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