Glam, Hair Metal, AOR, Arena Rock, Pop Metal, 80s Rock…it goes by many names, but there’s no mistaking the sound, and when it comes to this music, people seem to either love it or hate it. Personally, I’ve always loved Hair Metal, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve only dug deeper and deeper into this fascinating genre.
There have been many books, documentaries, and articles written on the 80s Rock scene, and it’s not a story that I need to retell per se. That said, I’ve always found it mystifying how a decade of truly awesome Rock music became very literally relegated overnight, to the point that some of these virtuoso players couldn’t even find jobs due to their association with it. If that’s not gatekeeping, I don’t know what is.
So, before we dive into this thing, it’s worth noting, and this is important in reference to Hair Metal– people are more or less sheep; you rarely meet a true individual. It became cool to hate on Hair Metal at some point, and in doing so they buried it. They buried some of the most talented and legitimately singular bands in Rock history. This music was unique, not only to the era but in general. It was a new spin on an old genre (Rock). That is something I simply find insane. I mean…come on! Big choruses, catchy riffs, over-the-top style– what’s not to like, let alone love? So, today, I’ve decided to do something about it. I’m saying my piece. What follows are ten albums, which fall within the genre of Hair Metal and Glam, that I feel are not only excellent but are genuinely underrated. I am steering away from the big ones that we all know and love (trying to, at least). Instead, I’m digging deeper than that. So, let’s take a trip back to the Sunset Strip. Buckle up; it’s about to get sleazy.
10) Fight to Survive by White Lion (1985)
The debut record by the American/Danish band, White Lion, is a true gem. While Pride gets a ton of attention, it’s this record that really set the tone for what was to come for this truly underrated band. Most fans of the genre are familiar with the beast that was Vito Bratta, who at the time may well have been the best guitar player on the planet, but at the point of this release, the world didn’t know that just yet. Is this White Lion’s best album? No. That said, if you’re a fan of the genre and like to dig deep, this record could be for you. As I alluded to earlier, this was the unveiling of hurricane Vito to the general public, and for that reason alone, this album is important. It’s both incredible and sad to think that just seven short years later, Vito Bratta would more or less disappear from music altogether. Criminally relegated to the scrapheap, looked down upon for “playing too well.” Madness! To this day, he remains a recluse, much to the chagrin of his fans around the world. We most likely will never hear the sweet sounds of Vito’s six-string again. That alone makes each and every album he did record something special.
9) Blue Murder (1989)
No list from this era is complete without a good old-fashioned supergroup, right? When a band boasts talent like John Sykes (Whitesnake), Tony Franklin (The Firm), and Carmine Appice (Cactus, Vanilla Fudge), there isn’t a whole lot that can go wrong…except that it went completely wrong. For starters, Sykes (guitar) wanted Cozy Powell (drums) and Ray Gillen (vocals) alongside Franklin (bass) and even recorded some demos with that group, but things quickly disintegrated after that. In short order, he recruited Tony Martin (Black Sabbath) to take over vocal duties and the aforementioned Carmine Appice on drums, but Martin soon left too. In the end, John Sykes ended up recording the vocals himself. Still, even after all of that, the end result is the absolute monster of an album, Blue Murder, released in 1989. Things seemed to be looking up, with the band even hooking onto huge tours with both Bon Jovi and Billy Squire, but for whatever reason, this project was simply cursed, and it never got off the ground commercially. However, don’t let any of that muddled and unfortunate history fool you; this album is fantastic, and in my opinion, it is essential to any Hair and Glam Metal collection. Haven’t heard it? Do yourself a favor and change that.
8) White Tiger (1986)
There isn’t a tremendous amount of information out there on White Tiger, as the band was only around for what amounted to a couple of years and one completely unknown and commercially unavailable album, which was called White Tiger. The band’s only real claim to fame is that they boasted one Mark St. John, the shredding guitarist hired by KISS during the Animalize era, only to lose his job to Bruce Kulick due to a bizarre bout with reactive arthritis in his hands and arms. In short, arthritis aside, Mark St. John was not right for KISS, but he did make an excellent album with White Tiger. The problem? Upon its release, their label (E.M.C. Records) saw nothing resembling a potential hit single and dropped them from the label, despite the band’s immense talent and potential. In 1988, the lineup regrouped for a short time, in an attempt to give it another go, and even recorded a seven-track demo, but that too went nowhere. Unfortunately, Mark St. John, one of the decade’s most talented players, fell into obscurity after this and died suddenly at the age of 51, in 2007, of a cerebral hemorrhage, effectively ending his star-crossed career once and for all. Considering how talented St. John was, he barely laid any music to tape in his lifetime. For that reason alone, if you’re a fan of Hair and Glam Metal, White Tiger is one worth hunting down.
7) True At Heart by Doro Pesch (1991)
I suspect that this will be a controversial pick for some, but I am including it nevertheless. This album is less Hair Metal in terms of the upbeat Rock side things, but what it does boast is some of the most epic Rock ballads that you will ever hear. What’s more Hair Metal than that? Doro, AKA “The Queen of Metal,” has certainly earned the title over the years, with her penchant for driving, heavy tracks, accented by her soaring vocals, which can be heard across her many solo records, as well as her early work with Warlock. That said, True At Heart is a completely different animal. For starters, this record was recorded in Tennessee and was produced by Barry Beckett, a man known for his handling of mainstream Pop and Country artists. The album was different, as it doesn’t feature the “Heavy Metal Queen” we had all come to know and love to that point. Instead, Doro hired session musicians, who were well versed in Country music, and proceeded to record an album full of ballads. While it’s not full-on sleazy Glam, it’s about as close as Doro ever got to it. All of that aside, this is a great album, and it’s an interesting moment within Doro’s long career, as well as a style of music she never felt the need to return to. It may not be her best effort, but within the vain of this style, it’s pretty damn good, just the same.
6) Steeler (1983)
How many of you are familiar with Rik Fox? If you aren’t— you should be. I’ll put it out there…Rik Fox is one of the most underrated and simultaneously unlucky musicians within the genre of Metal. Yeah…I’ll die on that hill. Early in his career, he was good friends with Peter Criss (KISS) and even dated Peter’s sister, so he was very well connected from the start. To make a long story short, Rik was one of the founding members of W.A.S.P. and also is responsible for naming the band, and even recorded some early demos in his short four-month tenure. While he was only in W.A.S.P. for a moment in time, his influence was felt forever throughout the band through their early and now classic music and through their enduring sound, which Rik helped develop. Anyway, after that, Rik joined Steeler through a newspaper ad. Steeler was a band of true promise, considering it boasted a young Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, Ron Keel on vocals, and Mark Edwards on drums. In relatively short order, the band went on to record their debut, the self-titled record, Steeler, and it’s a true gem. This album, along with Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast For Love, could be and should be considered the archetype for basically all Hair and Glam Metal that came thereafter. However, six months into his tenure with Steeler, fate would again screw over Rik Fox, as his bandmates inexplicably jettisoned him from Steeler. Things fell apart shortly thereafter, with Malmsteen joining Alcatrazz and then going solo. As for the rest of the band, more specifically Rik Fox…there is a story there, and I plan to tell it. Stay tuned for my interview with Rik in the coming weeks. As for the record…go find it. You need it.
5) Badlands (1989)
This is probably one of the more heralded albums on this list, as it has not been completely relegated to the sands of time as some of these other records have. Still, not enough people are in the proverbial know regarding this gem of an album, produced by powerhouse supergroup, Badlands. Again, it’s hard to go wrong with a group that boasts Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne), Eric Singer (KISS), Ray Gillen (Black Sabbath), and Greg Chaisson (Steeler), and at the time, unlike the aforementioned Blue Murder, the public was into it…sort of. It was never a huge album per se, but it had shipped around 400,000 copies by 1990, which for those keeping score, was still was not enough for gold certification by the RIAA, which is my point. In short, this record is phenomenal and should have gone multi-platinum several times over, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t. As has been the case with Blue Murder, retrospective reviews for Badlands have been nothing short of glowing, and thankfully, there seems to be a growing awareness for it. Badlands would record one more record, in 1991, the also awesome, Voodoo Highway, but by that point, Eric Singer had left to join KISS. Sadly, the band’s singer, Ray Gillen, would pass away from an AIDS-related disease in 1993, an illness which derailed the band’s tour for Voodoo Highway and any further plans to continue. So, if you see a copy of Badlands in the wild on vinyl, cassette, or CD— grab it and enjoy.
4) Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986)
When you boil it down, if 80s Hair and Glam Metal are known for one thing, and one thing only, it may well be the existence of a huge stable of wildly talented, enigmatic, and star-crossed lead guitar players. In the case of Vinnie Vincent, he certainly fits into that mold, but with a twist– he is cursed with some sort of massive personality disorder, which completely disallows him from working with literally any single human being, for any length of time, for seemingly more than a year or so. Personally, I love Vinnie. I would love to talk to the guy and hear his side of things, but the man is a recluse and seemingly has no interest in emerging from whatever mountainside cave he’s hiding within. So, all we are left with is his relatively small but absolutely essential body of work, paired with the stories others have told…none of which are particularly good. Sure, most will remember his embattled time in KISS, which ironically produced two of their best records in Creatures of the Night and Lick it Up. Side note: Vinny also emerged to assist in the writing of KISS’ Revenge, in 1991, and BOOM– HIT. See a pattern there? Anyway, after Vinny was booted from KISS for stealing, looting, and generally pillaging the countryside, he formed the Vinnie Vincent Invasion. In 1986, he pumped out the Neoclassical/Hair Metal masterpiece that is his self-titled record. What more can I say; you’ve got Robert Fleischman on vocals, the equally enigmatic, destructive, and divisive Dana Strum on bass, and the nicest guy of the bunch, Bobby Rock on drums, and of course Vinnie. The album is a Vinnie Vincent shred fest, which is all Vinnie ever wanted to do…until he didn’t…and now he’s hiding on a mountain somewhere. Do you like sleazy, make-up-caked, hair-spray-coated, guitar-soaked Glam? If so, go get this record immediately.
3) Asylum by KISS (1985)
I think this is the worst KISS record there is, and it’s not even close. I know I know…Music From The Elder…everyone hates that record. I don’t, but that’s a different topic for a different article. Now, when I say this is the, “worst KISS record,” understand that I am a KISS fanatic, and by no means do I feel that this is a bad record. I mean, think about it, the “worst” record by KISS is number three on my list, that about says it all, right? You may not agree with me, but again, that’s a different topic for another article. Now, Asylum is a record that went gold and was by definition “popular.” So, what’s it doing on this list? Well, first of all, this list was never happening without a KISS record, not for me anyway. Second, while many would agree this is one of the band’s weaker records compared to say Love Gun or Creatures of the Night, within the canon of Glam and Hair Metal, it’s relatively strong, that is to say, it’s at least as good as anything else that was coming out at the time. I guess what I mean is, while it’s not a prototypical KISS album per se, it is a great Hair/Glam album. Lastly, this isn’t the band’s only foray into Glam, with Animalize coming out the year before, in 1984, and Crazy Nights two years later, in 1987. Now, I suspect most fans would choose those two records over Asylum; at least, I would. So, there’s your justification for Asylum’s placement on this list. Also, Eric Carr and Bruce Kulick give truly inspiring performances on this record, and have you ever seen the video for “Tears Are Falling?” If Paul Stanley, swinging across your TV screen, like Tarzan, in the rain, doesn’t make Asylum essential, then I simply don’t know what does.
2) Nasty Nasty by Black ‘N Blue (1986)
We’re getting down to it now, and I will admit, I struggled to decide between these last two. When it comes to Black ‘N Blue, I really love this band. In part, it’s because I have a great affinity for Tommy Thayer as a lead guitar player. I truly feel he is a generational player and is not given the respect he deserves. His work within both Black ‘N Blue and KISS is inspired and generally of the utmost quality. He’s a true songsmith, and his Blues-inspired playing brought a fresh perspective to Hair and Glam Metal that wasn’t so common at the time, with the exception of the previously touched upon Bruce Kulick and Slash. Anyway, Tommy deserves more respect, as does his partner in crime, Jaime St. James. While they may not be Jagger/Richards or Tyler/Perry, Jaime St. James and Tommy Thayer were the core of what made Black ‘N Blue awesome. The band’s first four records are as good as anybody’s, but my personal favorite is Nasty Nasty. As a KISS fan, this is a cool album, as Gene Simmons produced the record and lent them the riff from “Only You” for the mid-section of the title track, “Nasty Nasty,” which Tommy lays a truly gnarly solo over the top of. But that’s not all– the main riff for “Nasty Nasty” would go on to be borrowed by Simmons for his track “Domino,” which went on to be featured on KISS’ Revenge album, five years later. Aside from all that, Nasty Nasty is just a rager of a Rock record. Some may not agree, but I feel this is the band’s finest hour, which sees the partnership of Thayer and St. James at the height of its powers. I mean… “Nasty Nasty” begins with Jaime St. James hocking a loogy over Thayer’s grungy riff. Doesn’t get much sleazier than that.
1) Britny Fox (1988)
For my money, the self-titled album by Philly band, Britny Fox, is the most underrated and perhaps the best example of sleazy, make-up-riddled, overdrive-cranked-to-11, glammed-out Hair Metal excess there is. I love this record, and quite a few of you probably do, too, as the record went gold upon its release. So, what makes it underrated? Well…it’s complicated. The story of Britny Fox is one of trials, tribulations, and almost redemption. At its core, the group was initially composed of two of the original members of Cinderella, that’s Michael Kelly Smith (guitar) and Tony Destra (drums). In short, the two of them were booted from Cinderella, just as the band was about to break because an AR scout didn’t like the way they looked. So, they hooked up with Billy Childs (bass) and Dean Davidson (vocals) and formed Britny Fox, and just as they were about to break, Tony Destra was suddenly and sadly killed in a car crash. Eventually, the band replaced him with Johnny Dee (Waysted), and they did make their debut record, and it did end up going gold. They even ended up on some great tours with Bon Jovi and Ratt, and in the wake of their second record, Boys In Heat, Britny Fox was set to join KISS on their Hot In The Shade Tour, but alas, it was not meant to be, and in the end, they were bumped for the up and coming band, Slaughter. As a result, sales for both Britny Fox and Boys In Heat stalled, Dean Davidson left the band, they lost their record deal, and the rest is history. Another case of a band that could have and should have been huge but seemingly was never able to clear that final hurdle. So, what are we left with? All told, the band did make four outstanding albums, with Britny Fox being the best of the bunch and Boys In Heat not far behind. Present-day, the band is touring with replacement members. Michael Kelly Smith has gotten into animal rescue, and Dean Davidson remains in seclusion somewhere within the suburbs of Philly. So much for making it big solo, Dean.
So, that’ll do it. That’s ten overlooked albums from the Hair and Glam Metal era that I feel are worth your time. Maybe you’ll agree, or maybe you won’t. That said, this all begs the question, what makes any one particular piece of music “legitimate?” Why can’t we all aspire to like what we like without having to attach qualifiers to it? Perhaps we can, and it simply comes down to having thicker skin and not letting it bother you. Then again, try telling that to Vinnie Vincent or Vito Bratta, two of the most talented and enigmatic players to ever pick up a guitar, who both vanished without a trace in the early 90s, simply due to becoming proverbial whipping posts of Grunge and Alternative Rock audiences.
I guess, when it comes to Hair Metal, there is a paradox…this sort of myopic blackhole of too cool for school poseurdom that will never sit right with me. There is always going to be “that guy.” You know the type, the one who has to put the genre down, while he sips his imported IPA and reads obscure 19th-century poetry, while his earbuds pump the latest Cage the Elephant or My Bloody Valentine clone into his ears. Does that offend you? Well, maybe you’re that guy! Moral of the story– don’t be that guy. As for me? Well, I’ll be rocking out to “Girlschool,” “Nasty, Nasty” to and from work, all day, every day.
Don’t forget to check out part 2 to this article here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/the-road-to-the-roxy-10-underrated-glam-hair-metal-era-albums-part-ii/
Interested in learning more about sleazy Glam and Hair Metal? Check out Paul on his Tarzan swing below:
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