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What is 80s Hair Metal?

Updated on September 28, 2014
Bret Michaels and his band, Poison, may have looked like girls but they sure were a hit with the ladies. Most of their music wasn't what most would consider deep, but it was Nothing But A Good Time!
Bret Michaels and his band, Poison, may have looked like girls but they sure were a hit with the ladies. Most of their music wasn't what most would consider deep, but it was Nothing But A Good Time! | Source

Almost every decade of human history has at least a few things that are identified with it. Over the last fifty years or so, some have even been able to be identified by popular music. The counter culture of the 1960s had given people who were not part of the status quo a voice of their own and gave rise to Hendrix, Janis and a heard of new music. 1970s became almost an entire decade of experimentation, especially in music, with what we now call classic rock - The Eagles, Aerosmith and many others. But the 80's, well, those years were amazing in so many ways.

The 1980s were a time of excess in a lot of things. The American economy hade taken off, ushering in an era of wealth that many people were unaccustomed to (and, incidentally, may still be paying for).

With the arrival of MTV in 1981, music became more than just songs on the radio. It morphed into something very visual. Artists like Michael Jackson, Culture Club and Madonna sunk huge amounts of money into making music videos and those three minute films gave them popularity and recognition that musicians before had only dreamed of. By the middle of the decade, however, grown men in tights had almost completely taken over the airwaves.

It's hard to believe now, but there was once a time when dudes with big hair who also wore brightly colored spandex pants and tons of makeup didn't get laughed at. At least, not by everybody.

The Epitome of Hair Metal - Poison's Nothin' But A Good Time

David Lee Roth may have (sort of) cleaned up his act now but, back in the 1980s as the singer for Van Halen, he was one of the wildest frontmen in the business.
David Lee Roth may have (sort of) cleaned up his act now but, back in the 1980s as the singer for Van Halen, he was one of the wildest frontmen in the business. | Source

What, Exactly IS Hair Metal?

Some folks call it glam metal, others call it pop metal but most of us simply refer to these guys as hair metal bands. Though it really began in the late 1970s with bands like Aerosmith and the New York Dolls, the early 80's gave us Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Van Halen and Motley Crue. One of the very first hair metal videos I remember seeing was Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It. Since I'd never seen anything like it, I remember sitting there in shock and confusion wondering what the heck had just happened.

It didn't take long for other bands to follow suit, though most didn't quite go as overboard with the hair and clown makeup as Twisted Sister did.

Almost all of these bands came up with what became referred to as "power ballads," primarily to cater to their female fans. Some early bands like Ratt gave the music something a little sleazy and others, like Faster Pussycat followed suit. So hair metal became something more than just hard rock, it became sexual and people really dug it.

Because of the look, which probably did evolve from the New York Dolls, women were attracted to the style of music and it's performers. Before long, every "heavy" band that was making it had some type of feminine aspect to their appearances. Sometimes even a band with hardly any talent could gain fame and fortune just with some teased up hair, tons of makeup and spandex, leather and lace. Some of the guys, Kip Winger comes to mind, just couldn't pull off the look no matter how good the music was.

Van Halen - Jump Official Music Video

Lita Ford was one of the few females to make a name for herself in hair metal. She's also one of the few big names from that era still makng good records.
Lita Ford was one of the few females to make a name for herself in hair metal. She's also one of the few big names from that era still makng good records. | Source

Some of the Biggest Hair Metal Bands

Poison, Van Halen and Twisted Sister weren't the only bands to ride the hair metal train. Here are some of my favorite bands and singers from the era.

  • Guns N Roses - These guys, or the lineup for their first album, Apperite for Desstruction, are my all-time favorite band. They showed up at the end of the whole hair metal scene and turned it on it's ear with their raw, raunchy sound.
  • Cinderella - There are a lot of folks who don't like Cinderella singer Tom Keifer's voice, but I happen to love it. This band was a little more guitar heavy and really didn't fit the party style of some of the other hair metal bands, but their appearances sure made up the difference. IMO, their best album was their second: Long, Cold Winter.
  • Skid Row - I went to see this band in 1990 when they opened up for Aerosmith, a band I really didn't care for. I came away from that show with a long lasting love affair with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith but I will admit, Skid Row blew everybody away. In my opinion, Sebastian Bach may have been the single most talented hair metal singer. Their best album, as far as I'm concerned, is Slave to the Grind.
  • Lita Ford - There weren't many girls making good use of the hair metal trend, but Lita sure did have a way about her. She was not only a good singer, she also played guitar and proved on more than one occasion that she was every bit as capable as the guys. Her 1988 album, simply titled Lita, was her biggest seeling by a long shot.
  • Motley Crue - Some folks would say that The Crue were the consummate hair metal band, however their first couple of albums were very dark, even Satanic. They sure went party rock towards the end of the 80's, though. My personal favorite Motley Crue album is 1983's Shout at the Devil.
  • Quiet Riot - Who knew that a band could find success covering old Slade songs? Apparently Kevin DuBrow and company did and it definitely worked for them. Their version of Cum On Feel The Noize is a good representative of hair metal and some folks say that it's popularity is where it all began for the Aqua Net crowd. Their first album, Metal Health, which dropped in the Spring of 1983, was a monster hit and it opened a lot of doors for other acts.
  • Ratt - These guys were one of the first metal bands to fin success in the 1980s. They were also one of the bands to blow the whole Los Angeles metal scene wide open. They dropped a lot of good records in the 80's, and they're one of the few bands from this era that I still listen to. I still play the heck out of their first two big albums, Out of the Cellar and Invasion of your Privacy.
  • Faster Pussycat - I don't know exactly why, but in Slash's biography, he is constantly writing about how none of the other bands liked Faster Pussycat. Their loss. I always liked this band's dirty, gritty style and their singer's unusually styled vocals. Nobody ever said this was rocket science. Though I liked their second record, Wake Me When IT's Over, it's their first, self-titled album that I always go to when I want to relive the 80's.
  • Warrant - These guys, to me, are were the very definition of hair metal. And Jani Lane, man he was so cute but he sure could sing. Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich is still one of my favorite hair metal albums.
  • Bon Jovi - I can admit it. I was a Bon Jovi fan way back in the day. Not a huge fan, but I really did dig their sound. They're probably the only hair metal band that is still making hit records today - quite a feat for a band that a lot of folks laughed at!

Note: I have trouble classifying Judas Priest, Iron Maiden or Ozzy Osbourne (or thrash bands like the Big Four: Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax) as hair metal. They all thrived during this era, but their music was not the party metal that rotated heavily on MTV. Most of the music from that era is heavily dated and I dare you to listen to Powerslave and tell me it's no longer relevant.

Twisted Sister - We're Not Gonna Take It Official Music Video

Current metal band (sort of metal, anyway) Black Veil Brides have adopted a look reminiscent of Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx so, in some ways, hair metal still lives on.
Current metal band (sort of metal, anyway) Black Veil Brides have adopted a look reminiscent of Motley Crue's Nikki Sixx so, in some ways, hair metal still lives on. | Source

Will Hair Metal Ever Make A Comeback?

So. Can we ever expect to see a resurgence of Aqua Netal? My honest answer is "I seriously hope not." Hair metal wasn't just about the music, it was a whole way of life and that life included excess everything. Booze. Drugs. Women.

Sure musicians nowadays do indulge and many of them in extreme quantities, but most of the hair metalists didn't dodge questions about it in the press and some of their war stories still live on in infamy. (Ozzy Osbourne may or may not have once snorted fire ants.)

Once grunge came along, music took a much more serious turn. Though today's popular music charts are filled with songs that don't half make sense, it isn't the same thing.

And yes, most of these guys dolled themselves up with sky-high hair and copious amounts of eyeliner and spandex to go with the flow to become more popular not because they really enjoyed it, I really can't see that whole fashion trend happening again - not for the guys anyway.

It was fun while it lasted!

Guns N Roses - Welcome to the Jungle Official Music Video

© 2013 Georgie Lowery

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