The eighties were crazy times and the music of the eighties complimented the times well. Pop and new wave bands hit all-time highs on the air waves. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the glam-infused hard rock genre exploded, creating a plethora of hair bands promoting sex, drugs and rock and roll to the Reagan youth. It was a wondrous time!
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and this genre was hit hardest by the somber nineties. Eventually some bands returned with big success while others, well, they just came back. Recent tours by Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard and Kiss all echo the rock public’s need for a good ole fashioned good time. Not all bands have had the same success or more importantly, were lucky enough to have their hit songs of the eighties hold up as the fist-pumping anthems they once were.
In the eighties there were three waves of hair bands that hit big. The first group brought an edge with their makeup, the second piled it on and the third, or final wave, were just more manufactured make-up bands. The good news is that all are represented here. Internal fighting within a band, music that now makes you cringe, reality television and of course overdoses (a consequence of the job) have all contributed to bands making this special list.
Who didn’t make it? Well, Dokken receives an honorable mention; after all, “Rockin’ with Dokken” was an actual thing. Also, Twisted Sister doesn’t make the list, their music still rocks (sort of) and let’s face it, they were never quite pretty enough to make a hair band list. So here we go, with a disclaimer: Reading this may cause late night YouTube sessions of BulletBoys’ “Smooth Up In Ya!”
I remember the first time I saw Poison (video for “Talk Dirty to Me”), I thought it was Motley Crue with even more make-up. Apparently I was perceptive in my teenage years. The band (and video) was made for MTV, with several costume changes, hip-gyrating moves and of course, the teased-up hair. They also wore a lot of cowboy hats, but you never saw two of them wearing one at the same time. Apparently, this was an unwritten rule of the band. Looks were definitely more important than music, after all, this is the band that selected C.C. Deville over Slash to play guitar. There are very few cities today where it is acceptable to roll down your car windows and have “I Want Action” blasting. In fact, it may be illegal in some states.
The inspiration for most Ratt songs appeared to be hookers and strippers. A Los Angeles favorite, their radio hit “Round and Round” launched the band into the mainstream. They even used Milton Berle in the video for the song (as well as a live rat). The band never drifted far from their initial inspiration, keeping the focus on loose women and hot asses. A few years ago the band put out an album that actually sounded good, but unfortunately the band has been unable to keep their differences at bay, constantly on again/off again as a group due to fighting, presumably over prostitutes and exotic dancers.
8. L.A. Guns
A Yellow Pages book could be created to list former members of this band. Tracii Guns, one of the original founders, left and then came back to the band. Unfortunately he had already been replaced. What to do? Create another band with the same name. So, yeah, there are two L.A. Guns now. At some point there really needs to be a reality show or steel cage match to settle this once and for all. The world does not need two bands named L.A. Guns.
7. White Lion
White Lion was not as popular as some of the other hair bands, but that’s because they could actually play a little. Despite having talent, they tried hard with the aqua-net hair and jean jackets. It is not an understatement to say this band really liked jean jackets. They preferred the light washed jacket look. I don’t believe they put patches on the back of the jacket, at least not the patch/logo of a band they toured with. That would have been embarrassing. The jean jacket usage alone should put this band in the Smithsonian.
After Tawny Kitaen stopped appearing in their videos this band should have called it quits, or at least stopped making videos. Appearing in the videos “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again”, Kitaen gave hope to groupies and models everywhere. After straddling the car in “Here I Go Again”, Kitaen was arguably bigger than Whitesnake. It’s been a long time since teenage boys hung a David Coverdale poster in their room, but I suspect teenage boys still watch Whitesnake videos for Tawny Kitaen. Whitesnake continues to make music today. There is a cliché that rock stars age the worst, becoming more weathered looking than your average joe. In the case of Whitesnake, this is not a cliché. This band is the real-weathered-deal.
This band was more for the girls, a band that could open for Motley Crue, but wasn’t pulling in metal heads into an arena the way other bands could. Their biggest “metal” hit was definitely “Don’t Treat Me Bad” a video about a girl who was treated “bad” by a member of Firehouse. It’s hard to estimate budgets for these old videos, but I suspect the script was written in under five minutes. The ballad, “When I Look Into Your Eyes” followed and was instantly added to mixed tapes named “weddings”, “slow mix” and “in love.” Again, this band was never for metal heads.
After Jani Lane left the band, Warrant should have changed their name, Lane was the voice and in many ways, the sound of Warrant. “Down Boys” was their first single and video, Warrant introduced the world to their dance moves and black leather jackets. I like to think their manager gave them a credit card to buy a new wardrobe for the video and they returned in 30 minutes, all wearing the same leather jacket. The second album featured the song “Cherry Pie”, a song Lane wrote the lyrics to on the back of a pizza box. So, there is really no surprise this song doesn’t hold up. The video for “Cherry Pie” should be kept safely for years to come. Eventually there will be an Eighties history class and this video will be part of the curriculum. It’s as important as the Space Shuttle, Eddie Murphy, rubric’s cube and Bill Buckner.
If you loved the hair of the heavy metal eighties than you loved Marq Torien of BulletBoys. By this point there was a formula in place for L.A.’s Sunset Strip band and BulletBoys definitely complied.
The formula was as follows: Start out with a heavy song, then release the ballad. If the ballad takes off you can then release another heavy song (usually with a “live” video) and if that worked you were allowed a second ballad. Few bands made it to the second ballad.
BulletBoys’ best moment was the video for “Smooth up in Ya”: A Glam 101 lesson on how to wear your pants tight, slide your hips and let your hair “flow” on stage. This song (and video) was released right around the height and also tipping point of this genre. This video wasn’t the only reason the eighties hair bands died, but if there is a list it should be near the top.
2. Bon Jovi
Jon Bon Jovi and his band were good looking guys who weren’t afraid to show their pearly whites to the camera. They wore tight jeans and knew how to laugh. Their third album, Slippery When Wet, catapulted the band to the top of the charts with “You Give Love a Bad Name”, “Living on a Prayer” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” The songs were “big” songs and the videos were always of the band on stage showing off their ripped jeans and playing to tens of thousands of fans. Always having a good time and always “rocking!” Now, the band still plays, but outside of Jersey the numbers have reduced drastically. Maybe they should go back to wearing ripped jeans; maybe it’s not a coincidence.
Kip Winger is proof that it’s not easy being beautiful. Despite a ton of talent, few got past the dreamy eyes, exposed chest and perfect hair. In the eighties Winger created music and videos that looked like shampoo commercials (so much hair!). The band was labelled “soft” and it was hard to listen to the music – even the incredibly catchy tunes. Today, Winger is creating new music and it’s pretty good, a heavier sound not dressed up by the eighties. After releasing new albums in 2006 (IV) and 2009 (Karma) their latest, Better Days Comin’ is the best I’ve heard so far. Is eighties Winger sound washed up? Absolutely, but here’s a shock – new Winger is not that bad and may get the last laugh.