"Hair metal" — the more pejorative term for glam/pop metal — is known for sleazy hooks, flashy guitar, preening vocals and reverb-doused beats. But sometimes hair can also be heavy. OK, not exactly Slayer heavy. And not as frequently as some of these Eighties dandies unfurled doe-eyed power ballads.
But several of hair metal's greatest bands cut more than a few legitimately heavy tracks during their prime. Particularly bands like Mötley Crüe, Skid Row and L.A. Guns. And a few iconic hits smuggled tooth-dislodging wallop underneath MTV glitz. Below are 10 of the heaviest tunes from the glam-metal realm.
Before they poured sugar on me, you, your siblings and/or your parents in 1987, Def Leppard were part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM to those who want to avoid having sex). Pulling a Zep-style "Houses of the Holy"/Houses of the Holy switcheroo, Leppard released "On Through the Night" not on the 1980 album of the same name but 1981 LP High 'n' Dry. Whatever. Singer Joe Elliott sounds like a stray cat in heat on the track. His vocal tone and aggression could slide right into a Brian Johnson-era AC/DC cut.
Come for the foreboding acoustic-intro spiderwebs. Stay for George Lynch's electric-guitar chunk and catacomb-clearing solo. On 1985 track "Unchain the Night," Don Dokken steers his normally smooth vocals into grittier corners. Two years later, the band contributed the excellent "Dream Warriors" to the A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 soundtrack. "Unchain the Night" is more hair-raising, though.
Tracii Guns throws studs-and-leather guitar grit. Meanwhile, L.A. Guns frontman Phil Lewis does corrosive howls and come-ons. The rhythm section takes the curves too fast for love. With Tracii's roots as a Guns N' Roses co-founder, there was hot buzz for L.A. Guns' eponymous 1988 bow. And the band delivered a seamless, street-level classic. An attitude crystallized on "Electric Gypsy."
Shout at the Devil is easily Mötley's most metallic LP. In fact, many fans would've loved it if the band would've made this same album another five or so times. Even Shout's hits — like the title track, "Too Young to Fall in Love" and "Looks That Kill" — knock the listener on their ass. But "Red Hot" is the haymaker from this 1983 LP. Tommy Lee's kickdrum treats your ears like speedbags. Nikki Sixx's bass starts a riot and singer Vince Neil does peroxide war cries. But it's Mick Mars' helicopter-blade guitar sound that's the killer.
Cannibal Corpse fans are hate-tweeting us right now for this selection. But fuck it. The title track off pop metal's prettiest pretty boys' 1986 debut album is gnarly — at least, by the standard of their scene. Much of the heaviness on "Look What the Cat Dragged in" comes from C.C. DeVille's shark-tooth guitar chug. On the mic, poster boy Bret Michael sounds legitimately dire, singing lyrics like, "I look like hell/Half alive or half dead, I just can't tell."
With their breakthrough 1983 third LP, Metal Health, Quiet Riot brought heavy to the masses. The album is often regarded as the first metal album to top the Billboard 200. Late great QR frontman Kevin DuBrow struts his stuff on the title track. He takes his Humble Pie boogie-rock roots into the serrated stratosphere. When DuBrow howls lines like "I want it louder, more power" and especially the "bang your head" hook, we must oblige.
Ratt's self-titled 1983 EP is a raw, relentless must-have. On EP opener "Sweet Cheater," Bobby Blotzer's street-fight drums set the tone right from the drop. The twin guitars of Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini sound like skulls curb-stomped on Sunset Boulevard. Singer Stephen Pearcy wails over it all, like some headband-clad Steven Tyler/Rob Halford hybrid.
Most Eighties rockers got sleeker as they got more famous. Not Skid Row. The "18 and Life" band's self-titled debut was by no means a sequined softie. But 1991 sophomore LP Slave to the Grind pegged the aggression, as heard on songs like "Monkey Business" and the metric-ton title track. The guitar riffage from Snake Sabo and Scotti Hill is positively corrosive, bassist Rachel Bolan and drummer Rob Affuso push things to a speed-metal clip, and gold-pants frontman Sebastian Bach goes full metal lord.
With its controversy-baiting title, "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" is dangerous even before it begins. W.A.S.P. singer-bassist Blackie Lawless quickly takes things further. With his sawblade vocals, Lawless sounds like a horror-movie villain luring 1984 teens away from their Ataris into raw-meat bacchanalia. The bass and drums hit like an iron fist. Chris Holmes plays a fractured, jagged guitar solo. And the lyrics? W.A.S.P. beat Nine Inch Nails to the bestial fornication simile by a decade. No wonder the PMRC took offense.
It's understandable if the first thing you think of with "Still of the Night" is Tawny Kitaen's sultry magnetism in the accompanying music video. Or at the end of that clip, singer-deluxe David Coverdale being dragged off into a van marked "Sex Police." But the music on "Still of the Night" packs plenty of heavy. Particularly the time-cutting grooves and John Sykes' spiky guitar tone. And the atmosphere during the intro and verses is more menacing than you might recall.