I spent a surprisingly long time thinking up a name for this guide. I could have named it, ‘An Expert’s Guide’, but that would be incorrect. I am no such scholar on the subject – I merely know a little bit and appreciate the genre. I thought about, ‘The Fan’s Guide’, but that would also be wrong. No doubt many of these bands don’t deserve any such respect in the eyes of the public, or simple chart statistics would tell me that better groups should have made the list. So, I settled on, somewhat neutrally, ‘A Guide’. Yes, that’s much better. No expectations, no precedent to set, no angry, big-haired mobs to anger. (Just ignore the fact I said ‘Best’, obviously.)
I’ve been listening to fair bit of glam metal lately – you might have noticed – and thought it would be interesting to pick a list of my favourites. Whether it be outfits that didn’t get enough attention chart-wise, slipped under the radar, did well (but weren’t exactly renowned for being part of the glam scene) or just made some kickass music, here are but a few. Yes, expect to see familiar staples here (‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ is namechecked, simmer down) but there are also a few that might have passed you by, even if you spend your days in tight, tight spandex. Motley Crue isn’t on the list, but it’s hard to justify finding the literal face of glam metal a place. Still, yes, one can’t deny the impact Crue had on the charts, and on glam in general. From their ’81 debut to Shout at the Devil and 1989’s Dr. Feelgood, they’re a great start on the heavy metal tour. Still, as for my personal favourites…
Cinderella – Cinderella were a band from Philadelphia, achieving chart and widespread success in the mid-to-late 80s, as with most glam metal acts. Fronted by the deliciously-raspy Tom Keifer, the four-piece (five, during sessions and subsequent tours) encapsulated the look of the glam genre; with permed hair, zebra-stripe pants and tight-fitting jumpsuits Freddie Mercury would wince at. Their steaming 1986 debut, Night Songs, hit number three on the Billboard chart the following year, eventually going triple platinum. It also earned them an opening slot on Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet tour, and their follow-up was just as refined sonically. 1988’s Long Cold Winter featured their signature, heart-wrenching ballad, ‘Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)’, in which Keifer would descend on a white piano at gigs. Throw in the deliciously bluesy ‘Bad Seamstress Blues/Fallin’ Apart at the Seams’ and quintessential rocker, ‘Gypsy Road’, and you’ve got yourself a damn fine record. Their efforts after were more hard rock and blues orientated than glam metal as such, but continued pumping with the best of them. Sadly, Cinderella became fairly forgotten in the years that followed; the result of glam going out of finish, personal disputes and break-ups. If glam metal is your calling, this is the perfect band to get to grips with. ‘Nobody’s Fool’, ‘Shake Me’, ‘The Last Mile’ and ‘Shelter Me’ are all five-star tunes.
Bon Jovi – 1986 proved the best year for the genre of hard rock and glam metal. Financially and socially. Not least because of New Jersey-bred Bon Jovi’s third studio effort, Slippery When Wet, bolstered with its titanic trio of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ and ‘Wanted Dead Or Alive’. It’s a hell of a record, true, but some of their heaviest, glammiest material lies in the band’s first two albums. Between Bon Jovi’s eponymous debut and 1985 follow-up, 7800 Fahrenheit, there are a slew of pumping, hard rock/heavy metal tracks, from the synth-driven ‘Runaway’ (giving the band their first Top 40 entrant) to the electrifying ‘Burning For Love’, ‘Breakout’, ‘The Hardest Part Is The Night’ and ‘In And Out of Love’. Together, they earn Bon Jovi more than a place in my top picks, solely for how unnoticed they’ve become – from both fans and the band alike. Also, they looked about as glam as you could get (without being Nikki Sixx of Crue fame).
Def Leppard – Joe Elliott and his band of merry rockers (I can only presume this name was on the table) were once hailed among the new wave of British heavy metal – along with the likes of Iron Maiden and Saxon – but that didn’t mean they weren’t glam, too. Such lines between subgenres are blurred and thinned all the time. The Sheffield boys’ second LP, High ‘N’ Dry, released as long ago as 1981, showed all the hallmarks of emerging glam rock, with headbangers like ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)’ showcasing high-pitched ‘Yeah’s and big riffs. 1983’s Pyromania, though, finessed the formula of pure glam metal. The sublime guitar of ‘Photograph’, carefree attitude of ‘Rock of Ages’ and high-octane vocals of ‘Foolin’’ put the British boys right aside their trans-Atlantic counterparts. Even album tracks like ‘Too Late for Love’ and ‘Die Hard the Hunter’ remained live favourites, and deserve just as much recognition. Try as Joe Elliott might have to distance the band from the emerging Sunset Strip glam scene in the US, Leppard’s sound was emulated and replicated the world over. Their 1987 smash hit, Hysteria, only strengthened the claims of fans and followers. Def Leppard were heavy, and they were glam. Case closed.
Skid Row – One of the last bands to taste glam success, Skid Row have always been likened to fellow New Jersey-ites Bon Jovi. They don’t sound too dissimilar, and actually supported the Slippery When Wet giants during earlier gigs and tours. But Skid Row always boasted a rougher sound; especially with long-haired Sebastian Bach at the helm – his voice more like a Jack Daniels than Bon Jovi’s flashy red wine. The band’s heavier side is prominent in their ’91 release, Slave to the Grind, featuring the youth anthem, ‘Riot Act’, as well as hard rockers ‘Monkey Business’ and the title track itself. Their debut, though, released two years earlier, is absolute heavy metal perfection. If you want anthems on living wild and carefree, look no further than ‘Youth Gone Wild’, or their signature, ’18 And Life’. Fuse those with a Jovi-esque ballad in ‘I Remember You’ and stomping set pieces, ‘Big Guns’ and ‘Sweet Little Sister’? You’ve got yourself one of the best glam records of all time. The guitarist, Rachel Bolan, even constructed such a moniker partly from legendary glam pioneer Marc Bolan, frontman of T.Rex. The seeds of glam were there at least, without a doubt.
Autograph – There are a few glam acts that shot their load of fame once and struggled to uphold such a reputation. So the fate befalls Autograph, whose 1984 debut, Sign In Please, yielded the band their only Top 40 hit, ‘Turn Up The Radio’. And it’s a great tune, for sure. It’s a hearty offering of glam metal, with booming drumbeat and lyrics you’d come to expect from the genre. ‘Send Her To Me’, though, remains another great track that did poorly in comparison. Their 1997 Missing Pieces showcased brilliant material intended for an album that never came. ‘Sanctuary’, ‘Angel in Black’ and 2003’s ‘Heart Raper’ proved a testament to the band’s staggering skill at hard rock and heavy metal. But it’s almost entirely overlooked. For shame.
The Georgia Satellites – Yes, this band is barely glam metal, even at a push. The Atlantan group were more hard, southern rock fueled by a steady injection of boogie and blues. Still, at times they certainly blurred the divide, and onstage rocked the big hair and big hooks. The profitable 1986 swept in with the band’s debut, securing a number two spot on the charts with ‘Keep Your Hands to Yourself’. A searing cover of The Woods’ ‘Battleship Chains’, as well as album tracks, ‘Myth of Love’ and ‘Nights of Mystery’ earned them a place in raucous rock royalty to me. ‘Railroad Steel’ and ‘Red Light’ were boogier than the likes of G’n’R or Crue, but nonetheless inspired by glam, at the very least. Listen to this record and then the blistering opener of Cinderella’s Long Cold Winter. Not exactly worlds apart.
Danger Danger – It feels wrong somehow to put a band on the list for one album alone, but the band’s ’89 debut really is that good. The band have written some good stuff since (‘Everybody Wants Some’ and ‘Don’t Blame It On Love’ proving two relentless and mature tracks that spring to mind, from the band’s ’91 follow-up), but their eponymous debut features a slew of truly brilliant hard rock classics. Written by bassist Bruno Ravel and drummer Steve West, ‘Bang Bang’ – possibly the band’s biggest – peaked at number 49 on the Billboard Hot 100. Honestly, it deserved more, but even better is the album’s opener, ‘Naughty Naughty’, encapsulating everything good about ‘80s glam metal. The sexual themes, the glorious highs from singer Ted Poley, electrifying guitar… it’s an over-the-top barrage of heavy metal heaven. Throw in other glam gems like ‘Rock America’, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ and ‘Turn It On’ (as well as a few ballads) and you’ve got yourself a damn fine debut album.
Baton Rouge – Once again, I’m mainly naming this Canadian hard rock outfit for their debut, but it’s such a fine collection of glam rock tracks that it’d be criminal not to. Baton Rouge’s 1990 record, Shake Your Soul, didn’t do particularly well. But it’s opener, ‘Doctor’ pumps away with the best of them; somewhere between Whitesnake and White Lion. Kelly Keeling’s vocals shine through on the deliciously devilish ‘Baby’s So Cool’ and swaggering, earworm chorus of ‘Walks Like A Woman’, fusing glam rock with the best blues can offer. ‘Big Trouble’ is another bonafide ode to hair and metal; with artistic maturity in the more complex ‘There Was A Time (The Storm)’. Baton Rouge put out two more albums after that, but neither came close to Shake Your Soul. Still, as debuts go, it’s impressive to say the least. Another textbook example of a great band being overlooked.
Aerosmith – Again, much like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, the Steven Tyler-fronted rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, have no shortage of chart success. But that’s not to say they still aren’t a damn fine rock band, especially when it comes to all things flashy and glam. ‘Smith were churning out rock staples back in the ‘70s, but it was their astonishing return to mainstream fame in the late 80s that earns them a place on my list. The ‘Toxic Twins’ of Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry (aptly named due to their life of excess; how more glam can you be?) are responsible for hits like ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’, ‘Rag Doll’ and the Jovi-esque ‘Magic Touch’ from their 1987 Permanent Vacation, which quickly went multi-platinum. The band’s follow-up, Pump, released two years later, showcased how downright lecherous the two could be in their lyrics, with feisty highschool fantasies in ‘Young Lust’, ‘F.I.N.E.’ and ‘Love In An Elevator’, as well as showing their more serious side with tracks such as ‘Monkey on My Back’ and ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’. Aerosmith are seen more as hard rock than glam metal, per se, but look at Tyler’s showman attitude and tell me he’s not up there with Sixx and Bret Michaels.
Kix – Steve Whiteman is a classic example of a great frontman. He has the over-the-top movements, the hair and the roaring vocals. But together with his heavy metal band, Kix, he was propelled to a higher state of being. The band’s 1985 Midnite Dynamite reached number eighteen in the charts and spawned two singles. ’91’s Hot Wire is full of hard rock favourites from the seuxally playful ‘Bump the La La’ to ‘Girl Money’ – a track Bon Scott would surely be proud of. But it was the band’s 1988 predecessor, Blow My Fuse, that really earns Kix a place here. Sure, songwriter Taylor Rhodes (famous for his work with Aerosmith) helped the band out a bit, but otherwise, Kix made one of the best albums of that decade – and that’s competing with the likes of Jovi, Crue and Poison. The record’s titular anthem is a stomping piece of innuendo and white-hot sexual tension. Whiteman tows the line between Steve Tyler seduction and Bon Scott predation (all the while with lyrics like Brian Johnson’s slightly less laryngitis-ridden brother) through equally worthy tunes, ‘No Ring Around Rosie’ and ‘Get It While It’s Hot’. But their magnum opus is undoubtedly ‘Cold Blood’, one of the catchiest rockers out there. At the time, it became a rock staple on the radio. Now, Kix aren’t really mentioned much at all anymore.
There. Ten bands that – to me, at least – encapsulate the best of glam metal without having ever actually been recognized for it. They’re owed their dues, for writing some of the best headbangers; packed with contagious riffs and stomping backbeats. The glam scene churned out a new band every day, or so it seemed, and it was impossible for each one with a decent tune to hang around forever. Carving out a legacy in music at all, especially this kind, is a Sisyphean task. But that doesn’t mean we should forget about the ones who tried to do so. The Icarus’ of the glam rock world. To them, I salute you – and down a disgustingly strong whiskey.