Friday, January 18, 2013

A member of the hair nation picks the best songs ever

Hair metal is a loose term, as loose as the women in your average hair metal video (this kind of wit is prevalent throughout this blog, so pat yourself on the back, wise reader, for choosing to read this).
But it's a term that usually garners at least a giggle from those who remember back in the day. These are the same giggles reserved for skyrocketing bangs, mullets, pink suit jackets with the sleeves rolled up, hoop earrings and thinking "Knight Rider" was a great show.
Hair metal deserves better. I'm here to give it to you. We shouldn't have to be embarrassed about it. Take me. I have some culture in my music tastes. I've played Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mozart in symphony orchestras and Miles Davis in jazz bands. I've listened to many of the kings and queens of jazz and own many of their records. I have the box sets of Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and Led Zeppelin.
And yet I'm an unabashed fan of metal. Metal forever and metal for life and whatnot. That includes hair metal, which, despite its wild success at its peak,  probably gets teased more than any other era of music except perhaps disco. And as a result I expect exactly two people to read this until the end, including me.
But here you go. The top 25 hair metal songs of all time.
I did have to leave out Hall Of Fame bands such as Iron Maiden, Dio, Dream Theater, Helloween, Queensryche, Metallica, Grim Reaper, Armored Saint, Judas Priest, Chastain (obscure band but one of my favorites, probably worth a blog post at some point) and Savatage because they're not really hair metal. They're not glam metal. They're not even hard rock. They are metal, and even if I preferred those bands growing up, that's not the point of this post. If there's any point to this post at all.
I tried not to repeat bands. That probably means leaving out a lot of great songs, but I was able to find a signature hit, at least in my opinion, from many key bands from the Spandex Era.
I also didn't put them in order. Maybe I should, but just to make this list is an honor. About as big an honor as a Grammy, I'm pretty sure.
Speaking of Grammy, er, grammar, I have made the bands plural even though a band is a single entity. It's much easier to read that way. I apologize in advance.
Let's get to it:
"Live Wire" By Motley Crue — Motley Crue was the first hard rock/metal/hair metal band I ever got into. My neighborhood kid friends brought me a tape one day, and I listened to it with a sense of wonder, excitement and fear. The tape was "Shout at the Devil." It seemed kinda evil, and I remember, late at night, becoming a little scared at what bringing this group into my life could mean (I was, unfortunately, kind of a deep kid who overthought far too many things. You MAY be able to see the resemblance to the adult me now.) In fairness, I was in like fifth grade, and this group at the time had just opened for Ozzy Osbourne, who bit the heads off doves and bats and drank their blood like lemonade (at least that's what I heard). My parents didn't take us to church, but that pentagram and the lyrics "Shout at the DEVIL" still made me worry that I was going to want to sacrifice small, cute animals after listening to the tape.
Of course, I also remember thinking Metallica, when I first heard "Ride The Lightning," was just various recordings of coyotes. Fortunately I got over my pansy ways. Motley Crue was my first step.
I discovered "Live Wire" later, when you fall in love with a band and check out its older albums. Motley Crue has had many great songs. The first track off their first album remains their best, especially the remix that helped take out some of the sludgy production of the original.
Shit, this may be a long post. That was a lot of description.
"Foolin'" By Def Leppard — Def Leppard's "Pyromania" was one of my first hair metal albums, after the Crue's "Shout at the Devil." I got it in a six-pack of tapes I got from those music clubs that gave you 12 for a penny if you agreed to buy six more at regular (inflated) prices and sacrifice small, cute animals. My other tapes were The Police, Duran Duran and a bunch I can't remember, so you can see where my mindset was at the time. I think "Pyromania" is a nearly perfect hard rock album, and it's by far Def Leppard's best. Def Leppard was at one time a band that sounded like AC/DC, only with catchier melodies and a better singer, and it's a shame that they castrated themselves a bit with "Hysteria," a fine record with far too many ballads and the most overplayed song in history, "Pour Some Sugar on Me." The fact that I've heard that song approximately 40 billion times and my parents' radio station (KUDL, pronounced "cuddle") could play it because it was soft enough and catchy enough not to offend the menopause crowd and yet hard enough to make the station seem "edgy" eliminates the song from my top 25. It was hard to pick between "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages" and this one, but I remember adoring this song when I was younger, and so it wins, even if the other two songs are probably better.
Yep, this post will be long. Sorry.
"You Shook Me (All Night Long) By AC/DC — The OTHER most overplayed song in history, besides "Sweet Home Alabama," and there are many other AC/DC tracks I personally like better, including "Hells Bells," "Highway to Hell" and "It's A Long Way To The Top," but I believed this was the one song I could not leave off the list regardless of my personal feelings for it. It's proof that "hair metal" is a loose term because these guys were pretty much the OPPOSITE of a hair metal band. They were ugly guys who dressed like factory workers, save for Angus, who wore a schoolboy outfit that would probably get him arrested if he went anywhere but a concert hall. Yet this song helped kick off the catchy, radio-friendly-yet-hard-edged hair metal era because of its wild success. Basically every band tried to copy it. The band also featured a smoking hot blonde in the video. I can STILL see her riding that mechanical horse. 
As an aside, KISS' "Rock and Roll All Nite," which compares favorably with this song in many ways (classic band, overplayed song loved by everyone, catchy as hell), is NOT on the list. It's a great song, but it's really not from the era. And the hair metal era, which boosted the careers of many older bands that actually got their start in the 70s (such as the Scorpions, Van Halen, Sammy Hagar, AC/DC and perhaps even Judas Priest and Iron Maiden) almost destroyed KISS. The band took off its makeup and made mostly forgettable records filled with songs like "Crazy Crazy Nights" and "God Gave Rock and Roll To You" that really sounded like a desperate uncle trying to fit in at one of his nephew's fun parties. Still...
"Heaven's On Fire" By KISS — This song was a glorious exception. It's my favorite song by KISS, and I really do love KISS. It's stupid as hell but even catchier.
"We're Not Gonna Take It" By Twisted Sister — I was trying to think of perhaps the worst hair metal band in the era simply in terms of ability. I came up with Krokus, Danger Danger and Britney Fox, but I still think Twisted Sister was probably the worst. "Stay Hungry" sounds as if it was played by a bunch of fifth-graders. And yet it's not only a good record, it's a classic. Why? The power of songwriting. Dee Snider was simply a great songwriter. He wrote "I Wanna Rock" and "Stay Hungry" and "The Price," and he wrote this insanely catchy number too, filled with attitude and one of the best choruses ever for a rock song. My DAD liked this one for God's sake. Dee was also a great metal singer. He didn't resort to the "balls in a vice" falsetto that so many other singers had to abuse to fit in. They had a good look, and their videos were hilarious. They didn't take themselves too seriously, a lesson I wish more metal bands learned.
"Rock Me" by Great White — A nightclub fire, as horrible as it was, shouldn't mean we overlook this band. Yes, Great White was a ripoff of many better classic rock bands, and yes this song took pieces of a half-dozen Led Zeppelin songs and glued them together, but that still makes for a great song. This band was a bit more no-nonsense than most in the era and would have fit comfortably in the 70s. It has a solid greatest-hits collection, including three off "Once Bitten," the band's biggest album, and that's far more than most hair metal bands. I also liked "Desert Moon" a lot.
"Rock You Like A Hurricane" by The Scorpions — The Scorpions are proof that hair metal or pop metal could be really good if a great band played it and wrote it. The Scorpions didn't need the hair metal era to be popular, though there's no doubt they benefitted from it, and here's exhibit A: This song is one of the best songs of the 80s, with perhaps the best opening riff of all the hair metal songs. It's so simple, too: Da-da-da, dudu, dududa, dadaaa. It's also heavier than you remember, and the video is almost kinda scary, not just the band writhing around a hot girl. The centerpiece from "Love At First Sting," a classic album. The Scorpions weren't flashy, attractive guys, but they had at least a dozen great songs, were a great live band (they were the best, I thought, when I saw "Monsters of Rock" with Van Halen and Metallica) and deserve a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Out of Love" by Blue Murder — Who? Yeah, I know. Blue Murder was a trio led by John Sykes, who actually played guitar on Whitesnake's monster album, not the pretty boys in the videos. This album shows just what a good guitarist (and singer) he was, and it, quite frankly, rocked. This is a sappy ballad, but it's probably my favorite hair ballad ("Still Loving You" and "Home Sweet Home" are the only ones that come close; I really wasn't much of a fan of ballads). This band put out two albums (that I know of), but the self-titled one, the debut, is still worth owning.
"Modern Day Cowboy" by Tesla — Tesla opened for Def Leppard on the Hysteria tour, and it was one of those glorious, rare times when I got my socks knocked off by a band I didn't know. They kicked Leppard's butt, and I bought the album the next day. It's still one of my favorites, and it ranks up there with "Appetite for Destruction" as a debut album by a hard rock band. This is the best track on an album full of great ones, including "Little Suzy" and "Comin' Atcha Live".
"Down Deep Into The Pain" by Stevie Vai — Marginal hair metal, but Vai played on Whitesnake's "Slip of the Tongue" and David Lee Roth's debut and therefore had a big role in the hair metal era. This is Devin Townsend's debut as well, as far as I can tell, and he's a big name in metal today. I always liked Vai's "The Audience Is Listening" too.
"Lights of Heaven" by Joe Satriani — Speaking of instrumental guitarists, here's the best, ever. He performed in this era, so I put him here. Satriani is famous for "Surfing with the Alien," but I think the album that spawned this track is better, and this is his best song.
"Wild Child" by W.A.S.P. — I love W.A.S.P. Blackie Lawless was a strange dude, almost too strange, as the band's antics and acting as Tipper Gore's thorn overshadowed the fact that Lawless not only had a terrific metal voice, he wrote a TON of catchy, hard tunes. This is my favorite track, but there are many other great ones, including a song, "Helldorado," that the band released in 1999 (!).
"Panama" by Van Halen — One of my best friends who enjoys this kind of music and is probably the biggest Rush fan ever says Van Halen was a hair band. I have passionately disagreed, but I'll give him this point: "1984" was basically a hair metal album, and so I've included what I think was the best track here. Man, "1984" was a great album: "Jump," "Hot For Teacher," "I'll Wait" and this song. Was "1984" Van Halen's best album? I think so.
"Cherry Pie" by Warrant — I was not a fan of Warrant, just like I wasn't a fan of many of the marginal glam hair bands that played pop metal more watered down than a free casino drink. But Warrant redeemed itself with this outrageous, horrible hunk of cheese that just happens to feature one of the catchiest choruses in the history of hair metal. One of the best videos, too. I mean, at one point, the band hoses down the incredibly hot blonde. You know, cause she's SO HOT. Get it? I thought you might.
P.S. I just watched the video. Yeah, it holds up even less than I thought. I really didn't think that was cool at one point, did I?
"In My Dreams" by Dokken — If you overlook the fact that magazines loved to focus on the fact that George Lynch and Don Dokken hated each other, and if you maybe ignore the fact that Don Dokken had the personality of a moldy sponge, you'd be left with a pretty damn good hair metal band. Dokken was a terrible live band. You really could see why the guys hated each other, as there was no chemistry at all. Don, who I think was a lot older than he let on, came out for Dokken's Monsters of Rock gig, the same one I saw in Kansas City, and said "Hey, I smell some DOOOOOBAGE," and it went downhill from there.
Even so, Jeff Pilson, the bass player, could sing, Don had a good hair metal voice and Lynch could really play. They also wrote some great songs. They would have a nice greatest hits collection. "Kiss of Death" is a close second.
"Youth Gone Wild" by Skid Row — Skid Row holds a special spot somewhere in my cold metal heart not only for this killer, killer, killer song but for the fact that the band was set up to have a nice, long, cheesy career. The opening track of their debut was "Big Guns," a song about a woman's...never mind. Anyway, the band followed up with a second album, and it was the heaviest I'd ever heard from a supposed hair metal band. Seriously, some pretty fierce power metal bands couldn't match that guitar crunch, and Bach could always scream with the best of them. I'm convinced it destroyed their career, but I admire them for sticking to their roots and not putting out a featherweight product because that's what the label (and unfortunately probably the public) wanted.
"The Final Countdown" by Europe — Abused by many sports teams now, this song featured the best keyboard riff in a hair metal song, like, ever. It's a good example of a riff really acting as the chorus, since there wasn't much of a chorus. They just sang the song's name over that sweet riff a few times. It worked, just as it did for "Layla." Unbelievably, Europe, not a great band by any stretch, did have another great song, this one on their first album, called "Wings of Tomorrow." Check it out.
• "All We Are" by Warlock — Warlock was heavier than most hair metal bands, but I still count it because the video for this song is candy-corn corny. Here's a secret: I really have a thing for metal chicks, and Doro was the metalist chickiest of all. Her pipes were as amazing as her blonde hair that went down to her waist.
"Addicted to that Rush" by Mr. Big — Mr. Big hit it big with "Be With You," a pretty awful hair metal ballad that sounded like a ripoff of "More Than Words," Extreme's big one (which is a much better song, but it won't make this list either).  But this song leads off their lesser-known debut album, and it's a shredder, something Racer X might have played (and I just looked it up, and sure enough, the band's guitarist, Paul Gilbert, played in it). Mr. Big also had Billy Sheehan and therefore had more chops in the cushions of their couch than even most power metal bands.
"Cryin' in the Rain" by Whitesnake — I was a bigger fan of Whitesnake than the band probably deserved, though David Coverdale could really sing, and they had some good songs even before the monster self-titled album was released ("Slide It In," "Slow 'N' Easy" and "Love Ain't No Stranger" are three of the best). Yes, this album had many whoppers, but I always thought "Still of the Night" was too much of a Zep rip-off, and I never really forgave Whitesnake for releasing a remixed, poppier version of "Here I Go Again." So this is my pick, which features an incredible solo by John Sykes and some tour-de-force vocals from Coverdale. I really would have liked to have seen Tawny slither (see what I did there?) to this one. Whitesnake gets a lot of derision these days, and I have two theories as to why. The first is simple: The band name sucks. The second, I think, comes from the fact that many people love to make fun of this era, as I've said before. I can't blame them. This era, like Disco, really makes you wonder what the fuck we were all thinking. But like Disco, this era put out a lot of great music that's unfairly judged because of all the costumes and hair and overall silliness. Whitesnake absorbs quite a bit of that today because they weren't quite Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns and Roses or Motley Crue, bands that people still love today without shame. But Whitesnake was bigger than most other bands such as Quiet Riot, Cinderella and probably even Ratt. They already were a fairly established band when "Whitesnake" was released, and that album sold millions and was huge. HUGE. So people remember them as much as Def Leppard, but they don't carry the same nostalgia as Leppard does and therefore people don't mind throwing darts their way. Whitesnake is probably the Village People of the hair metal era. We can be honest, though: Rudy Sarzo probably didn't need to lick the neck of his guitar in those videos quite that much either.
P.S. After Tawny kinda wigged out and beat up her baseball husband, it took away a bit of the luster of her on that car, didn't it? Bowling For Soup's "1985" video nailed the parody.
"Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns and Roses — I honestly couldn't decide between this one and "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Paradise City" and "Rocket Queen" and...I think you get the point. What an amazing album. It still holds up today: Pull out the CD (oh don't lie, you do TOO still have it) and give it a whirl. I chose this song because Slash's solo is one of the best on any song, ever. Slash was hair metal's Jimmie Page, a guitarist who could play solos that matched the songs rather than tossing some fast scales and tricks around for 30 seconds.
"Cum On Feel The Noize" by Quiet Riot — Yeah, it's a cover, but really, does anyone associate Slade with this song? (Slade had a big hit of its own. Remember "Run Runaway"? I do.) Quiet Riot proved it could write their own song with "Metal Health," but this by far their best single. Even the verses sounded as good as the chorus. I remember seeing them on the TV show "Solid Gold," and to their credit, they actually chose to play their song live, rather than just lip synch it like 95 percent of all the other groups.
"You Give Love A Bad Name" by Bon Jovi — I didn't really get Bon Jovi, even if I thought "Runaway" was a good song. Bon Jovi seemed like a bunch of pretty boys that had zero good songs (besides "Runaway"), and yet all these girls wore their shirts and thought Jon Bon Jovi was dreamy. Then I heard this song and instantly loved it, and I could not BELIEVE it was Bon Jovi. So I sighed, bought the album, popped in the cassette, ticked off the hits, one by one. Sure enough, "Livin' On A Prayer," "Wanted Dead or Alive" and "Never Say Goodbye" (yuck) followed. Classic record. Easily one of the best from the era, and eventually that alone will put this band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day. I was sorely tempted to put "Livin' On A Prayer" in this list too but I wanted to follow my rule.
I find it interesting that this band still seems to have major credibility. I realize Motley Crue and Def Leppard still tour, but I don't think there's any doubt that most people who go to those shows are there to see them sing their classic hits. Most other hair metal bands only tour small clubs or package themselves with other hair metal bands to land bigger concerts. But Bon Jovi is still seen as more than a nostalgia act and draws big crowds on its own. It had a big hit, "It's My Life," many years after this era (even though the song sounded like it came from the band's hair metal days).
"Prime Mover" by Zodiac Mindwarp — What a name, right? Sometimes a band that has no business even making a record drinks some really good gin or smokes a magic mushroom and writes an incredible song that is far catchier than it should be. This is that song, a messy masterpiece that even manages to avoid many of the trappings of the hair metal era and therefore could honestly be on the radio today without too many giggles.
"Round and Round" by Ratt — If you forced me to pick a favorite song out of this whole list, this might be it. There's some serious nostalgia here, as this was the first hair metal song that truly hooked me after I discovered Motley Crue and became more comfortable with listening to heavy metal, and the video STILL cracks me up. But it's still an incredible riff, terrific chorus and a great duel guitar solo. Perfect song. Ratt, like W.A.S.P., was a touch underrated. They had almost as good a catalogue as Def Leppard. Seriously. "Lay It Down" is another monster, and there are a dozen others, like "Way Cool Jr.," "Wanted Man" and "You're In Love." But Ratt never had one of those sappy ballads that drew in the girls, and the guys in the band had a bit of a creepy look to them. It seemed to me only the more serious hardcore metal chicks (and I dated a couple) really liked Ratt, whereas everyone, even the cheerleaders, liked Def Leppard.
Whatever. That's what made me like Ratt even more.

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