Glam infused rock and roll continues on (despite the Rock of Ages box office bomb). Anyone else wonder if this year’s heat wave has anything to do with the amount of Aqua Net Poison used in 1987? Time to walk on the wild side and look at the bands that were, are still on the road today, and have influenced many…
The story of Motley Crue is not a well kept secret. In fact, there have been several books written, including an autobiography by the band titled The Dirt. As one of the kings of the eighties glam movement, each story has a different take — a different version of the truth. The common thread throughout is the amazement that these four are still alive and making music together.
In 1981 Motley Crue released the album Too Fast For Love on their label Leathur Records. A mix of hard rock, glam, and punk, TFFL was essentially a demo tape (because it was their own label) until Elektra picked it up and re-released it in 1982. The raw energy on this album laid the foundation for THE eight studio albums to follow. Mega-Hit albums Shout At The Devil, Theatre of Pain, Girls Girls Girls, and Dr. Feelgood would follow. Then, as most bands eventually do, they broke up.
After several years the band got back together for Generation Swine, an honest effort to grow musically and try new things — despite a couple of minor hits, appearing on the cover of Hustler Magazine and promoting the reunion with a performance at the American Music Awards… it didn’t work. After their autobiography, and the grunge era dying off, something strange happened — the fans wanted Motley Crue back. The band started slow, self-funding a greatest hits tour and then followed with another hits tour and then their own festival. Most recently, Motley released Saints Of Los Angeles, originally a record to compliment their autobiography The Dirt — their ninth studio album delivered, pleasing both their diehard fans as well as a few critics. To go along with their studio albums the band has put out several greatest hits albums over the years, and has sold over 80 million albums world-wide. A lot of single words have been used to describe this band, but comeback, was not a word the critics thought was possible with Motley Crue.
The band Ratt actually started under the name Mickey Rat in the late ’70s. During this time they may have been most known for a revolving door of musicians in the band. It was 1982 when the lineup of Stephen Pearcy (vocals), Robbin Crosby (guitar), Warren DeMartini (guitar), Juan Croucier (bass), and Bobby Blotzer (drums) would be established. Their first recording was an EP, then released as the self titled Ratt LP. The first album contained songs like “You Think You’re Tough” and “Back for More” which immediately connected to a rising number of eighties heavy metal fans. The cover featured the legs of Tawny Kitaen who would help establish this band with a connection to models, hookers, and sex that would carry them through their next several albums.
After their debut, Ratt was quickly hailed as heroes on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles but it wasn’t until the release of their 1984 album, Out Of The Cellar, that Ratt blew up across the country and world. Out Of The Cellar kicked off with Stephen Pearcy telling us about ‘a lone dealer, with snake eyes’ in “Wanted Man”. Track three provided us with one of the biggest hits of the decade in “Round And Round”, a song that will stick in your head for days and was also a glimpse into Ratt’s musical inspiration (fast women and hookers) which would be continuously detailed during their next three albums.
As with most glam metal bands from the eighties, the nineties were not good for Ratt and the band eventaully went on hiatus. In 2009, Stephen Pearcy, Robbie Crane, Bobby Blotzer, Warren DeMartini and former Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo reunited and began working on a new album, Infestation. The album was a critical success, bringing back the sound and nostalgia from Ratt’s earlier work. The album was released in 2010 and followed by a tour, but reports have stated that the band is again on hiatus.
The story of Poison starts in the industrial town Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. With a name like that do we really need to say ‘industrial’? For those unfamiliar with this town, it’s just West of Hardhatville.
In 1985, Bret Michaels (vocals), Rikki Rockett (drums), Bobby Dall (bass), and Matt Smith (guitar) set out for the Los Angeles Sunset Strip, determined to make it as the next big hair band. Initially, the band struggled to survive; Matt Smith specifically couldn’t handle the poverty and left for back East. During this time Bret Michaels states that his only possession was a toothbrush. Behind The Music: One Toothbrush and Six Bandanas — The Bret Michaels Story.
With Smith’s departure, the band started looking for a new guitarist. In the end their search came down to C.C. DeVille and Slash. Slash was clearly the better guitar player, but C.C. had that over the top glam look the band coveted. Essentially, Poison picked make-up over substance. This decision would end up being one of the most significant events in eighties heavy metal music. Not only was C.C. the right pick for Poison, but not taking Slash off the market proved to be more important, keeping the door open for him to join Guns N’ Roses just months later.
Early on Poison made a conscious decision to wear more make-up, tease their hair higher, and increase Aqua Net sales more than the other hair bands. The release of their first album, Look What The Cat Dragged In, would introduce the world to this glam foursome. Their first video, “Talk Dirty To Me”, showed the band in full costume and make-up, rolling around a stage. No audience, just the band on a sound stage. With what would be become the patented ‘Jump and Roll’ move, a choreographed step meant to show band unity and rock n’ roll at the same time, Poison was not only for metal heads, but the mainstream MTV audience as well. With several costume, headband, and hat changes it was clear that their look and catchy hooks with sex and rebellion at the core would carry a band that noticeably wasn’t breaking down any walls musically. The video did so well they created the same video over and over. The format used for “I Want Action” and then “Nothing But A Good Time” continued with the band on stage (no crowd), rolling around in between costume changes. Later, “Unskinny Bop” would use a similar format, only with a bigger stage and digital girls placed on the sides of Michaels. It was the image being marketed more than the music and it was genius, cementing Poison as one of the biggest bands of the eighties.
The second album, Open Up And Say Ahh!, included the ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, a soft song written by Bret Michaels in a laundromat after a bad breakup with a stripper. In the video, a concert montage, we see the bitter sweet side of life on the road. In one scene Bret is walking off the stage and throws a towel into the face of a roadie. Just minutes later we see Michaels throw a plastic cup of beer at a chalkboard that reads POISON. Chilling scenes. Regardless of the video, this song captured the broken hearts of teenagers across the globe, placing this song in history as the ballad of all ballads.
Poison was, and continues to be, a band that defines the eighties hair bands and the rock star party hard attitude from this genre. A band that understood the glam look (pushing make-up and hair styles to a level early glam acts Motley Crue and Ratt only dreamed) and choreographed moves on video was more important than the actual music being produced. After Poison hit it big, many other bands joined and used their template for success; leading to the saturation of hair bands and the eventual bubble breaking in the early nineties.
While most rock bands cite blues music as an influence, Cinderella was one of the few bands from the eighties where you could actually hear it, feel it, taste it.
The band was formed with members Tom Keifer (singer, keyboards, guitar), Eric Brittingham (bass), Michael Smerick (guitar) and Tony Destra (drums). Within two years Destra and Smerick left to form Britny Fox. Using eighties 20-20 hindsight: MISTAKE? I’m sure hanging with the girls while making the video for “Girlschool” had to be a great day it still can’t compare to being in what would become Cinderella.
In 1985 Cinderella recorded their first album, “Night Songs,” with guitarist Jeff LaBar and drummer Jim Drnec. After recording the album, Fred Coury replaced Drnec and joined the band for the supporting tour. The first single, “Shake Me,” from the album featured a girl sitting on her bed with a Cinderella poster behind her. Her wicked (READ: slutty) sisters appear and are off to rock and roll (READ: shoot heroin and sleep with rock guys) while she is left all alone. Then the poster comes alive and she is now at a live Cinderella concert. It should be mentioned that Tom Keifer is wearing the Paul Stanley 1984 permanent hair style throughout the song. When I’m running VH1 someday I will definitely do a WHERE ARE THEY NOW documentary on the Cinderella wicked sisters.
The first to second album after a strong debut for the eighties bands was often daunting and difficult; however, often fascinating. Skid Row: heavier. Motley Crue: darker. Guns N’ Roses: bigger. In 1988 Cinderella definitely went bluesier with the album “Long Cold Winter,” which had to feel somewhat risky given the money available to glam bands at the time. Once again using eighties 20-20 hindsight: BRILLIANT. The first single was “Gypsy Road.” The video which showed off Keifer’s love of Steven Tyler like scarves, third world area fans, and love of Chevrolet trucks. The ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” was a huge hit that would be played on the tour with Kiefer being lowered on the stage while playing the piano. They toured for fourteen months.
The third album, “Heartbreak Station,” continued with the heavy blues type rock and roll on tracks “Shelter Me” and “Heartbreak Station.” After a brief hiatus, the band released a compilation, toured in 1998, 2000, and 2002.
Cinderella continues to bring the blues, great live shows, and yes they still sling their guitars around. Should this band decide to put together a new album you can expect a lot of excitement from their fan base. Blues rock bands are like wine and the movie Weekend at Bernie’s, all are better (in their own way) over time.
Discuss New Jersey rock and roll and many think Bruce Springsteen; however, Bon Jovi has built quite a reputation themselves. With over 130 million albums sold, the boys from Sayreville, NJ continue to change up their sound and are making a run at “the boss” for notoriety in the Garden State.
The original band has been together since their first studio album (one exception being a change at bass in ’94). The initial line-up was led by lead singer Jon Bon Jovi (who shortened his name from John Francis Bongiovi, Jr.), guitarist Richie Sambora, bassist Alec John Such, keyboardist David Bryan, and drummer Tico Torres. The initial thought when looking at this band was not that they had a lot of hair, but that they were also very pretty and smiling at the camera — unlike the scowls of David Lee Roth, Nikki Sixx, and Stephen Pearcy, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were just a couple of guys with a hardhat mentality and hair most women would kill for. Was it just me or did David Bryan actually have better hair than Jon? Just me… okay. Anyway it is quite preposterous to think that the keyboardist would have better hair than the lead singer. Moving on…
The first album, their self titled debut from 1984, featured a single titled “Runaway” that displayed Jon Bon Jovi wearing either leggings or bandanas around his ankles. This video was also the beginning of the rise of Jon Bon Jovi’s hair, something that would peak during the second course of “Livin’ On A Prayer”. In 1985 they put out their second album, ’7800 Fahrenheit’, an album with “In and Out of Love”, a song showing arena anthem potential complete with a live video showing the world how much fun you can have at a Bon Jovi concert. The first album showed potential and gave hope of the band becoming a hit, but the second album didn’t blow up, instead steadily building on the first album, if nothing else, an example of a band working hard to create music and tour to support. This hardest working band mantra would last from their start through present day. Of course, they would get a break, which changed everything in 1986.
In 1986 glam rock was at a pop culture high. There was not a better time to release Bon Jovi’s third album, ‘Slippery When Wet’. The first single “You Give Love A Bad Name” went to #1 on the Billboard charts. Now when I watch the video, Jon Bon Jovi throwing his guitar into the audience reminds me of Huey Lewis in the karaoke movie Duets: “I can’t go back, I’m a singer now!” It was the moment where you could feel that this was the start of something special for the band (and lead singer). The next single, “Livin’ On A Prayer” also went to #1. The video focused on Jon Bon Jovi’s ass and the fun loving band (many ‘blooper’ shots are shown). It always appeared there was a jeans rivalry between Jon and Def Leppard lead singer Joe Elliot (Elliot preferring more holes versus the faded wash worn by Jon). As was the format, they had to follow up their ‘rocking’ hits with a ballad. They released “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, a top 10 hit that still holds up better than most ballads during this period. One question on the video: Do I understand correctly that according to Jon Bon Jovi it’s really exhausting to travel by private jets and limos? The collection of these three videos increased acid washed denim by 40 percent (this is an approximate estimation based on the number of video ass shots).
After a huge album and headlining tour the band went back to the studio to try and do the impossible: follow up ‘Slippery When Wet’. What came out was the album ‘New Jersey’, another huge record that catapulted the band to the top of the eighties glam scene. In 1988, with ‘Slippery When Wet’ and ‘New Jersey’, Bon Jovi was as big as any other band. They toured for two years straight and then decided to take some much needed time off.
Bon Jovi is a band that has always found a way to stay on top. Not only do they tour their greatest hits, but continue to make new music that is in high demand. From the initial focus of Jon’s hair and ass to present day when it’s the music everyone if focused on, it continues to be quite a ride for this band. When not touring, the band is involved in many charities that focus on the homeless and poverty in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas. Whether watching a ball game or a tourism blurb on New Jersey there is a very good chance you will hear a clip from a Bon Jovi song. Let “the boss” stress about keeping his Garden State stature, the boys from Bon Jovi are going to just keep smiling.
For a band associated with the hair and glam movement of the eighties, Skid Row has spent most of their time post the ‘Decade of ME’. Formed in 1986, it wasn’t until 1989 that their debut album; the self-titled Skid Row record that mixed glam with arena rock and ballads, was released. It was that initial album that put the band on the map, but it was the subsequent albums that made this band one of the top acts of their genre.
The original Skid Row lineup was Rachel Bolan (bass) and Dave “the Snake” Sabo (guitar), Scotti Hill (guitar), drummer Rob Affuso, and Matt Fallon — the vocalist who was quickly replaced by Sebastian Bach in early 1987. Is there any nickname better than “the Snake”? No. Do you think Dave Sabo and wrestler Jake “the Snake” Roberts ever get together? Is there a “the Snake” nickname convention? I like to think there is.
The self-titled album separated Skid Row from a group of bands that were getting more difficult to separate from. They had a little more of an edge compared to some of the other bands. If you were a male and were carrying Poison, Def Leppard, and Skid Row CDs, you would put the Skid Row CD on the top, covering the others. They were somewhere between Poison and Guns N’ Roses. A little dirtier than Poison, but not quite the GN’R mess; you could sense Sebastian Bach didn’t wash his hair every day.
The initial band was formed to be the next Bon Jovi. With Bach’s good looks, shrieking voice and heavy band playing alongside, Skid Row was to continue making glam rock with a smile. However, during the recording of the first album something happened. Their band developed their own sound, still heavy metal pop, but with more street credentials. Despite most of the first album considered “heavy”, it was the ballads, “18 And Life” and “I Remember You” that would receive air play and be known by the denim jacket crowds. Obviously Bach and company owe a thank you to all of the bands before them that made the power ballad what it was at that time.
In 1991, their second record, Slave To The Grind, would do exactly what they said it would do and that was make their music more “heavy” and it did just that, solidifying Skid Row as one of the leaders in the eighties heavy metal scene. The album would go to number one behind the hits “Monkey Business” and “Wasted Time”. Bordering on speed metal in some parts of the album, you will also find the angry treats: “Riot Act” and “The Threat” buried deep within and the party song “Get The Fuck Out” which was only available on some releases of the cassette/CD. The next album, Subhuman Race, continued to build on the angst and speed metal brand of rock. Critically, this was their finest work; however, the overall success of the group was dropping because Skid Row still wore leather and not flannel. Shortly after, Sebastian Bach was fired over (supposedly) an argument about opening for KISS during a New Year’s Eve show. In 2003 Skid Row carried on, replacing Bach with Johnny Solinger and creating the album titled Thickskin. Charlie Mills took over drums temporarily, and was then replaced by Dave Gara. In 2006 the band put out their fifth album, Revolutions Per Minute. This album featured Rob Hammersmith on drums.
The current band of Skid Row is back and looking to put together another album. A band initially grouped in with the eighties glam wannabe’s of the world has sold over 20 million albums as well as carved out a little place in rock history. As for Sebastian and a reunion? Bach recently stated that Skid Row can “kick his fucking ass” so we’ll have to take that as a maybe.
In 1978 the band Dokken formed, it was soon after the band was composed of Don Dokken (vocals), George Lynch (guitar), Juan Croucier (bass), and Mick Brown (drums). They were wide-eyed and ready to rock, still there was no way anyone could predict a Grammy nomination, die-hard fans, and the Ultimate Warrior style armbands.
Their first album, Breaking The Chains, struggled on the charts and the band was nearly dropped by their label. Shortly after, Juan Croucier left in 1983 (to join Ratt) and was replaced by Jeff Pilson. In 1984 Dokken released the album Tooth and Nail. The album was a success, riding singles that included “Alone Again” and “Into The Fire” that were accompanied by epic videos. Another year, another album, in 1985 the band released Under Lock and Key. Another successful album that included “The Hunter”, “In My Dreams”, and “It’s Not Love”.
After success touring with the Scorpions the band recorded “Dream Warriors” for the third installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, including a remixed version on their album Back For The Attack, released in 1987. “Dream Warriors” was accompanied by a video that had the band interacting with characters from the horror flick. In hindsight, beating Twisted Sister to the punch on this one was no small feat. Back For The Attack was their third straight hit album. The band toured as part of the famous 1988 Monsters of Rock tour that included Van Halen, Metallica, and many more bands. After a tour in Japan the band released a live album titled Beast From The East. After much success Dokken did what many bands tend to do at this point, they broke up.
After their brief reunion, change followed. In 1997 Lynch officially left the band and was replaced by John Norum who after a tour was replaced by Reb Beach. After the recording of another live album, Beach would also depart, unable to commit long term to the band. He was replaced by John Norum. Jeff Pilson also left the band and was replaced by Barry Sparks. With only Don Dokken and Mick Brown left the band released Long Way Home. After the tour Jon Levin was brought on to play guitar, cementing the line-up of Dokken, Brown, Levin, and Sparks that would last for a few years. In 2004 Dokken released Hell to Pay. Live albums and greatest hits would keep coming, then in 2008 Dokken release Lightning Strikes Again.
After several great albums and a lesson on how to deal with being alone in a motel (smoke a joint and watch The Dukes of Hazard) the troubles between Dokken and Lynch were somewhat foreseen. In the video for “Breaking the Chains” we see Lynch featured as the main person, chained to a chair. This eventually leads to the climatic scene of Lynch breaking through the chains and into his guitar solo. I believe to be fair; there should have been two chairs.
In 1982, when Blackie Lawless put together his band W.A.S.P. (original members: Blackie Lawless, Rik Fox, Randy Piper, and Tony Richards) there was an immediate buzz and it had nothing to do with the music, but rather what did the band name/acronym W.A.S.P. represent? From ‘We Are Sexual Perverts’ to ‘We Are Satan’s People’, only the ‘We Are’ was agreed upon. It was also agreed that Lawless was clearly a marketing genius. To this day it is unclear what the acronym stands for (during different periods the band has commented on what it may mean, but changed their story often), or if it was even suppose to be an acronym. Also, the forming of the band wasn’t long after Twisted Sister’s song “S.M.F.” from their Stay Hungry album was released, leading to healthy debates over best heavy metal acronym; essentially, the glam acronym version of Miller Lite’s Less Filling – Tastes Great argument.
The band recorded their first song titled “Animal (F**ck Like a Beast)” which would later be the first song on their self-titled album W.A.S.P. This track would be pulled from the distribution so stores in the U.S. would carry it. It was clear from the start that this band would create and live a unique identity. If fellow Sunset Strip bands like Ratt was going to be about sex and hookers, and Motley Crue was going to be about drugs and strippers, well, then W.A.S.P. decided early on they were going to be about raping hookers and strippers who are on drugs. The groupies for the band had more of an edge then say Ratt; more perverse, more male, this would be the group that later welcomed Guns N’ Roses and Skid Row, and shunned Poison and White Lion.
The original line-up of W.A.S.P. didn’t last too long. Bass player Rik Fox was let go and replaced by Don Costa who was then replaced by Blackie on bass. Lawless, a big believer of if you want things done right you have to do it yourself. Rumor has it Blackie dreamed of a one person metal band, but this never materialized. With Lawless on bass, guitarist Chris Holmes joined the band. In 1984 the band signed with Capital records and released their self titled debut album, W.A.S.P. Given that “Animal” was not included in the U.S. distribution the band relied on the one-two punch of songs “I Wanna Be Somebody” and “L.O.V.E. Machine”. This worked out quite well. “I Wanna Be Somebody” showcased the band’s in-your-face approach coupled with a catchy hook that just made you want to bang your head. The video starts off with Blackie Lawless making the slice your throat gesture. That along with the fist pumping let you know this wasn’t your average fluffy glam band.
Their next album, The Last Command, featured their well known song “Blind In Texas”. This was the first album with Steve Riley on drums, replacing Tony Richards. As with many glam metal bands, W.A.S.P. concerts were an event. At some point in his life I believe Blackie Lawless was a big fan of watermelon smashing comedian Gallagher. How else do you explain the idea and obsession with throwing raw meat into the audience? If it wasn’t clear up to this point, seeing W.A.S.P. live clarified that this was a band channeling more Alice Cooper than The Rolling Stones. Their fifth album, The Headless Children, showed a more gentle side, the album even contained a power ballad named “Forever Free”. Chris Holmes then married metal vixen Lita Ford and left the band. It is unclear whether the ballad led to Holmes falling in love and getting married, but it’s safe to assume this was a factor. With Holmes departure, W.A.S.P. was officially broken up. Lawless would return with the W.A.S.P. album The Crimson Idol, a critical success, but confusing because Lawless used an alter ego name that sounded like a porn star (Jonathon Steele) and because this was essentially a solo project for Blackie under the name W.A.S.P.
W.A.S.P. created a sound that resonated with a very dedicated fan base that often alienated the softer glam bands in favor of Lawless and Co. When I think of this band today my mind goes back to the video for the song “The Real Me”, an aggressive dark video that lyrically spews of rage and hate. Blackie Lawless is wearing his razor blade leather jacket, Ugg-like boots with feather-like strings attached. For a video that shows mostly fighting and images of despair, there is a treat about two minutes in when you see a gratuitous ass shot of a girl in a white dress. No reason whatsoever. To me, that is W.A.S.P.
Raised in Long Island, New York, the band Twisted Sister started as a ’70s local glam band that would evolve into one of the most important heavy metal bands of the ’80s (eventually flip-flopping and becoming more heavy metal with a dash of glam, opposite of their initial vision).
Twisted Sister was originally formed in 1972 by Jay Jay French. The band went through several line-up changes until it eventually settled on Dee Snider (vocals), Jay Jay French (guitar), Eddie Ojeda (guitar), Mark Mendoza (bass), and A.J. Pero (drums). In 1979 the band self released two singles and then was signed by Secret Records in the UK. In 1982, via Secret Records, they would release an EP titled Ruff Cuts and their first studio album, Under The Blade which quickly became an underground hit. The band would then sign with Atlantic Records and put out their second studio album, You Can’t Stop Rock N’ Roll, in 1983. In 1984 Twisted Sister shocked the heavy metal world, releasing Stay Hungry, their contribution to an era that continues to define a decade. The album caught on with fans as well as government officials — organized as the P.M.R.C. (which stands for the Parents Music Resource Center and is the least intimidating name I’ve ever heard). Twisted Sister was called out for their rebellious lyrics in the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It”. It was a strange group that was being targeted by the P.M.R.C. and included Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., and Motley Crue as well as Madonna, Sheena Easton, and Prince. These proceedings eventually led to the ‘Explicit Material’ or ‘Tipper Sticker’ found on the cover of albums, cassettes, and CDs that were deemed to have offensive content.
Along with “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, the song “I Wanna Rock” featured videos with the band, and essentially they are the same video. They show rebellion against authority by incorporating the use of Mark Metcalf (Neidermeyer from Animal House). A boy (around thirteen) is confronted by teacher/parent who doesn’t like Twisted Sister music. Wait long enough and the band will break through a door and scream their lyrics — they were angry and in your face. This was a band that was hurt by censorship. Is “The Price” supposed to be a ballad? I was never quite sure. Is “Don’t Let Me Down” supposed to be filler? I was never quite sure. When I first heard the song “The Beast” I was ten years old and I didn’t sleep for three days. Finally, “S.M.F.”, a call-out to their fans, the “Sick Mother Fuckers”, brings the energy and really the whole album full circle.
For the youth of the eighties the album Stay Hungry was an introduction to rock music and rebellion. Twisted Sister wasn’t the first group of rock stars, but for many they always will be.
David S. Grant is the author of “Blood: The New Red”, follow David on Twitter @david_s_grant.
All images courtesy of Getty Images.