When talking about the music of the 80s, it’s impossible to not mention hair metal. Born on L.A.’s Sunset Strip and popularized by bands like Mötley Crüe, Poison, and Warrant, hair metal was all about doing everything big; big hair, big makeup, big voices, big guitar solos etc.
While the aforementioned bands are still earning millions of dollars from album sales and tours, the majority of hair metal bands have been relegated to the pages of history, while parody acts like Steel Panther make a living off turning the genre into a joke.
The truth is that these bands, while infinitely hilarious thanks to their ridiculous looks and performances, were able to find success thanks to a mix of a solid ear for catchy tunes, genuinely impressive musicianship, and a marketable image that endures to this day. So, here are some of our personal favorites that deserve your time and attention, even if you just get a good laugh out of them.
5. Night Ranger
The brainchild of bassist Jack Blades (who was clearly destined to be a rock star by virtue of having that name) and guitarist Brad Gillis (who would later go on to perform with Ozzy Osbourne), Night Ranger made their name on soaring power ballads and looks that only a mother could love. It was a formula so established that their first three albums all went platinum!
Best-known these days as the subject of one of comedian Patton Oswalt’s best bits, Night Ranger are a perfect example of how ridiculous hair metal already was at the outset of the 80s.
Discovered by Jon Bon Jovi in the mid-80s and signed to Polygram Records soon after, Cinderella could easily be the poster-children for hair metal. Between their over-the-top look and singer/guitarist/keyboardist Tom Keifer’s knack for writing catchy hooks, the band’s debut album, Night Songs, is pure glam goodness. So much so, in fact, that the album went triple-platinum in 1991.
While the band soon switched gears to a more blues-rock sound and would ultimately leave hair metal behind, their stamp on the genre (and their affinity for zebra-striped pants) can’t be denied.
A band that dates back to the foundation of the genre, Ratt found considerable success throughout the 80s thanks to the combination of singer Stephen Pearcy’s bluesy, gravelly voice and the twin guitar shred-a-thon provided by virtuosos Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby.
Their music video for “Round and Round” got significant airtime on both VH1 and MTV throughout the decade, ultimately leading to four of the band’s seven albums going platinum. Ratt continue to perform to this very day, meaning even current generations can get a glimpse of their awesome brand of hair metal.
One of the most controversial bands in the genre, W.A.S.P. became infamous overnight thanks to their wild live shows (featuring semi-nude models tied to a torture rack by singer Blackie Lawless, who would also throw raw meat into the audience). This infamy grew quickly with the release of their first single “Animal (F*** Like A Beast),” which was singled out by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) for its explicit content.
Of course, as we all know, the easiest way to make something look awesome to young people is to try to censor it. Thanks to this controversy, W.A.S.P. went on to release several platinum-selling albums, as with the singles from these albums often staying on the Billboard charts for months. Give these singles a listen… if you dare.
Easily the most ridiculous band to come out of the hair metal scene, Nitro were a band that banked off of doing everything to the most absurd extreme possible. Between the falsetto vocals of singer Jim Gillette (which he would use to shatter glasses live on stage) and the absurdly fast guitar wizardry of Michael Angelo Batio (pictured above with his FOUR-NECKED GUITAR), it’s small wonder their debut album was named O.F.R. (Out-F***ing-Rageous).
Despite only releasing two albums and soon fading into obscurity, Nitro remain beloved by connoisseurs of ridiculous hair metal the world over. Batio continues to perform live and provide guitar lessons (he apparently taught Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello when the latter was in college), and the band even recently announced the release of a third album, due sometime this year!