[Disclaimer: There's simply no good term for this style of music. A lot of it's not that "metal," some of it's not that "glam," most bands' members—regardless of genre—have "hair," and so on. But "hard rock" is just too broad, and "cock rock"? Nah. So… "glam" and/or "hair" it is.]
I'm not being "ironic" here. I loved this kind of music when I was a kid, and I still love it now. True, I don't identify with (or in some cases approve of) elements of the lyrical content, but from a songwriting and musicianship perspective, I very seriously enjoy this stuff, and would be perfectly happy were it the majority of my day-to-day listening.
Some of the artists below released albums on major labels and may have done alright in their day, but they certainly don't get spoken of in the same regard as biggies like Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, etc. While there's a good handful of underrated bands of this ilk that do still get mild exposure here and there, I'm for the most part trying to stick with personal favorites that I've never even encountered on satellite radio channels such as Hair Nation, etc. In fact, I myself have only learned about the following groups within the last 10 years!
Hericane Alice formed in Minnesota in the mid-'80s, and released their debut self-titled EP in 1986 under the properly spelled name of Hurricane Alice. At that time their songs were a little longer and less good time/party oriented, but they ended up relocating to Los Angeles in the late-'80s, and eventually vocalist Bruce Naumann (who had been the last member to join the group) was working with an entirely new lineup. Unsurprisingly, at some point they were going to get sued by the not-terribly-dissimilar band Hurricane, so they changed the spelling of their name to Hericane Alice (which is actually kind of awesome) prior to releasing their lone full-length, Tear the House Down, on Atlantic Records in 1990.
Of course, I had no idea this album existed in 1990, which is a damn shame, as I would've been an enormous fan from day one. No, I only stumbled upon this CD in a local used bin for $5 (alongside Roxxi's Drive it to Ya Hard!, so talk about a huge score) a few years ago, and totally flipped out when I tossed it in for the first time. It's a shockingly awesome record, easily in my all-time Top 10 as far as hair metal goes.
As far as I can tell they only made a music video for the lead track, "Wild, Young, and Crazy," but almost every song herein is better than good, and several are fucking outstanding. (I can't help but feel like the epic power ballad, "Too Late," should've been a massive hit single.) Pulsing hard rock power chords, slick melodies, killer vocal harmonies with insanely catchy hooks, fiery leads, just the right amount of gruff raspiness to the singing… I mean, fuck, just check out those eerie acoustic arpeggios during the chorus of "Badboy Breakout"; the big, open chord progressions of "Bad to Love"; the textbook sleaze of "Crank the Heat Up"; etc. This album kicks so much ass I had a really hard time selecting which track to highlight above, but the fast-paced energy and raging, bluesy riffing of the album's title track brought it home in the end.
If Tear the House Down had hit the streets just two years earlier, I bet Hericane Alice would've been at least as successful as the Bulletboys, so it's a shame they never got the chance. Apparently they had even written a bunch of new songs and were in pre-production for their second album when they got dropped.
The Tear the House Down lineup briefly regrouped for a 25th anniversary reunion last summer, but Bruce Naumann is now working with yet another all-new lineup.
Perhaps more than any other group on this list, Wildside truly should have been "the next big thing" given the circumstances surrounding their debut album. The band got started in Los Angeles in the late-'80s as Young Gunns; signed a seven-album (!?), $2.1 million dollar record deal with Capitol Records in 1990; then ended up changing their name to Wildside due to a cease and desist related to the Young Guns movies.
Here are some trivia tidbits about their debut full-length, Under the Influence:
- It was produced by Andy Johns (who had worked with everyone from The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to Cinderella and Van Halen).
- The album was recorded at Eddie Van Halen's 5150 home studio, and Wildside was the first band other than Van Halen to record there.
- It was mixed by Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero (who also mixed Appetite for Destruction and ...And Justice for All, to name but a few).
- They had a couple of songwriting contributions from Jim Vallance and Kiss' Paul Stanley (the former having co-written hits such as Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69" and Aerosmith's "Rag Doll").
The record was slated for release by late-1991, but ended up being delayed until May of '92, during which time Wildside lost their slot opening for Van Halen on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour. Less than two years later, they had already been dropped by Capitol before the end of 1993, in large part due to the fact that grunge was taking over.
I didn't discover this album until a few years ago, and it, too, has slowly inched its way into my all-time hair metal Top 10. Better late than never and all, but oh how I wish I had known about Wildside when I was a kid. They're kind of like Skid Row, the Bulletboys, and Faster Pussycat thrown in a blender. There's a great snarl to the vocals, loads of gritty riffs (and excellent guitar playing in general), etc.
They filmed a music video for the lead track, "Hang on Lucy," but the above "So Far Away" is my personal favorite—it's got a darker edge and those riffs during the chorus just kill me for some reason.
As a whole, this record does have minor ups and downs. They did tend to fall just a tad short with their ballads, but for each of those you've got a counterbalance such as the bluesy vibrato, nasty pinch harmonics, and big chorus of "Clock Strikes." It's also worth noting that their early tracks as Young Gunns were equally awesome, and the B-sides from Under the Influence are pretty incredible (to the point of being significantly better than some of the album tracks, not that it would've made a difference in the end, sadly).
Wildside did release one more album in 1995 (on an indie label), but had undergone some lineup changes and a complete shift in sound by that point—ironically enough taking a stab at the grungier style that had destroyed their initial shot at success.
Like Hericane Alice, one can only imagine that Wildside would have been an absolutely huge success had their debut hit the streets a few years prior—even more so considering the good fortune that was lining up in their favor prior to the album's release.
I can't tell if they're still active or not, but Wildside does have a Facebook page that's touting a remastered re-release of Under the Influence this year, and I'll be all over that if it becomes a reality.
I was introduced to Chicago's Joker by Matt Rudzinski from Divebomb Records, and I don't know much about them, so I can only assume they were another absolutely incredible band that got rolling just a little too late to capitalize on their talents.
Recording quite a bit of material for having remained so unknown, they self-released an album called Out of the Box in 1989, followed-up with Joker the following year on Red Light Records (which has almost the same tracklist as their debut), and then came back with Cool Deal in 1992. They also contributed to two movie soundtracks in '92—Bad Channels and Demonic Toys—but by that point it was likely too late for said appearances to give Joker the career kickstart they deserved.
Joker's high-level songwriting is at times poppier than other selections on this list, dropping some huge sing-along choruses. I mean, come on, it's impossible not to sing along to "Mackinaw Avenue" or "Change"—the latter of which is practically a full-on pop song, though the quality of the writing and musicianship gives it an edge that avoids the overly pristine sheen of lesser (yet more successful) outfits like Danger Danger or Firehouse.
What about the tactful keyboards, chorus hook, and big vocal harmonies of token power ballad "Dry Your Eyes"? Or the impeccable "Somewhere in Time," which honestly touches on a much more "authentic" level of metal or hard rock (akin to maybe Queensrÿche or something) with its prominent but not distracting keyboards and thought-out, composed leads? Powerful, but still memorable.
And how many comparable artists had successful tracks along the lines of "Stand Up, Shout it Out" or "Say Yeah!"!? Not to mention the fact that Andrew W.K. should be legally required to record a cover version of "Party for Your Life" (embedded above)!
I'll never understand what it is that makes some bands "click" while others that are just as good if not better simply fade away into relative obscurity. As you might expect, it's extremely hard to find Joker's CDs, and even if you do, the prices will almost certainly be total bullshit.
That being said, their Facebook page indicates that they're back in action, having digitally issued their previously unreleased EP, Last Hand, sometime last year, but… time will tell. I know I'm not alone in crossing my fingers that the band will agree to have their recordings properly reissued on CD at some point!
Heavy Bones formed in Hollywood circa 1990 and featured in its ranks guitarist Gary Hoey (who later scored a surprise hit with "Hocus Pocus") and drummer Frankie Banali (of Quiet Riot and W.A.S.P.). If you're old enough to have been reading guitar magazines in the early-'90s, you probably at least recognize the name Gary Hoey, and may recall having seen him in a good number of advertisements, if nothing else.
Heavy Bones came relatively early in Hoey's professional career (having moved from Boston to Los Angeles in the late-'80s upon the recommendation of Ozzy Osbourne, after auditioning for the position that ultimately went to Zakk Wylde), and released but one self-titled album on Reprise Records in 1992. It bombed, leaving the group with a million-dollar debt to the label, and that was that.
It's a very solid record, though, highlighted by the superb "Dead End St." (included above)—a dark, brooding power ballad complete with emotive leads and vocals. One year prior Skid Row had done quite well with comparable tracks, but by '92 I guess it was just too late, despite the musical chops and name recognition of Heavy Bones' lineup.
Other tracks worth calling out include "4:AM T.M." (for which they filmed their lone video); "Turn it On" (which takes the power ballad approach into a catchy and uplifting direction); and, of course, the token high energy, bluesy sleaze of "Where the Livin' is Easy."
Like Joker, there's not a ton of information out there regarding Real Steel. The band got moving in late-'80s Cleveland, OH and appeared on a couple of compilations (among them the excellent Heavy Artillery, which was my first exposure to the group). The internet would suggest that they also released a 7" and a full-length cassette, but I can't find any real evidence of such. Their recordings were reissued on CD several years ago by Retrospect Records, however—granted the disc is already out of print and fetching overly expensive prices on eBay.
As heard above, "I Rule the Radio," from the Heavy Artillery compilation, is a perfect example of Real Steel at their anthemic, fist-pumping best. Most of their material follows a slower, pulsing pace—at times leaning a touch more towards classic, traditional heavy metal than much of this list (notably during "On My Way," dueling leads 'n' all). Then again, "Heat Me Up" is a prime cut of typically structured hair metal with a raspier snarl to the vocals; while "She's Untouchable" combines crunchy rhythms, fluid melodies, and slick vocal harmonies.
Real Steel opened for the Bulletboys, Bang Tango, and Gorky Park in their day, and apparently had interest from several labels (almost signing with Warner Bros.). But—as with every band cited above—the story's the same: having been right around the time of the grunge takeover, it didn't happen… and the end was near.
Shortly after the Retrospect Records reissue, Real Steel performed at Rocklahoma 2008 and were talking about working on new material, but it would appear nothing much came of that.
But Wait, There's More!
There are tons and tons of other glam/hair metal bands that never quite received their due (hell, I'd argue that bands like Lynch Mob and Vain still deserve a little more love). Some remain underrated despite having done moderately well in their day, while others have been lost to near complete obscurity. All across the board, there are just too damn many to choose from:
And all of this barely scratches the surface, so please include your own recommendations in the comments below! I'm always looking to check out lesser-known gems, and this niche of hard rock/metal has a hell of a lot of 'em to offer…