Navigation

5 Underrated Glam/Hair Metal Bands

[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

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.

Wildside

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.

Joker

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

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."

Real Steel

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...

Comments

  1. Vain deserves not a little more love, but a religious following.  If anyone at all loves Cock Rock, No Respect by Vain should be in their collection, and Davy Vain’s subsequent efforts have all been respectable.  Vain was less poppy than most cock rock bands, and they just had a serious vibe in their sound.  It’s no joke that their debut was produced by Paul Northfield, the inimitable force behind Moving Pictures and the song Empire by Queensryche (just a couple of my favorites in a cool career), two completely different examples of dark rock sounding fantastic.
    The glaring sin here is to leave out the godly Heavy Pettin as well as Q5.
    Heavy Pettin’s debut was the first record produced by Brian May of Queen, and although the sound is just fine, the songwriting is utterly badass.  “Love ‘em, Leave ‘em…As long as their breathin’!” -Love on the Run.  Their follow up has some of the best songwriting in Cock Rock, in my opinion.  Yes the vocals are an acquired taste, but, hell, I got used to Scott Jeffreys once, and I was able to get used to Steve Hayman after that.  It’s worth every second.  Completely badass feel, and I really think they would’ve ruled the rock world if the vocalist had made a better style choice.  If the opening melody of Rock Ain’t Dead doesn’t grab you, you won’t care about the rest.  And I still think Sole Survivor is just one of the greatest rock songs ever (despite the ear-splitting treble caused by a shitty mix at the end of the song).
    Q5 had two albums that would simply destroy you.  Their first album Steel the Light borders on metal in an 80s Judas Priest-ish kind of way, and has one of the best pre-choruses ever written on the album’s eponymous song.  The second album should’ve just been the actual soundtrack to Bloodsport.  The whole damn thing.  I can’t explain it, but every time I listen to it, I just see scenes from that film running through my head; it’s not a curse, but a blessing.  Totally different album, and utterly, completely epic and emotional awesome.  You cannot hear that album with seeing the menacing face of Bolo Yeung staring at you in a window’s reflection.  It was formed by the same dude who invented the most popular and inherently-flawed-leaving-endless-bullshit-marketing-for-upgrades-rather-than-just-make-a-great-product-in-the-first-place piece of guitar technology, Mr. Floyd Rose, who, although he did an acceptable job of producing and engineering both Q5 albums overall, did an unacceptable job of engineering the guitar sounds for both albums, and did not have enough finesse as a lead player to make his solos sound pleasing (although he wasn’t awkward like Steve Howe, he was no George Lynch).

    6.11.2014 | By State Of Epicicity

  2. I still need to try and get used to the vocals in Heavy Pettin’, but Q5 is indeed awesome. Thanks for the excellent comment!

    6.11.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  3. Real Steel (well done for resisting Reel) are the pick of the bunch for me, almost hints of Manowar circa Fighting The World on there… 2 thumbs up!

    6.11.2014 | By red5standingby

  4. I just have to say that I typed “their breathin’” instead of “they’re breathin’” after a marathon of not sleeping.  I’m too afraid to reread the rest of my post to see what else I mistyped.  The vocals are really an obstacle moreso on the second album.  He seems to be singing about an octave and a half lower on the first one, and the overall energy on Lettin Loose is far greater.

    6.11.2014 | By State Of Epicicity

  5. all the bands on your list kick ass!  Wildside is still one of my faves simply because it was so much heavier than all the bands at that time and darker too.
    I totally agree with Q5 and Heavy Pettin for sure!  As you stated I have always championed JOKER myself.
    I would KILL to reissue the Tuff Luck album too.  Not sure why Ann from NRR sits on it to this day.  It needs to be out there and readily available.
    Other bands just because I am biased, but from Divebomb - SARGANT FURY, DIMAGE and CASANOVA.
    Then others like RAZORMAID, PHANTOM BLUE, COLD SWEAT, GREAT KING RAT, 220 VOLT, SKAGARACK, TRASH, MASS, AMERICAN ANGEL etc.

    6.11.2014 | By Matt

  6. Excellent article. Fans of Heavy Bones might also want to check out vocalist Joel Ellis previous band Cats In Boots (specifically the 1989 album Kicked And Klawed).
    A couple of other amazing and underrated glam albums that didn’t make this list (but easily could have)-
    Blue Murder - Blue Murder (1990)
    Harem Scarem - Mood Swings (1993) *this one is particularly good!*
    Love/Hate - Blackout In The Red Room (1990)
    Dangerous Toys - Dangerous Toys (1989)
    Winger - In The Heart Of The Young (1990)

    6.11.2014 | By Grawmps

  7. McQueen Street should be in this discussion and in your collection. Fantastic band

    6.11.2014 | By Trippie

  8. Been meaning to pick up the first McQueen Street CD for some time now, but haven’t quite found the right price yet. Thanks for the reminder!

    6.11.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  9. Cool, many thanks. I’ve never heard Cats in Boots or Harem Scarem so I’ve got some Googling to do! (Harem Scarem is sounding AMAZING so far, pretty damn sure I’ll be scooping that up as soon as I can!)
    Totally with you on many of your other suggestions. That Dangerous Toys disc rules, and despite them getting so much shit back in the day those first two Winger albums are very solid. ‘Blackout in the Red Room’ has a couple of classics, too, though some of the lyrics get questionable for sure.

    6.11.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  10. As expected I’ve only heard of two or three of the bands you listed off there. Google, here I come!
    And yeah, anyone unfamiliar, Divebomb has reissued some GOLD in this realm, so pick them up while you still can:
    http://tribunalrecords.bigc…
    http://tribunalrecords.bigc…
    http://tribunalrecords.bigc…

    6.11.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  11. How could I forget VAMP!  man, i suck.

    6.11.2014 | By Matt

  12. yeah, that thing is always priced so high!

    6.11.2014 | By Matt

  13. When it comes to underrated hair metal, I always sing the praises of Kik Tracee. Their ‘No Rules’ album (produced by Dana Strum!) is fantastic. Although they weren’t truly a “hair metal” band, Leatherwolf’s ‘Street Ready’ album has many of those kinds of sonic qualities and is packed with killer songs.

    6.11.2014 | By Carlos Ramirez

  14. Oh, man, yeah, checking out Leatherwolf now and I need this for sure! Let the bargain hunting begin…

    6.11.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  15. Enuff Z’nuff & Oney are my favs

    6.11.2014 | By GlamRocker

  16. I’d rec The Scream - Let it Scream, Lillian Axe - Love + War, Saigon Kick - s/t, Ratt - Reach for the Sky, Junkyard - s/t, Killer Dwarfs - Dirty Weapons

    6.11.2014 | By Glamgoat

  17. Some of my recommendations:
    Alleycat Scratch - Deadboys in Trash City
    Erotic Suicide - Abusement Park & Perseverance
    - In my personal opinion, two of the best damn sleaze bands nobody has ever heard of
    Tyketto - Don’t Come Easy
    - Next to Under the Influence by Wildside, this is the best debut album not called Appetite for Destruction.
    Other notables:
    Beau Nasty - Dirty But Well Dressed
    Brighton Rock - Love Machine
    Contraband - s/t
    Cruella D’Ville - Showdown in Tinsel Town
    Shotgun Messiah - s/t & Second Coming
    Slik Toxic - Doin’ the Nasty
    Southgang - Tainted Angel
    Swingin’ Thing - Desperate Living

    6.12.2014 | By Aaron DelBono

  18. Some GREAT tips, thanks! That Beau Nasty is kicking my ass right now! I gotta find a copy of that CD that’s not $35 or more!

    6.12.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  19. i hung around with Joker in the old days and went to High school with the guitarist.I hope they do come back

    6.12.2014 | By Eddy I

  20. I love MASS those guys rule

    6.12.2014 | By Eddie

  21. Q5’s first album is a classic but the second one was tragic. I wouldn’t exactly call them glam. Check out the old TKO albums also, they are basically Q5 without Floyd Rose.
    Q5 are now called Nightshade and still play out every once in a while.

    6.13.2014 | By Mike

  22. Another decent glam band that came out of Chicago was Holland. They had Michael Angelo Batio on guitar. He went on to start Nitro which was a horrible band.

    6.13.2014 | By Mike

  23. Awesome. Thanks for the suggestion!

    6.13.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  24. The guitar tone is annoying, but ‘When the Mirror Cracks’ has some KILLER songs. “Stand by Me,” “I Can’t Wait,” “Let Go,” etc.

    6.13.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  25. Appreciate the comment. I should really pick up some Lillian Axe sometime…

    6.13.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  26. I wasn’t a fan at all. It has been over 20 years since I have heard it. I’ll have to dig it out and give it another chance. It sounded to me like the record company saw their potential and stuck their 2 cents in and tried to get them to do a more commercial sound.

    6.13.2014 | By Mike

  27. Never heard of Oney but I’m intrigued by what I hear on YouTube. Gotta do some digging there. Never could get into Enuff Z’nuff, but I do dig that one song they had on the ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’ soundtrack.

    6.13.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  28. I tend to be a huge sucker for catchy songs, so some degree of commercialism probably flies past my radar, heh.

    6.13.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  29. Just curious regarding the comment about lyrical content:  I’ve been reading you long enough to know that you’re no prude, so the only thing I can think of is that some of this stuff is borderline (if not outright) mysogynistic.  Care to elaborate?  Great article, as usual!

    6.14.2014 | By Karl Jenkins

  30. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. In general I don’t really identify with the whole good time/party angle either ‘cause it’s just not my thing, but the misogynistic aspects are what gets bothersome at times. I’ve never been the “sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll” type, ha, ha.
    I listen to tons of bands that I don’t agree with lyrically, though (christian bands, satanic bands, krishna bands, etc.). If people only listened to bands whose lyrical content was largely aligned with their own views it would be quite limiting.

    6.14.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  31. Andrew, my cousin Scott Smalley is/was lead vocals/bass for Real Steel! I’m sure I can get my hands on recordings for you if you’d like. Maybe even an old T-shirt laying around! Haha!  Thank you for your article. Put a smile on my face and I’ll make sure he sees it.

    6.21.2014 | By Samesmalley

  32. I’ll be emailing you! Thanks so much for the comment!

    6.21.2014 | By Andrew Aversionline

  33. Try Holland - Little Monsters. Especially the song Gotta Run. They should have been huge! Guitarist Michael Angelo Batio is well known for his guitar instructional videos “Speed Kills” and he also played guitar in the band Nitro (The Double Headed Guitar!) with Jim Gillette! IMHO opinion, there is not a single bad track on Holland’s Little Monsters! One of my favorite albums of all time!!!!

    1.13.2017 | By James Fox