Hair metal. Glam. Sleaze. Cock rock. All of these terms are used today to describe the commercial metal and hard rock that reigned supreme in the eighties (and early nineties). Here, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite albums of the year 1984 falling into this prestigious category. Because the term “hair metal” casts such a wide (Aqua)net, the hardest part of making this list was defining just what should be considered hair or glam metal. It has just as much to do with a band’s image as it does their actual sound. Even further, it seems to be a matter of perception as well. When it comes right down to it, it is actually very hard to determine what bands, and for that matter, what albums, should and shouldn’t qualify for this list. For the most part, I just went with my instinct.
Before I start the list, let me first mention a few noteworthy hard rock and metal albums that I decided DID NOT QUALIFY as bona fide hair metal.
- Waysted by Waysted: A great hard rock album with plenty of sleaze to go around, but Waysted does not meet the hair metal quotient IMO because it is more of a gritty, stripped down, “rawk” record. Not glam in the least.
- Red, Hot And Heavy by Pretty Maids: Another excellent album. Pretty Maids certainly had a “hair” metal name, and they dressed the part too, but the Red, Hot And Heavy album houses too much of a Euro-centric vibe to qualify. These Danes were not wired in to the sinful sounds of the Sunset Strip. This album is a mix of galloping metal, hard rock, and AOR. REJECTED.
- For The Wild And Lonely by Highway Chile: This great Dutch hard rock album does have many elements of hair metal, but overall I think Highway Chile were just too blissfully ignorant, too Dutch, to be considered glam or hair metal.
- W.A.S.P. by W.A.S.P.: This wouldn’t make my Top 15 anyway, so who gives a sh*t!
I could go on and on, but enough of that crap, let’s get to the list. Again, these are my personal favorites. No apologies…
16. Quiet Riot – Condition Critical
With the momentum of 1983′s Metal Health behind it, Condition Critical went platinum very quickly. However, relative to Metal Health, Condition Critical was considered a commercial and critical disappointment. Today, Metal Health is certified 6x platinum and Condition Critical is still single platinum. It seemed Quiet Riot’s fame was receding faster than Kevin DuBrow’s hairline. (This was before DuBrow started wearing his “parliament” wig.) There’s some irony there. You see, Metal Health was one of the most important albums in commercial metal history. Released in 1983, it was the perfect album at the perfect time. Thanks to MTV and some damn good songs, Metal Health became a monster hit (reached #1 on Billboard). The success of Metal Health ushered in a new era of commercial heavy metal. But just one year later, in 1984, there were tons of bands competing for a piece of the pie. Quiet Riot were no longer alone atop the mountain. It also didn’t help that 1984 was (in my opinion) the greatest year of heavy metal, period. Condition Critical was competing with commercial blockbuster albums by the likes of Twisted Sister (Stay Hungry), Ratt (Out Of The Cellar), Whitesnake (Slide It In), and tons more. Many bands have Quiet Riot to thank for starting a commercial metal movement, and its ironic that Quiet Riot ended up getting squeezed right out of the picture. DuBrow’s bad press also contributed the band’s wane in popularity.
Okay, so Condition Critical is about as dumb as a box of rocks, but it is a fun album. The lyrics are ridiculous and DuBrow is a clown through and through. Opening track Sign Of The Times is the album’s best track and a rousing party anthem. Slade cover Mama Weer All Crazee Now comes up next. It’s a dumb tune that tries to rehash the success of Metal Health‘s big hit Cum On Feel The Noize (also a Slade cover). Two more fun (but entirely stupid) party tracks follow; Party All Night and Stomp Your Hands, Clap Your Feet. Side one closes with a ballad so cheesy it would make Manowar blush, Winners Take All. A guilty pleasure! Side two shows a real drop-off in song quality. Only the title track, though a bit cumbersome and plodding, deserves any attention. The filler on side two seems to suggest that the album was rushed. But hey, don’t hate on Quiet Riot. Yeah, they fell from grace hard and fast, but they still achieved more success than 99.9% of the heavy metal bands of the day. What have you done? That’s what I thought. My score: B
15. Dokken – Tooth And Nail
Dokken’s “classic” lineup as solidified with Tooth And Nail, the band’s sophomore release. Don Dokken, the smooth voiced prima donna, was the band’s front-man, as well as the proud owner of the unfortunate perm (wig?) depicted in the LP band photo. George Lynch (guitar) played foil to Don’s perfumed posturing, and garnered the band some respect among metal fans (re: males), thanks to his crunchy riffage and tasty soloing. Lynch stands as one of the premiere “guitar gods” of the hair era along with the likes of Warren DeMartini (Ratt) and Vito Bratta (White Lion). (Bratta has my vote, thank you very little.) Jeff Pilson (bass) and Mick Brown (drums) rounded out the line-up. Each member contributed to the songwriting. Much has been made of Dokken’s history of internal tension. Apparently, Don and George were always at odds — the classic “vocalist versus lead guitarist” battle for band direction and spotlight (see also Aerosmith and Van Halen for classic examples.)
A couple of good tracks pepper this Dokken release. The title track is my personal fave of the set. This cut packs a little more horse power under the hood than the typical vanilla Dokken fare. The biggest “hit” on Tooth And Nail was the ballad Alone Again. Though my pal A.B. thinks Alone Again is the sh*t, I never understood the song’s appeal and find it yawn-inducing. Overall, Tooth And Nail is a major improvement over Dokken’s rather forgettable debut, Breaking The Chains. Trivia note: the cassette cover was different. My score: B
14. Witch – The Hex Is On
Now this is a fun EP! It has five tracks. Witch was very popular on the Southern California club scene in the mid-eighties. Ultimately, Witch was never able to secure a record deal despite attracting interest from the likes of Combat, Metal Blade, Capitol and Atlantic. The Hex Is On was self-released by the band (and their management) on their own label, O.T.T. Records.
This EP is a little rough around the edges. The drummer overplays a bit, and the choruses could use a little beefing up. However, all in all, The Hex Is On is solid, consistent (not a bad track in the bunch), and fun to listen to. I find myself playing this way more than I probably should! It’s all about the leather, the chains, and the ATTITUDE! My score: B
13. Ratt – Out Of The Cellar
If I asked you to name five hair bands off the top of your head and without hesitation, I bet Ratt would be one of the five bands you immediately blurt out. Ratt were, for all intents and purposes, the quintessential hair band. They pretty much embodied everything that is either loved or loathed about the genre.
L.A. scumbags Ratt crawled from the sewer and into fame and fortune with Out Of The Cellar. The big hit was Round And Round, and indeed it may be one of the best songs in the history of the hair/glam/sleaze genre. Just a brilliant track! At one point in my life, I actually disliked Ratt, but as the years go by I have become more and more of a fan. That being said, I guess I still don’t quite see Out Of The Cellar in the same shiny light that many fans do. It is a beloved album, and definitely a hair metal classic. Truth be told, I actually prefer Ratt’s lightly regarded Reach For The Sky (1988) over Out Of The Cellar. I think Out Of The Cellar is a little too one-dimensional. To date, Out Of The Cellar is certified triple platinum in the United States. My score: B
12. Helix – Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge
…And rock you they did. With simple songs that clocked in around three minutes or so, Helix didn’t waste any time on extracurriculars. Nope, they rushed to the song’s chorus and made sure they repeated said chorus a million times until it was embedded in your skull. This kind of song writing approach is a well-worn template in the pop world. What it does, in my opinion, is make a Helix album immediately satisfying on the first or second listen, but also something that grows tiresome with repeated listening. After a while, this causes ear fatigue, leaving the listener ready to move on to other albums. But this was Helix’s approach, and it has its place. To listen to a Helix album means going into familiar, comfortable territory. It means being rocked upon impact. Like that first sip of a freshly opened beer. My score: B+
11. Icon – Icon
The self-titled debut by this Phoenix band came out on Capitol Records in ’84. The sound is a heavy brand of commercial metal on par with the likes of W.A.S.P., Ratt, or really heavy Dokken. Icon is a very solid slice of mid-eighties metal that would sound perfect blaring from a Camaro’s tape deck. The guitars are in your face and the guy at the mic sounds like a much better version of Blackie Lawless. Only the album’s last track, a forgettable ballad called It’s Up To You, fails to deliver in fist pumping rock fashion. I’ll say this, there isn’t a lot of variety or even originality offered up by Icon on this album, but it should not be passed up by fans of the aforementioned bands. Particularly pleasing is the lead cut (Rock On) Through The Night, as well as the album’s most famous song On Your Feet. My personal fave, however, would have to be the intense World War. Future Icon albums were not as heavy as this one, and leaned more towards AOR, but for one shining moment, Icon rocked with the best of ’em! My score: B+
10. TNT – Knights Of The New Thunder
This one was a tough call. TNT were all over the place on this album, so it’s hard to pigeonhole them as simply hair metal. And because they were Norwegian, TNT didn’t really have that L.A. sound that often defines one as hair metal. But upon further review, I’m going to give Knights Of The New Thunder the nod…
Knights Of The New Thunder was TNT’s second album (and first in the English language). American singer Tony Harnell (credited as Tony Hansen) was brought aboard the Viking ship for this second voyage. His illuminating talent, as well as the guitar pyrotechnics of the excellent Ronni Le Tekro help to propel this TNT album into a highly enjoyable mid-eighties metal record. The glossy production and magnificent attention to sonic detail (particularly the vocal layering) make Knights Of The New Thunder sound like something out of 1989, so it is quite impressive to hear this audio quality on a 1984 release.
As mentioned above, Tony Harnell’s vocals shine bright on this album. If you enjoy metal singers who operate in a high register, then you will probably agree that Tony was one of the best in the biz. His bulletproof highs were achieved with such apparent ease that you have to tip your cap to the man’s prowess. All the while, Ronni Le Tekro blazes away with a razor-sharp style that calls to mind the likes of Rhoads, Malmsteen, or Akira Takasaki (from Loudness). Most of the album’s highlights (IMO) come at the beginning of the record. Album opener Seven Seas starts things strong with mid-paced power. Ready To Leave provides the album’s best hook. The cheesy ballad Without Your Love is syrupy sweet — a guilty pleasure. Sure, the second half of the album suffers from so-so hooks, but Harnell and Le Tekro provide enough fireworks to keep the listener locked-in. The original Norwegian issue of Knights Of The New Thunder had the cover art shown above. Many other countries (including the U.S.) were issued this different, sans titties, version. My score: B+
8. Great White – Great White
Like Ratt, Great White debuted with an independently released EP. And like Ratt, Great White issued their first full-length album in 1984 on a major label. Yet, Great White didn’t really become famous until about 1988 or so, and by that time they had really softened their sound. If you are not familiar with the Great White LP, you might surprised just how heavy they were in the early days. Singer Jack Russell sounded particularly vicious, as he belted it out over the mean n’ nasty riffage of guitarist Mark Kendall. (Side note: I always found it interesting that Russell and Fastway’s Dave King had almost the exact same voice!) Highlights on this sweaty banquet include the menacing No Better Than Hell, the melodic Hold On, the rousing album opener Out Of The Night, and my personal fave, the face-ripping cover of The Who’s Substitute. Crank it up! My score: B+
8. KISS – Animalize
At this juncture in their career, I think it is safe to say that KISS was very much indeed a hair metal band. The mere fact that KISS are now somewhat embarrassed of their 1980’s records (the non-makeup years) tells you all you need to know about that. Evidently, hair metal is not something to be proud of. F*ck that.
Animalize was a kick-ass album with a handful of killer tunes. Paul Stanley really carried the load on this album. Gene’s contributions were tepid at best — the man was preoccupied with becoming a movie star at the time. Stanley dished out a trio of KISS gems in I’ve Had Enough (Into The Fire), Heaven’s On Fire, and Get All You Can Take. Those three cuts alone make Animalize worthy of purchase. Animalize was to be the only KISS album to feature Mark St. John (guitar) as a KISS member. St. John’s stay with KISS was short-lived, as he was unable to tour the album due to a rare affliction called Reiter’s Syndrome, which hindered his ability to play guitar. My score: B+
7. Kick Axe – Vices
Though overproduced by Spencer Proffer of Pasha Records (the same man who twiddled the knobs for Quiet Riot’s Metal Health), this debut album by Canada’s Kick Axe still packs a lusty wallop. The drums sound significantly processed, but the guitars still bite and the vocals (by George Criston) are a perfect fit for this mighty pant-load. The choruses are HUGE, featuring tons of overdubbed vocals. The songs are spacial and clean, and the drumming is kept fairly simple.
The party starts with Heavy Metal Shuffle and doesn’t really let up, save for the lone ballad, Dreamin’ About You, which is an exceptional little chunk of mellow gold. The album’s final cut is my personal fave, the brilliant Just Passin’ Through. Vices is a coke-fueled party album from the crazy daze of hair metal. My score: B+
6. Whitesnake – Slide It In
Whether Whitesnake was dishing out blues-based hard rock (as they did in the early ’80s), or well-polished corporate metal (as they did in the late ’80s), the band could really do no wrong. And by band, I mean David Coverdale, as he and Whitesnake were one in the same. Many musicians came and went under his ego-maniacal reign. Anyhow, somewhere right in the middle of the two distinct Whitesnake eras, there was this transitional album of sorts. Slide It In was still a boozy and bluesy record, but also one that embraced the burgeoning commercial metal sound that was sweeping across the U.S. at the time. I consider Slide It In to be Whitesnake’s first foray into the hair metal world. This album contains three of Whitesnake’s greatest cuts in Slide It In, Slow An’ Easy, and Love Ain’t No Stranger. Slide It In is certified double platinum in the United States. My score: A-
5. Black ‘N Blue – Black ‘N Blue
Black ‘N Blue debuted in 1984 with this self-titled album (Geffen Records). In my opinion, Black ‘N Blue distinguished themselves from peers such as Ratt, Dokken, and Motley Crue by showcasing a more muscular and clean sound. I would describe Black ‘N Blue’s brand of hair metal on this album as “athletic” or “jockish”. The album exhibits plenty of testosterone, while minimizing elements of pretty boy glam posturing or sleaze. Jaime St. James provided a crisp vocal delivery, spouting lyrics that can be best described as endearingly meat-headed. Future Kiss scab Tommy Thayer teamed with Jeff Warner to dish out the guitar hijinks, while bassist Patrick Young and drummer Pete Holmes provided a very solid rhythm foundation on Black ‘N Blue. This well-produced album is loaded with stout rock anthems like Hold On To 18, Chains Around Heaven, The Strong Will Rock, and Wicked Bitch. Damn, I used to jam to this cassette in my car all the time! These tunes sounded so great blaring from the car speakers! Good dumb fun. My score: A-
4. Hanoi Rocks – Two Steps From The Move
Hanoi Rocks came from Finland, and re-located to London in 1981 prior to their second album. Two Steps From The Move was Hanoi Rock’s fifth studio album, and first with a major label, CBS Records. Although Hanoi Rocks were very popular in certain regions around the globe, they never broke through in the U.S. like they probably should have. But Hanoi Rocks were actually extremely influential to the American musical scene, not only with their brand of punk infused glam rock, but also in the way they dressed and acted. Bottom line: if you were into hair metal in the late eighties, much of what you saw and heard HAD ALREADY BEEN DONE BY HANOI ROCKS. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend that you delve into Hanoi Rocks’ eccentric (and fun-as-hell) back catalog.
Two Steps From The Move kicks off with a nice, energetic cover of C.C.R.’s Up Around The Bend. This is followed by a kick-ass pop-punk tune called High School. My favorite track is the semi-ballad Don’t You Ever Leave Me — a song that would be damn near perfect without the shitty spoken word portions. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams is another fave, as is the silly pub rocker Boiler. These guys had some of the worst album covers, though. My score: A-
3. Europe – Wings Of Tomorrow
Wings Of Tomorrow was Europe’s second album. Though I do not consider Europe’s 1983 debut Europe to be hair metal in the least, their third album however, 1986’s The Final Countdown, was most definitely a full-on hair metal sashay. In between the two pillars, there was Wings Of Tomorrow, an album that still retained much of Europe’s rich Swedish melodic metal acumen from the amazing debut, but also showed a definitive push towards an Americanized sound. The verdict? Hair enough for me.
With their sophomore album, Europe continued on a trajectory that eventually made them as the single biggest hard rock band from Sweden in the ’80s. Their debut from ’83 was a truly exceptional effort. Wings Of Tomorrow continues with more of the same, for the most part. Though not as consistently great as their debut, Europe once again showed that they were the most polished and arena-ready of all their Swedish contemporaries. In particular, John Norum was a master at fluid, melodic, and somewhat gothic guitar playing, and vocalist Joey Tempest had one of the smoothest voices around. Personal faves are Stormwind, Wasted Time, and Open Your Heart. My score: A-
2. Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry
Fame whore Dee Snider always loved the spotlight. And in 1984, for a brief moment in time, the spotlight actually loved him back. Twisted Sister took the long road to the top, paying their dues along the way by gigging at clubs on the east coast for the better part of a decade before landing a record deal. With a couple of solid albums behind them, Twisted Sister finally hit the big time with their third LP Stay Hungry. MTV embraced the band, and their videos for I Wanna Rock and We’re Not Gonna Take It quickly became instant classics on the young cable network. Like Quiet Riot above, fame was fleeting for Twisted Sister, but their moment in the sun was important to me. I was a huge fan of this album at the time, though I was still very young when it came out. Twisted Sister really helped push me into heavy metal music, convincing me to leave behind Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and Weird Al — and never really look back. (Okay, there was that very short “rap phase” in 1991 that I wish to forget — puberty really f*cks with your brain, man!) Thank you, Twisted Sister, you came along at the right time in my life! And the song Stay Hungry is still one of my favorite tunes EVER! Great album. My score: A
1. Van Halen – 1984
Of course, Van Halen was much more than simply a “hair” metal band. For certain, they transcended above and beyond that category. But at the very least, I think VH overlapped with hair metal enough to be on this list. Even though VH came along before the MTV hair metal explosion, they certainly laid the groundwork for the scene. Need more evidence? Two words for ya… ASSLESS CHAPS.
The album 1984 was VH’s sixth studio album in six years. It was an incredible run of AWESOME! This would be David Lee Roth’s last with the band, and the end of a great era in rock history. 1984 contains the hits Jump, Panama, Hot For Teacher, and I’ll Wait. All four remain radio staples to this day. Gotta say that Hot For Teacher is probably my favorite of the lot. I love the half-assed lyrics and DLR’s overall jackass charm. Two really great deep cuts also appear on this album; Top Jimmy and Drop Dead Legs. However, 100% perfection is avoided due to the last two cuts (Girl Gone Bad and House Of Pain), which don’t measure up to the great tracks that preceded them. So, in summary, what we have is a short intro (the instrumental 1984), followed by six gems, then ending with two average tunes. No filler, no joke tracks, and no covers! Eight proper songs! That’s something you didn’t always got with these old VH albums (Diver Down, I’m talking to you!). 1984 is certified 10 x platinum. My score: A+
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