The revolution was televised. By MTV that is. Today we describe the glammed-up commercial metal and hard rock that ruled the airways in the eighties as “hair” metal. The following is a list of my personal favorite hair metal albums from 1983. Truth be told, it’s not easy to determine which bands, and for that matter, which albums, should and shouldn’t qualify for this list. For the most part, I just went with my instinct. I excluded many a fine album from this list because I thought they just didn’t meet the necessary glam/hair quotient. (Sorry Fastway, Waysted, Europe, Krokus, Highway Chile, and Zebra!)
Here we go…
10. Hanoi Rocks – Back To Mystery City
This album may be my least favorite of Hanoi Rocks’ original studio albums (1981-1984), but Back To Mystery City is not without its highlights. With Hanoi Rocks, there was no template, and the band became trend setters by virtue of doing whatever the hell they wanted. They never quite made the big time in the U.S. (their momentum was famously halted in 1984 by the drunk driving death of their drummer), but Hanoi Rocks were pretty big in certain countries, including Japan — where they were somewhat of a teeny-bopper sensation. Their influences were many, and their look was extreme glam, but at the end of the day the songs were good — meaning Hanoi Rocks were at least just as much substance as style. Faves here include Malibu Beach Nightmare, Tooting Bec Wreck, and Ice Cream Summer. For decadent fun, you can’t go wrong with these drug loving fancy boys. That album cover sucks though. My score: B
9. KISS – Lick It Up
Lick It Up, of course, was the album that introduced the world to a new, unmasked, Kiss. No makeup! And you know what? As far as eighties band photos go, the one on the cover of Lick It Up isn’t all that embarrassing. The guys are pictured on the cover wearing outfits that, relative to the scene at the time, were actually pretty tame.
Lick It Up was the follow-up to 1982′s Creatures of The Night, an album that was supposed to be Kiss’ triumphant return to “metal” after some questionable musical choices. Unfortunately, Creatures Of The Night under-performed relative to Kiss’ expectations and thus, KISS felt that the time had come to take off the makeup, and light a fire under the ass of their sagging career. And indeed, the buzz created by this unmasking was enough to garner Lick It Up platinum sales, the first KISS album to do so since Dynasty (1979).
Vinnie Vincent’s presence was also important to the KISS “comeback”. Vincent had co-wrote a few of the songs on Creatures of The Night, and also played guitar (uncredited) on a handful of cuts on that record. He toured with KISS (in makeup) to promote Creatures Of The Night as well. But, Lick It Up was Vinnie Vincent’s first (and only) album as a regular (though not officially contracted) KISS member. Vincent co-wrote eight of the ten tracks on Lick It Up.
My favorite track on Lick It Up is All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose. That riff! Maybe the best KISS riff ever? Not sure who wrote the riff (the entire band shared writing credit on this track), but I assume it was Vinnie Vincent. I actually like Paul’s “rapped” verses, too. Even the somewhat racially insensitive first verse makes me smirk. Hey, its Paul’s world, we just live in it. Great video, too. And by that I mean that it is horrible and I love it! What else? Oh, there’s the title track. Another cool tune. It’s brazenly simplistic, but KISS pull it off. The biggest letdown of the album is that it ends with three straight Gene Simmons tunes. That’s not the way I want to go out. As for Vinnie Vincent, he was out of the band by the time they finished the Lick It Up tour. Apparently KISS realized that they had already reached their quota for assholes. My score: B+
8. Helix – No Rest For The Wicked
Here’s a sweaty batch of hot ‘n dirty hard rock. Helix didn’t mess around too much on No Rest For The Wicked. This is meat and potatoes stuff that wants no more than to get “wild” in the “streets” with “rock and roll” (and other assorted lyrical clichés). Everybody sing along because its party time, and Helix is buyin’. Power chords and crowd pleasing choruses greet you at every turn. The anthemic refrains come early and often, smacking you right in your ugly face, forcing you to smile. It ain’t rocket science, but I’m sure it sounded real good blasting from the car’s tape deck on a hot Friday night in ’83 (make that a cold Friday night… these dudes are Canadian). If you’re in the right mood, No Rest For The Wicked and a frosty brew may be all you’ll need tonight. Let the good times roll. My score: B+
7. Mötley Crüe – Shout At The Devil
Mötley Crüe’s debut Too Fast For Love was a rushed and sloppy mess, yet still a guilty pleasure. For their second album, the Crüe had the luxury of a major label budget (Elektra Records), and the resulting album, Shout At The Devil, saw them clean up their sound considerably (for better or worse). One noticeable difference was Mick Mars’ guitar tracks, which didn’t seem to have that same “one-take” quality as they did on Too Fast For Love. Additionally, a tight leash was evidently put on Tommy Lee’s wild drum style (his playing was dumbed-down considerably here). Shout At The Devil also showed the world Mötley Crüe’s new, quasi-Satanic image. Because apparently changing your image was like changing your underwear for a style-obsessed band like the Crüe. Nevertheless, Shout At The Devil definitely hit a nerve with the teenage public, and became a hit album that catapulted Mötley Crüe to mega-stardom.
I think pretty much everything on Shout At The Devil up to and including the track Red Hot is pretty good. That includes Shout At The Devil, Looks That Kill, Bastard, Helter Skelter, and Red Hot. The song writing (by Nikki Sixx) wasn’t great here, but good enough I guess. However, as the last part of the album comes around (with the tracks Too Young To Fall In Love, Knock ‘Em Dead Kid, Ten Seconds To Love, and Danger), I find myself a little disinterested. I guess it has become clear to me by this point that Nikki Sixx wrote a grand total of about six riffs for this entire album, and that Mick Mars’ sucked-dry guitar tone wasn’t going to show any signs of life (kind of like the corpse Mars himself). The real star of this album (IMO) was actually Vince Neil. His voice seemed to fit perfectly o’er the top of these bone-dry compositions. He had flair, and a voice that personified the Sunset Strip; that of an androgynous bad boy who didn’t give a crap about anybody. He was the guy the women wanted, and the guys wanted to be. In the end, I think Shout At The Devil (with the exception of Neil’s performance) got by largely on style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, Shout At The Devil rocks hard at times (walk into any strip bar in America and you’re bound to hear a few cuts from this album), but I feel in hind sight that this album is a bit overrated (don’t kill me). I think Shout At The Devil was fortunate to drop at the right time in history, a time when acne-faced teenagers in America were hungry for something new, something heavy, and apparently… something dressed in women’s clothes. Jeesh. My score: B+
6. Def Leppard – Pyromania
These days, its hard for me to even gauge what I really think of the Pyromania album. Since about half the songs on Pyromania are such well-worn, omnipresent radio staples, I have no urge to hear them ever again. Unfortunately, I don’t get any enjoyment out of Foolin’, Rock Of Ages, Too Late For Love, or Photograph anymore due to their ubiquitous over-saturation. I can only rely on my hazy memories of youth and judge Pyromania by how much I enjoyed these songs when they were fresh in my ears. Nowadays, my visitations to Pyromania are few and far between, and pertain almost entirely to my lust for the rousing album opener Rock Rock (Till You Drop), a track that radio has mercifully let be. Nevertheless, one can’t deny Pyromania‘s place in the hard rock lexicon; a blockbuster release that will live on as an enduring classic as long as rock has any relevance left. My score: A-
5. Heavy Pettin – Lettin Loose
Heavy Pettin’ was a young, cocky, and very talented Scottish band. Big things were expected of this band when they debuted with Lettin Loose in 1983 (Polydor Records). With a major label contract, and a very accessible “American” hard rock sound, it looked like Heavy Pettin’ were going to be huge. Not sure why Lettin Loose didn’t make a bigger splash, but I guess that’s how it goes.
Lettin Loose was co-produced by Queen’s Brian May. Though members of Heavy Pettin would later express disappointment in the final product, I think the album sounds just fine. There are nine tracks on Lettin Loose, and not a stinker among them. This is just solid, very enjoyable commercial hard rock/metal. While many compare Heavy Pettin to Def Leppard, I don’t reach that conclusion when listening to Lettin Loose. Certainly both bands had a radio-friendly sound built for American audiences, but the two bands did not sound very similar to me. If anything, one could say that Heavy Pettin were a bit more talented and consistent than the Leps, but the Leps had more “big hits” in their arsenal. Maybe that’s the only thing Heavy Pettin was missing on Lettin Loose; a breakout “smash” single like Photograph or Rock Of Ages. But the consistency of Lettin Loose is something to be admired. Just push play baby! (Note: the U.S. version of this album was re-mixed and released by Polygram records. Titled Heavy Pettin, the album had a different cover, shown here.) My score: A-
4. Y&T – Mean Streak
Mean Streak is pretty much flawless on all fronts for the first six tracks. Mean Streak and Straight Thru The Heart are the swaggering metallic rockers. Midnight In Tokyo, Breaking Away and Hang ‘Em High are the smooth, melodic songs. Lonely Side Of Town is a cool ballad-esque tune. Truth be told, Mean Streak stalls a bit on the last three tracks. Take You To The Limit and Down And Dirty sound a bit too generic, and the ballad Sentimental Fool is just “okay”. Nevertheless, Mean Streak matches up real well with ’82′s Black Tiger; the two albums that I see as quintessential Y&T (with ’81′s Earthshaker just a hair behind). Cheers to lead vocalist and lead guitarist Dave Meniketti; a great talent indeed. Leonard Haze was certainly no slouch on drums, either. My score: A-
3. Twisted Sister – You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll
This album always gets me fired up. There are no less than four magnificent fist-pumping anthems on You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll (Atlantic Records); The Kids Are Back, I Am (I’m Me), We’re Gonna Make It, and You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll. It was obvious that Dee Snider and Twisted Sister had a fire in their collective belly after years and years paying their dues on the club circuit in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (where they were no less than legendary). The never-say-die attitude of the band really comes across genuinely on this album. Basically, Dee Snider wrote songs to himself, trying to will his way to the top and trying to remind himself to “stay hungry”. Indeed, Twisted Sister did reach the top a year later with Stay Hungry. You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll set the stage for their assent. It was Twisted Sister’s first major label album and it eventually reached gold certification. My score: A
2. 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 (released in late 1983, actually) 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+
1. Quiet Riot – Metal Health
For me, this was my gateway drug to the world of heavy metal. Quiet Riot’s Metal Health hit it big when I was at a young, impressionable age. The album achieved that all-important “crossover” status and become a national phenomenon, reaching #1 on Billboard. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY knew about Quiet Riot and their two hits Metal Health and Cum On Feel The Noize. A dubbed copy of Metal Health even found its way into my tape deck somehow, and an instant fan was baptized in the name of Satan and heavy metal.
The title cut simply RULES! To this day it still gives me a little nostalgic chill when I blast it into my increasingly deafened ears. Cum On Feel The Noize is also just a fun, stupid, knockout of a tune. It’s a cover, yes indeed, but not of a song that everyone knows, which is the best kind of cover in my opinion. Then we have Slick Black Cadillac. Now this song actually sounds like it could have been a cover. It has the feeling and melody of something from maybe an early ’70s rock record, but in fact it is indeed a Quiet Riot original (actually their second time using the song on an album). Slick Black Cadillac is just a really fun song that shows Quiet Riot’s goofy charm. A long time favorite of mine.
Let us not forget the last song on the album, the ballad Thunderbird. This song usually gets blasted by reviewers. Everyone seems to hate it; calling it cheesy and stupid. I could not DISAGREE more! Am I alone here? Am I the only one who has ever driven down a lonely stretch of road with Thunderbird blaring from the car stereo, screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs with eyes tightly closed and tears streaming down their face? Seriously? Anyone? My score: A+