Here’s a list of my favorite “hair” albums of 1985…
10. Mötley Crüe- Theatre Of Pain
Another monster commercial success for the Crüe. (At present, 4x platinum.) Did they deserve it? Probably not, but who cares. There were tons of better bands, that’s for sure. But don’t hate the player, hate the game. It’s not like Mötley Crüe put a gun to anyone’s head and made them buy Theatre Of Pain. (That was MTV’s job!) By the way, Mötley Crüe was a mess during the Theatre Of Pain time frame, as documented in their book The Dirt. I’ve heard that Loudness blew them off the stage during the Theatre Of Pain tour. Even though the guys were circling the drain in their personal lives, Theatre Of Pain wasn’t a total disaster. Home Sweet Home is by far the most enduring track on this album — the quintessential “bad boys gone soft” power ballad, one that helped set off the hair band “monster ballad” explosion of the late eighties. And that wasn’t not necessarily a bad thing IMO. I’m a sucker for a good power ballad! I think Home Sweet Home was the best song on the album (nice vocal work by Vince!). Another memorable hit was Smokin’ In The Boys Room (a cover). Best deep track: Louder Than Hell. All in all, a decent LP, but certainly not Mötley Crüe’s best. My score: B
9. Twisted Sister – Come Out And Play
After reaching the highest of the highs with 1984′s Stay Hungry, something strange happened to Twisted Sister upon the release of their 1985 follow-up, Come Out And Play. Fans, it seems, disappeared in droves. I even remember my older brother straight up giving me his Come Out And Play cassette, as he was disappointed in his purchase. Twisted Sister’s first single off Come Out And Play, their cover of Leader Of The Pack, was a poor choice for a single. The album’s second single, Be Chrool To Your Scuel, was accompanied by a rather funny (and pretty cool… in a ’80s kind of way) music video. Unfortunately, the video was banned by MTV. This, one can be sure, really hurt Come Out And Play‘s sales (and the song was kind of silly, too). Ironic isn’t it, that MTV, who were once instrumental in the blockbuster success of Stay Hungry, were now contributing directly to Twisted Sister’s rapid commercial decline? Overall, Come Out And Play was not a terrible album. It was well-produced and had a couple of great tracks. I think the song Come Out And Play is a great Twisted Sister tune! Easily the best thing on the album, and the one track I listened to over and over once I got my hands on my brother’s unwanted cassette. The intro to the song pays homage to the old movie The Warriors. I’m also fond of You Want What We Got, another in a long line of simple, but effective, Twisted Sister anthems. Lyrically, this album is pretty weak (but Dee Snider was never a great lyricist anyway), and side two of the album lacks anything outstanding. The end result was a lukewarm follow-up to Stay Hungry, but not something without merit. My score: B
8. KISS – Asylum
Ah yes, Asylum! From a fashion sense, Asylum kicked off what my brother (renown KISS enthusiast, a.k.a. “The Elder”) affectionately calls the band’s “Phyllis Diller Years” (because of the band’s fay, flowing, rainbow-riffic clothes). Nowadays, KISS looks back on their sans-makeup days without any real acknowledgement that it even existed (probably because it seems uncool in today’s… uhm… market). But, those middle eighties albums were pretty strong in this reviewers humble opinion. I really enjoy Animalize (1984) and Crazy Nights (1987) especially. As for Asylum, I think it’s an okay album, but not a great one. KISS (and their army of outside writers) came up with a couple of memorable tunes in King Of The Mountain, Who Wants To Be Lonely, and Tears Are Falling. The latter was the record’s break away hit, penned by Paul Stanley alone. As per usual, the best cuts were the Paul Stanley ones, although I am a bit partial to Gene’s Trial By Fire. However, Paul did make a few head scratching choices. The middling Radar For Love steals a bit from Zep’s Black Dog, while Uh! All Night pilfers from Misty Mountain Hop. Sh*t, I actually kind of like Uh! All Night, as it is a tasty throwback to KISS’ 1970s hard rock style. Shame about the incredibly embarrassing song title and chorus. I’m not sure even Spinal Tap would go there. Oh Paul, will you ever learn? My score: B
7. Black ‘N Blue – Without Love
After only about six months of gigging in Los Angeles, Portland’s Black ‘N Blue landed a major label deal with Geffen Records. Their 1984 debut album Black ‘N Blue was a strong album (IMO), but didn’t perform to the band’s expectations. Frustrated by a lack of radio airplay, Black ‘N Blue made a conscious effort to write lighter and more accessible tunes for their sophomore album Without Love. Unfortunately, the album didn’t return any hits as hoped.
I don’t think Without Love is as good as Black ‘N Blue, but it’s still the same loveable and adolescent Black ‘N Blue at work. In fact, I think the lyrics here are actually dumber than the debut (no small feat, mind you). There are two great tunes on Without You that deserve a little extra attention — Without Love and Nature Of The Beach. The former is an infectious mid-paced rocker that will stick in your brain all day long. The latter is knuckle-headed bit of fun in the sun that will have you daydreaming of summer and big ol’ bikini-clad titties! My score: B
6. Ratt – Invasion Of Your Privacy
This album is actually my least favorite Ratt LP from the eighties. Invasion Of Your Privacy starts off strong but trails off a bit after that. The first three tracks are the best; You’re In Love, Never Use Love, and Lay It Down. Lay It Down has an especially nasty lead riff. These tracks alone make Invasion Of Your Privacy worth owning. I also like What You Give Is What You Get from side two. Singer Stephen Pearcy never exhibited much vocal or emotional range, and as such he can be considered the band’s lone weakness. But I guess it wouldn’t be Ratt without his sleazy style, so he’ll have to do. Great production by Beau Hill, by the way. My score: B
5. Dokken – Under Lock And Key
Before I get any further let me just say THAT ALBUM COVER SUCKS! Look at those ridiculous rock helmets! Look at those outfits! Jeesh! Once you get past the sucktacular cover shot, the music underneath ain’t so bad. Under Lock And Key sports several of my favorite Dokken songs — Unchain The Night, The Hunter, In My Dreams, and Lightnin’ Strikes Again. Those four songs, plus the weak Slippin’ Away, comprised all of side one of the original LP and cassette. Side two, by contrast, was a bit disappointing. Only It’s Not Love deserves any attention. Under Lock And Key was not a particularly heavy album, and as such it can be rightfully considered an overt commercial attempt. But this slick style suited Dokken quite well. The melodrama of Don Dokken’s lyrics and smooth vocal delivery was the ying to George Lynch’s guitar-crunch yang. Lynch gave Dokken a bit of street credibility with his metal acumen. Though Dokken have never been one of my favorite hair bands, this is the Dokken album I listen to the most… well, side one anyways. My score: B+
4. Malice – In The Beginning…
Note: One could argue that Malice weren’t really a legitimate “hair” band. Truth is, I was somewhat torn as to whether to include Malice on this list. Much like Lizzy Borden, Malice reside in that grey area between straight-up heavy metal and glam-infused hair metal. Malice’s sound was similar to Judas Priest in many ways, but their look was pretty f*cking glam and their zip code was Hollywood. At the end of the day I decided Malice had enough “hair” cred to make this list.
I don’t want to call Malice a poor man’s Judas Priest because, in my opinion, (in the 1980s) Judas Priest was a poor man’s Judas Priest! (I’ll save that diatribe for another day.) Let’s talk Malice. Yes, there was definitely a Judas Priest vibe happening with Malice. Particularly with regard to vocalist James Neal, whose voice sounded like that of Priest’s Rob Halford. On two songs in particular, Air Attack and The Unwanted, Neal does a dead-on impersonation of ol’ Halfie! As for Malice’s overall sound, I find it to be like a lobotomized Judas Priest (that is, ’80s Priest) dipped in some tasty L.A. glam-metal sauce. Malice fused the two styles fairly well, and the result was a very palatable mid-paced commercial metal foray. The vocals were up front in the mix. That’s a good thing because Neal’s performance is the album’s absolute highlight! By contrast, the drum and guitar performances were relatively understated. Malice seemed to have intended for In The Beginning… to be very commercially accessible, and as such let Neal’s vocal talents carry the day, rather than creating a wall of sound with screaming guitars and ferocious drumming. When courting L.A. style metal on In The Beginning…, Malice makes the grade with irresistible dumbness; check out Rockin’ With You and Squeeze It Dry. Shades of Black ‘N Blue’s meat head debut from 1984! As for Malice’s more metallic, Judas Priest-style, check out Godz Of Thunder. The only real drawback of In The Beginning… that comes to mind is that several of the songs lack a strong chorus (for example, Air Attack, Hellrider, and Stellar Masters). Though Malice were one of the more hyped L.A. bands at the time, and signed by major label Atlantic Records, In The Beginning… was not a commercial success. The band cited poor label promotion as reason for the album’s failure to catch on. My score: B+
3. Heavy Pettin – Rock Ain’t Dead
That cover… that’s just not good. These Scottish pretty boys had a really fine debut in 1983 with Lettin Loose. Their accessible hard rock sound coulda-shoulda-woulda made them rock stars, but, well, you know how it goes. Rock Ain’t Dead, Heavy Pettin’s follow-up to Lettin Loose, appears to be a tremendous overreaction from a band desperate for radio acceptance after their debut’s commercial underwhelment. Rock Ain’t Dead was WAY overproduced. The biggest victim being the pop drum sound. Many reviewers have pointed to Heavy Pettin’s Def Leppard-like approach on this album. Indeed, they really went all out on the gang vocal layering (ala Pyromania). In the end, the hard rock edge of the debut was traded in for studio heavy-handedness and a loss of all things heavy. Another thing that bears mentioning is that lead singer Steve Hayman’s voice seems to be even more helium enriched than before (an acquired taste for sure). But despite all the flaws mentioned, one can’t deny that Heavy Pettin knew their way around a hook! Rock Ain’t Dead is lighter fare for sure, but there’s some really nice songwriting here. Check out Sole Survivor, Lost In Love and Walkin’ With Angels. Melodies so sweet, I think I’m getting cavities. At the end of the day, that’s what keeps me coming back to Rock Ain’t Dead again and again! My score: A-
2. Loudness – Thunder In The East
Note: Loudness is another band that may or may not be considered hair metal. Loudness had been around for a while before the hair metal explosion kicked in, but when they were introduced to the U.S. with the English language Thunder In The East album, they kind of fell into the “hair” crowd by default. They had the look, the guitar tone, and the production of a typical commercial metal act. And who did they tour with? Mötley Crüe!
Japan’s Loudness had already released a handful of albums by 1985, but Thunder In The East was supposed to be their grand introduction to the all-important American market. (Yes, there was actually a day and age when metal THRIVED in the United States!) Thunder In The East was the first Loudness LP to see wide release in the United States. The great Max Norman was tapped to produce the album, and it was yet another fine knob job by one of metal’s best engineers. Try not to be swayed by the eyeliner worn by the band on the LP’s back cover photo, this is some great metal, and Loudness were top-notch musicians (to say the least). I will say this; it took me a few spins to get used to Minoru Niihara’s vocals, which come with a heavy accent. But props to him for delivering in a second-language, something we should admire and respect (not dismiss as novelty). And let’s not forget the great guitarist Akira Takasaki. With a preposterously AWESOME tone, plenty of flash, and most importantly, impeccable taste, Takasaki owns your ass on Thunder In The East! Irresistible faves on this album include Crazy Nights and Never Change Your Mind. My score: A
1. White Lion – Fight To Survive
First of all, let me confess that I am a pretty big White Lion fan. I love Vito Bratta’s guitar style. I love his solos. And I think that Fight To Survive was White Lion’s best album (though not necessarily Bratta’s best performance). Now let’s be clear, Mike Tramp was not a great vocalist. His voice had its limitations. But his strength was in the “nice guy” vibe he conveyed. Tramp had a lot of sincerity in his voice, and also in his simple, genuine lyrics. With Tramp, White Lion was well suited for mid-paced, not-so-heavy, melodic tunes. White Lion was not a hard-edged band, but they played to their strengths extremely well.
Fight To Survive contains a handful of exceptional White Lion cuts. The great Broken Heart starts things off; a song perfectly suited for Tramp’s “nice guy” style, and topped off by an exquisite Bratta solo. Track number two on Fight To Survive is Cherokee, my favorite cut on the album. I like the buildup of drama in this song. Two full verses go by before the memorable chorus finally arrives at the 2:08 mark. Nice lyrics by Mike Tramp on this one, too (recalling the doomed plight of the Cherokee tribe). Tramp was not a particularly creative writer, but as I said, there was a sincere quality to his simple, somewhat teen-aged lyrics.
The overarching theme of the Fight To Survive album was one of fighting for hope, not giving in, and praising the battle slain. For example, Broken Heart is about fighting to overcome heartbreak, and El Salvador is about fighting for freedom. The excellent Fight To Survive and mournful The Road To Valhalla also fit into the central theme of the album.
There are only two songs on Fight To Survive that I often skip; Where Do We Run and In The City. Save for these two not-so-great tracks, the Fight To Survive album is damn near perfect in my book. Hair metal of the highest quality; loaded with sing along refrains, tasty solos, and meaningful lyrics. And besides, whenever Vito Bratta wields his six-string axe, I listen. My score: A
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