Hair metal was really hitting its stride in 1987! Here are my personal favorite releases from that illustrious year…
Note: I expanded this list to eleven albums in February 2014 after I realized I had forgotten to include Great White’s Once Bitten.
11. Dokken — Back For The Attack
Dokken weren’t exactly brimming with new ideas on this, their fourth LP. But Dokken was a band that knew where their bread was buttered, and as such held tight to their prototypical sound on Back For The Attack. As per usual, George Lynch’s guitar work was razor-sharp. One of his best riffs is the one that leads off the album on Kiss Of Death. Lyrically, Dokken stuck to their guns — singing tales of burning hearts, as well as love in both chained and unchained forms. Despite the songwriting credits spread amongst all four members of Dokken, I’m surprised on how homogenous the thirteen cuts on Back For The Attack turned out. Most of the songs have the same mid-paced tempo. An all-too-familiar feel permeates the album. Let’s face it, by this point in their career, Dokken could write songs like Stop Fighting Love in their sleep. Again, Dokken was a band fully aware of their fans’ expectations, and were happy to oblige. My score: B
10. Whitecross – Whitecross
Guilty pleasure here. Whitecross was a Christian metal band featuring Rex Carroll on guitar and Stephen Wenzel on vocals. Whitecross kind of remind me of Ratt in a few ways, thanks to Carroll’s chunky/sleazy guitar riffage and Wenzel’s gritty “poor man’s Stephen Pearcy” singing style. Dokken also comes to mind. Check out the lead riff to All I Need, it has George Lynch written all over it. Rex Carroll probably could have made a go of it in the secular music world, but I guess he had a higher calling. I’m not gonna lie, this album really rocks. Of course, the Christian lyrics are cringe-worthy. My score: B
9. TNT – Tell No Tales
Tell No Tales was the third album released by these Norwegian metal heroes. It was TNT’s second album to be released internationally, and also their second album with American singer Tony Harnell at the helm. TNT worked themselves into a tidy little niche with Tell No Tales by straddling the lines between icy European “power metal”, wimpy AOR, and stuff-a-rolled-up-sock-in-your-pants hair metal. If that sounds like a tasty little stew for ya, then you’ll enjoy Tell No Tales.
The vocal performance of Tony Harnell may not suit everybody, as he sings in a high register that could shatter glass. I actually really enjoy his groin-rattling performance. Just when you think he can’t go any higher, he hits another, even higher, note. For him, it’s as easy as ordering cold cuts at a deli. Meanwhile, guitarist Ronni Le Tekro had some impressive technical chops. He had a modern style (for 1987) that might call to mind the work of Yngwie Malmsteen. Ronni gave TNT some metal credibility to counter Harnell’s girlish singing.
Tell No Tales is a glossy, polished record with a hint of the regal. Favorites include the rockin’ lead track Everyone’s A Star, the shameless AOR pomp of 10,000 Lovers (In One), which happens to be the album’s most well-known cut, and the infectious Listen To Your Heart. Tell No Tales contains two ballads, which are actually my least favorite tracks on the album. The closing number, the title track, is the record’s lone over-the-top metal romp. Hair metal with class. My score: B+
8. Kiss – Crazy Nights
Back in 2011, I reviewed Crazy Nights with a special guest reviewer in tow. It was a long-ish review, so I won’t paste it here. Here’s a link to the original review.
Let me just add two cents: Crazy Nights really gets me on a nostalgic trip, as do many of the albums on this list, because 1987 was the year we finally got cable TV in my house. Watching “Dial MTV” became a daily ritual for my brothers and I. If you were alive back then, you know that “Dial MTV” was loaded with hair metal every single day. (“Dial MTV” was hosted by Adam Curry — anyone remember that magnificent, horse-faced bastard?) It was a great time to be a fan of rock! My score: B+
7. Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet
I grew up with an older brother who worshiped KISS, so this Ace Frehley album got tons of airplay in our household back in 1987. My brother had the tape and I remember hearing Rock Soldiers (which I LOVED!), Into The Night, and We Got Your Rock blaring from his room many times. Years later, my brother upgraded to CD and gave me his old cassette.
What I never realized back in the day is that there are three songs on this tape that aren’t sung by Ace, but rather by guitarist/keyboardist Tod Howarth. I guess I never heard these songs blaring from brother’s room because, being the KISS purist he was, he didn’t care for any songs that didn’t have Ace on vocals. I discovered a few gems in Breakout, Something Moved, and Calling To You. Howarth brought Calling To You from his old band, 707. It’s a re-write of a tune called Mega Force. Calling To You is my favorite cut on the album, it’s a super catchy anthem that rocks in full ’80s glory. The post-KISS Ace came back strong with this album, and he wisely enlisted the help of talented musicians and writers to get it done. My score: A-
6. Aerosmith – Permanent Vacation
Aerosmith’s 1985 album Done With Mirrors was supposed to be their big comeback record, but the album wasn’t a huge success. It was 1987’s Permanent Vacation that gave Aerosmith the comeback they were hoping for. In the midst of the hair band movement, Aersomith proved they could compete as peers with younger bands they had influenced (Cinderella and Guns N’ Roses come to mind). They got a little help from a big name producer in Bruce Fairbairn, and a couple of outside songwriters in Desmond Child and Jim Vallance. The three big hits were Angel, Rag Doll, and Dude (Looks Like A Lady). Strong deep tracks include Heart’s Done Time and Magic Touch. Steven Tyler really sounds great on this album! If I have one complaint about Permanent Vacation it is that the album limps to the finish line with the so-so title track, a boring Beatles cover, and a filler instrumental. My score: A-
5. White Lion – Pride
Where have you gone, Vito Bratta? You were a hairy, Staten Island son-of-a-bitch who loved to wear big, dark sunglasses that said to the world “I love cocaine!”. Your ugly mug looked even more so when pictured next to your Adonis lead singer, Mike Tramp. But, GOD DAMN, you could play guitar! You were a prodigious talent that practiced incessantly, and I consider many of your guitar solos to be the greatest of all time! Listening to your work made me completely give up playing guitar, because I realized I will always suck after hearing your records. That’s okay though, it gave me more time to focus on playing softball with overweight has-beens and creating this website for seven people to read. You disappeared from the music scene after the hair era died an undeserving death. Since then you have steadfastly refused to reunite with White Lion for some sad money grab. I salute you for this, as the state of music today has no place for a true talent such as yours, and that is the disheartening truth. Luckily you came along at a time when there was an audience for guitar heroes, even if you guys all looked utterly ridiculous. Like Eddie Van Halen (who was no doubt one of your idols?), you prettied up your rhythm playing with tons of tasty tricks and fills, never playing it straight. Your rhythm tracks were like songs within the songs, and your solos were the perfect blend of shred, flash, and taste; serving the song but still making every aspiring guitarist out there either retreat to the wood shed or throw down their axe and say “no mas”. Your second White Lion LP, Pride, was welcomed with double platinum sales. A just reward for your work on such greats as Wait, Sweet Little Loving, and All Join Our Hands. Oh, and When The Children Cry? That song would probably bring a tear to my eye if I wasn’t devoid of all human feeling. Mike “Adonis” Tramp (is it okay if I call you that?), you helped the cause with your lady-killing good looks, even if you couldn’t sing all that well and wrote lyrics with all the wit and wisdom of a thirteen year old girl. Together you guys made sincere, unapologetic “lite-metal” that soaked the panties of stone-washed-jeans-wearing teenage girls, and made zit-faced teenage boys want to pick up a Strat and shred. So… Vito… I hope you are enjoying the quiet life in Staten Island. There may not be apt appreciation for players like you in the present day music world, but such things are cyclical and someday people will re-discover your work and give your name its just do. I hope you are still around when that day comes. In the meantime, just know you still have fans from back in the day. My score: A
4. Def Leppard – Hysteria
Hysteria was a blockbuster album! Seven of the twelve songs on Hysteria were released as video singles — including every song on side one! There was no escaping Def Leppard in 1987 and 1988. Yet, this was as much of a Mutt Lange (producer and co-writer) album as it was a Def Leppard album. Lange’s production went far beyond the slick commercial sounds favored by hair metal bands of the day. Layer upon layer of vocal tracks were poured gluttonously over a cavernous electronic drum sound. This was not the AC/DC-style Def Leppard that we once heard on the crunchy High ‘N’ Dry album. These were cyborgs at work! Automatons if you will. In many ways, Hysteria does not sound like the work of a band. Rather, Hysteria seems more like a project. Though Lange’s masturbatory production sounded cold and inhuman, Hysteria just seemed to defy logic — winning over many a rock purist, as well as every kid aged 10-20 in those crazy late eighties years. Pour Some Sugar On Me became an instant classic upon its release as a single. Today it stands as the greatest strip club anthem of my lifetime. Other personal faves include Animal and Hysteria. There’s a few weaker moments on side two of Hysteria, so it’s not all hits, but DAMN side one is so sticky ‘n sweet that I’ve got diabetes just thinking about it! My score: A
3. Great White – Once Bitten
As mentioned above, my original list did not include Once Bitten because I had mistakenly believed it came out in 1988. Once Bitten is probably Great White’s finest hour. Although 1989’s …Twice Shy wound up being Great White’s most successful album, Once Bitten is a slightly better record. This album contains a nice mix of rough ‘n tough rockers and slow-burning blues. While lead guitarist Mark Kendall is rarely considered one of the major guitar heroes of the era, he sure knew how to unfurl a blues lick with impeccable tone and smooth delivery. His style was not as flashy as West Coast gunslingers like DeMartini and Lynch, but he deserves a little respect for his work on Once Bitten. The best songs are Lady Red Light, Rock Me, All Over Now, Never Change Heart, and Save Your Love. My favorite lyric is the one that opens up All Over Now: “Woke up a little too rough. Lookin’ like a quarter when a dollar ain’t enough”. I think we all know that feeling! My score: A
2. Whitesnake – Whitesnake
Here it is. The big kahuna. Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled album is certified 8x platinum in the United States! It is by far Whitesnake’s biggest seller. Five of the album’s nine songs have been hard-wired into the brain of anyone who owned a radio in 1987 -1988. Crying In The Rain, Still Of The Night, Here I Go Again, Give Me All Your Love, and Is This Love were all “hits”.
David Coverdale’s Whitesnake was kind of like a corporation of sorts. The boss was David, and he fired and hired members of his supporting cast pretty liberally. He was also unashamed at jumping on the commercial metal bandwagon with this album (and to some extent, its predecessor Slide It In). There was a time when Whitesnake was a boozy and bluesy band complete with slide guitars and the jingle jangle of the piano. Those days were no more. Coverdale co-wrote Whitesnake with guitar hot-shot John Sykes and the final product is a prime example of commercial, corporate metal at its very best. Old school Whitesnake fans may have been disgusted with Coverdale’s sell-out, but the bottom line is that it worked. I find enjoyment in all of the ’80s Whitesnake albums, even though they changed their style mid way through the decade. Yes, Whitesnake lacks the warmth and the cool swagger of old albums like Ready An’ Willing, but the songs just plain rock.
Crying In The Rain and Here I Go Again were previously recorded on Whitesnake’s 1982 album Saints & Sinners. This time around they are beefed up into larger than life specimens. Here I Go Again is a masterpiece, it really is. The lyrics speak to everyone who has ever needed a little impetus to pick up the pieces and get on with life. I’m sure every one of us has walked along the lonely street of dreams one time or another. For example, I walked along the lonely street of dreams like six times today. My score: A
1. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Appetite For Destruction is the second best hard rock album of the eighties. Only Back In Black belongs in the same conversation. In many ways, this album is the antithesis of the aforementioned Hysteria LP. Appetite For Destruction is stunning for many reasons, but one of the key reasons is because it is so authentic. The five members of Guns had a magic chemistry borne from a shared affection for decadence and recklessness. This was a dangerous band, and it’s a miracle they lasted as long as they did (which wasn’t that long, mind you).
As I listened to Appetite For Destruction in its entirety while preparing for this review, a few thoughts crossed my mind. First, popular music has really spiraled into a world of shit since 1987, eh? I can’t imagine anything this good being popular ever again. Rock music is in a pretty sad state right now. Listening to Appetite For Destruction in 2013 really makes this point glaringly evident. Another thought I had (while looking at the album’s iconic cover art) is how amazing it is that all five of these guys are still alive. Granted, a lot has changed. In 1987, the Guns were so cool. Now? Not so much. Steven Adler is a sorry sack and I feel sorry for him. Slash will sell out for a ham sandwich (this guy is destined to live the rest of his life wearing a Halloween wig and a top-hat — the image has overtaken the person), and Axl is just bat shit crazy. If one of these guys had died young (like Bon Scott, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, or Jim Morrison) they would have been canonized in the same manner. But they didn’t die young. They lived. And we are witness to what happens when our heroes DON’T die young. If Cobain had lived, he would have worn out his welcome, too. I’m convinced that Cobain would be no more relevant today than, say, Billy Corgan or Alanis Morissette.
One last note, I think of the song Night Train every time I use my credit card at a liquor store. Every single time. That has to mean something, right? My score: A+
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