There were TONS of hair metal albums that came out in 1990. Obviously, I haven’t heard them all, but I have heard a SHIT-LOAD! And without further adieu, these are my personal favorites…
16. Spread Eagle – Spread Eagle
I dare say that the Spread Eagle album (MCA Records) was the heaviest of the “hair band” albums released in 1990. These gutter rats came screaming out of NYC with some of the sleaziest, harshest stuff the genre had to offer. Three of the band’s four members originally came out of Boston, but relocated to NYC to join up with vocalist Ray West. These guys had a real street vibe that seemed genuinely dangerous. Check out this rare footage of the Spread Eagle guys stomping around New York in the early nineties, and you tell me if these guys weren’t true street urchins.
If you have never heard Spread Eagle, I liken this album to Skid Row’s 1991 album Slave To The Grind. Like that album, the tunes are not immediate or particularly radio friendly, but they are heavy and dark. While many hail Slave To The Grind as an amazing album, few have ever heard Spread Eagle, which actually came out the year BEFORE Slave To The Grind! Gotta respect that.
As far as I am concerned, Spread Eagle is a worthwhile addition to any old-school collection because of three particular tracks; Broken City, Thru These Eyes, and Switchblade Serenade. Broken City is the album opener, and features some sick, jacked-up blues riffage from guitarist Paul DiBartolo. Ray West’s dumpster-baby shrieks put him somewhere in that coveted Axl Rose stratosphere. The sense of inner-city decay is perfectly conveyed. Thru These Eyes starts off quite mellow with some nice acoustic guitar playing by DiBartolo. The track eventually swells into a monster. This is the closet Spread Eagle gets to a power ballad. A really great cut. The album’s “Oh Shit!” moment, however, comes by way of the INCREDIBLE Switchblade Serenade. Visions of bloodshot eyes and plunging needles dance disturbingly in my head as I listen to this epic sleaze-fest where West’s vocals rule and DiBartolo’s playing rips. Why is this song not legendary? (Note: The video version of Switchblade Serenade, seen and heard here, is not the same version that appears on the album; the album version is way better.) My score: B+
15. Every Mother’s Nightmare – Every Mother’s Nightmare
Every Mother’s Nightmare was a shit-kicking band out of Tennessee. Like Spread Eagle (above), they were one of the heavier bands on the hair metal scene in 1990. Guitarist Steve Malone proved himself as a most worthy riff-maker. His down n’ dirty tone and tasty riffs are a highlight of this debut offering (Arista Records). Check out the bitchin’ chorus riff of Bad On Love for a fine taste of Malone’s sonic brew.
Overall, Every Mother’s Nightmare were something like the heavier side of Skid Row crossed with Dangerous Toys. They also threw a bit of country flavoring into their sound — consistent with their Tennessee roots. This is especially noticeable on the material on side two of Every Mother’s Nightmare. Long Haired Country Boy is probably the best example (and one of the album’s best numbers).
Every Mother’s Nightmare is best known for the subdued ballad Love Can Make You Blind. As far as ballads go, it’s a pretty good one. My score: B+
14. Firehouse – Firehouse
To me, Firehouse’s first album reminds me a lot of Slaughter’s debut (which appears further down on this list). The two albums were similar in both approach and presentation. Both were undeniably corporate records, yet neither insult the listener’s intelligence with shameless pandering. These were professionals at work, consciously trying to make each and every song on the album a potential radio single. (Yes folks, in 1990 they actually played rock on the radio! You could make money playing an instrument!) This is good old fashion hard rock with a pop twist. Just try to resist the effervescent sweetness of All She Wrote or (my favorite) Don’t Treat Me Bad. And while Love Of A Lifetime isn’t one of my favorite power ballads, you’ve got to appreciate Firehouse’s foresight. They must have known that Love Of A Lifetime would live on indefinitely — at wedding receptions. My score: B+
13. Sweet F.A. – Stick To Your Guns
Another great slice of sweet ol’ American pie! Sweet F.A.’s debut Stick To Your Guns (MCA Records) is yet another forgotten nugget from the jam-packed year of 1990. The sound here is revved up, swampy southern rock mixed with old fashion sleaze metal. With Stick To Your Guns, you don’t get the sense these guys were corporate puppets in any way. They sounded young, hungry, and all about living the good life. There’s a genuine love for the music that is downright infectious on these party rockin’ tunes. The best hard rocker on this album is the first track Prince Of The City. Love that down and dirty sound! Another KILLER tune is the title track, Stick To Your Guns. I get a little bit of a Tesla vibe on this one — and that’s a good thing. Great lyrics on Stick To Your Guns, too. The semi-ballad Heart Of Gold is another winner. The album closes with a cool acoustic tune called Southern Comfort. This is definitely a porch swing song. Imagine yourself on a hot summer night, looking out over the bayou, sippin’ on some SoCo, and pickin’ on the gee-tar. This song takes you there. My score: B+
12. Damn Yankees – Damn Yankees
Terrible Ted Nugent joined forces with Jack Blades (Night Ranger), Tommy Shaw (Styx), and some other guy to form the “super group” Damn Yankees. The three rock stars were all past their commercial prime, but the Damn Yankees album brought them back to the top with double platinum sales.
The success of Damn Yankees had a lot to do with the smash hit High Enough. This gold-selling single was one of the quintessential power ballads of its day. With High Enough, Damn Yankees gave a clinic on how to deliver a hit song. From the bombast of the string orchestra, the acoustic opening, the two-part vocal harmonies of Blades and Shaw, the build-up of the pre-chorus to the soaring chorus, the bridge, the soulful guitar solo, and finally the “big finish” — High Enough was executed to perfection (and in textbook “monster ballad” fashion). Flick that Bic baby! I’ve got to tip my hat to the crafty songwriting these grizzled rock pigs pulled from their collective ass with High Enough. They sure don’t make songs like this anymore!
Other highlights include the hard rockin’ Damn Yankees (love that pre-chorus!) as well as Coming Of Age (a hit single on rock radio).
The only problem I have with Damn Yankees is that the album kind of falls off the table towards the end. The last four songs don’t do too much for me. For example, Rock City devolves into an almost parody of the genre (lyrically speaking). And the album ends lamely on a cookie-cutter “Ted song” called Piledriver. This is Ted’s only lead vocal performance on the album. Up to this point, Shaw and Blades had managed to keep Ted on a leash where he belonged (letting his guitar do the talking instead of his mouth) — but I guess they had to throw him at least one bone. So we’re stuck with Piledriver as the album’s out-of-place send off. The lesson learned is this — never let Ted go full retard. My score: B+
11. Ratt – Detonator
For the Detonator album Ratt enlisted the help of an outside writer, the famous Desmond Child, to help pen the tunes. Child is credited as co-writer on nine of the tracks on Detonator. I’m not sure if Child’s presence was the band’s idea or if it was at the behest of their label, Atlantic Records. Either way, it seems the pressure was on Ratt to produce more “hits” on this album in order to boost their sagging sales. Ratt’s previous album Reach For The Sky (1988) was considered a minor disappointment, even though it eventually went platinum. Little did Ratt know at the time that the hair metal bubble would soon burst in the early nineties. By then, Ratt could only DREAM of “disappointing” platinum albums! (By the way, Detonator went gold.)
Desmond Child brought along Sir Arthur Payson to produce Detonator — ending Ratt’s run of albums produced by Beau Hill. The change in producers was not a drastic one to my ears. This album sounds pretty good.
As for the songs on Detonator — this was Ratt’s tamest effort yet, but not enough to be called a wholesale departure in style. For the most part, this was the same old Ratt — tight grooves, greasy riffs, and raspy vox. Warren DeMartini’s sizzling main riff highlights Detonator‘s best tune Shame Shame Shame. As per usual DeMartini provided plenty of tasty solos throughout the album. Elsewhere, Ratt tinkered with a more pop metal sound on One Step Away and Givin’ Yourself Away. The latter being the closest Ratt ever came to a ballad on their first four albums.
In summary, Detonator was another solid Ratt effort. Yes, it’s obvious Ratt was trying to get a little more radio friendly with this album, but their identity remained intact. My score: B+
10. Gypsy Rose – Prey
If you blinked, you missed ’em. It’s too bad because Gypsy Rose’s Prey was a pretty fine piece of hair metal machinery. Led by Canadian vocalist Michael Ross, Gypsy Rose were signed by none other than Gene Simmons and his Simmons Records label (part of RCA). At the time the band was called Secret Affair. After a name change to Gypsy Rose, the band released Prey in 1990. They released just one video for the song Poisoned By Love before the rug was pulled out from under them. According to this interview with Ross in 2012, RCA dropped Simmons Records about two months after Prey was released, which pretty much left Gypsy Rose and Prey to rot on the vine.
As mentioned above, Poisoned By Love was the band’s fist and only video single. It’s a pretty good song but I would have picked Make Me Do Anything You Want as the lead single because, quite frankly, it rules. Great song! My other favorites include the hypnotic stomper Crawlin’, the driving rocker Highway-One-Way, and the sincere ballad Don’t Turn Your Back On Me Now. In fact, except for the song Blood ‘N’ Sweat (which goes nowhere) every song on Prey is worthy of salute. My score: A-
9. Slaughter – Stick It To Ya
Dana Strum and Mark Slaughter left Vinnie Vincent Invasion after the tour supporting 1988’s All Systems Go. They started their own project — recruiting guitarist Tim Kelly and drummer Blas Elias to fill out the lineup. Strum and Slaughter were wily veterans by this point, and they knew how to write and produce hits that MTV and radio would lap right up. The band recorded their first album without ever having performed live. This luxury was afforded to them because Strum and Slaughter had a publishing deal with Chrysalis Records already in place. The foursome eventually called themselves Slaughter, and the album Stick It To Ya became an instant success.
The original Stick It To Ya CD (1990) had 15 tracks, about 10 of which could have been singles. Personal faves include the heavy opener Eye To Eye, the party rocker Up All Night, and of course the monster ballad Fly To The Angels. Also check out the lyrics to Burnin’ Bridges whereby Mark and Dana tear a new asshole into their old band-mate Vinnie Vincent.
Stick It To Ya is a sugary little snack, full of empty calories. Guaranteed to be waiting for you in the used CD section at your local record store. Probably cost you less than $3. My score: A-
8. Cry Wolf – Crunch
Cry Wolf was one of many quality hair bands that didn’t get a real chance to shine. In 1990 Cry Wolf’s Crunch was released by Grand Slamm/I.R.S. Records. Much of the album was comprised of songs previously heard on their 1989 Japan-only release Cry Wolf. The Crunch album was their American debut. Like many of rock’s great bands, Cry Wolf was bolstered by a top-notch singer/guitarist duo. Singer Timmy Hall had a great voice and charisma that translated well to tape. Guitarist Steve McKnight was another in a long list of expert axe-men vying for attention in a crowded market. McKnight was a tasteful player who could unfurl a melodic solo with the best of ’em. I like his guitar tone on the rhythm tracks — it has a little bit of fuzz but a real sharp bite, too. A fine example of the dynamic duo of Hall and McKnight at their best can be heard on a gem called Pretender — the video single from the album and my personal fave of the lot. Other highlights include Face Down In The Wishing Well, Long Hard Road, and one of the new songs exclusive to the American debut — Road To Ruin. My score: A-
7. Lynch Mob – Wicked Sensation
I can’t help but compare Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation to Badland’s self-titled album (1989). In both cases, a hot-shot guitarist (George Lynch/Jake E. Lee) broke from the band that made him famous (Dokken/Ozzy Osbourne) to form a whole new band (Lynch Mob/Badlands). Both found themselves a relatively unknown but enormously talented lead singer (Oni Logan/Ray Gillen), and both expertly melded blues-based classic rock with hair metal on their classy debuts.
Like Badlands, Wicked Sensation is a kick-ass album featuring excellent guitar work and world-class vocals. George Lynch really proved himself as a gifted songwriter here. In my opinion, Wicked Sensation is better than any Dokken album, and Oni Logan rolls Don Dokken as a lead vocalist any day of the week. What an incredible hard rock voice this guy possessed! He, like Badland’s Ray Gillen, should have been a star! Wicked Sensation was produced by the knob master himself, Max Norman, so you know it sounds perfect. Highlights include the swaggering title track, the Aqua Net hairiness of Sweet Sister Mercy, and the burning hot For A Million Years. But my personal favorite track on Wicked Sensation is the irresistible No Bed Of Roses — a song that should have been a hit single! (I don’t think it was even released as a single.) That sweet-ass chorus gets me every time — what a gem! My score: A-
6. Thunder – Backstreet Symphony
This album (the band’s debut) recalls older British rock bands like Bad Company, or the long forgotten Rage. Thunder weren’t re-inventing metallic blues based rock and roll, but their entry into the tried and true “classic rock” genre has definitely grown on me over the years. At first, I was a bit put off by the somewhat corporate production on this 1990 release (those drums!). But despite the stiffness of the recording, Thunder were able to shine through the lacquer while unfolding an abundance of nice melodies. All brought to you by the powerful rock pipes of singer Danny Bowes. This guy could really take a tune and carry it on his back! My favorite song is probably the rocking title track. Again, Thunder were not doing anything cutting edge, they were basically dressing up classic rock with their own enthusiastic twist — and an extra helping of charisma. Another fave is Until My Dying Day, which starts off with a very nice chord progression strummed on an acoustic guitar before breaking out into a full-on electric riff rocker. In the U.S., Thunder never made more than a ripple on the charts, but in the U.K. they did enjoy some commercial success from around 1990-1995.
Backstreet Symphony was originally released by EMI Records in the U.K. with the cover shown above. In the U.S., Backstreet Symphony was released by Geffen Records with a different cover. My score: A-
5. Poison – Flesh & Blood
You’re probably thinking I’m going to tell you how much Poison sucks. Sorry, but I can’t do such a thing. You see, I like Poison. They were shamelessly glam without trying to disguise themselves under any other pretense. You don’t have to respect Poison, but you can certainly enjoy their tunes. What I’m saying is — love ’em or hate ’em, you’ve gotta love ’em.
Poison’s third album was arguably their best yet. They were older, richer, and in the case of Bret Michaels — balder. By this point in their career Poison had softened the girlish looks they flaunted at the time of their debut (when they looked like almost bang-able chicks on the cover of their first album). Anywayz, in a thematic sense Flesh & Blood takes stock of the previous few years of Poison’s ascent to the top. They experienced, as Everlast would say, “the good side of bad and the down side of up and everything between”. This album explores the bright and the dark side of Poison’s status as toast of the town in Hollywood.
Had Poison matured with Flesh & Blood? They probably thought so, but the change was not significant. Poison knew where their bread was buttered. Glam rock was their game, and they wisely didn’t stray too far from a working formula. The key here, I think, is the sticky sweet backing vocals. Credit producer Bruce Fairbairn (and Poison themselves) with crafting perfect pop backing vocals that really bring out the “glam” in these preening poof pieces. The quintessential bubble gum glam single on this album is Unskinny Bop — a brainless escape that goes down like a candy flavored shooter. Another fine slice of hair-sprayed pop is the “deep track” Let It Play — one of the few really good Poison songs never released as a single. I also think that the band’s ode to motorcycle culture Ride The Wind is one of their best songs. If balladry is your guilty pleasure, Poison has two good ones on tap — Life Goes On and the smash hit Something To Believe In. The latter is a great tune (IMO) with some heartfelt lyrics from Bret. It tugs on the heart strings enough to almost bring a tear to my eye. ALMOST. My score: A
4. Killer Dwarfs – Dirty Weapons
Killer Dwarfs were a great Canadian band that should have been bigger (pun intended). They started out rather humbly as a straightforward, no-frills hard rock/metal band on their debut album Killer Dwarfs (1983). By the time their fourth album Dirty Weapons came along in 1990, Killer Dwarfs were writing some of the catchiest tunes in the commercial metal genre. Not really glam, and certainly not sleaze, Killer Dwarfs were just a very kick-ass rockin’ band with great vocals and strong riffs. If you haven’t discovered these guys yet, you’re missing out. With 1988’s Big Deal and this slightly more sophisticated offering, Killer Dwarfs should have risen to the top of the “hair metal” world. It’s not everyday that you find an album where you can just push play and enjoy every moment — but Dirty Weapons manages to be just that. All ten songs are as solid as a rock, and the hooks will keep you coming back for more. Choice cuts include Dirty Weapons and It Doesn’t Matter. My score: A
3. Love/Hate – Blackout In The Red Room
Without Guns N’ Roses, a band like Love/Hate never happens. They even had their own version of Slash — named “Skid”. Bands with an appetite for destruction became a very hot commodity after Guns N’ Roses broke big. Love/Hate came along and lit up the Hollywood club scene in the late ’80s. Their sound was as decadent and nihilistic as they come.
All of Love/Hate’s songs were pretty much about getting wasted. These guys were so blitzed they didn’t even bother to write actual songs. What I mean by that is their songs (all written by bassist Skid) had very little in the way of structure — much like their lives I am sure. The lyrics are so half-assed, it’s ridiculous. It seems as if they were jotted down haphazardly at the last minute. The lyrics are self-referential and very insular — as if Skid knew nothing of the world outside of his own inner circle. But no worries, this album isn’t intended to be cerebral! This is the boozed-up, party-till-ya-puke record. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Blackout In The Red Room is jam-packed with energetic, rocking tunes. The production is booming and the sleazy vocals of Jizzy Pearl are great. Because of the unconventional song structures, this album may not find its way into your heart and soul upon first listen. Call it a “grower”. Give it some time to incubate. Soon you’ll be infected by whatever the f*ck it is that Love/Hate was spreading. My score: A
2. Warrant – Cherry Pie
Warrant’s Jani Lane died in 2011 alone in a hotel room with a bottle of alcohol. An all too familiar end to another “rock star” life. Though not credited as such by most way-too-serious types, Lane was an incredible talent who could write great songs, play guitar, and sing exceptionally well. He will always be remembered first and foremost for the song Cherry Pie, a hasty bit of songwriting he threw together at the eleventh hour when the record company wanted a provocative “hit single” to be included on Warrant’s sophomore album. Though the song is very cool, it’s not what Lane necessarily wanted to be his legacy, and he hated Cherry Pie for this. He probably wanted more serious compositions like the exquisite Uncle Tom’s Cabin to be his legacy. But to me, he is someone who should be remembered for delivering the goods on all fronts, whether it be the silliness of Cherry Pie, or the love-ballad-turned-on-its-head brilliance of I Saw Red, or the folksy storytelling of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Lane was Warrant, and Cherry Pie has a little bit of everything, showing that Jani Lane could pull off David Lee Roth style tomfoolery in one song, and sing with earnest conviction in the next. It’s called charisma, and Jani Lane had it.
Anyone who thinks Warrant sucks should listen to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Warrant’s best song) before coming to such a hasty conclusion. (Here’s a link.) Also, if you can’t concede that Mr. Rainmaker is a fine piece of pop-metal songwriting then I guess there’s no hope for you. R.I.P. Jani Lane. Thanks for the kick-ass tunes. My score: A+
1. Extreme – Pornograffitti
1990 was an amazing year for hard rock and metal. Boston’s Extreme treated us to one of the best albums of the year with Pornograffitti. To me, this is the very essence of what an album should be. A complete package. When you drop that hard-earned coin on a new CD, you can only hope for something as all-encompassing as Pornograffitti. This album covers the full range of emotions. All the while, Pornograffitti remains cohesive, and even tells a story. You get humor, sadness, and excitement. You can shake your ass, bang your head, or flick your Bic. Pornograffitti is billed as “a funked up fairytale”. Our protagonist is Francis — someone who manages to find (and eventually lose) love in a world where lust and gluttony has taken over.
Two enormous talents shine on Pornograffitti. First, there’s guitar wiz Nuno Bettencourt. The man could flat-out play! Lots of cool riffs and licks. And his tasteful acoustic work helped propel the album’s two radio hits: — More Than Words and Hole Hearted. These two songs weren’t exactly the most representative tunes on the album, and they only showed a fraction of what Nuno could do, but they helped Pornograffitti reach double platinum sales. The second prodigious talent in Extreme was singer Gary Cherone. We all know that Gary’s stint in Van Halen was ill-fated, but if you listen to Pornograffitti, and put yourself back in time, you can understand why VH chose Cherone to replace Sammy Hagar. The man could sing anything. He made this album FUN. I love his jibba-jabba on songs like When I’m President and Get The Funk Out.
I love this whole album, but my favorites are Decadent Dance, When I’m President, Money (In God We Trust), Get The Funk Out, and especially Hole Hearted. As far as the song More Than Words is concerned, it may be a little played out, but you can’t deny its simple genius. Are you entertained? I am. My score: A+
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