What do you get when you mix denim and leather with anthemic choruses, pop melodies, and simple clap-along drum beats? You probably could guess this, even with the most important ingredient having been excluded: hair.
That’s right, hair bands ruled the 1980s with flamboyant and over-the-top fashion. You literally couldn't escape the sounds of these bands, who happened to reign supreme on the radio waves.
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Night Ranger was by far one of the biggest successes of the hair band era. This group had their fair share of hits, much of it due to the guitar work in the band.
Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson held guitar duties in Night Ranger, and both were stocked to the gills with skills. Both of these guitarists were frequently mentioned in many of the guitar magazines at the time.
In fact, Brad Gillis was actually hired by Ozzy Osbourne to fill in for Randy Rhoads after his death.
It’s easy to dismiss this band, especially if you aren’t a fan of their smash hit song, Sister Christian. However, both Gillis and Watson had a role in shaping the way guitar would be played in the 1980s.
If you aren’t familiar with hair bands, you’ve probably at least heard of the band Skid Row. The name has become synonymous with 80s hair bands, but you’ll only hear them on select rock radio stations.
Skid Row is perhaps best-known for the fact that Sebastian Bach sang for the group in its early years. Much of that success, indeed, was driven by Sebastian’s voice.
The band managed to hang on well into the 1990s, but the new era wasn’t exactly kind to them. In a way, the band had a slow death, gradually being removed from the public’s eye.
Twisted Sister is one of those bands that made a dent in the world with their musical contributions. The band really employed the glam hair look, no doubt fueled by singer Dee Snider’s antics.
If you’ve been alive for at least 10 years, you have probably heard a Twisted Sister song at least once. The songs, I Wanna Rock, and We’re Not Gonna Take It, are anthems of the era that have become timeless.
In fact, both of these songs are regularly featured in a wide range of different commercial uses. Video games, films, and TV shows have all included these songs in their content.
Twisted Sister’s massive hits remain fairly relevant, even for today’s cultural climate. Compared to other bands of the era, that is quite an astonishing feat.
Guns N’ Roses
As far as hair bands are concerned, no other band had the pop success that Guns N’ Roses had. It’s the sole reason why fans would wait 15 years for the band to release a lackluster (but hyped) album.
But really, when the band was in its prime, they were truly an unstoppable force. Axl Rose was a unique frontman, but the musical combination with Slash and Izzy Stradlin made everything even more potent.
Guns N’ Roses managed to create music that transcends the actual time and space they were living in. Most people might not even initially consider them to be a hair band.
Whether it was a ballad or full-on rock, Guns N’ Roses always had something to say. Plus, it helps to have one of the best modern guitarists in your lineup to elevate things.
Remember Randy Rhoads? You probably know him best for playing with Ozzy Osbourne.
Did you know that he actually started a band before his stint with Ozzy? Believe it or not, he was partly responsible for the creation of the iconic hair band, Quiet Riot.
Of course, his involvement with Quiet Riot spanned most of the 1970s before leaving at the end of the decade. It was his playing that put the band on the map, setting the stage for the 1980s.
The band did take a break before finally releasing the smash hit album, Metal Health, in 1983. This became the band’s best-selling record, but unfortunately, their popularity slowly declined over time.
L.A. Guns is one of those original glam bands helping to plant the seed for what was to come. In fact, before the group officially formed, they had a band with members of various members of Guns N’ Roses.
The group didn’t experience anywhere near the kind of success that Guns N’ Roses achieved. However, their 1989 album, Cocked & Loaded, did become Platinum certified.
In a way, L.A. Guns has a sort of folklore within the Los Angeles hair metal scene. They had a pivotal role in the development of many of the era’s most famous hair bands.
You can’t talk 80s music without at least mentioning Jon Bon Jovi at least once. In a way, he is sort of like the Bruce Springsteen of hair bands, becoming a definite cultural icon.
It’s undeniable that Bon Jovi was responsible for some of the biggest hits of the 80s. Livin’ On A Prayer, and You Give Love A Bad Name, are still songs people can’t help but sing along to.
Even today, Bon Jovi’s music remains just as popular, no doubt aided by Richie Sambora’s guitar playing.
Bon Jovi is still fairly active and regularly touring. Modern guitar virtuoso Phil X has been filling in the guitar role since Sambora left in 2013.
If you know about the band Europe, you probably have that classic synth melody running through your head. The song, The Final Countdown, has become a cultural phenomenon, even after all of this time.
Europe was the band responsible for unleashing this song onto the world. Almost anyone that hears it instantly gets the song stuck in their head.
This Swedish band did have quite a bit of success, particularly in Sweden. As far as international acclaim goes, the era of The Final Countdown remains the pinnacle of their career.
There are few hair bands that have the reputation for excess that Mötley Crüe has. This band seemed to love living the fast lifestyle and all of its short-term thrills.
That just might be part of the reason why they were so successful. People want to have a good time listening to music, and this band certainly loved to party.
In a way, every member of Mötley Crüe essentially became a celebrity in their own right. Any average person is likely familiar with at least one of the band members’ names.
Songs like Dr. Feelgood, and, Shout At The Devil, are just a few of the songs that achieved mainstream success.
Despite forming at the end of the 1970s, Great White experienced their biggest success almost a decade later. Their albums, Once Bitten, and, …Twice Shy, were massive hits, eventually becoming certified Platinum.
There were a number of songs from those albums that charted very high on the radio charts. The song, Rock Me, for example, remains to be a very popular song, even today.
During the late 1980s, Great White toured with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Guns N’ Roses. Even today, the band remains fairly active, which is a rare sight for an 80s hair band.
Another name that has become synonymous with 80s hair bands is the group called Ratt. You are probably familiar with their song, Round And Round, which still receives regular radio play on many stations.
This group came from the Los Angeles scene in the 1970s. However, this band truly helped to pave the way for the many L.A. bands to break into the mainstream.
Ratt has had its fair share of excellent guitarists in its lineup over the years. Some of the biggest names include Warren DeMartini, Jake E. Lee, Michael Schenker, and Carlos Cavazo.
For those wondering about the name, it seems as if it started out as a parody of Mickey Mouse. Ratt was substituted for Mouse, eventually dropping Mickey from the name altogether.
During the tail-end of the 80s (and into the 90s), you could not escape the music of Warrant. It was almost as if you yourself had a warrant, and the music was coming to arrest you.
Warrant formed in the mid-80s, but 1989 saw the band really break into mainstream music. In fact, their album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, actually became certified Double Platinum.
The band would have another smash hit at the start of the 1990s with Cherry Pie. Many fans consider these first 2 albums to be required listening for any 80s hair metal lovers.
Any discussion about 80s music cannot be complete without mentioning the group, Def Leppard. Compared to other bands, Def Leppard had worldwide status and was really a phenomenon of the era.
The band formed in the late 1970s and released its first record in 1980. All of the earlier albums did chart, but it wasn’t until Pyromania and Hysteria were released that their fame catapulted.
Def Leppard was pure royalty, writing anthemic songs that almost anyone could easily remember and sing along with. Plus, having Steve Clark playing the guitar helped quite a bit.
This group still remains very popular, having been frequently ranked among the best bands of all time.
Would you believe that guitar virtuoso Steve Vai had a stint in 80s hair bands? It’s true, he fulfilled some guitar duties for Whitesnake at the end of the decade.
Whitesnake is probably best known for their song, Here I Go Again, which is a very popular power ballad. The group is headed by David Coverdale, who sang with Deep Purple for a portion of his career.
This is another band that has occasionally ranked in lists as one of the greatest groups of all time.
When you think of KISS, you probably think more of the 1970s when the group was in full costume. The 1980s are kind of an obscure era for KISS, which was most notably because the band shed the makeup.
For the first time ever, fans finally got to see what KISS looked like. It’s hard to say whether they liked what they saw, but it's safe to say the group lacked their glamour.
KISS was also a little bit more of a different band than the previous era. Most notable is the fact that Ace Frehley wasn’t playing guitar, having been replaced by a string of different guitarists.
The band finally settled with Bruce Kulick, who is actually a very accomplished guitarist. During his stint with the band, KISS was still able to release albums that would become certified Platinum.
No other band has likely ever had as much merchandise as KISS. Despite their age, KISS is still loved and enjoyed widely around the world.
Imagine playing in a band and gaining record label attention, only for the label to request that you leave. Then, imagine being replaced and seeing that very band achieve mainstream success.
That very story is what happened to guitarist Michael Kelly Smith with the band, Cinderella. The group would release 2 albums in the late 80s that would become smash hits, particularly with Long Cold Winter.
Their debut album, Night Songs, actually ranked within the top 5 chart placements in the pop charts. You’re probably familiar with its popular track, Nobody’s Fool.
W.A.S.P. is one of those 80s hair bands that embraced the sexualized side of the music industry. Much of their lyrics tend to be themed in this manner, which certainly didn’t sit well with parental authority groups.
In fact, the band seemed as if they were at war with parents, releasing music to purposely upset them. You could say that W.A.S.P. helped play a pivotal role in expanding the boundaries of artist censorship.
If you’ve ever watched Beavis and Butthead, you know that Stewart Stevenson wears a Winger shirt. Just who, exactly, is Winger?
During the late 80s, Winger was one of the hair bands in the upper echelon of the industry. Their songs, Miles Away, and, Seventeen, are some of the biggest songs of the era.
Unfortunately, the 1990s weren’t very kind to Winger and they eventually disbanded for years. Over 10 years later, the group began to play together and release music again, continuing to this day.
Slaughter’s 1989 debut album, Stick It To Ya, was one of the last major hits of the decade. It also remains one of their best-selling albums out of their entire catalog.
The group’s 1989 song, Fly To The Angels, charted within the top 20 in the US. Unfortunately, the group never quite experienced the same success, despite being active throughout most of the 90s.
Out of any of these bands, Poison ranks as one of the most popular, even to this day. The group released some of the biggest songs to ever grace the radio waves in the 1980s.
Poison had a unique blend of ballads and hard rock that people seemed unable to get enough of. Part of the group’s success is, no doubt, due to singer Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille.
There are few bands that have had the success that Poison achieved. Their second album would eventually become Platinum-certified 5 different times.
Pretty Boy Floyd
Pretty Boy Floyd was a Hollywood band that achieved moderate success in the late 80s. Their debut album was their most substantial release in terms of critical review.
Then again, the group has had fairly minimal releases, with most coming from the 2000s. Nevertheless, Pretty Boy Floyd was a band frequently seen on MTV back in the glory days of the channel.
You’re probably familiar with the hit song Signs which is associated with Tesla. You’d probably think this was some sort of hippie band from the late 70s.
If you researched the band on that assumption, you would be quite surprised to discover the truth. Tesla was a massively famous hair group from the 80s, frequently ranking as one of the best of all time.
What’s interesting is that, at the time, Tesla didn't like being associated with the image of glam hair metal. Regardless, the band seemed to excel in that scene.
Lita Ford is one of the queens of the 80s hair band scene. She had a massive hit (Close My Eyes Forever) with Ozzy Osbourne that remains a pinnacle track of the era.
You might not know it, but Lita played in the band The Runaways, where she held down lead guitar duties. This band was notable for being an all-female group, including Joan Jett and Cherie Currie.
The 80s saw Lita go out on her own and embark on a solo career. It wasn’t until the end of that era that Lita really saw mainstream success.
Unless you’re a true fan of 80s hair bands, you might not be familiar with Enuff Z’Nuff. This group’s 1989 song, New Thing, was a regular music video on MTV’s rotation.
In fact, their debut album from the same year actually remains the best-selling of their massive catalog. The group has been consistently releasing new albums on a regular basis.
Are you familiar with the name Andy Timmons? He’s one of the most celebrated guitarists to emerge from the 1980s.
Andy even has his own signature guitar from Ibanez which is noted for its extremely fantastic quality.
Well, Andy really got his start in the band Danger Danger, which helped catapult him into the mainstream spotlight.
Danger Danger was a fairly popular group during the late 80s and enjoyed frequent air time on MTV. It wouldn’t be a rare sight to see the group on the famed show, Headbanger’s Ball.
White Lion is another one of those 80s groups that seemed to be at the complete mercy of record labels. The band’s debut album got them dropped from Elektra after they decided they didn’t like the finished result.
This would spawn a whole slew of lineup changes before the band would sign with Atlantic a few years later. It was after this that White Lion really started to find mainstream success.
Their album, Pride, is what really put the band on the map, with multiple charting singles. Plus, White Lion was touring with some of the biggest names in the industry at the time.
George Lynch is another one of the most well-known guitarists to emerge from the 1980s. He got his start in Dokken, making his name known around the world as one of the best.
Dokken would catapult to fame in the early 1980s, releasing a stream of hits that would sell millions of albums.
Lynch and Dokken have had their fair share of tension over the years. George left in the late 80s, rejoining again in the mid-90s, only to be fired later.
Regardless, both Dokken and George Lynch are names that nobody from the 80s is willing to forget. The album, Back For The Attack, remains a classic from this time period.
Best 80s Hair Bands, Final Thoughts
Hair bands eventually died out in the 1990s as grunge came about. Between the ballads and distinct fashion, hair bands were like the 1980s version of 2000s emo music.
Sure, the music is different, but both have a similar fashion and helped define the formative years of many people. It’s a sure bet that people will continue to nostalgically listen to hair bands, no matter how uncool it’s become.
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