No genre has been as mocked and reviled as much as hair metal, but for a few years in the 80s – when it was still called glam metal – it bestrode the world like a Spandex and fishnet-clad colossus, twirling its drumsticks at it surveyed all before it.
Back then, pretty much anyone with a can of Aquanet hairspray and a guitar could bag themselves a platinum record and free entry to any strip club in town. The only thing louder than the clack of high heels on the pavement outside the Rainbow was the ker-ching of cash registers as Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Poison, Cinderella, Ratt, Slaughter and the rest hoovered up the record sales
Not every spandexed hick who moved to Hollywood with a headful of dreams and a sneezer full of blow made it. For every Axl Rose or Nikki Sixx, there were hundreds of also-rans, buffoons and no-hopers who crashed and burned before they had a chance to leave any lasting mark.
They’re the bands we’re raising a large Jack Daniel’s and coke to here – the ones who never got their time in the neon glare of fame despite making at least one killer record. These are the forgotten heroes of hair metal. Let’s go twirl some drumsticks.
Shark Island – Law Of The Order (1989)
Shark Who? Go ask Axl Rose, who nicked frontman Richard Black’s back-alley sneer and sideways shuffle and spun it into gold. The LA band had been kicking around the Sunset Strip for a decade by the time they released Law Of The Order, and lost classics like Paris Calling and slow-burning semi-ballad, Why Should I Believe were slicker, smarter and classier than any of the candy floss being churned out by most of the chinless bozos who came along in their wake. Problem was the masses didn’t want smart or classy, so they just went and bought their zillionth copy of Appetite For Destruction instead.
Vain - No Respect (1989)
Davy Vain made his name producing Bay Area thrashers Death Angel, but he had a glam metal heart. The debut album from his eponymous band deserved to be way bigger than it was: killer single Beat The Bullet and the title track imbued prime West Coast sleaze with dark San Francisco energy. The metal press fell hard for ’em, setting the singer up as a leather-trousered, barefooted pin-up. But the public proved resistant to the hard sell, and Vain were left sitting forlorn and alone on the sidewalk while lesser groups were whisked behind the velvet rope of fame.
The Throbs - The Language Of Thieves And Vagabonds (1991)
East Coast glam metal was darker and weirder than its Californian cousin. Exhibit A: the debut album New York gypsy-bohos The Throbs. Gutter-level anthems Come Down Sister, Underground and Ocean Of Love were edged with goth and psychedelia that placed them closer to The Doors and pre-arena rawk The Cult than Van Halen and Motley Crue – though they could still kick up a bar-room shit-storm as the comedy-tough It’s Not The End Of The World proved. Bonus fact: future Wildhearts frontman Ginger was briefly a member, reputedly dying his hair black as part of the deal.
Kingpin – Welcome To Bop City (1988)
Kingpin were Sweden’s entry into the 1988 Hair Metal Olympics. Their cult-classic debut album, Welcome To Bop City ,was a Scandi-glam mini-masterpiece featuring groinally-charged anthems with titles like I Don’t Care ’Bout Nothin’ and Squeezin’ Teazin’, played by men calling themselves Zinny J Zan and Stixx Galore (yup, the drummer). It sent the glam cognoscenti into a tizzy, even if the rest of humanity remained heroically indifferent. They changed their name to Shotgun Messiah, fired their singer and eventually went industrial metal. People didn’t give a shit then either.
Life, Sex & Death – The Silent Majority (1992)
Life, Sex & Death had it all: a bunch of Cheap Trick-on-steroids songs, the muscle of a major label behind them and a homeless guy on vocals. Wait, what? Yeah, the Chicago band’s none-more-unique selling point was perma-squinting frontman Stanley – who, when he wasn’t spitting out genius fuck-you anthems Jawohl Asshole and Fuckin’ Shit-Ass, lived on the street and had the malodorous clothes and propensity for shitting in public to prove it. Of course, it turned out to be a put-on – Stanley was really a rich kid called Chris Stann, and the whole thing was somewhere between performance art, social commentary and plain bad taste. Hey, you never got that with Warrant.
Two-Bit Thief – Another Sad Story… In The Big City (1990)
Thrash and hair metal made for strange bedfellows, though nobody told Two-Bit Thief. Put together by former members of Bay Area crossover crew Attitude Adjustment who swapped their white hi-tops for cheap leather trousers and bargain-shop bandanas, their debut album plunged its needle into the same vein of bluesy cock rock as fellow greasers Circus Of Power and Little Caesar, throwing in some hardcore-esque gang vocals and nailing their we’re-not-White Lion cred with a punkabilly cover of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. The result was a killer record that confused the shit out of thrashers and glammies alike.
Tigertailz - Young And Crazy (1987)
Ah, Tigertailz: the band the Manic Street Preachers could have been. The Welsh wonders’ second album, 1990’s Berzerk, is a stone-cold classic featuring the greatest pop-metal anthem of the era in Love Bomb Baby. But their debut is way more fun: a rough-arsed glam-punk gem that came on like Poison, if Brett Michaels had grown up in Cardiff and spent every Saturday night getting in a fight down Bogiez. Sure, it lacked big-budget gloss, and original singer Steevi Jaimz sounded like he was ready to chin anybody who dared look at his pint wrong, but Young And Crazy bristled with the kind of attitude every pack of Sunset Strip poodles would have sold their grannies to have.
Sea Hags - Sea Hags (1989)
“Three junkies and alcoholic,” is how Sea Hags own manager described them, to which sandpaper-throated frontman Ron Yocom responded: “Nah, it was two junkies and two alcoholics.” Either way, it goes a long way to explaining why these Bay Area sleazebags failed to set anything other than their own trousers on fire. A demo produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett was followed by a self-titled debut album full of dirtier-than-a-used-hypodermic tracks like Doghouse, Too Much T-Bone and semi-immortal single Half The Way Valley. A year later they fell apart, and bassist Chris Schlosshardt died of heroin-related causes soon after. Don’t do drugs, kids.
Pretty Boy Floyd – Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz (1989)
Perma-pouting Hollywood fluffballs Pretty Boy Floyd made Motley Crue sound like Napalm Death and Ratt look like, well, Napalm Death. But their debut album was pop-metal perfection – what featherweight party anthems Toast Of The Town, Rock And Roll Outlaws and shoulda-been-massive single Rock & Roll (Is Gonna Set The Night On Fire) lacked in heaviosity they made up for in pleather-trousered attitude. Sure, it was shallower than a puddle after a midnight shower on the Sunset Strip, but that was the point: what the hell else do you want from a band with a singer called Steve ‘Sex’ Summers?
Station - Stained Glass (2019)
If they’d been born 30 years earlier, Station would have been as big as Def Leppard, or at least Trixter. Instead, these New Yorkers are cursed to exist in a world that doesn’t give a shit about a bunch of L’Oreal-haired dudes playing blockbusting songs with choruses bigger than Vince Neil’s Spanx collection. But Stained Glass is A-grade arena rock like they used to make before Nirvana came along and curled out a turd in the punchbowl. A shameless throwback or the start of a hair metal revival? Only time will tell…