I grew up a metal head in the 1980’s and while I drifted toward thrash toward the end of the decade, I was fully immersed in the hair band, Sunset Strip glam movement from ’83 to ’87. I had a tape case (Google it) full of RATT, Poison and Def Leppard. I helped fill arenas to watch Cinderella, David Lee Roth, Bon Jovi, KISS, Whitesnake, Motley Crue, etc. I ripped my jeans, pierced my left ear and grew my hair. It was awesome.
My iPod has more than 6000 songs on it and roughly 10% are “hair metal” songs. A few years ago I began to sort through them and eventually created a massive playlist of my favorite 500 ’80’s glam metal tracks.
Before I list the top 100 of those 500 here, note that I consider hair metal to have begun in 1982 on the Sunset Strip thanks to bands like WASP and Dokken trying to outdo each other with over-the-top club shows and that it died around 1992 when the last of the bands from the Sunset Strip attempted to release albums in the midst of the grunge movement. So, all songs below were released during that ten-year period. I think hair metal came to national prominence with the ascension of Quiet Riot’s Metal Health in 1983 and breathed its last gasp with the release of Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind and Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I and II in 1991, which was the last two true hits from Hollywood metal bands.
You can now check out the Top 500 List here.
Here is the list and may the debate begin:
100. Down Boys by Warrant (1988). I have no idea what this song is about but it was love at first listen.
99. Tears Are Falling by KISS (1985). Gene & Paul struggled to get through the 1980’s but this track was an exception to their otherwise forgettable work…the video however was awful!
98. Somebody Save Me by Cinderella (1986). The third single from their debut and the best written of the bunch.
97. Still Loving You by Scorpions (1984). The closing track from their multi-platinum album Love at First Sting. It supposedly took six years to write and went to #1 in France.
96. Is This Love? by Whitesnake (1987). The third hit from their self-titled ’87 hit album and the third video to feature the lovely Tawney Kitaen.
95. Lay It Down by RATT (1985). The first single from a great follow-up to their debut. RATT was a great band.
94. Runaway by Bon-Jovi. The debut single from the band when it still boasted Dave “Snake” Sabo on guitar (although Jon does the six string work on the record).
93. Screaming in the Night by Krokus (1983). A great ballad from a rockin’ album. It is a crime that Krokus wasn’t bigger.
92. Wait by White Lion (1987). This is a wimpy “please don’t leave song” but the guitar work helps make up for it.
91. I Love It Loud by KISS (1982). One of the last songs from the make-up era and the last great album before Revenge in 1992. I still love this Demon for President track.
90. Cats in the Cradle by Ugly Kid Joe (1992). They chose their name as the anti-Pretty Boy Floyd who was a glam staple on the Strip at the time. Their cover of the Harry Chapin song was a standout. Then they all went to earn teaching degrees, I guess.
89. Panama by Van Halen (1984). One of the 2-3 rockers on an album that was too synthesizer heavy (even if I love “Jump”). I have no idea what it is about but I love it.
88. Headed for a Heartbreak by Winger (1988). In many ways Kip Winger was everything that was wrong with the 1980’s but, to be fair, he was a good musician he put together a tight band and this power ballad was a hit because it was well-written.
87. Little Suzi by Tesla (1986). The cut that sold me on Tesla that was supposedly dedicated to an adult dancer the band members knew…regardless a great track.
86. Smooth up in Ya’ by Bulletboys (1988). Not much substance to this song but the band was talented and it is shame they couldn’t soldier on past the dull Seattle tripe that dominated the early 1990’s.
85. Summertime Girls by Y&T (1985). It seems this song was everywhere in 1985 but still failed to really storm the Billboard charts–such an under rated band.
84. Slave to the Grind by Skid Row (1991). While their debut scored most of the hits, Skid Row’s 2nd album was superior in many ways and the title track was a true metal classic.
83. When the Children Cry by White Lion (1987). I was never a huge White Lion fan and I always thought that “Wait” was wimpy and “Tell Me” was a better track but this cut stands the test of time well and I can’t deny how talented they were.
82. I Wanna Be Somebody by WASP (1984). WASP deserved to be bigger than they were. Blackie was a great songwriter and performer and his band was always tight. This anthem to success encapsulated the ’80’s well.
81. Heaven by Warrant (1988). The big ballad from their 1988 debut that was a make-out staple of 1988.
80. Love Kills by Vinnie Vincent Invasion. (1988). The second metal song to be used in a Nightmare on Elm St. movie and the combination of Mark Slaughter, Vinnie Vincent, Dana Strum and a creepy feel make it work.
79. For the Love of Money by Bulletboys (1988). The cover of the soul classic sounded sweet thanks to a tight band and incredible vocals from Marq Torien.
78. Close My Eyes Forever by Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford (1988). The second single from Lita’s platinum comeback and it was as dark as a metal ballad should be!
77. Dream Warriors by Dokken (1987). Stupid lyrics but a chiller of a tune for an otherwise forgettable horror movie. I miss Dokken!
76. California Girls by David Lee Roth (1985). DLR screwed his solo career up by not using his band’s full arsenal for the follow-up to Eat ‘Em and Smile and he may have felt he could because he did so well with this cover tune, which is great but he should’ve seen it for what it was and let Steve Vai and Billy Sheehan pen the music while he MC’d the party.
75. Shake Me by Cinderella (1986). The lead single from Cinderella’s debut. Pretty straight forward “Chick really wants me” tune but the Stones influenced Philly boys played it well.
74. Right Now by Van Halen (1991). I originally thought this Van Hagar tune was made solely by the music video but it holds up well.
73. Signs by Tesla (1990). A 1970 hippie anthem that Tesla sold to metal heads and the neo-hippies of the late ’80’s when the Grateful Dead made a resurgence.
72. Alone by Heart (1987). The Wilson Sisters will deny it but they bought the pop-metal movement hook, line and sinker and this was the biggest hit of their venture, which I loved!
71. Fly to the Angels by Slaughter (1990). Mark Slaughter’s multi-octave range sells this ode to a lost love. The dude had the chops.
70. Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue (1989). A nod and wink to Nikki Sixx’s near death experience. It still rocks harder than anything on “modern rock” radio thanks especially to Mick Mars’ mean guitar work.
69. Kiss Me Deadly by Lita Ford (1988). The former lead guitarist for The Runaways struggled through most of the ’80’s but hit it big with this pop-rocker and, as a 16-year old at the time, I thanked the heavens for the music video.
68. Shot in the Dark by Ozzy Osbourne (1986). Ozzy reportedly hated this album and blamed guitarist Jake E. Lee for leading him in to hair metal territory but it was still one of his best songs.
67. To Be With You by Mr. Big (1991). A band packed full of talent that ironically made it big thanks to simple ballads.
66. Lick It Up by KISS (1983). Vinnie Vincent was a gift to Gene & Paul as he was a truly great guitarist and songwriter that made the loss of two original members and the make-up easier to swallow. Unfortunately, his ego and eccentricities were too much and both of them (and the fans) suffered for it.
65. The Ballad of Jayne by L.A. Guns (1989). The biggest hit from a great rock & roll band that produced three awesome albums in a row between 1987-1991.
64. Poison by Alice Cooper (1989). A great comeback from rock’s greatest showman. He partnered with Desmond Child (his name will pop up several times in this list) and produced a hit.
63. Gypsy Road by Cinderella (1988). A great follow up to their multi-platinum debut featuring buzz saw Les Paul’s and Tom Keiffer’s growl.
62. Wild Side by Motley Crue (1987). A great tune about the other side of the tracks that the Crue haunted once and still lived as if they owned when this song dropped.
61. You’re in Love by RATT (1985). Stephen Pearcy and his band mates cranked out one great hard rock song after another and this is one is second only to Round and Round.
60. Hot for Teacher by Van Halen (1984). A true Van Halen track from an album that was somewhat un-Van Halen-esque. The video was a lot of fun as well.
59. Silent Lucidity by Queensryche (1990). I thought this was a little boring at first but on reflection after their recent break-up, this was a great band with an amazing vocalist that I wish had rose to greater heights.
58. Nothing But A Good Time by Poison (1988). The party anthem of the year I turned sixteen…’nuff said.
57. No One Like You by Scorpions (1982). A great riff from the greatest rock & roll band Germany ever produced. I may sound like an old curmudgeon but they don’t make riffs like these anymore.
56. In My Dreams by Dokken (1985). Dokken had a unique sound and they utilized it well for this haunting track.
55. Love Bites by Def Leppard (1987). The syrupy ballad from the overly poppy Hysteria still holds great nostalgic value because it was the soundtrack to nearly every teen break-up from ’87 on.
54. Girlschool by Britney Fox (1988). A very Cinderella sounding band from the same stomping ground as the Night Song boys. Unfortunately, they apparently couldn’t stand each other long enough to produce a decent follow-up to their debut which went gold.
53. Love Song by Tesla (1989). My favorite song from a great rock & roll band. Unfortunately, radio cut the acoustic solo intro which was fantastic!
52. I Remember You by Skid Row (1989). Baz and the boy’s obligatory power ballad made special by the unbelievable vocals of the lead singer the rest of the band couldn’t stand.
51. Rock Me by Great White (1987). A great blues rock track from an underrated band that should’ve outlived the ’80’s.
50. I’ll Be There For You by Bon-Jovi (1988). The big ballad from New Jersey. The lyrics are kind of lame but the tune was catchy. It still could’ve used a sprinkle of songwriter Desmond Child who helped make Slippery When Wet such a hit.
49. Don’t Close Your Eyes by Kix (1988). A haunting anti-suicide ballad that hasn’t received the attention over the years it deserves and neither has the band, which was an awesome straight ahead rock act.
48. Shout at the Devil by Motley Crue (1983). The first single from the band’s breakthrough album. Nikki Sixx claims he suffered through paranormal activity while writing the songs for their second release but denies it is about Satanism. All I know is that it still holds up well and sounded a lot meaner than nearly everything else at the time.
47. Patience by Guns N’ Roses (1988). The song that truly kicked the unplugged movement into high gear. A song that Axl should’ve dedicated to his fans who he makes wait for hours for him to hit the stage.
46. Youth Gone Wild (1989) by Skid Row. A great fist pumper from a band that I wished was still around.
45. Seventeen by Winger (1988). A catchy tune but, in retrospect, Kip Winger singing about a 17-year old girl is creepy.
44. Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone by Cinderella (1988). Man, for dudes with cash surrounded by hot chicks, they sure sang about a lot of heartache. Oh well, few did ballads better than Cinderella.
43. Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Great White (1989). Great White was a great blues-rock band but strangely enough their best song was a cover of an English pop song. The music video debuted the considerable talent of video vixen Bobby Brown.
42. Alone Again by Dokken (1984). Dokken’s big break was a haunting ballad that contained a signature sound that made the band sound meaner (and more unique) than others and anything with George Lynch’s great guitar work is always awe-inspiring.
41. More Than Words by Extreme (1991). This acoustic gem was a little too languid for me at the time it was released but twenty-one years later it holds up well. Gary Cherone had a great voice.
40. Bad Medicine by Bon Jovi (1988). The band’s follow-up to Slippery When Wet wasn’t as tight but this one was cheese at its finest.
39. I Can’t Drive 55 by Sammy Hagar (1984). Oh, Sammy if only you were Secretary of Transportation!
38. I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister (1984). Is there a better song to define hard rock fans in the 1980’s?
37. Up All Night by Slaughter (1990). A party song that sounds like the soundtrack to a really lame party but it stuck in our heads and was one of the last bands to sneak success in under the wire before grunge hit a year later.
36. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Warrant (1990). A well-written track by a band not known for great writing and one of the few “story songs” from the genre.
35. The Cult of Personality by Living Color (1988). Speaking of well written songs, this one has a killer riff and great lyrics. Too bad the boys in neon couldn’t repeat the feat.
34. Dude Looks Like a Lady by Aerosmith (1987). A song reportedly about the members of the band seeing Vince Neil for the first time. Was there a better song from the genre that lampooned it at the same time?
33. Talk Dirty to Me by Poison (1986). The song that broke the “hot chicks from Poison.” I was so embarrassed to own a tape (Google it) with what appeared to be four trannies on the cover that I left the cassette in a clear plastic case but no one could doubt how catchy the tunes were and this was the finest of the bunch.
32. Rock of Ages by Def Leppard (1983). An early example of the simple foot stomp, hand clap anthem that was a staple of the genre but no one did it better than Joe Elliot and the boys.
31. Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses (1987). An anti-utopian song that is a damn near perfect blend of metal and southern rock. One of my favorite tracks from my all-time favorite band.
30. Winds of Change by Scorpions (1990). A song about the peaceful downfall of the Soviet Empire and the end of the Cold War. I didn’t like it much at the time but I now see that it fits the time perfectly.
29. House of Pain by Faster Pussycat (1989). One of the few songs from the genre that truly struck a nerve with an entire generation of young men with daddy issues. A great track from a band that should’ve been much, much bigger.
28. Why Can’t This Be Love? Van Halen (1986). The debut single from “Van Hagar” clearly demonstrated that they didn’t need Dave even if the band wasn’t as much fun without him. Yet, even if they weren’t America’s #1 party band without DLR, they still produced a number of great albums with 5150 being the best of the lot.
27. Metal Health (Bang Your Head) by Quiet Riot (1983). If memory serves, this was the first single off of the album of the same name and it prepared the way for their smash hit Cum on Feel The Noize. It appeared as though the band was headed for superstardom but infighting, egos and a push to get back into the studio too quickly ultimately doomed QR to the “where are they now” category.
26. November Rain by Guns N’ Roses (1991). Some feel this is the greatest power ballad of all-time. I disagree but it is still epic and only Axl seemed to know how to end a ballad with a dark tinged ambiguity that we fear in any relationship.
25. Dr. Feelgood by Motley Crue (1989). A post-clean and sober song about a drug dealer. Once again, the Crue write what they know!
24. In the Still of the Night by Whitesnake (1987). A great blues track with monster vocals from the ageless David Coverdale. Too bad he couldn’t make it work with songwriting partner John Sykes. Without him, he couldn’t really make Whitesnake work.
23. You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon-Jovi (1986). The song that took Jon & Richie to another level after two previous albums failed to truly take off. The key was partnering with songwriter Desmond Child who had help pen “I Was Made for Loving You” for KISS.
22. The Flame by Cheap Trick (1988). Cheap Trick hoped to make an Aersomith type comeback and looked to be on track with this Top 40 hit but, unfortunately, they faded after this one. I thought the tune sounded out-of-place when played alongside their classic songs and, indeed, it was chosen by the record company rather than written by the guys themselves.
21. Photograph by Def Leppard (1983). A standout track from a standout album. A great rocker from when the band still played hard rock instead of dreaming in vain of being a teen pop act.
20. Nobody’s Fool by Cinderella (1986). One of the best of the “up yours” songs of the decade that felt grittier thanks to Tom Keifer’s gravel and whiskey soaked vocal chords.
19. Turn up the Radio by Autograph (1984). A top 40 track for a one hit wonder whose message was simply that after working hard, you have to play hard and you can’t play hard without a song from the Strip cranked to 11!
18. Forever by KISS (1989). It is odd that KISS, who struggled for most the ’80’s, scored their biggest hit with a song co-written with the “no talent butt clown” Michael Bolton but it was a great track regardless.
17. 18 and Life by Skid Row (1989). A song about a kid who accidentally shoots someone and ends up in prison for life but everyone, including me, took it to be something different. Man, can Sebastian Bach sing!
16. Cherry Pie by Warrant (1990). Is it sexist? Is it dumb? Absolutely but who said the decade was subtle and that rock anthems have to be deep?
15. Rock You Like A Hurricane by Scorpions (1984). Is there a better song to watch the Blue Angels fly overhead or to witness monster trucks roll over buses to? ‘Nuff said.
14. Living on a Prayer by Bon-Jovi (1986). A tribute to blue-collar couples The song was co-written by hair metal ace Desmond Child who based the story on himself and his girlfriend when he was driving a cab and she was waiting tables in NYC.
13. Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses (1987). The best ballad of the decade–an ode to love with a dark ending. The bass line to this one is amazing.
12. Girls, Girls, Girls by Motley Crue (1987). Was there a song better suited to a band than this one?
11. Janie’s Got A Gun by Aerosmith (1989). I rank this one so high because it is one of the best written and produced tracks of the time. The video as amazing (and disturbing) as well.
10. We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister (1984). The best of the “Don’t you dare try to stop me from rockin’!” tracks of the ’80’s. It is still one of the best music videos. Give it a listen and notice how much it sounds like “Come All You Faithful.”
9. Round and Round by RATT (1984). Hair Nation picked this as the biggest hair metal song of all-time. It certainly helped solidify the genre as more than a flash in the pan after the success of Quiet Riot and Def Leppard in 1983. Unfortunately, the guys from RATT also made fashion as important as sound.
8. Every Rose Has It’s Thorn by Poison (1988). Probably the biggest hit ballad of the decade in a time that was filled with them. Bret Michaels reportedly wrote the song in a laundromat on the road after suspecting that his girlfriend at the time was cheating on him. The meaning behind the title? The Rose is his career taking off and the thorn is that it cost him his relationship with his girl…or maybe she was just a tramp? Brett doesn’t exactly date Rhodes Scholars now does he?
7. Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard (1987). The gents from Sheffield took a line late in the sickeningly sweet pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” from The Archies and smutted it up for their overly produced but ginormous hit follow-up to Pyromania. Iconic.
6. Jump by Van Halen (1984). Probably the biggest hit of the genre and the song that, for better or worse, made it acceptable for hard rock and metal bands to use synthesizers.
5. ‘Cum on Feel the Noize by Quiet Riot (1983). QR labored for nearly ten years before scoring this top ten hit that shot the Metal Health album to #1 and arguably kicked open the door for the whole genre. Ironically, lead singer Kevin Dubrow hated the song to the day he died.
4. Here I Go Again by Whitesnake (1987). Perhaps the finest anthem of the decade and it doesn’t hurt that this re-boot of the song featured the most iconic video of the age. Oh, Tawney, how I pined for thee!
3. Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon-Jovi (1986). The boys from Jersey helped make acoustic guitars, cowboy gear and “we’re road weary but rockin'” a mainstay with this one and can anyone from the ’80’s forget the two-man acoustic VMA performance?
2. Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue (1985). There were power ballads before this one, but after it hit MTV and ruled the request line for months, it became mandatory for every band to have one.
1. Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N’ Roses (1987). Oddly enough, this song was both the pinnacle of songs from the Sunset Strip and the death nell of the whole hair/pop/glam metal movement. After GNR, everything else in Hollywood sounded tinny, safe and…well…lame. This monster ode to urban life has aged very well (as has the rest of AFD). How and when the song was written depends on which account you read but who cares…it rocked then and it rocks now.
Thanks for checking the list out. Be sure to post your comments, including criticisms (that’s part of the fun) and check back for my Top 500 list, which is in the works.
Until then, grace, peace and metal!