All images courtesy of Getty Images
By Andrew Daly
When I wrote Return to the Sunset Strip: 10 Underrated Glam & Hair Metal-Era Albums, I didn’t really know what to expect. As we alluded to in our aforementioned first article, Hair Metal and Glam are often derided and chided as genres that are “less than.” Well, if the article did one thing, it’s drawn many fellow Hair/Glam loving brothers and sisters out of the woodwork, and for that, we’re thankful.
Now, beyond that, what it also did was elicit plenty of comments and responses. Some good and some bad, which I am OK with, as it comes with the territory of writing, especially when it comes to this topic. Simply put, if you want to put your art out into the world, you better be prepared to take some heat, which is something any self-respecting hair metal artist can certainly understand. As for the comments, they ranged from things like, “This album sucks” all the way to, “This is awesome! I had forgotten about that band!” The former is annoying and yet also expected. The latter was gratifying and gave me a certain sense of mission accomplishment.
That said, there is another piece to this entire feedback puzzle, and that’s the comments that went something like, “You forgot this album,” or, “How could you leave out this or that one?” So, we listened, and we took a great many of your suggestions to heart, and I’ve added some of them to this latest edition. Also, we’ve added in a few that we feel could have, or maybe even should have, been on the first list as well. So, tease your hair, lay the eyeliner, and rouge on thick because we’re hitting the strip tonight. Kickstart your hearts and shout at the devil because en route are more huge hooks, mighty guitar licks, and most importantly, more sleaze coming your way, faster and harder than ever. Speaking of hooks, let’s kick this thing off with…
Great White – Hooked (1991)
You remember Great White, right? If not, let me jog your memory. Great White was the would-be Blues-Rock band, that simply couldn’t help but indulge in Hair Metal. You probably remember them for their platinum and multiplatinum albums One Bitten and its 1989 follow-up …Twice Shy, and with good reason, as these albums are classic but certainly are not underrated. An album that is underrated though it would be their next effort, the aptly titled Hooked. Now, this album did end up going gold at some point, but over time, it’s fallen into complete obscurity for anyone besides truly devout fans of the band, which is a sad thing. With Hooked, we see more of the band’s Hair Metal stylings, but finally, their Blues Rock roots begin to soak through. The album is probably best known for its controversial cover, which featured a basically naked woman straddling a giant fishing hook. It caused enough friction that eventually they produced alternate covers, which featured the women’s body dipped into the water, covering up her cleavage and effectively de-sleazing this record. All of that aside, this is an album where Great White was truly able to allow their undisputed talent to shine, and if you didn’t know any better, you might actually think it was Robert Plant singing in place of Jack Russel on some of these tracks. We know, we know…that’s high praise for a lowly Hair Metal band, but if you don’t believe me, go hunt a copy down and listen for yourself. You’ll see.
Rough Cutt – Rough Cutt (1985)
Remember Rough Cutt? If not, you’re not alone. The band itself was formed in 1982, and the original Mk.1 lineup actually featured legendary guitar hero Jake E. Lee, while Lee would leave Rough Cutt in 1983, to join Ozzy Osbourne as a replacement for the recently deceased Randy Rhodes (freak plane crash), soon to sign on were former members of Ratt in Chris Hager (guitar) and Matt Thorr (bass). After even more line-up shuffling, the group finally settled into what would be known as their Mk.3 line-up, which would also come to be their most “successful.” It was this line-up that recorded the now dusty gem Rough Cutt for the major label, Warner Brother Records. The album was well-received critically, but sadly, the band was unable to reward Warner’s confidence in them, and the album never made a dent in the US charts. Overseas, things were slightly better, with the album’s final single “Never Gonna Die” managing to reach number 21 on the Australian charts. From there, Warner Brothers gave Rough Cutt one last shot, and the group recorded their next record in 1986, called Want You!, which also completely stalled. Shortly thereafter, Rough Cutt disbanded, and while they have managed to regroup here and there, you wouldn’t expect to see them headlining any summer 2021 legacy act tours with Styx or Journey anytime soon. As for their debut record, massive commercial and financial failures aside, this was an excellent record. It probably suffered from being dumped into the blender that was the 80s Hair Metal scene. By that point, oversaturation was just starting to set in, and so, if you weren’t truly aces, you weren’t going to make it. That said, surely an album with songs co-written by Ronnie James Dio is worth at least a few spins, right?
Britny Fox Bite Down Hard (1991)
Britny Fox is the only band to return from part one, and while they may have been the big winners last time around, not so much this time. However, make no mistake-their third record Bite Down Hard, is a rager. Previously, we alluded to the massive screw job that Britny Fox received in being bumped off KISS’ Hot In The Shade Tour, which subsequently led to an avalanche of garbage raining down onto them for the next few years. Wanna know the details? Well, in the wake of the Hot In The Shade screw-job, the band still managed to book a nice tour of well-paying gigs and were set to depart, when Dean “The Diva” Davidson decided to split and make a go of it on his own. Now, I don’t know much, but I do know that if you’re a band about to hit the road for a huge tour, you probably don’t want to lose your frontman. While Dead Davidson may have been a jerk for leaving his bandmates in the lurch, he also was extremely talented, and his buzzsaw vocals simply were not easily replaced. Britny Fox’s record company (Columbia Records) seemed to agree and unceremoniously dropped Britny Fox, effectively leaving them for dead. Many bands would have given up right then and there, and no one would have blamed Britny Fox for packing it in, but after all, they had been through, I suppose that wasn’t an option. So, what did they do? They hired Tommy Paris as their new lead singer, called up Zakk Wylde and Rikki Rockett to guest star, and proceeded to make a balls-to-the-wall Glam Metal album. The result? A dud. The album was critically panned and another commercial failure. In retrospect, this album came out the same year as Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and Metallica’s The Black Album…it never really had a chance. Looking back, though, this record is awesome. Tommy Paris filled some big shoes and did so with grace and ease. Michael Kelly Smith’s guitar work was inspired, and as usual, Johnny Dee and Billy Childs were ever the capable rhythm section. The early 90s cultural zeitgeist was unkind to this record, but present day, we have a chance to flip the script. Do yourself a favor and go score this record.
Femme Fatale – Femme Fatale (1988)
While the era of 80s Hair Metal and Glam is mostly known as being predominantly male, several females infiltrated the scene and staked their claim as well. Enter Lorraine Lewis, the frontwoman with an absolutely huge voice, who led the now mostly forgotten group Femme Fatale. This is a band that was supremely talented but simply didn’t hang around long enough to really make any waves. They quickly rose through the ranks and paid their dues through club gigs and were noticed pretty quickly, and in relatively short order, signed with MCA Records and recorded their eponymous debut record, Femme Fatale. With the success of all-female Hair Metal group Vixen, MCA was certain that Femme Fatale would rise hard and fast, but it was not to be. The record stalled at #141 on The Billboard 200 and quickly fell off the charts. Sadly, the band is probably best remembered for their track “Touch and Go,” being featured on the extremely dated teen comedy, License to Drive. Less than two years later, Femme Fatale broke up in 1990, ending what could have been a promising career. Fun Fact: Lorraine Lewis would revive Femme Fatale in 2013, this time with a truly all-female line-up, only to fold the band once again to join Vixen in 2019. Femme Fatale simply wasn’t meant to be, it seems. Looking back, it’s hard to pinpoint why this record failed, as it seemingly had all the ingredients to ascend to great heights. If you see it, definitely pick it up and enjoy.
Vixen – Vixen (1988)
Speaking of Vixen, here they are! I suspect I am going to get flack for this, but despite what you might think, this all-female Hair Metal masterpiece is supremely underrated. Vixen is everything that MCA Records hoped Femme Fatale could be, except that Vixen did succeed, and when Vixen was released in 1988, it earned gold certification by the RIAA. While reviews at the time were mixed, retrospectively, it has been given high praise. In short, Vixen kicked ass and they proved once and for all that women could rock and shred as hard as their male counterparts. Janet Gardner was the quintessential frontwoman, and Jan Kuehnemund played her ass off on this record. Seriously…her lead work is some of the best of the era, in my opinion. While she may not have been a pure speed shredder, she more than made up for it with tasteful and melodic licks, which always fit Vixen’s songs like a glove. Rounding out this powerhouse line-up was Share Ross on bass and the thunderous Roxy Petrucci on drums, who is as hard a hitting drummer as you’ll ever hear. Also, another tidbit that makes this album pretty cool: Vivian Campbell (Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard) joins the fun, and played guitar on “Desperate.” While Vivian did his thing and killed it, make no mistake, Jan matched him note for note the rest of the way. Vixen was and are as authentic as they were talented. Some will say their success is attributed to the “novelty” of women playing Metal. Well, I am here to tell you that those people are assholes. If you’re one of them, stop reading now and beat it. Don’t believe me? Listen to the record, and these performances, and prove me wrong.
Europe – Out of This World (1988)
Most people will recall this as “The record that came out after The Final Countdown,” or “The record that came out after John Norum left the band.” For many reasons, this is a pretty sad state of affairs, as this record is really, honestly nearly as good as The Final Countdown, if not, dare I say it—better. This album is one that was sort of at odds with itself upon its release. Sure, John Norum is tough to replace, but you could do a whole lot worse than the wonderfully talented Kee Marcello. Honestly, it’s not easy stepping into the shoes of a Guitar God, at the height of a band’s fame, in the middle of a hysterical wave of Hair Metal mania, but that’s exactly what Kee Marcello did. Sure, the record did go gold, but the reviews were not kind, with Martin Popoff going as far as to call the record, “An offensive Pop Rock outing, much closer to early Warrant…than The Final Countdown could or would dare.” Popoff went on to muse, “A dunce-cap posse solidly in search of cash and chicks, egregiously removed from any sort of Hard Rock acumen.” Ouch. All of that horse crap aside, Out of This World is actually a pretty outstanding album, and while it’s not The Final Countdown, as I mentioned before, I tend to prefer it. I mean, as far as follow-up records go, this album is truly strong, and to expect the band to maintain, let alone reach the stratospheric heights of their now-signature effort, is simply unreasonable. More so, reviewers expecting as much are generally the myopic type, who perhaps think their opinion actually matters to anyone other than themselves. Love it or hate it, but you can’t deny that “Superstitious” slays and it might just be Europe’s greatest ever track. Fans yawning at this pick, who crave the genius of one John Norum, I implore you to give this one a shot, as Kee Marcello is a virtuoso in his own right. At the end of the day, time hasn’t ever been kind to this record, and it can be had for cheap. So, what have you got to lose?
BulletBoys – BulletBoys (1988)
BulletBoys came with a pedigree right from the start, as the band was founded by Mick Sweda (guitar), who had already starred in the also underrated King Kobra. Now, in the 80s, you basically had two types of Guitar Gods: the Neo-Classical speed shredders, such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Vincent, Mark St. John, and Vito Bratta, and on the other side of the spectrum were the players who were more rooted in the 70s Classic Rock and Blues, such as Slash, CC Deville, Bruce Kulick and of course, Mick Sweda. In his time with Carmine Appice’s King Kobra, Mick had learned a thing or two and had turned himself into a true songsmith, and by the time he formed BulletBoys, he was raring and ready to go. Mick parlayed the cache he had built up into a major label deal, with Warner Brothers Records, and with Marq Torien (vocals), Lonnie Vincent (bass), and Jimmy D’Anda (drums), the BulletBoys were born. Not a year after their formation, their debut BulletBoys was climbing the charts, and by 1989, it had gone gold. That said, aside from the classic “Smooth Up In Ya,” BulletBoys has become a largely forgotten record, and the band is rarely mentioned in those generic MTV/VH1 “best of the 80s lists.” Sure, they were sort of late-stage Hair Metal, but these guys rock hard, so if you see this record, scoop it up. If you don’t, I promise you’ll regret it later. As for the band, they hung in there until 1993 and then closed up shop, only to regroup in 1998, but without Mick Sweda. However, in 2019, Mick did rejoin BulletBoys. So, if you’re a fan, the summer of 2021 may finally be your chance to get a taste of some late 80s sleaze.
Warrant – Dog Eat Dog (1992)
Speaking of late-stage Hair Metal, this record is about as late as it gets in that regard. This is an album that was completely buried by the Alt-Rock and Grunge craze that was sweeping the nation in the early 90s. To be honest, by rights, Warrant really had no business releasing a Hair Metal album in late 1992, but they did it anyway, and the results are perhaps their best record. Sure, we all know and love Cherry Pie, but Dog Eat Dog is where it’s at. In retrospect, the tone and style of the record truly are the last of what we have come to know as Glam Metal styling, as not too many albums like it came out afterward if any did at all. While it’s not a pure Hair/Glam record, and the band did begin to experiment a little, at the end of the day, it’s grimy, it’s sleazy, and it slays. Ironically, this record is probably regarded as Warrant’s strongest record from a critical standpoint, whatever that’s worth. On a commercial level, it didn’t do much, which isn’t a surprise given the era it was ruthlessly dropped into. Also, Dog Eat Dog is significant to the band’s history, as it is the final album to feature the band’s quintessential five members. To sum the vibe surrounding this album up, I leave you with a quote from the band’s vocalist, Janie Lane, who recalls, “I walked into the foyer at our label (Columbia Records), I discovered a large, framed poster of Warrant had been removed from the wall and had been replaced by an even larger poster of Alice in Chains. It was at this moment that I realized the proverbial writing was on the wall for the band.” In the end, Columbia didn’t bother to support the record, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Get out there and listen to it.
Bon Jovi – 7800° Fahrenheit (1985)
Here is where people will start screaming. I am well aware that Bon Jovi is not underrated, but I wouldn’t be doing my job with this list, if I didn’t create a little controversy by stirring the pot, so welcome to Jersey, here’s Jon Bon Jovi and his band of merry minstrels. In truth, this record is not the first one that people think of when they consider albums that define the 80s. There are albums by Bon Jovi which frequently pop up, such as Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, or if you’re trying to be different, you may pick the band’s self-titled debut, “Because it started it all,” or because, “It has “Runaway” on it.” I know that comes off as presumptuous, but it’s true, and you know it. Now that we’ve got my justification out of the way let’s talk significance. 7800° Fahrenheit really pulls no punches, and it played a huge role in shaping the shaping of the sound that was to come for Bon Jovi. It’s also remembered as the official debut of the now-iconic Bon Jovi logo that we have all come to know and love, and while there aren’t too many songs that would make a standard “greatest hits” list, save for “In and Out of Love,” this record is filled with heavy-hitting deep cuts that are sure to satiate your appetite for sleazecakes. This is another one that generally comes cheap, so for just a moment, give New Jersey a rest and give 7800° Fahrenheit some time with your turntable or CD player. It deserves love too, you know?
Ace Frehley – Frehley’s Comet (1987)
Sunset Strip: 10 Underrated Glam & Hair Metal-Era Albums didn’t really garner a whole lot of harsh words per se, but I did see a great many surmise that I, “Must be a big KISS fan,” which is true. While I didn’t intend for the KISS roots to run so deep within the article per se, I will admit that we are all subject to our own biases, and anyone who knows me will tell you I am not about to apologize for KISS’ influence. I also noticed that not too many loved my placement of Asylum, and I am good with all of that. In fact, I expected it and embrace it, so much so that I almost took it to heart, right up until the moment that I gave legendary KISS guitarist Ace Frehley top placement on this list. Oops. Anyway, come what may, I will stand by this pick for a few reasons: 1) Ace Frehley wasn’t an old man in 1987, but at 36, he was something of an elder statesman of the Rock world, and the fact remained that he is perpetually cited as a direct influence to nearly all those who came after him. 2) The songwriting on this album is absolutely top-notch, which is something of a small miracle, considering Ace had quit KISS in 1982, in a drunken haze, almost died in several car wrecks, and hadn’t made any music in around five or so years. 3) This album was produced by Eddie Kramer, and it simply rocks. It stands toe to toe and chest to chest with any Hair and Glam Metal album of the era. I mean…come on, “Space” Ace Frehley basically invented Glam Metal with KISS. If he doesn’t belong at the top of this list, I don’t know who does. All of that aside, go back and listen to “Rock Soldiers,” “Love Me Right,” “Into the Night,” and “Calling to You.” Those tracks are transcendent rockers, and his backing band of Tod Howarth, John Regan, and Anton Fig are a truly inspired bunch who had sensational chemistry. That said, the album received middling reviews at the time, and Ace and the boys were forced to stick to small halls and clubs while on tour, but that has not tarnished this record’s legacy one bit. Present-day, Ace is having one of the most fruitful and creative periods of his career. Having seen him live several times over the years, I can attest that he still packs the house, and his fans still love these tracks. Say what you will about KISS or my placement of this record, but there is no denying its greatness. For me, Ace’s positioning at the number one spot on this list is both hard-earned and well deserved.
So, that does it…I think. I am not anticipating a part three to this thing, but I’ll never say never. I quipped about hipsters sitting in cafés and dredging Hair Metal the first time around. While that sentiment still rings true for me, as I know all too well that many will say, “Hair Metal sucks” as a default response to the opening chords of “Dr. Feelgood,” I’ve also learned that the devout fanbase that makes Hair Metal so special, still remains and that they too have a voice.
I still don’t really know what makes something “good” or “bad,” and I really don’t think I am qualified to tell you what you should like or dislike. Perhaps, maybe no one is truly qualified in that regard. When it comes down to it, the 1980s was an interesting time in general. Sure, it was cheesy, it was loud, and it was definitely colorful. In hindsight, the decade of glam and glitz was most certainly writhe with bizarre and possibly regrettable fashion choices, but it was also magical.
Looking back, there must have been some necromancy or wizardry in the air. I don’t know; maybe it was something in the water, but what I do know is the Rock music that came out of that decade was truly memorable, catchy, and fun. So, let’s flip the script, don’t scramble to turn off your radio when “You Give Love a Bad Name” comes on, out of fear of being thought of as unworthy of your snobby friend’s musical respect. No, instead, crank the dial to max volume and tell your friend to saddle up or walk home. Don’t ever let anyone tell you the music you love “sucks” or is less than. It’s like Dee Snider said, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and for Hair-Metalheads, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Read Part 1 of this series here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/return-to-the-sunset-strip-10-underrated-glam-hair-metal-era-albums/
Read part 3 of this series here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/the-headbangers-ball-reaches-its-edge-10-underrated-glam-hair-metal-era-albums-part-iii/