In the minds of many, the 1980s will forever be remembered as a decade characterized by innovation, overindulgence, and transcendent music.
The latter, especially what took place on LA’s Sunset Strip – once a mecca for emerging rock acts and anyone with big dreams – likely played a major role in the lives of those fortunate enough to have been immersed in it.
While some of the Sunset Strip faithful have since moved on from the days of big hair and excess, preserving the essence of their decade, the 80s hard rock genre has enjoyed a staying power unique to its era.
For perspective, many, like myself and my colleague Andrew Daly, weren’t around to integrate ourselves into the 80s rock culture, though the music captivated us both somewhere down the line. As the full-blown absorption took over, it became a way of life.
In an effort to demonstrate our passion and reverence for our favorite genre, Andrew and I each presented a case for our individual fifteen greatest frontmen of the 80s hard rock and glam metal era. Our criteria was fairly straightforward; deliver an unbiased perspective, while taking into account influence, contributions, and ability.
Preferences are subjective and opinions will differ, but as I often say: There are no right or wrong submissions; just endless optionality. Enjoy.
15) Oni Logan of Lynch Mob (Daly’s Pick):
While Logan technically only performed on one record during the era in question, I feel strongly enough about Logan’s contributions and immense ability that I feel his inclusion on this list is indeed warranted. After a brief stint with a last-legs version of Racer X, Logan was tabbed by guitar virtuoso George Lynch as the frontman for his newly formed project, Lynch Mob, in 1990. The result was the outstanding Wicked Sensation (1990), an album which Logan ably fronted. While Logan would go on to leave Lynch Mob after the touring cycle for Wicked Sensation, the album, which I classify as one of the era’s best, would be a shell of itself without him. In my estimation, Logan was critical to the launching of George Lynch’s post-Dokken career, and that in and of itself cements the singer’s legacy. Logan would weave in and out of Lynch Mob for the remainder of its existence and remains one of rock music’s most eccentric and interesting characters. As for my favorite Oni Logan moments, I’d tab “Wicked Sensation,” “No Bed of Roses,” and “She’s Evil But She’s Mine” as wonderful jumping-off points.
Taime Downe of Faster Pussycat (DiCecco’s Pick):
Evoking punk undertones with his signature snarl and bad-boy attitude, Taime Downe was a rare breed among a sea of contemporaries. Taime’s band, Faster Pussycat, also felt like a throwback in many ways. The classic lineup was a gritty bunch who gelled musically and were unapologetically themselves. Faster Pussycat’s self-titled debut is among the favorites in my music collection and remains in regular rotation. While the debut was infused with punk sensibilities, the band’s follow-up album, the gold-charting Wake Me When It’s Over (1989), adopted a more bluesy tone. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 1992’s Whipped! If you aren’t familiar with that record, try to track that one down. Some of my favorite tracks that showcase Downe’s uniqueness include “Bathroom Wall,” “Babylon,” “Smash Alley,” “House of Pain,” “Slip of the Tongue,” and “Nonstop to Nowhere.”
14) Jason McMaster of Dangerous Toys (Daly’s Pick):
Texas-based rockers Dangerous Toys burst upon a vibrant scene in the late 80s with their debut record, Dangerous Toys (1988), a masterpiece of the era, which showcased McMaster’s immense, high register talent. While the band’s debut is retrospectively adored, their follow-up and fan-favorite, Hellacious Acres (1991), found the band heading toward rock’s underground. Regardless of commercial status, Dangerous Toys is one of the era’s classic bands, and McMaster is one of its defining voices which stands tall among many others. With a near-operatic range, McMaster brought something to the scene that was distinctive, and devilishly good all at the same time.
In my recent chat with McMaster, he recalled the following regarding the early sessions for the band’s classic debut record:
“So, we actually signed the record contract when there wasn’t even an album written yet. Honestly, we just had some song ideas. If I recall, “Queen of the Nile” wasn’t written yet. I don’t think “Bones in the Gutter” was written yet. I think we had an early version of “Ten Boots (Stompin’),” and “Here Comes Trouble” was the very first song I wrote with those guys. They had a basic structure, and I just scratched out vocals, and that was it. It’s funny because that is such a classic album, but so many of those songs were no more than an afterthought at the time. We just started writing, and before we knew it, we were in the studio with Max Norman.
In regards to the influence of producer Max Norman on the band, McMaster continued:
“We were still all very green. I had made a couple of records, but you know, I wouldn’t say that was super familiar with how to make records the right way, or even the wrong way – we had no idea. We were all still green – some of us very green – and Max really worked with us. I mean, we’re talking about the guy who produced “Crazy Train.” Max brought that to the table, and that was kind of cool.”
Dangerous Toys is still active, with McMaster still out front doing what he does best. In addition to those duties, the word is that McMaster has recently joined classic Philly outfit, Dirty Looks, and new music from that camp is afoot. To learn more about the immense vocal abilities of Dangerous Toys frontman try on “Here Comes Trouble,” “Queen of the Nile,” and “Gimmie No Lip” for size.
Phil Lewis of L.A. Guns (DiCecco’s Pick):
In my opinion, there isn’t enough appreciation out there for Phil Lewis, so it was important to me to single him out on this list. Lewis, formally of Girl and Tormé, had five studio albums under his belt by the time he’d met guitarist Tracii Guns and joined L.A. Guns in 1987. The pair formed a cohesive unit, which was notably evident on the band’s self-titled debut (1988), Cocked and Loaded (1989), and Hollywood Vampires (1991). Lewis’ refined vocal prowess, inflection, and studio experience proved to be a seamless fit. I maintain that had L.A. Guns come out a year or two earlier, they would have indubitably been hailed as one of the genre’s most prolific acts. L.A. Guns had the songs, the singer, and an ace of a guitar player to contend with anyone, and if you’re unfamiliar or would like to revisit some of the older catalog, I’d suggest “Electric Gypsy,” “Never Enough,” “Rip and Tear,” and “Kiss My Love Goodbye” for starters.
13) Steve Whiteman of KIX (Daly’s Pick):
If we’re talking about bands that had every reason to be huge, then KIX is a band that should most certainly top that list. With that being said, the boys from Hagerstown, Maryland did achieve a certain modicum of popularity in the 80s when Blow My Fuse (1988) went platinum. Sadly, aside from that record, the rest of the band’s fantastic catalog is completely underexposed. At the forefront of the rock ‘n’ roll spectacle is the band’s long-time frontman, Steve Whiteman. In Whiteman, you’ll find the prototypical 80s rock lead vocalist from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a musical standpoint, Whiteman brought an unspoken hardnosed ethos to the band which leeched into KIX’s music, stage show, and general being. To this day, Whiteman is rocking stages around the country, with his explosive brand of in-your-face, blood-boiling rock, standing tall as the mouthpiece for KIX. If you’re looking for a place to start, “Midnight Dynamite,” “Cold Blood,” and “Piece of the Pie” should be go-to tracks.
Stephen Pearcy of Ratt (DiCecco’s Pick):
Personally, Pearcy is the voice behind many of the songs that would make up my personal soundtrack of the 80s glam metal era. While lacking in technical proficiency, Pearcy’s sleazy vocals and unique delivery perfectly complemented the blistering twin guitar attack of Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby. The band’s first two studio albums, Out of the Cellar (1984) and Invasion of Your Privacy (1985) reached multi-platinum status while Dancing Undercover (1986) and Reach for the Sky (1988) were certified platinum. My favorite Pearcy tracks include “Lack of Communication,” “Back For More,” “I’m Insane,” “Lay it Down,” “Body Talk,” and “City to City.”
12) Ray West of Spread Eagle (Daly’s Pick):
Perhaps this will be another surprising pick to some, but fans of West, and Spread Eagle will know full well the legend of the singer’s bombast and soring, scratch-like-a-cat range. It’s those same traits that find West’s inclusion on this list to be well earned. A native New Yorker, West rounded out Spread Eagle’s lineup in 1989, a band which included three bad boys from Boston. West’s swagger and presence brought an unbridled edge to Spread Eagle, and the bands nastier than nasty debut record, Spread Eagle (1990), still reverberates through the halls of listener’s minds to this day.
In a recent interview, West broke down the sessions for me:
“Spread Eagle was actually the last band to ever record at the Record Plant, and the vibe there was cool. That was special, because the Record Plant set the tone for songs like “Dead of Winter,” and I think we finished “Broken City” there as well. Writing is all about getting the right idea at the right time, sometimes it hits you, so back then, you needed to have a pen and paper, so you could be ready to go. You also have to make sure everybody else is ready to rock. You know, “I got these lyrics and this melody, I wanted to come over and work on a riff,” … “Hey, I got some riffs, man. I wrote this really cool riff to go with whatever you got, come on over.” We were all accessible to each other all the time, so it was great.“
Writing the first album there was special, there was a room in the Record Plant that had a big window, and it looked out over the city when I was tracking, and at night, that was what used to blow my mind. When you’re creating in the studio there’s the excitement that down the line your gonna have to turn these tunes into live pieces. In the studio, you’re working on creating an idea together, as compared to when you write something in the rehearsal room live, and you go to record it. First, you demo it, then you record it for the big time, but the studio is art, ya feel me?”
West would go on to demonstrate elite range, and continued vocal maturity on Spread Eagle’s second record, Open To The Public (1993), before the band went on an extended hiatus. The sheer force and intensity of West’s vocals set the frontman apart from many of his contemporaries to this day. These days, Ray West is still fronting the mighty Spread Eagle, and his voice is in fine form. The band is currently working on their fourth studio effort, and so, West and the boys are set to hit a stage near you soon enough. To catch Ray West’s vibe, check out “Broken City,” “Switchblade Serenade,” and “Dead of Winter.”
Steve Whiteman of KIX (DiCecco’s Pick):
The fact that KIX never became a household name outside of the Tri-State area doesn’t sit well with me. Truth be told, the Maryland-based rockers were among the era’s most consistent when it came to live performances and churning out quality. In fact, I maintain that KIX is still among today’s top live rock acts. The band works incredibly hard night in and night out to perform at their peak level, and the musicianship is nothing short of stellar. I urge all to check them out when they play in your area. You’ll be blown away by the raw energy captured on stage.
Guitarist Bob Paré offered some insight into the band’s sustained energy after all these years:
“When you look at the history of the band, the personalities, the richness of the songs, and the timing, it’s just one of those things where all the planets aligned musically. And as a byproduct, the live situation – those guys playing covers in the local scene in the late 70s and early 80s – you had to kick ass to stick out. It’s in their DNA. Steve’s personality, I mean, I sit with him on an airplane all the time; he’s never not tapping his feet. Jimmy’s always tapping on something, either a laptop or a tray table in front of him. Those guys are just built-in, high-energy, natural, gifted, explosive guys. And for them to maintain that energy at their age is phenomenal. It’s incredible.”
At the forefront of it all is vocalist Steve Whiteman, who once served as a vocal coach to Halestorm’s Lizzy Hale. When Whiteman isn’t moving about the stage or interacting with the crowd, Whiteman continues to dazzle audiences across the country with his range and, at times, jarring delivery. Much like the band itself, the Hagerstown native leaves everything on the stage every night. To hear some of Whiteman’s most inspired efforts, check out “Cold Blood,” “Blow My Fuse,” “Girl Money,” “Midnite Dynamite,” “No Ring Around Rosie,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” and the early classic, “Atomic Bombs.”
11) Marq Torien of BulletBoys (Daly’s Pick):
In a recent VWMusic interview with BulletBoys former drummer, Jimmy D’Anda, which was conducted by our very own Andrew DiCecco, D’Anda was quoted as saying that Ted Templeman of Warner Brothers Records saw Torien as “a thoroughbred,” and that Templeman had told him, “The reason I signed BulletBoys was because of Marq’s voice.” So, the singers reportedly abrasive personality aside, Torien obviously had immense talent. In truth, BulletBoys were one of the more singular bands of the 80s rock era, and Torien was as unique, and talented as they come. The band’s debut record, BulletBoys (1988) was a blues-laden, balls-to-the-wall affair, unlike anything I’ve ever heard from this particular niche of music. When I look back on all the various eras of BulletBoys, I shake my head thinking on what might have been. As for Torien, he still fronts a bastardized incarnation of BulletBoys, which no original members but himself. I’ll allow readers to be the judge of that. As for the singer’s chops, “Hard as a Rock,” “Smooth Up In Ya,” and “Say Your Prayers” are fine examples of Torien’s formally unparalleled abilities.
Marc Storace of Krokus (DiCecco’s Pick):
Before reading this, I urge you to please take a moment to listen to “Headhunter,” “Eat the Rich,” and “Screaming in the Night,” from Krokus’ Headhunter album. You’ll hear exactly why Storace was once asked to audition for ACϟDC as the band searched for Bon Scott’s replacement. He can deliver gritty vocals with inflection just as easily as he can belt out a ballad. He could sing circles in his highest note in his prime – four octaves on his best day. Still, for whatever reason, Storace is often irresponsibly overlooked by fans of the genre. That needs to change.
The Maltese-born frontman initially burst onto the scene with the Swiss prog rock band, TEA, before ultimately joining the Swiss hard rock act Krokus in 1980. While Krokus released eight albums during the decade, it was 1983’s gold-charting Headhunter album that garnered the most attention.
As recent as a few months ago, Storace released his first solo album, Live And Let Live. In addition to Storace’s voice sounding remarkably strong at seventy years old – and nearly four decades since Krokus’ heyday – he doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. After you’ve finished perusing the Krokus catalog, check out Live And Let Live. Few of Storace’s contemporaries have the capability to perform at that level presently.
Storace shared with me his vocal preservation methods:
“I guess I try to rest my voice at every opportunity if I’m not up late at night in some bar talking. In between tours and recording albums – well, recording albums doesn’t happen that often anymore – I have quite a lot of time for myself. I guess I eat the right food, drink the right things, and try not to overdo it. And keep a certain amount of fitness; I don’t overdo it with exercise; I don’t go to a gym or anything like that. I respect my tool; this is what I work with. So, I can’t go trashing it too much. I’ve been lucky. On the road, in my whole life, I’ve only had to cancel twice, because I had doctor’s orders … “You are going to kill your voice forever if you sing tonight.” I guess after so many years, I know how to handle it, so I don’t get hoarse and can use the high-powered turbo with a gritty sound without burning my vocal cords. But I warm up first.
Usually, I have to drive or be driven to a concert or a rehearsal. And, on the way, I start reverberating resonance in my throat, into my cranial cavities from my thorax. And what it sounds like, is a Tibetan monk. Before I go to the highest note, I like to try to go down to the cellar of my voice and just sit around there and warm it up a little bit and come up slowly. If you have the time, it’s the best thing to do; have a warm cup of tea or something. But before going on stage, I drink an espresso and a Grappa, and I always have a glass of white wine; dry white wine to perk me up; there’s sugar in there as well. I have to take care of it, especially at my age now.”
10) Dean Davidson of Britny Fox (Daly’s Pick):
When it comes to “Dizzy” Dean Davidson, you had a guy who could do it all. Davidson possessed a towering and polarizing vocal range and was an able rhythm guitarist. On one hand, the singer could serenade a small child to sleep, and then suddenly, without warning, he’d have that same child entering a world of unspoken pain, through vivid nightmares brought on by the raging buzzsaw echoing from his vocal cords, but that’s rock ‘n’ roll, right? Anyway, as the man out front for hard-rocking Philly outfit, Britny Fox, Davidson ably guided the band to Gold-level success on the band’s first record, Britny Fox (1988). Sadly, a coalescence of bad label dealings, and Davidson’s ego, found him out of the band after the release of the band’s second record, Boys In Heat (1989). It seems that Davidson fancied himself a successful solo artist. It also seems that Davidson was wrong. All that being said, the man was a force, as demonstrated through classics such as “Long Way To Love,” “Girlschool,” and “In Motion.”
Dean Davidson of Britny Fox (DiCecco’s Pick):
Davidson was originally a drummer for the all-original Philadelphia rock act World War III, but later joined forces with guitarist Michael Kelly Smith and drummer Tony Destra, with an eye toward becoming a singer and guitarist. As it turned out, Davidson already had a handful of riffs and song ideas, including the riff to “Long Way To Love.” The trio would then recruit bassist Billy Childs, who they knew from playing the club circuit, and Britny Fox was born.
Davidson, an inherently gifted songwriter, and rhythm player came up with the idea for the band’s ruffled shirt, Victorian glam look. He’s also responsible for the name Britny Fox. Although Davidson remains a polarizing figure in Britny Fox lore, and his often-tumultuous tenure ended after just two albums, it would be remiss to overlook his influence on the band’s sound on Britny Fox (1988) and Boys in Heat (1989).
One of the genre’s most unique vocalists, Davidson exhibited his innate ability to operate on opposite ends of the vocal spectrum. In addition to his charismatic stage presence and throaty rasp, Davidson was also renowned for his stunning singing voice, perhaps featured most prominently on the hit single “Dream On.” While Davidson was a crucial component to Britny Fox, the pride of Philly’s burgeoning music scene, the band forged on without him, releasing two more brilliant albums, Bite Down Hard (1991), and the underexposed gem, Springhead Motorshark (2003).
9) Mike Tramp of White Lion (Daly’s Pick):
Here we have a man that far too many fans of the genre sleep on. Tramp, a Danish-born singer, teamed up with a group of NYC rockers in 1983 to form White Lion. Early on, the singer’s chemistry with the band’s incredible guitarist Vito Bratta was apparent. Together, the duo guided White Lion through a string of gold and platinum-selling records, the largest of which would be Pride (1987), and Big Game (1989). While many focus on the talents and reclusive nature of Bratta, Tramp’s unorthodox style, and incredible lyrical prowess truly set the singer apart from many of his contemporaries.
While many were writing about sex and drugs, Tramp shifted his focus to more serious issues regarding world hunger, politics, and more. It could be said that White Lion was the thinking man’s glam band, and if that’s the case, the band is truly a genesis of Mike Tramp’s ever-working mind. Tramp is still active in music and releasing incredible solo work. His vocal range is more mature now, but still nothing short of legendary. If you’re unfamiliar with Tramp’s work, “All the Fallen Men,” “Wait,” and “Lights and Thunder” should be your jumping-off point.
Mike Tramp of White Lion (DiCecco’s Pick):
In November 1982, Tramp and his band, Lion, returned home to Denmark after playing ten or twelve shows around the New York area in an effort to generate traction. The final show on their slate was at the famous L’Amour in Brooklyn, playing before a buzzing cover band called Dreamer, which featured a wunderkind local guitar hero named Vito Bratta. Though Tramp and Bratta never spoke that night, Tramp watched in awe as Bratta plugged his Stratocaster into one of Lion’s little rehearsal amps and proceeded to play a flawless rendition of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” Tramp realized then that in order to become successful, he needed to play with musicians of that caliber. Within two and a half months, Tramp, along with some help from his mother, gathered enough money to purchase a one-way ticket to New York. It was only days later that Tramp received a phone number from a girl, who added, “This is the number you need to call.” That number belonged to Vito Bratta.
While Bratta’s guitar sorcery acted as the heartbeat behind White Lion, it’s important to remember that Tramp was the engine that fueled White Lion. Tramp made a bet on himself when he bought his one-way ticket and would stop at nothing to attain stardom. White Lion’s success can partly be attributed to Tramp’s innate ability to adapt, react, and fight for a place at the table among his contemporaries. The Denmark native was something of an oddity, with a look tailored for MTV and lyrics that explored subjects beyond the often-regurgitated ones of the day. Tramp had the ability to galvanize an audience with a sappy ballad like “When the Children Cry” and bring them to their feet with the multi-layered rocker, “Lights and Thunder.” Though the wave of success was brief for White Lion, Tramp ultimately achieved what he set out to do in 1983. As a loyal White Lion supporter, it doesn’t get much better than “Wait,” “Hungry,” “Lady of the Valley,” “Little Fighter,” “If My Mind Is Evil,” and “Lights and Thunder.”
“I’ve always said when Vito and I wrote “Broken Heart” – which is the first song, and it’s also the highest song that I’ve ever sung – I think it was just a matter of, that’s just sort of what happened,” Tramp explained to me. “Then sometimes, Vito and I would write the songs, and then we would take them to the rehearsal room and maybe change them. When I would start singing down there, I wasn’t able to hear myself, so sometimes I would go up an octave, or I would ask Vito to change the key or something before we nailed the song. That hasn’t happened many times — Vito changing the key — because a lot of the songs were written around his riffs, and those riffs cannot be moved to another key. But once we really, really started touring heavily, obviously, it became a lot of pressure. When we were touring with Aerosmith or when we were touring with ACϟDC, we were doing five nights a week. Even though we were just playing an hour, it was still full voice all the way. At times, I was struggling, and other times, adrenaline would lift me up.”
“On Main Attraction, I really wrote for my voice at that time, also keeping in mind where we had been. Also, which you hear only a year or two later when I record the first Freak of Nature album, my voice is naturally changing at that time. So, it’s just one of those things.”
Tramp remains quite busy as a solo artist to this day, and I encourage all to check out and support his catalog. It’s fantastic.
8) Jaime St. James of Black ‘N Blue (Daly’s Pick):
Black N’ Blue is a classic case of a band that had it all – the tunes, the vibe, the record deal – but could never quite put it all together. Along with Ratt, Mötley Crüe, and a few others, Black N’ Blue were early comers to a burgeoning Sunset Strip scene. For historians of the early days of the era, you might recall that Black N’ Blue’s track “Chains Around Heaven” actually kicked off Metal Blade Record’s infamous compilation album, Metal Massacre. At the heart of it all, along with guitarist Tommy Thayer, was the band’s frontman, Jaime St. James. In St. James, Black N’ Blue had a classic frontman – blond hair, big voice, great stage presence – and innate ability to write a good song. St. Jame’s bigger than big vocals were the linchpin to Black N’ Blue’s hook-filled tunes. His good time vibe and carefree attitude were the perfect pairings for an era built on those same principles.
I chatted with St. James in the spring of 2021, and he had this to say regarding the band’s songwriting, and trajectory:
“You know, Tommy and I pretty much wrote everything together for the most part, and we could just sit down and knock it out if we knew where we wanted to go with songs. We just thought the same way. We were good songwriters. There are a lot of things that weren’t on the records that we wrote…so many songs, just tons of stuff. I mean, we would just get together with a producer and we’d lay the songs down. There are a lot of songs that have never been laid to tape. But we wrote a lot and we came from a background where we were paying tribute to that 70s influence, bands like Cheap Trick. We had a lot of different ways we could write, good or bad. It was what it was. And I look back on the records and for the most part, I love the songs. I think we did really well. People say we didn’t get as big or as successful as I thought we would, but I listen back to the stuff and I’m very happy.
I get asked that question, “Why? Why weren’t you guys huge?” Honestly, I really don’t know the answer. It’s probably a combination of a lot of things. But, you know, our management was never the best. We were in our early twenties. I was twenty-three years old when we got signed. We were a little intimidated by the record companies because Geffen wasn’t the kind of label you ask to have a little faith in what you’re trying to do, or what you want to do. It was like, “You’re giving us three hundred thousand dollars to do this record. I guess we’re going to listen to you.” But, you know, we bought into what they wanted too. I don’t really know the full reasons and there are probably multiple reasons why we did so little. I don’t know.”
Although the band never reached world-beating heights, albums such as Black N’ Blue (1984) and Nasty Nasty (1986) are stone-cold classics. For me, Black N’ Blue was one of the world-class bands of the 80s. If you haven’t heard anthemic tracks, “Chains Around Heaven, “ “Hold On To 18,” or “Nasty, Nasty,” you’re truly missing out.
Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot (DiCecco’s Pick):
In addition to having one of the most recognizable voices of the era, DuBrow’s vocals will forever be associated with arguably the most significant album of the era, Metal Health, which became the first heavy metal album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Moreover, Metal Health is also regarded as a watershed moment for heavy metal. Quiet Riot’s leader, often abrasive and unapologetically himself, provided a unique edge to the group, and DuBrow’s signature vocal range can be heard on classics such as “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Metal Health,” “Slick Black Cadillac,” and “Party All Night.”
7) Tom Keifer of Cinderella (Daly’s Pick):
No list of 80s lead vocalists would be complete without Philly legend, Tom Keifer. Keifer rose to fame as the frontman for glam metal stalwarts, Cinderella, when the band’s debut album, Night Songs (1986) burst upon the scene. Cinderella was a key cog in the mid-80s wheel, and along with a handful of other bands, pushed the genre into overdrive, taking over popular music in the process. Keifer was something of an outlier, with his jet-black hair, and darker personality providing stark contrast to the general archetype of the day. The singer’s chainsaw-on-fire vocals and ability to serenade listers to sleep with a power ballad made Keifer a true specimen in terms of frontmen. Cinderella would continue to crush it with the release of Long Cold Winter (1988), before petering out in the early 90s. Keifer would continue to front Cinderella over the years, and also has had minor success as a solo artist, with his most recent effort, Rise (2019), finding the singer in fine form. Look into “Night Songs,” “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” and “Gypsy Road,” to see what Keifer is all about.
Tom Keifer of Cinderella (DiCecco’s Pick):
Prior to his multi-platinum success with 1986’s Night Songs, Keifer initially cut his teeth in numerous cover bands, including Telepath, Saints In Hell, and The Priscilla Harriet Band before finally breaking through with Cinderella. On a typical Saturday night in the mid-1980s, Cinderella headlined at the Galaxy, the premier music venue in South Jersey. Taking every opportunity to perform as if they were playing the Spectrum, the band honed its craft week after week, playing the same prime time slot at the Galaxy. Britny Fox, of course, would become the Saturday night main attraction once Cinderella bowed out to record Night Songs. However, even though Night Songs proved to be a glam metal masterpiece, Keifer had an entirely different vision.
The multi-platinum follow-ups, Long Cold Winter and Heartbreak Station, were infused with blues-rock elements and ultimately defined Cinderella’s sound. I, for one, can’t help but notice the influence of Tangier, another treasured Philadelphia rock act.
A multi-instrumentalist and decorated songwriter known for his full-sounding, bluesy inflection, Keifer sang a number of songs that make up the soundtrack of the decade. For a crash course on Cinderella, check out “Night Songs,” “Somebody Save Me,” “Shake Me,” “Gypsy Road,” “If You Don’t Like It,” and “The More Things Change.”
6) Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot (Daly’s Pick):
In terms of influence over the entire genre, and movement of glam metal in the 80s, few singers would be conserved more critical than Kevin DuBrow. From a technical and aesthetic standpoint, DuBrow defied almost every established norm, but still, his band Quiet Riot would undeniably kick off the wave of what was to come with the release of Metal Health (1983). In DuBrow, Quiet Riot possessed a consummate showman, and able songsmith, who paired wonderfully with the guitar hero, Carlos Cavazo. While it’s true that Quiet Riot would never again reach the heights that Metal Health broached, the band, fronted by DuBrow would continue on, albeit with several hiatus’s along the way until DuBrow’s death in 2007. Present-day, an interesting and heavily contested version of Quiet Riot (with no original members) soldiers on with Jizzy Pearl at the helm. As for DuBrow, “Metal Health,” “Cum On Feel the Noize,” and “Let’s Get Crazy” are wonderful examples of the singer’s talent.
Jack Russell of Great White (DiCecco’s Pick):
In my opinion, Russell might be the most purely gifted singer on this list. The California native first met guitarist Mark Kendall in 1977, and they subsequently became one of the most lethal, and unique, tandems during their prolific five-album run. Russell’s powerful delivery and soaring vocal range combined with Kendall’s blues-infused licks were the driving force behind Great White. Unlike most of their contemporaries, Great White’s signature sound was melodically driven and blues rooted. Russell’s innate vocal prowess is on full display on tracks like “Lady Red Light,” “Rock Me,” “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” “House of Broken Love,” “Desert Moon,” and “Call It Rock N’ Roll.”
5) Stephen Pearcy of Ratt (Daly’s Pick):
As a band, Ratt bares the distinction of being one of glam metal’s forefathers and is considered one of the genre’s most gifted outfits. For Pearcy, as the founder, and the lead vocalist of the band, his imprint on Ratt’s music, and influence was nothing short of immediate. Unfortunately, what Ratt is also known for is unmitigated dysfunction as evident by the notorious infighting, lineup changes, and barbs exchanged through the press over the years. Still, albums such as Out of the Cellar (1984), and Invasion of Your Privacy (1985) are nothing short of watershed. Pearcy’s unique vocal style and seething stage presence made Ratt a huge concert draw and a weight-bearing pillar of 80s rock. Simply put, without Ratt, and the efforts of Pearcy, the course of history would be immensely altered as evident by standout tracks “Round and Round,” “Lack of Communication,” and “Lay It Down.”
David Coverdale of Whitesnake (DiCecco’s Pick):
Coverdale first rose to prominence as the frontman for Deep Purple from 1973 to 1976, but his next venture ultimately propelled him to stardom. The raspy, blues-based singer subsequently opted to embark on a solo career, releasing the albums White Snake and Northwinds in 1977 and 1978, respectively. However, following the release of Northwinds, Coverdale formed Whitesnake. Under Coverdale’s direction, Whitesnake’s five albums before 1984’s Slide It In reached multi-platinum status, courtesy of hits “Slow an’ Easy,” and “Love Ain’t No Stranger.” But the primary reason Coverdale is this high is due in large part to the band’s self-titled album, released in 1987. Whitesnake was a masterclass in vocals that marked a watershed moment in the late 1980s, bringing to the forefront Coverdale’s hearty, baritone voice. For starters, I highly recommend revisiting classics from the self-titled album, such as “Still of the Night,” “Here I Go Again ’87,” “Is This Love,” and “Bad Boys.” You’ll see what I mean.
4) Sebastian Bach of Skid Row (Daly’s Pick):
Out of Toms River, New Jersey, Skid Row presented an entirely new spin on a waning scene. The band’s debut album, Skid Row (1989), showcased the gritter, darker, dare I say it – grungier – side of glam metal. Fronted by Sebastian Bach, a man whose soaring vocal range lent itself to Dave “Snake” Sabo’s heavy, winding riffs all the way to platinum-selling success. For me, when I think of 1980s lead vocalists, there is a short flash of people who come to mind, and each and every time that I do, I always think of Sebastian Bach. If we’re talking about a singer who had it all, and could do it all – Sebastian Bach is the guy. The raw, east coast aggression demonstrated by Bach in both the live, and studio settings elicit vivid, and stark imagery of long, hot sweaty nights, and forlorn years past. If you’re a fan of rock, and you’re from the east coast, few bands encapsulate those moments in time better. To that end, who better the mouthpiece to reminisce than Sebastian Bach? Listen back to tracks such as “Big Guns,” “18 and Life,” and “I Remember You,” and tell me I’m wrong.
Joe Elliott of Def Leppard (DiCecco’s Pick):
Elliott joined the band then-known as Atomic Mass by serendipity – guitarist Pete Willis crossed paths with him on his way home from rehearsal when Elliott missed his bus and decided to walk home – but he’s since cemented his reputation as one of rock’s most prominent frontmen. Def Leppard, of course, evolved out of Atomic Mass and remains on top of the 80s hard rock hierarchy over four decades later. Elliott, the voice behind some of the decade’s most beloved anthems, including “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Photograph,” “Animal,” “Foolin’,” and “Rock of Ages,” provided the perfect blend of flair and refinement to the band’s infrastructure and continues to belt out the classic catalog in admirable fashion. Though I’m partial to High N’ Dry, a good starting point for those looking to get reacquainted would be early setlist staples, such as “Too Late For Love,” or the aforementioned “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin.’” In case you missed it, the Lepps recently released two singles, “Kick” and “Take What You Want,” ahead of the release of its upcoming album, Diamond Star Halos.
3) Joe Elliott of Def Leppard (Daly’s Pick):
It’s hard to have a conversation about 80s lead vocalists without at least dropping Joe Elliott’s name. Well, I’m doing more than just dropping his name – I’ve got him creeping near the very top of my list. As one of only two Englishman on the list, the Sheffield-born Elliot found himself a linchpin of 80s rock success as the frontman of 80s rock megastars, Def Leppard. Elliott, and Def Leppard, in general, were something of a different breed in comparison to some of their 80s contemporaries. Sure, they wrote about and experienced all of the typical excesses of the day, but there was a special “something” about their music that elevated them above many of their competitors.
One thing I always find special about Def Leppard is that after the massive success of Pyromania (1983), the band was forced into a four-year studio hiatus due to drummer Rick Allen’s untimely car accident, which cost him his arm. While most bands would have been done in by such events, Def Leppard emerged on the other side bigger than ever, with the release of Hysteria (1987), a feat which is simply unparalleled. And one which never could have happened without the steady guidance of Joe Elliott as evident on tracks such as “Photograph,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Hysteria.”
Jani Lane of Warrant (DiCecco’s Pick):
A musical maestro who penned all of Warrant’s lyrics on the band’s first three studio albums – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989), Cherry Pie (1990), Dog Eat Dog (1992) – Lane had a range and depth unmatched by his contemporaries. While Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and Cherry Pie achieved multi-platinum status and encompassed the feel-good remnants of the late 1980s, Lane opted to veer in an entirely different direction on Dog Eat Dog. Showcasing Lane’s multi-layered, creative chops, ever-polarizing Dog Eat Dog at times feels as though Lane is trying to tell us something. His brilliance was unfortunately short-lived, however, as Lane passed away at the age of forty-seven in 2011, leaving behind one of the best-known frontmen of his genre.
2) Jani Lane of Warrant (Daly’s Pick):
Seeing as Warrant were latecomers to the scene, the placement of Jani Lane on my list might surprise many, as their biggest record, Cherry Pie (1990), didn’t drop until the scene was wheezing its last gasping breaths. Over the years, I’ve seen, and heard so many of Lane’s contemporaries speak on the days when “Jani was Jani.” It seems that in Warrant’s early years, Lane unknowingly found himself as some sort of mythical figure steeped in the spoils of magnificent glory, and as the years have rolled on, time has done nothing to dispel that notion.
Looking back, Lane was an absolute monster of a vocalist, but sadly, he was also something of a shooting star, one which was almost immediately derailed by substance abuse, and various other personal issues. As a fan, it pains me to see the state he was in as he took the stage in his later years. Watching a man of such talent meet the end that Lane met in 2011, at the young age of forty-seven, only leaves me pondering the levels he could have reached had he found a way out to the other side of his demons. Still, tracks such as “Heaven,” “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and “Cherry Pie,” tell the story of a man who in his prime, possessed untold charisma, and talent.
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row (DiCecco’s Pick):
Boasting flowing blonde locks and a brash east coast attitude that complemented a seemingly endless vocal range and stamina, Bach quickly became a household name thanks to a quartet of hit singles on Skid Row’s multi-platinum yielding self-titled debut: “Youth Gone Wild,” “18 and Life,” “I Remember You,” and “Piece of Me.” The band’s follow-up album, 1991’s Slave to the Grind, was also certified multi-platinum, and demonstrated Bach’s chameleon-like versatility on hits like, “Monkey Business,” “Slave to the Grind,” and “Wasted Time.” Once you’re finished listening to the band’s first two albums, you’ll want to check out 1995’s Subhuman Race, a criminally under-discussed masterpiece. In those first three albums, Bach puts on a vocal clinic.
1) David Coverdale of Whitesnake (Daly’s Pick):
As I mentioned before, when I try to visualize lead vocalists who defined the 1980s, there are always a few who immediately come to mind. And without fail, the man who always comes to mind first, as a head and shoulders bearer of the entire movement’s proverbial weight, is David Coverdale. Coverdale first came to relevance as a replacement member of Deep Purple in the 70s, and soon, he launched Whitesnake as a solo project in 1978. Soon enough, Whitesnake morphed into a full-blown band, and at first, they were something of a blues-rock outfit, before John Sykes came along in the mid-80s and changed everything for Coverdale’s Whitesnake.
There are many who will bring up the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Vince Neil, or Bret Michaels as the decade’s de facto poster children, but for me, no one can touch David Coverdale. The man is the literal mold from which all who came after him in that decade were cast. His booming, raspy voice, unladen machismo, and unrelenting songsmith manifested in the album of the decade, Whitesnake (1987). Regardless of what any other band did before or after, it’s hard to argue that “Here I Go Again ’87,” isn’t the first song that comes to mind when you think of 80s rock.
As far as other Coverdale classics, check out “Love Ain’t No Stranger,” “Slide It In,” and “Crying in the Rain,” to bask in one of the genre’s greatest singers’ untold glory. As for Coverdale, he’s still on parade across stages near you, but the word is that this current tour will be his last, so catch him while you can, before he’s gone, leaving you to regret that you didn’t.
Klaus Meine of Scorpions (DiCecco’s Pick):
The voice that powered 80s anthems such as “Rock You Like A Hurricane,” “No One Like You,” “Winds of Change,” “I’m Leaving You,” “Big City Nights,” “Lovedrive,” and “The Zoo” hardly needs an introduction. In terms of the vocal versatility to sing hard rock and ballads, immeasurable range, remarkable power, and overall refinement, one would be hard-pressed to produce a singer with a more illustrious resume, and one who has had a more integral contribution to the 80s era. Not only does Meine’s resume extend back as far as the Scorpion’s debut album, Lonesome Crow (1972), Meine still manages to belt out the band’s classic catalog at an extraordinarily high level at the age of seventy-three. While his once-uncanny vocal range has some limitations these days, in his prime, Meine was in a class unto himself.
Dissecting one’s biases and setting them aside is never easy, but it’s essential in delivering something which stands tall and speaks volumes.
In putting together this list, my colleague Andrew DiCecco, and I walked a proverbial tightrope, teetering between paying reverence earned, and pushing back against established conceptions. As one might imagine, maintaining that balance required ample delicacy and subtle nuance.
With all of that being said, Andrew and I once again, have forged a list containing heroes of the stage that we feel cast a long, and pointed shadow across the greater limelight. As historians, observers, and appreciators of the great genre of rock music, this list tells the tale of frontmen who we feel not only set the standard but defiantly shattered the mold.
Ultimately, there is a fine line between opinion and fact. The former will differ, and the latter will always be heavily debated. While we never will state our opinions as facts, we do hold them dear, and we are prepared to stand by them, come what may.
Let the great debate begin, and subsequently, rage on.
Interested in learning more about the vocalists we chose for this list? His the link below:
Be sure to dive into the full archives of:
Idle Chatter, by Andrew Daly here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/idle-chatter-archives/
Shredful Compositions by Andrew DiCecco here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/shredful-compositions-archives/