Hair Glam Pop Metal
Of all genres of Metal, not many are as controversial as Glam Metal, or as some call it, “Hair Metal”.
If, in the ’90s, you admitted to being a Glam Metal fan, you would probably get thrown out on the street. But why was this? Was Glam Metal really that bad?
After Black Sabbath’s 1970 debut birthed Heavy Metal into existence, with Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin quickly adding their flavours to the mix, the decade saw many great bands rising on the scene: Judas Priest, Budgie, Uriah Heep, Rainbow, Montrose, and many more. However, by the end of the 1970s, three bands would be instrumental in creating a whole new genre of Heavy Metal: KISS, Sweet, and Van Halen.
KISS and Sweet, as well as the New York Dolls, Alice Cooper, and David Bowie, had gotten the world used to Heavy Rock in fancy dress, but it was Van Halen’s 1978 debut album that pushed it over the edge and influenced a new generation of artists into creating what would become Glam Metal.
The first wave of Glam (1981 – 1984)
Hollywood, USA, 1981 – four men are debating a name for their brand new band, promising a new sound never heard before. After considering some options, they found the perfect name: Mötley Crüe.
The band hit the scene and later that year released their debut album ‘Too Fast For Love’. Aside from a fresh melodic sound, the band sported an outrageous look with full make-up and outfits.
California proved to be a hotbed of Glam Metal bands because soon after bands like Dokken, Night Ranger, and Quiet Riot (sporting later Ozzy guitarist Randy Rhoads) burst onto the scene.
At the same time, on the east coast of the US, another band had been touring the club scene for a while and were ready to record their first proper album. Their sound was heavy, their look as outrageous as Mötley Crüe’s. Their name: Twisted Sister.
1983 Was a big year for Metal because not only was Thrash Metal born, but seeing debut albums by Metallica and Slayer, Glam Metal also became big. Quiet Riot’s ‘Metal Health’ and Mötley Crüe’s ‘Shout At The Devil’ albums were released and sold unprecedented copies. Dokken’s debut ‘Breaking The Chains’ came out that same year. That year also saw veteran bands like
KISS and Def Leppard were moving away from their original sounds towards Glam Metal, with KISS’s ‘Lick It Up’ and Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’.
The Sunset Strip in Los Angeles proved to be the centre of the growing Glam Metal scene. After a reluctance to book punk bands due to prior violent incidents during concerts, clubs started booking more and more Metal bands to fill their slots. This not only caused a lot of the local bands to be able to play plenty of gigs, such as Ratt and Autograph, but bands from all over the country flocked to Los Angeles, such as Black n’ Blue from Oregon and Kix from New Jersey.
The second wave (1985-1991)
By 1985, Glam Metal was huge. It was everywhere and becoming mainstream. This was greatly helped by the emergence of MTV, launched in 1981. Glam Metal bands were quick to make music videos, being watched daily by thousands of fans. Bands appeared on Headbangers Ball, one of MTV’s most popular videos, with nearly 1.3 million viewers per week.
On the backs of the great success the established bands were enjoying came a bunch of newer bands. 1986 saw the release of one of Glam Metal’s most commercially successful albums: ‘Slippery when Wet’ by Bon Jovi, out of New Jersey.
With Glam Metal slowly becoming a global phenomenon (notably in Sweden’s Europe), the local scene was still booming. New bands like Warrant, Faster Pussycat, W.A.S.P., Pretty Boy Floyd, and later big shots Guns n’ Roses and Poison.
Poison especially, is pivotal to the scene as they managed to push the Glam Metal aesthetic even further than Mötley Crüe did. People don’t call it ‘hair metal’ for no reason. In fact, by 1986, he was the poster boy for 1980s excess. Big hair, big tours, and big scandals. The audience of Glam Metal increasingly saw drummers flying in the air (Mötley Crüe), half-naked female singers dragging male slaves across the stage (Bitch), and entire bands with more make-up on than clothes (notably W.A.S.P.’s assless chaps).
This form of shock performance was not a phenomenon in itself. The 80s in the US were marked by unemployment and rebellion against previous generations. Alongside Glam Metal, another major spandex wielder, WWE wrestling became big, as did huge, excessive film franchises such as Top Gun and Nightmare on Elm Street (for which Dokken wrote ‘Dream Warriors’).
Meanwhile, the tabloids were having a field day with the amount of drug and alcohol-infused antics by the bands. Mostly, this ranged from vandalism of hotel rooms to singers snorting ants. However, some were also incidents where lives were lost, most notably 1984’s car accident involving Mötley Crüe’s Vince Neill and Hanoi Rock’s Razzle Dingley, leading to Dingley’s death.
The 1980s also saw the scene taking a stance against drug abuse, especially hard drugs like heroin. There wasn’t a corner of Metal where this abuse was more prevalent than in Glam Metal.
Sunset on the Sunset Strip
It wasn’t just the excesses in behaviour from the bands that caused the public to move away from the scene. As we have seen many times over, money ruined a perfectly good scene. As soon as record companies began to notice the enormous sales figures major Glam Bands were producing, they were quick to scramble for any odd band around. This led to many bands be quickly signed, no matter their musical quality. While earlier Glam Metal bands like Dokken and Ratt were very serious about writing and playing music, the record companies saw that it was an image that sold.
Soon, rumours would arise about bands who didn’t really play on their albums, but studio musicians wrote and recorded the albums. In the middle of these rumours were bands like Warrant, supposedly having a ghost player on their first album to handle to solos and Ratt. Now, ‘ghost playing’ is not uncommon and can be as innocent as a band’s guitarist not being able to record a solo clean enough so a session player records it, and the band’s guitarist learns it in time for the tour. Studio time is costly and the record companies are on a tight schedule. However, this did add to the notion that Glam Metal was all about excessive rock star lifestyles and not about the music.
The most prominent rumour of ghost playing surrounds Bon Jovi. The rumour is that original bass player Alec John Such did not play on ‘Slippery When Wet’ or in fact on any of the 80’s albums. Rather, it was present bass player Hugh McDonald who played on the albums, working as a session player on Jon Bon Jovi’s pre-Bon Jovi recordings. Fans who saw Bon Jovi perform in the 80s noticed that Alec often played the parts more simplistic or played parts of songs not at all, adding to the rumours that not only did someone else play the parts on the albums, but also that Alec was in the band for image, as Hugh didn’t look the part.
By 1991, Glam Metal was over. It is often said that Grunge killed Glam Metal, but honestly, Glam Metal was already dead.
It died on a overdose of a saturated market with too many bands, too much exposure, too many power ballads, too much excess and scandal. The last big hurrah of the scene was FireHouse winning ‘Favourite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist’ at 1992’s American Music Awards, beating Nirvana and Alice in Chains.
Glam Metal bands disbanded or tried to alter their sound towards more Alternative Metal, such as Mötley Crüe and Skid Row.
Glam was dead.
The Legacy of Glam Metal
Now, was Glam Metal really that bad? Honestly, not really. Glam Metal is often misunderstood because it consists of the music and the image. The image went rogue after 1984, and as soon as the scene became mainstream, it was all about the look.
The music, however, definitely has its pearls. What is often overlooked is how innovative Glam Metal was. Glam Metal was quick to adopt newer playing techniques like tapping and divebombs. In their quest to look the part, they became early adopters of new guitar brands, sporting fresh new looks. The scene also often uses complex melodies and doesn’t shy away from sporting catchy hooks like pop music did. Glam Metal, like Thrash, did early experiments with double bass drumming.
Glam Metal also produced a respectable list of guitar shredders. It’s debatable if Eddie van Halen can be counted as a GLAM shredder per se, however influential he was to the scene. But to name a few: George Lynch (Dokken), Jake E. Lee (Ozzy Osbourne), Warren DeMartini (Ratt), John Sykes (Whitesnake), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme), Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), and the ambidextrous god himself Michael Angelo Batio (Nitro).
Nowadays, Metal fans look upon Glam Metal a lot more favourably than they did in the 90s. YouTube is teaming with younger people, playing covers of Poison, Mötley Crüe, and Dokken songs. Movies like The Dirt (based upon Nikki Sixx’ recollection of Mötley Crüe’s history) also help shine a light on what happened. Plenty of bands from ‘back then’ have reformed and are touring, including Poison, FireHouse, and Dokken. Glam Metal has also inspired plenty of newer bands to incorporate in their sounds, such as Outloud, Crashdiet, and H.E.A.T..
While Glam Metal remains controversial, that’s not too bad. Glam likes that. But what cannot be discarded is the musical legacy of this scene.
Mötley Crüe – ‘Too Fast For Love (1981)
Ratt – ‘Out of the Cellar’ (1984)
Dokken – ‘Under Lock and Key’ (1985)
Whitesnake – ‘Whitesnake’ (1987)
Poison – ‘Open Up And Say…Ahh!’ (1988)
FireHouse – ‘Firehouse’ (1990)
Le Glam Metal or “Hair Metal” evolved from Glam Rock like David Bowie and a fusion of Metal and New Wave.
The Heavy Metal world was affected by the “over the top” ’80s fashion and many bands adopted the exaggerated look with a lot of makeup, extravagant clothing, big hair and a heavily charged look.
Their music was less edgy, like a softer, popular version of Metal. A good example was “Def Leppard”, who started just a British Heavy Metal band but turned to Hair Metal following the new trend.
However, Pop Metal or Hair Metal was perceived as a negative subgenre by “real Metalheads”.
Bands like Whitesnake, with their sun-kissed California blond big hair and romantic video clips calculated to please the American public. Bon Jovi and Motley Crue were the best representatives of Hair Metal.
Glam Metal (or Hair Metal) is the good old “Pop Metal”.
Historically, it is a form of Hard Rock that emerged in the early 1980s and had as its main centre of propagation the Sunset Strip club scene in Los Angeles.
Influenced by the catchy songs, extravagant costumes, and androgynous aesthetics of Glam rock, as well as the Hard Rock riffs and energy of names like Slade, Kiss, and Van Halen.
Musically speaking, an emphasis on strong guitar riffs full of melody, catchy choruses made to sing along, and lyrics extolling the lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll – not forgetting, of course, the romantic ballads to lighten the mood and get along.
Numerous LA-based Heavy Metal bands, such as Mötley Crüe, Ratt, and Guns N’ Roses, found a home in the Sunset Strip venues “Whisky a Go Go and The Roxy”. Many fans imitated the bands’ attire and hairstyles, and the scene became known as Glam Metal.
In the early 1990s, the genre began to lose popularity due mainly to the saturation of the style, with hundreds of bands wanting to ride the same wave and making the sound too generic.
With the emergence of grunge, MTV, once the main catalyst of Hair Metal, changed its focus and began highlighting bands from Seattle, such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and others, putting the lid on the style.
The contrast with the aggressive posture and the stripped-down outfit of grunge and alternative rock, in vogue at the time, turned the term Hair Metal into something derogatory, a fact that, combined with the bands’ heavy and exaggerated wardrobe, ended up forming a negative image about the eighties scene in Los Angeles.
Mötley Crüe was the incarnation of “sex, drugs and Rock n’Roll”. The band has a very “rich” past filled with passion, romance, sex and many crazy tours, driving fans around the world delirious with their amazing performances on stage.
Personally, my favourite “pre-Glam” band is Van Halen. In my opinion, they are beyond any classification, and Eddie was a musical genius. I also like Quiet Riot with their great “Metal Heath” album.