The ’80s generally can be broken into two parts new wave in the beginning and pop/hair/glam-metal for the end. As the popularity of new waves second wave began to decline in the mid ’80s, hard rock bands, mostly out of the Los Angeles club circuit, like Motley Crue and Ratt, started to fill the vacancy. Boosted by ever increasing airplay on MTV (even creating the metal-centric Headbangers Ball), these rockers with their penchant for guitar hooks, elaborate fashion, makeup, and wild hair topped the charts, sold millions of records, and received a lions share of radio airplay for much of the latter half of the decade.
Beginning as pop metal, the most commercial of the heavy metal sounds, the music was centered on the guitar via catchy riff-driven hooks and indulgent solos. The music and song structure was an extension of the hard rock of ’70s bands like Aerosmith and the partying of Van Halen, with the theatrics and flair of artists such as Kiss and Alice Cooper (all of whom had minor comebacks as a result of the genres popularity). Glam rock pioneers like T. Rex, New York Dolls, and Gary Glitter would also lend a bit of their aesthetic influence, especially in regards to the androgynous look, first presented by Finnish band Hanoi Rock, and adopted by the majority of pop-metal bands. Because of the slick productions, overindulgent attitudes, and tendency to favor style over substance, many critics and fans of the harder metal bands began to refer to most pop metal bands as hair metal, deriving their derision from the backcombed, frizzed-out, aqua-netted hairstyles associated with their glam brethren. Hair metal was a somewhat derogatory term when first applied to pop metal to describe the look of these bands and this style of rock. However, upon the release of Bon Jovis Slippery When Wet in 1986, and subsequently thereafter, the term was positively associated.
As the decade winded down, hair metal had became the largest, most commercially successful brand of music in the United States. Once the juggernauts that were Slippery When Wet, Def Leppards Hysteria, and Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction rocketed up the charts and became ubiquitous on U.S. radio, proving the extreme marketability (and profitability) of these bands and music, the industry did what it always does; it cloned the shit out of the popular sound until it was horribly diluted and a pale comparison to the original. Just like with hip-hop in the late ’90s or the merging of punk-pop and emo to the point of singularity in the early ’00s, hair metal was another recipient of the music industrys tendency to overindulge. The overcrowding of the scene with bands indistinguishable from each other and the arrival of grunge on the main stage via Nirvanas Nevermind in 1991 led to the swift decline of hair metal in terms of sales, popularity, radio play, and most importantly, relevance.
What happened to all of these bands after the fall of the hair-metal? Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years gave us some insight into the culture, lifestyle, and decadence that contributed to the fall. And from the annals of VH1, we have been fortunate enough to go Behind the Music for a number of the major artists like Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, and Poison, but what about the B-listers? The bands that had one hit, maybe two if they were lucky? The bands that wouldnt have had careers had it not been for MTV, the ones that looked the part far more than they sounded it: Where are those bands now? Many are still together to some degree, touring since their record sales profits have long since dwindled. Package tours featuring many of these artists on the same bill have maintained a moderate level of popularity in the U.S.. Some have found continued adoration from European audiences, while others have simply just gone on to other things. The style even had a bit of a revival in the early ’00s with bands like the English outfit The Darkness.
Before I begin I want to set my disclaimer I purposely avoided talking about the monster acts Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and a few others for obvious reasons. Most of those acts are still in the public conscious, and because of the success of those bands, coverage on them has been pretty well done. With that said, there are some others missing Skid Row, Cinderella, Dokken, for example. I left them out because, though they may not have been as big as the others mentioned, they still managed a better career than most. It’s those lesser known B-listers and second-third-tier hair metal bands that I wanted to discuss.
I chose to start with the Bulletboys because the mystique surrounding their career had it that they had just signed a multi-million dollar contract right before the grunge explosion rendered them virtually irrelevant. The Bulletboys began their career in the Los Angeles metal circuit of the late ’80s, forming in 1987 and releasing their self-titled debut a year later. Over the years, the band has had almost 30 members, with the only constant being singer and former Ratt guitarist Marq Torien. Originally the band was compared to and even hyped as the next Van Halen, mostly due to Toriens look and performance as well as the bands use of producer Ted Templeman, who had produced the Roth-era VH albums. Over the course of the ’90s, Torien continued with various lineups to produce albums about every other year, ending in 1995. It was another eight years until Torien with other original member, bassist Lonnie Vencent, would release an album, 2003s Sophie. In 2009, Torien used the Bulletboys name again to release 10c (Ten cent) Billionaire, an album described as the heaviest release yet from the band but still maintaining the Van Halen collides with Pop Metal sound. Most recently the band has had some of its music appear in films like Beerfest and Hot Tub Time Machine, which ironically features a song (Smooth Up In Ya) that was recorded two years after the events of the movie.
Vixen originally formed in 1980 in Los Angeles. After punching and fighting their way through the club circuit, the four (all female) members of Vixen paid more than their share of dues on the climb to pop metal stardom, only to briefly taste success prior to Seattles emergence. In 1987, the same year that Appetite for Destruction dropped and the Bulletboys signed, Vixen got their big break after signing with EMI. As with the Bulletboys, a year later the band released their self-titled debut. Riding on the success of the single Edge of a Broken Heart (actually written by non-metalhead AOR poster boy Richard Marx), Vixen sold millions of CDs only to tank with their follow up Rev It Up (1990). The album was released prior to the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and had some songs considered better or stronger than what was on the debut, but with the rise of alternative taking over and EMIs reluctance to promote the band, Vixen initially dissolved in 1991.
In 1997, original drummer Roxy Petrucci and original lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Janet Gardner reformed Vixen with Gina Style replacing founding guitarist Jan Kuehnemund and Rana Ross replacing original bass player Share Pedersen (who would eventually be replaced by Petruccis sister, Maxine). This version of Vixen continued to tour throughout 1997 and 1998 in support of the album Tangerine. This reunion was cut short after original guitarist Kuehnemund sued the band for copyright infringement. After mending the fences between Kuehnemund and the other members of Vixen, the band planned another reunion. As of 2001, a second reunion occurred with Kuehnemund, Gardner, and Roxy Petrucci coming together with new bass player Pat Holloway. The band joined the Voices of Metal package tour only to split up midway during the tour. All the members except Kuehnemund left, forcing her to reform the band almost immediately. This lineup went on to release three live albums between 2006 and 2009.
Named after Russ Meyers Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! the band lived up the over-sexed action sexploitation pics of Meyer, delivering a version of glam metal that can only be referred to as sleaze. Personally, Faster Pussycats self-titled debut album was one of my favorites in high school and features glammed up sleazy pop-metal perfect for the low brow humor of a teenage boy. The release of FPs second album, Wake Me When Its Over, in 1990 would go on to be the bands most successful album; however, while on tour supporting the album, original drummer Mark Michals was arrested for attempting to mail heroin to his hotel room. He was immediately replaced by Quiet Riots drummer, Frankie Banali, to finish the tour, with Brett Bradshaw taking over duties afterward. The band would record a third full-length, Whipped!, in 1992 and break up the following year. The odd thing was that this album, though not a groundbreaking event in the least, presented a band far more confident in their abilities and for all intents and purposes featured a band at their creative peak.
The first reunion of the band occurred in 2001 with three original members and three new members pulled from other projects the original members were involved in after the initial breakup. When original member Greg Steele left mid-tour, Tracii Guns of LA Guns filled in. This lineup continued until 2005 when original guitarist Brent Muscat was diagnosed with throat cancer. His replacement on this tour began a long and heated feud between founding vocalist Taime Downe and Muscat. This feud went so far as to have two bands performing and touring under the Faster Pussycat name, with Muscat eventually conceding and has since gone under the moniker Sin City Sinners. Downes version of the band released a far more heavy electro-sounding album with 2007s The Power and the Glory Hole, a title indicative of the bands ongoing puerile sense of humor. In 2008, Faster Pussycat toured with the latest incarnation of Tracii Guns L.A. Guns and as of 2009, released the bands first live album. Unfortunately, the live album is from the present day, with the current line-up doing the old school line-up’s hits, so consider yourself warned.
Like many of the second wave pop/hair-metal bands, Bang Tango formed in 1987. However, unlike many of their peers, the members of Bang Tango infused funk into their sound to create a groovier, bass driven metal sound. Despite the moderate success of BTs debut Psycho Café and MTV exposure via the single Someone Like You”, the band never crossed over. Unlike many of their contemporaries, the members of Bang Tango managed to hammer it out during the Seattle Years when hair-metal was more ridiculed than heralded. The band first broke up in 1995 only to reform a year later and again in 1999 after disbanding for a second time in 1998. In 2002, founding member Joe Leste formed a new version of the band, essentially using a continuous string of lesser known musicians to fill the supporting roles. He would later go on to sing with L.A. Guns for a brief stint. Original bass player Kyle Kyle went on to form the Newlydeads with Faster Pussycat singer Taime Downe, while original guitarist Mark Knight formed Gravy in 2002, releasing their debut Bones in 2003.
Behind all the Beavis and Butthead mockery and all that swarthiness that Kip Winger exudes, especially in Wingers hit Seventeen”, there is a classically trained musician, who, at 16, mailed a demo tape to the Alan Parsons Project (he eventually did sing with the band in 2006 at a Michigan festival). Through his work with producer Beau Hill, Winger managed to score a co-songwriting credit for the song Bang Bang (Balls of Fire) featured on Kix third release Midnite Dynamite. Continued session work, including backing vocals for Twisted Sister, eventually led him to join Alice Cooper in 1985. Also joining Cooper was guitarist Reb Beach. If you can guess which year they left Alice Cooper to form Winger, you win a prize.
In 1987, bassist Kip Winger and guitarist Beach left Coopers band; along with Paul Taylor on guitar, also a former Cooper band member, and former Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein, the four men formed Sahara. As with many good things, they come in small packages. This one thing was that the name Sahara, as unbelievably amazingly so far out rocking a name as it is, was already taken. That it took Alice Cooper to suggest the band use Wingers name may even say a little about the band or at least Wingers humility. Winger released its self-titled debut the following year to strong success, scoring two major and two minor hits, including Seventeen and Headed for a Heartbreak”. After touring in support of Winger, the band put out its second LP, In the Heart of the Young, and immediately went back out on the road. The constant touring took its toll on Taylor, who dropped out citing exhaustion.
Wingers third album, Pull, was actually recorded as a three-piece (though on tour Taylors role was filled by John Roth) and released in 1993 in the midst of the backlash against pop/glam metal acts. Both a critical and commercial meh, the album failed to achieve the multi-platinum sales of the first two albums. After the supporting tour, the band essentially faded away. The first reunion, in 2001, included all five members who played in Winger. They recorded a new song to be included on an upcoming greatest-hits collection and embarked on a reunion tour the following year.
Without Taylor, a reformed Winger recorded Winger IV in 2006 with a short two week tour or Europe to support the album and their fifth album, Karma, in 2009. However, John Roth left the band in 2010, once again leaving a trio in place, so whos to say whats next.
Kix was unfairly lumped in with many hair metal acts simply because they rocked with melody, hooks, and hair. Since they were categorized then, we can continue to group them in now. Kix differed from most pop/hair metal acts in that they heralded from Hagerstown, MD and they formed in (drumroll please) 1981! Yes, a whole six years before the immense oversaturation would occur. It was probably through their work with producer Beau Hill, who also worked with bands like Ratt and Warrant.
Kix released its self-titled debut in 1981 with a follow-up, Cool Kids, in 1983. When it came time for their third release, Beau Hill entered the picture. Hill transformed Kix sound into hard rock with an occasional touch of funk. The new sound on Midnite Dynamite pushed Kix into the hair metal arena. This album also featured a song co-written by Kip Winger, additional drumming provided by Anton Fig and glam metal guitarist Mike Slamer.
The band then migrated to Los Angeles to capitalize on the current popularity of the genre only to find themselves face to face with not only a million other glam rock bands, but their doppelganger, Poison. While in LA, Kix vocalist Steve Whiteman did vocal work with Twisted Sister alongside Kip Winger. In 1988, they released Blow My Fuse which became the bands first platinum-selling album, featuring the anti-suicide ballad Dont Close Your Eyes.
Despite the eventual success the band found, it was short lived. Kix would become involved in contract disputes and debt issues with their label, Atlantic Records, and would not release another album until 1991 on East West Records. By the time Kix legal issues were settled and Hot Wire was released, grunge had already established a presence. Eventually, Atlantic dropped Kix in 1994, forcing them to release their final album, $how Bu$ine$$, on Sanctuary Records subsidiary CMC International and disband in 1995.
In 2003, a new version of Kix reformed without band leader Donnie Purnell, playing various reunion shows. In 2008, Kix played the Rocklahoma festival as well as two M3 festivals and an all day ’80s Day for a hometown audience at Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2010.