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Pop culture time capsule: An attempted ranking of 1980s hair metal bands

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated: December 18, 2013 - 12:12 PM

This all started innocently. We had a glass of wine last night. Then we had another. Then we had a weird thought: Who sang the song, "Up All Night." (This has never happened before).

We thought for a minute that it was Warrant. Then we looked it up and remembered it was Slaughter. That made us think about both bands and led to the conclusion that in the hierarchy of 1980s hair metal bands, Slaughter was slightly superior to Warrant. We tweeted that thought, and then there was an unexpected deluge of both support and backlash.

One thing led to another, and now we are compelled -- as a child of the 1980s who owned many embarrassing hair metal band cassettes and pretty much wore metal band T-shirts exclusively between 5th and 7th grade -- to give our overall rankings of all the hair metal bands we deem fit to rank.

Note that this is not a completely exhaustive list. These are merely the bands that we feel at least qualified enough to rank because we used to listen to them. We would like to think any band we leave off was somehow lesser than the bands we listened to, but that is quite possibly not true.

We also offer these remembrances/disclaimers before the list:

1) Bon Jovi and Guns 'N' Roses are not included. Bon Jovi is a rock band with hair. Guns N Roses is excluded because they were one of the greatest bands of all time, with hair. Europe and White Lion also not included for reasons similar to Bon Jovi, but worse. We had all of these bands on cassette, of course.

2) In our memory, pretty much every hair metal band had a formula: the first single released was a rocker. The second one was a little tamer, but still up-tempo. The third one was a ballad. These were almost always the first, third and fifth songs on the tape (or first, second and fifth sometimes). Almost every video had shots of them on stage intermingled with women in curious states of undress and/or crazed exuberance at a concert.

Thanks to all of you who suggested bands. Now, the list, in order of worst to best.

Firehouse: Even their biggest songs (Love of a Lifetime, Don't Treat Me Bad) cannot be unironically enjoyed today.

Stryper: Embarrassing fact -- we owned not just a Stryper tape, but a T-shirt as well. And it was not religiously motivated.

Winger: Their songs had decent guitar hooks, but let's just say they didn't age well.

Faster Pussycat: Always seemed on the fringe to us, and not in a good way.

Warrant: We went back and listened to "I Saw Red," this morning, and it is OK. Where the Down Boys Go is a completely terrible song. Cherry Pie is over the top obnoxious even by hair metal standards. Love of a Lifetime wants so badly to be a Poison ballad, but it's not.

Slaughter: See, we weren't making a point that Slaughter was FAR superior. Just a little bit better. The guitar bridge in Up All Night seals the deal.

Quiet Riot: They didn't try to be as pretty as a lot of the other bands, probably because they started earlier. Musically, there was a lot of shouting and crunchy guitars -- not a bad thing.

Twisted Sister: In the same spirit of Quiet Riot, but better. We're Not Gonna Take It is an awesome arena rock song.

Tesla: What an odd catalog. We probably put them this high because their acoustic stuff really wasn't that bad, and because Modern Day Cowboy still RULES HARD. The first time we heard/saw it on MTV, probably on Headbangers Ball, we were PUMPED. (Please don't expect the video to make sense).

Skid Row: A little underrated in our mind. The three-single combo off their 1989 debut was perfectly executed hair metal band (though they were tracks 5, 7 and 11, very odd). Youth Gone Wild is still enjoyable in the right context. I Remember You is a nice transition. 18 and Life is an edgier ballad.

Whitesnake: Kind of like what if Led Zeppelin met Poison. That's not entirely a compliment, but they could handle their instruments.

Dokken: George Lynch absolutely crushed on guitar, and the band's namesake, Don Dokken, wasn't too shabby of a frontman. If we still had a cassette player, we would still listen to Burning Like a Flame. (Wait, we can just listen to it any time we want!) The first 15 seconds of that video include a dalmatian, shooting pool with a guitar and a mysterious woman. Do they dress like firemen later? You bet. Dokken!

Ratt: By sheer force of their deep catalog and one genuinely fantastic song (Round and Round), we give Ratt a hallowed place in the top 5. They know what hair metal was about. They knew what they were doing. Hey Stephen Pearcy: If those pants were any tighter, you'd have to wear them inside your skin! 

Def Leppard: Would be ranked even higher if it didn't always seem like they were trying so hard. They almost had too much polish to be true hair metal, but their earlier work saves them there. You can have Pour Some Sugar on Me. We'll keep Bringin' on the Heartbreak.

Cinderella: Controversial sleeper in the top 3? Maybe to some. But if you enjoyed Cinderella as much as we did, you know they belong here. There are too many good songs to mention, but we'll let you watch the video for Somebody Save Me. Does Bon Jovi show up? Did we ruin the surprise?

Poison: Poison is still in regulation rotation and most weddings outside the 11-county metro area and for good reason: this band had the hair metal formula DOWN. Every time you thought Poison was too edgy, they would drop a ballad. Every time they seemed too tame, they perked up with a track like Look What the Cat Dragged In. Those guys were living like rock stars FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.

Motley Crue: The winner and undisputed champ. These guys were hair metal. End of story.

We look forward to a spirited discussion in the comments.

      

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