Top 10 Hair Metal Bands of the 1980s

Even if the mark of being called “hair metal” or “glam metal” is one that many bands coming out in the 1980s wanted to wash away like the Aqua Net freezing up their locks, it was one most couldn’t avoid passing through at some point during one of the most vivid, and coifed, eras of rock.

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If hair metal was defined by aesthetic (hair and makeup) and a bounty of wailing vocals and bombastic riffs, even some of the heavier and more prolific rockers fell into the category at one point throughout the high-haired decade.

[RELATED: 8 Classic Rock Bands from the ’80s]

Just take a gander at Mötley Crüe circa Too Fast to Fall in Love (1981) through their more devilish get-ups around Shout at the Devil in 1983 and the more glammed-out teased hair and made-up faces for Theatre of Pain.

By the time Guns N’ Roses (GN’R) hit the scene with their epic 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction, they also fell into the hair metal trappings. An earlier iteration of GN’R featured guitarist Tracii Guns, who would later form L.A. Guns, another band that also filled the hair and glam metal quota of the time.

Though, both Guns bands came out of the sleazier rock coming off of the Sunset Strip at the time with bands like Faster Pussycat, Ratt, and Pretty Boy Floyd who, like the latter two, were also often labeled “gutter glam,” “sleaze metal” and the like at some point. Even if their riffs slapped harder than Poison’s more pop-bent “Talk Dirty to Me,” everyone had a label in those days.

Even one of Guns N’ Roses’ biggest influences Hanoi Rocks—whose albums were later released on the GN’R’s Uzi Suicide label—were rocking voluminous hair and makeup, and feral riffs all the way from Finland.

On the east coast, the hair was also high in bands like Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Kix, and Twisted Sister by the mid-’80s, marking them all “hair metal” at one point or another.

The makeup and stiffened hair were long washed out by the early 1990s with the onset of the alt-rock movement, but “hair metal” was ultimately just a label and never defined the actual music these bands crafted during this iconic period of rock—or anything they created thereafter.

Still, whether they loved it or not, here are 10 bands, in no particular order, who passed through the days of 1980s “hair metal.”

1. Poison

One look at the cover of Poison’s 1986 debut, Look What the Cat Dragged In, shows a portrait of four stunning women—three blondes and a brunette. A quick glance may have fooled the unsuspecting eye with the band’s Bret Michaels, C.C. Deville, Bobby Dall, and Rikki Rockett made up more glamorous than most women. Formed in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania in 1983, Poison fell right into the glam and hair metal scene with ease.

Considerably less glam by their follow-up Open Up and Say…Ahh! and completely bare by the time they entered the ’90s with their more soulful Flesh & Blood, there was a point when Poison basked in the lights of hair metal.

Over the years, Michaels has released four solo albums, and Poison joined Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, and Joan Jett for a massive world tour in 2022.

2. Warrant

At the tail end of the 1980s, Warrant somehow entered the “hair metal” craze, but anyone listening to their more moving tracks on the 1990 album Cherry Pie would never conceive of any glam beginnings. Their 1989 debut Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was chockfull of power ballads (“Heaven,” “Sometimes She Cries”) and anthemic rockers (“Down Boys”). At the time, Warrant, unfortunately, fell into the hair metal trappings with their 1989 debut, but there was always something deeper to unravel within the band’s catalog of songs over time, and poignant lyrics, many of them penned by late frontman Janie Lane.

Lane remained with the band through their fifth album, Belly to Belly, and later reunited with them in 2008, just three years before his death in 2011 at the age of 47. Warrant has continued on through their most recent Louder Harder Faster album, released in 2017.

3. Winger

When New York City-bred Winger came out in 1988 with their eponymous debut, they fit the hair metal mold. Hits “Seventeen,” and “Headed for Heartbreak” had the crowds jumping, and the band, fronted by Kip Winger—a former ballet dancer and past member of Alice Cooper‘s band—was also called “glam metal” at one point in time. By the 1990s, Winger still had their wings. Leaning on more pop-metal, Winger kept the momentum with 1990 release In the Heart of the Young and hits “Miles Away,” which peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100 and fan favorite “Easy Come Easy Go.” Winger released their seventh album, Seven, in 2023.

4. Faster Pussycat

More hell-bent around the sleaze and gutter metal scene oozing from Hollywood by the mid to late-’80s, Faster Pussycat first left their mark with the 1989 album Wake Me When It’s Over and their blues’d up power ballad “House of Pain.” The band released their third album Whipped! in 1992 before taking a long hiatus and returning with The Power and the Glory Hole, featuring singer Taime Downe as the only original member.

5. Vixen

The only female rockers on the hair metal list, the era of makeup and glam was surprisingly dominated by more male bands. Though there were female-fronted bands like Femme Fatale and Precious Metal, along with solo rockers Doro, Lita Ford and Fiona, as a unit Vixen, formed in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1980, matched everything their male counterparts were shooting out.

Following their 1988 self-titled debut with hits “Cryin” and “Edge of a Broken Heart,” which hit the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, the band’s second album, Rev It Up, also had two more singles chart. The band released its fourth album, Live & Learn, in 2006.

6. Dokken

Initially forming in 1978 in Los Angeles, Dokken released four albums, from their 1981 debut, Breaking the Chains, through Back For Attack in 1987, before splitting up. Earlier ’80s hits “Burning Like a Flame,” “In My Dreams” and “Alone Again” fit the glam metal stream. The band’s 1988 live album, Beast from the East, also picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Metal Performance.

By 1989 the band had broken up due to differences between singer Don Dokken and guitarist George Lynch. After several years of solo endeavors and other projects, including Lynch’s Lynch Mob, the two reformed as Dokken for their 1995 album, Dysfunctional, and Shadowlife in 1997—the last album to feature Lynch. Still fronted by Don Dokken, the band released their 12th album, Broken Bones, in 2012.

7. Ratt

Ratt formed in the mid-1970s long before their 1984 breakthrough album, Out of the Cellar. Their hit “Round and Round” was addictive. It was even accompanied by a music video, starring the late screen legend Milton Berle, who is featured dressed as a women and as his dapper self. By 1990, internal conflict forced the band into hiatus. Guitarist Robin Crosby died in 2002 from a heroin overdose after contracting AIDS.

Over the years, continued turmoil within the band resulted in two touring versions of Ratt, one with frontman Stephen Pearcy and another with drummer Bobby Blotzer. Pearcy released two more albums under the Ratt name with original guitarist Warren DeMartini—Ratt in 1999, followed by the 2010 release, Infestation. DeMartini parted ways with the band in 2018.

In 2022, Pearcy said he would like to reunite Ratt with its original lineup. “It’s all business pretty much,” said Pearcy, who added that it likely will never happen. “There’s no business in the Ratt camp, and that’s unfortunate.”

8. W.A.S.P.

Fronted by darker singer and bassist Blackie Lawless, the Los Angeles-born W.A.S.P. had a rougher edge than most within the hairy era. Known for their hits “Wild Child,” “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”, “I Wanna Be Somebody,” and “L.O.V.E. Machine,” among others, W.A.S.P. had the hair and the look but were not the typical glam band.

Still fronted by Lawless with a new lineup from its original, which consisted of guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper, and drummer Tony Richards, W.A.S.P. released a 15th album, Golgotha, in 2015.

9. Cinderella

Formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1983, Cinderella added some needed blues rock to the glam metal scene. Their 1986 debut, Night Songs, revealed the gripping “Nobody’s Fool,” before their sophomore album, A Long Cold Winter, hit No. 10 on the Billboard 200 with hits “Coming Home” and the tearjerking power balled “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone).” Cinderella released their fourth and final album together, Still Climbing, in 1994.

Frontman Tom Keifer has continued on in his solo career with albums The Way Life Goes (2013) and Rise (2019) and will still belt out some Cinderella classics in concert. On July 14, 2021, former Cinderella guitarist Jeff LaBar, who performed on the band’s four albums, died at 58.

10. Mötley Crüe

Even though Mötley Crüe had wiped off their makeup by the fourth album, Girls, Girls, Girls, in 1987, they were glamming up Hollywood from the onset of the decade with their 1981 debut, Too Fast for Love. Seeping through a more sinister look with Shout at the Devil, the band embraced all the glory of glam metal with their 1985 album, Theatre of Pain, and hits “Home Sweet Home” and their cover of the Brownsville Station’s 1973 hit “Smokin’ in the Boys Room,” before hitting their hardest with fifth album, Dr. Feelgood, in 1989.

With a few lineup shifts in between, the original four members—Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, and Tommy Lee—released their ninth and final album, Saints of Los Angeles, in 2008. The band continues to tour with new guitarist John 5, following Mick Mars’ departure from touring with the band in 2022.

Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images

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