The 1980s were an awesome time thanks to the glam/hair metal scene. The image almost became as important as the music during this period, and MTV helped keep that image front and center. With this list, we’re not ranking who was the most glam, had the biggest hair, or wore the most makeup (although we might do that in a future article). This list is about the bands who embraced that image and made the scene big and ultimately relevant in the history of music.
Poison – Look What The Cat Dragged In
Poison released their debut album “Look What The Cat Dragged In” in 1986 and opened a whole new door for glam metal bands. While glam metal was already developing in the Hollywood club scene, Poison cranked the glam factor up to 11. The band, with the help of MTV and radio airplay went all the way to #3 on the charts, fueled by the singles “Talk Dirty to Me”, “I Want Action”, “I Won’t Forget You” and “Cry Tough”. When the original full-page ads hit magazines for Poison’s debut album, many people scratched their heads and were genuinely confused if the band was all-women all-men, or a mixture of the two as their hair and makeup created a look that crossed the gender lines.
David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em And Smile
In 1985 Van Halen singer David Lee Roth took a hiatus from the band to release a solo EP called “Crazy From The Heat”. While it was supposed to be a temporary break, it wound up being the start of Roth’s solo career as he and Van Halen split up with Van Halen moving forward with Sammy Hagar as their new vocalist. Roth then recruited former Frank Zappa guitarist Steve Vai and former Talas bassist Billy Sheehan and released two albums with that lineup “Eat ‘Em And Smile And Skyscraper to rave reviews from fans and critics alike. While Roth always was a bit flamboyant in Van Halen, he took the glam look up a notch with his solo band with the members wearing bright colors and sequins complete with over-the-top looks from Dave. Roth saw which way the scene was heading and jumped on the bandwagon at the right time.
White Lion -Pride
White Lion formed in 1983 and released their first album “Fight To Survive” in 1985. The band featured Mike Tramp – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, Vito Bratta – lead guitar, backing vocals, James LoMenzo – bass, backing vocals, and Greg D’Angelo – drums. The band hit it big with the release of the 1987 album “Pride”. The Pride album went double platinum in sales behind the singles “When The Children Cry” and “Wait”. With the former model, Mike Tramp as the singer, the band was all-in on spandex and glam looks when they hit it big. They would start to tone the look down a bit with the next two albums released after that, but most people remember the glam version of the band at their peak.
Cinderella – Night Songs
Formed in 1982 by Tom Keifer and Eric Brittingham, Cinderella was one of the biggest bands of the ’80s rock and metal era. Following several lineup changes, the band solidified its members with Jeff Labar and Fred Coury. The band’s debut album “Night Songs” was an instant success with comparisons being made to Aerosmith and AC/DC. The album cover for Night Songs is a snapshot in time of what most glam/hair metal bands looked like at the time. Big hair, make-up, and glitz and glam defined their debut album looks.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
Guns ‘N Roses split into two bands. Originally having Tracii Guns as the guitarist and Axl Rose as vocalist, thus explaining the name of the band. However, Tracii Guns left to start L.A. Guns, while Axl Rose recruited new members for what would become the classic lineup of Guns ‘N Roses. With the lineup of Axel Rose, Slash, Duff, Izzy Stradlin, and Steven Adler on drums, the band made a huge impact on the Sunset strip scene that was already thriving. The band presented a sound that mixes the bluesy hard rock of AC/DC with the punk stylings of The Sex Pistols. When the band released a limited EP called Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, fans and critics alike began to spread the word that a new rock juggernaut was about to emerge. In 1987 the band released their debut album “Appetite For Destruction”. The album went 18X Platinum in sales and earned it a rare rating of Diamond in album sales. Pushed by the singles “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine, and “Paradise City” the band dominated the airwaves and MTV and quickly became one of the most popular rock bands of the 80s. Guns N’ Roses mixed their glam appearance with more leather than glitter, but they wore makeup and poofed their hair up like so many others did.
KISS – Lick It Up
While KISS had already been around for several years, the 80s proved to be a decade of huge change for the band including changing members and removing their trademark makeup. KISS released the albums Lick It Up (1983), Animalize (1984), Asylum (1985), Crazy Nights (1987) KISS decided to remove their makeup with the release of Lick It Up in 1983. The move turned out to be a good choice as metal bands were becoming more mainstream in the 80s and KISS jumped right into the mix. Not only did the albums sell more, but KISS was again receiving radio airplay and MTV airtime for most of the new videos. After the band removed their original facepaint, they moved in a decidedly more glam direction with makeup, lipstick, eyeliner and over-the-top outfits. The move worked and helped the band find appeal with a new generation.
Motley Crue – Theatre Of Pain
Motley Crue was formed in 1981 with the band featuring Vince Neil on vocals, Nikki Sixx on bass, Mick Mars on guitar, and Tommy Lee on drums. The band ruled the 80s metal scene by appealing to both male and female fans and crossing the lines between traditional metal, glam rock, and radio-friendly ballads. Motley Crue released the following albums during the 80s: Too Fast for Love (1981), Shout at the Devil (1983), Theatre of Pain (1985), Girls, Girls, Girls (1987), and Dr. Feelgood (1989). Shout At The Devil has been considered one of the top metal albums of all time and the band scored numerous hit singles throughout the 80s. Motley Crue looked more like a demonic version of Judas Priest on Shout At The Devil, but the band did a complete 180 on their next album Theatre Of Pain and embraced the glam metal scene fully. Decked out with sequined jackets, glitter, and enough hairspray and makeup to make Maybelline jealous they switched gears at just the right time as the glam look was sweeping the music scene. Along with bands like Ratt, Quiet Riot, Great White, and Dokken, Motley Crue helped to shape the Sunset Strip, the Hollywood glam metal era that dominated the 1980s.
Ratt – Invasion Of Your Privacy
Ratt hit the big time with gold, platinum, and multi-platinum album releases. Along with bands like Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, and Great White, Ratt helped form the Hollywood glam metal scene of the 80s. Ratt’s biggest hit came in the form of the song “Round and Round” from the album “Out Of The Cellar”. Led by enigmatic frontman Stephen Pearcy the band toured with Bon Jovi and continued creating best-selling albums throughout the 80s. Ratt released the albums: Ratt (EP) (1983), Out of the Cellar (1984), Invasion of Your Privacy (1985), Dancing Undercover (1986), and Reach for the Sky (1988) during their 80s reign. Ratt dabbled with makeup and and a sort of garage glam look before fully embracing the glam look with the Invasion Of Your Privacy album. The band took the look to new heights with more makeup and more glittery and flamboyant outfits.
Skid Row – Skid Row
After hitting the charts with their debut album in 1989 the band scored a 5 Times platinum album with this debut for Atlantic Records. With singles like “Youth Gone Wild and 18 And Life, the band was almost instantly propelled to the top of the metal scene. The classic lineup would only record two more albums and an EP before splitting with singer Sebastian Bach. Skid Row is probably one of the 80s metal bands that fans would most like to see reunite. Skid Row continues as a band with a different vocalist and drummer, while Sebastian Bach has managed to carve out a very successful solo career over the years.
Twisted Sister – Stay Hungry
Twisted Sister became a 12-year overnight sensation when they broke it big with their “Stay Hungry” album. Originally from New Jersey and later relocating to New York, these East coast rockers paid their dues for ten years playing the local club scene. The band would little by little collect new fans along the way. The band became an underground hit with their first album and opened a tour for Motorhead. Their second album was released on a major label and helped build their fanbase even further. Stay Hungry pushed the band into superstar territory and the album went multi-platinum in sales. However, the band would never reach this level of fame or sales again. The band began to fight amongst themselves and eventually disbanded for many years. Dee Snider has since forged a solo career. Drummer A.J. Pero died from a heart condition in 2015. Twisted Sister’s 80s albums: Under the Blade (1982), You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983), Stay Hungry (1984), Come Out and Play (1985) and Love Is For Suckers (1987)
Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinkin’ Rich
While Warrant is considered one of the most popular 80s metal acts, they actually only released one album during that period which was Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989). Warrant started in the L.A. club scene in 1984 but wouldn’t release their debut album until some five years later. Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich reached #10 on the Billboard Charts and spawned four hit singles including the power ballad “Heaven” which made it all the way to # 2. The band would release the hit album Cherry Pie in 1990 which cemented their place in the metal scene. Singer Jani Lane tragically died at the age of 47 in 2011 from acute alcohol poisoning. The band has since recruited singer Robert Mason (Lynch Mob) to handle the vocals and the band continues on to this day.
Whitesnake – Whitesnake (1987)
Originally the name of David Coverdale’s solo album, Whitesnake started as a full band in 1978 following David Coverdale’s exit from Deep Purple. In the early years, the band had a more blues-based sound, but would slowly move in the direction of hard rock and metal. Whitesnake was prolific during the 80s releasing the following albums: Ready an’ Willing (1980), Come an’ Get It (1981), Saints & Sinners (1982), Slide It In (1984), Whitesnake (1987), and Slip of the Tongue (1989). The band managed to reach a larger mainstream rock audience with the release of Slide It In in 1984 and reached the peak of fame with the release of the self-titled “Whitesnake” album in 1987 which went 8 times Platinum in the U.S. Whitesnake continues to record and tour, but vocalist David Coverdale has indicated that he may retire from touring soon.
Def Leppard -Hysteria
Def Leppard is arguably one of the most successful bands to emerge from the 80’s hard rock and heavy metal scene. The band found success early on, hitting the scene with their debut full-length album “On Through The Night” in 1980. Following up, only one year later with “High N’ Dry”, the band was quickly gaining a large fan base and praise worldwide. Def Leppard hit the big time with “Pyromania” in 1983 striking up huge record sales sparked by the enormously popular single “Photograph”. It would be three years of recording before the band would release “Hysteria” to massive critical acclaim. It’s Def Leppard’s biggest-selling record to date.
Quiet Riot – Metal Health
Quiet Riot was the first heavy metal band to have a number-one single on the U.S. chart with “Cum On Feel The Noize”. Prior to their Metal Health album, the band had released two albums in Japan and had changed band members. The lineup of Kevin DuBrow, Rudy Sarzo, Carlos Cavazo, and Frankie Banali would become recognized as the classic lineup of Quiet Riot. The band released Metal Health (1983), Condition Critical (1984), QR III (1986), and QR in 1988, which featured former Rough Cutt vocalist Paul Shortino. Original vocalist Kevin Dubrow would return to the band until his death in 2007. Drummer Frankie Banali died in 2020 from complications of pancreatic cancer.
Stryper – Soldiers Under Command
Stryper’s contribution to Christian metal is the equivalent of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Judas Priest in the non-christian metal world. I never really got the goofy outfits that looked like bumblebees. They are however quality musicians who brought Christian metal to the mainstream in the 1980s. During the 80s they released the following albums: The Yellow and Black Attack (1984), Soldiers Under Command (1985), To Hell with the Devil (1986), and In God We Trust (1988). The band received heavy rotation on MTV and fans have applauded their work in recent years as some of the best of their entire career.
Dokken – Tooth And Nail
Dokken released their first album “Breaking The Chains” in 1981 which garnered the band their first taste of success with a hit single for the title track. The lineup for the first album included Don Dokken on vocals, George Lynch on Guitar, Mick Brown on Drums, and Juan Croucier on Bass. Croucier would soon depart Dokken to become the bassist in Ratt. Jeff Pilson joined the band with Croucier’s departure. Dokken continued to grow their fanbase with their next few albums Tooth and Nail (1984), Under Lock and Key (1985), and Back for the Attack (1987). In-fighting between the band members led to their breakup and the original members wouldn’t reunite again until 1995 with the album Dysfunctional. The band reached the commercial peak of their career with the albums “Tooth and Nail” and Under Lock and Key. Guitarist George Lynch is widely regarded as one of the best metal guitarists in the world.
Britny Fox – Britny Fox
Britny Fox was formed by former Cinderella members Michael Kelly Smith and Tony Destra and bassist Billy Childs. Destra was killed in a car accident and was replaced by Johnny Dee. Vocalist Dizzy Dean Davidson sang on the debut album Britny Fox (1988) as well as the follow-up album “Boys In Heat” (1989). The debut album went Gold and earned the band many awards. Boys In Heat failed to be a commercial success and vocalist Dean left the band, later being replaced by Tommy Paris. The band released two more albums before eventually breaking up for good.
L.A. Guns – L.A. Guns
After Tracii Guns left Guns N’ Roses, he started L.A. Guns, originally featuring singer Paul Black. Former Girl vocalist Phil Lewis would join the band as the new vocalist and the classic lineup of L.A. Guns with Phil Lewis, Tracii Guns, Steve Riley, Mick Cripps, and Kelly Nickels would get signed to a major record deal. The band released their debut album, simply called L.A. Guns in 1988, and had a hit single with the song “Sex Action” and the album would reach number 50 on the Billboard album charts. The band followed it up Cocked And Loaded in 1989, this time finding a hit with the ballad “The Ballad Of Jayne”. Cocked and Loaded would make it to 38 on the Billboard charts and MTV played L.A. Guns’ video on frequent rotation. The band would then split multiple times starting in the 90s and continues to this day, with two versions of L.A. Guns around, one with Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis and another with Steve Riley and Kelly Nickels. Since Steve Riley owns a percentage of the name, the band name is essentially split between two very different groups of musicians.
Faster Pussycat -Faster Pussycat
Faster Pussycat debuted in 1987 with their self-titled album which garnered the band several hits including “Bathroom Wall” and “Don’t Change That Song”. Faster Pussycat leans more into the sleaze rock genre and has been compared to everyone from Hanoi Rocks to Guns ‘N Roses. After a successful first album, the band released Wake Me When It’s Over in 1989 which became a Gold-selling record for the band primarily from the hit single “House Of Pain”. The band would record one more album, Whipped! in 1992 before breaking up. The band members were in a legal dispute over the rights to the band name for many years with vocalist Taime Downe ultimately becoming the only original member of the band. The current lineup has been together for many years and last released the studio album “The Power and the Glory Hole” in 2006. The band tours relentlessly and has a great reputation for its live shows.
Bulletboys – Bulletboys
The debut album by the Bulletboys was released in 1988. It was produced by former Van Halen producer Ted Templeman. The band received comparisons to Van Halen by many who saw vocalist Marc Torien as the heir apparent to David Lee Roth. The album went Gold from the airplay of the single “Smooth Up In Ya”. The band received heavy rotation of the video on MTV as well. The original lineup did two more albums in the early 90s before splitting up. 2020 saw the Bulletboy’s original lineup reunite and they were recording material for a new album. However, the reunion was short-lived.
Extreme – II Pornographiti
Extreme released their debut, self-titled album in 1989. Fronted by future Van Halen vocalist Gary Cherone and guitar wiz Nuno Bettencourt, the band received rave reviews for their first album. However, the commercial success and peak of the band culminated with the release of their second album Extreme II: Pornograffiti. The singles “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” brought the band international acclaim and put them at number 1 and 4 on the Billboard singles charts. The band disbanded in 1996 and while Cherone joined Van Halen for one album, Bettencourt pursued a solo career. The band eventually reunited and continues to record and perform with a new album in the works for a possible 2021 release.
Europe – The Final Countdown
Europe originally started in 1979 in Sweden. Their first studio album wouldn’t arrive until 1983, simply called “Europe”. The band would release the following albums during the 80s: Wings of Tomorrow (1984), The Final Countdown (1986), and Out of This World (1988). The band finally achieved worldwide commercial success with the album “The Final Countdown”. The single of the same name gave the band their first number 1 single in over 25 countries and went triple platinum in album sales. The Out Of This World album was also a platinum-selling album for the band in the U.S. Currently, Europe continues to perform and record new albums with their latest album “Walk The Earth” being released in 2017.
Winger – Winger
In 1985, Kip Winger joined Alice Cooper’s band where he recorded for two albums and toured with the band. He left in 1987 to start his own band. Winger released their debut album Winger in 1988. The album hit #21 on the Billboard charts with singles like “Madalaine”, “Seventeen”, “Headed for a Heartbreak” and “Hungry”. The band would continue to find success into the early part of the 90s. Winger still has a devoted fanbase and the band continues to release new material every few years.
Hanoi Rocks are one of the bands that helped the glam metal image into the scene during the early 80s. The band released Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks (1981), Oriental Beat (1982), Self Destruction Blues (1982), Back to Mystery City (1983), and Two Steps from the Move (1984). Unfortunately, the band became even more famous for the death of their drummer Razzle in a car accident in which Vince Neil of Motley Crue was driving. Hanoi Rocks never received the commercial success that their contemporaries did, but were quite influential on the music scene. The band eventually completely broke up and vocalist Michael Monroe now has a thriving solo career.
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi is one of the biggest successes of the 80s hard rock scene. The band started with the self-titled album, and early on they had a slightly heavier sound than they developed later on. The band knew exactly how to ride the line between pleasing the hard rockers and sugary ballads for radio airplay. The 80s saw the band release Bon Jovi (1984), 7800° Fahrenheit (1985), Slippery When Wet (1986), and New Jersey (1988) and they turned out to be the hardest that the band rocked. Led by charismatic frontman Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, the band was a hit-making machine throughout the 1980s. The band had a more traditional rock band look to them before the album “Slippery When Wet” was released. With that album, the guys went for shiny clothing, glitzy headbands and a look that many girls that I knew at the time referred to as “pretty”.