Over the years, there have been few subgenres of heavy metal that have been as completely polarizing as the rise of glam metal, or as some say, hair metal. The ’80s and early ’90s gave birth to some of rock ’n’ roll’s greatest tunes, most androgynous looks and some of the cheesiest power ballads the world has ever heard.
Despite the opinions of metal fans who felt that the glam scene became oversaturated with bands wearing glitter, leather and penning power ballads for a quick buck; this era was one of the most fun… a trait that is often missing in rock music today.
READ MORE: 11 Heaviest Hair Metal Songs
Get ready to turn your time machines back to the decade of complete and utter decadence; filled with lots of Aquanet, rebellion and most importantly, a good time.
Firehouse, “Love of a Lifetime”
The hallmark “first dance” song used by couples across the globe in the early 1990s, “Love of a Lifetime” helped Firehouse soar to the top of the charts; hitting No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991. With lyrics like, “With every kiss, our love is like brand-new, and every star up in the sky was made for me and you,” how could this one not top the wedding song registry?
In a 2005 interview with David Felix, Firehouse frontman CJ Snare shared his thoughts on how the ballad has immortalized Firehouse in pop culture:
“I have the benefit of time to look back over this, and there isn’t a show that goes by where people don’t come up to us and are like, “’Love of a Lifetime”… we got married to that song! Is that my legacy? Well, you know what? It could be worse…”
He’s certainly not wrong.
Bon Jovi, “I’ll Be There for You”
Coming in as Bon Jovi’s fourth and most recent No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “I’ll Be There For You” is your run-of-the-mill power ballad; boy loses girl, boy misses girl, boy (maybe) gets girl back.
Although the song fits right alongside what Bon Jovi is most known for, their otherworldly ability to have arena-sized crowds chant their choruses back to them, there’s nothing incredibly noteworthy about “I’ll Be There For You.” Especially after the success of New Jersey’s other bombastic tunes such as “Bad Medicine” and “Born To Be My Baby.”
White Lion, “Wait”
White Lion remains one of the most underappreciated glam bands of the 1980s, which seems impossible once you stand witness to the talents of guitarist Vito Bratta and vocalist Mike Tramp.
This songwriting duo composed a plethora of songs over their years together, but one of the most memorable is “Wait” from the band’s 1987 release Pride, which contains one of the genre’s most unique and perfectly executed guitar solos; coming in at just over the two-minute mark. (Seriously, go listen to it.)
The campiest aspect of this track is less in the sound and more so in the lyrics: “I never had a chance to love you / Now I only want to say I love you one more time.”
Like most songs of the late 1980s, “Wait” didn’t garner international traction until the release of the song’s music video on MTV, where it soon fell into heavy rotation.
Coming from the album that gave the world “The Final Countdown,”Swedish rock band Europe also gave us the power ballad “Carrie.” Written by Europe frontman John Tempesta and keyboardist Mic Michaeli, the song was originally released on the B-side of the single “Love Chaser.”
“Carrie” ended up charting higher than any other single on the record, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard 100 chart. This song exemplifies the produced and polished side of glam metal; albeit not bad.
Enuff Z’Nuff, “Fly High Michelle”
Hailing from the psychedelic glam rock band Enuff Z’Nuff comes the track “Fly High Michelle” from the band’s self-titled album, released in 1989.
Although the song itself is pretty campy, the music video fit with rainbows and flowers might be 10 times cheesier than the actual song.
Nelson, “After the Rain”
As the sons of TV and singing star Ricky Nelson, Matthew and Gunnar Nelson know how to write a good song. More commonly referred to as the Nelson brothers, the duo managed to combine elements of folk, pop and rock over the course of their career, and it’s especially prevalent on the song and album of the same name, After The Rain.
Although more melodic than most metallers and lacking the ���bad boy” image of the time, Nelson penned one hell of a catchy song.
Cinderella, “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Till It’s Gone)”
Born and bred in Pennsylvania, Cinderella finally received their glass slipper with the release of 1986’s Night Songs; their success only continued with the release of 1988’s Long Cold Winter. This album gave us one of the band’s most definitive songs, the gut wrenching “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Till It’s Gone).”
Frontman Tom Keifer’s harrowing vocals (one of the most unique in the glam scene) are inexplicably the highlight of this track.
Motley Crue, “You’re All I Need”
Lyrics centered around a guy killing his girlfriend to stop her from leaving him? A little dark.
But, really, Mötley Crüe’s “You’re All I Need” is one of the most unsuspecting tracks on 1987’s “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Although Jon Bon Jovi cited this one as Mötley Crüe’s best ballad upon its release, we think this track falls a bit short behind the iconic “Home Sweet Home.”
Nikki Sixx revealed in his autobiography The Heroin Diaries that this track was loosely based on his own sometimes violent thoughts while struggling with his addiction. After releasing “You’re All I Need” as a single, the music video was soon banned on MTV due to graphic depictions of domestic violence.
Sixx defended the video, stating that, “It clearly shows how one life is destroyed and another ruined forever. And it’s probably a lot less graphic than much of what we see on the 6 o’clock news every night.”
Winger, “Headed for a Heartbreak”
Winger has received their fair share of undeserved criticism since their formation in 1987 (we all know what went down on Beavis and Butthead.), but I’ve always thought that Winger was much more than what they seemed; incorporating progressive rock themes with the ‘80s way of glam, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
But… “Headed For A Heartbreak” from their 1988 self-titled release shows their tamer side and only added to the hate they got from metal elitists as the scene shifted farther away from the heyday of glam metal and into the newly evolving world of grunge.
The track, written in a Lydian scale, features Kip’s soaring vocals and a tasty guitar solo from Reb Beach; it’s also often referred to as the definitive Winger song by Kip himself.
Honestly? “Honestly” by Stryper doesn’t even sound like Stryper. The Frontman Michael Sweet was channeling his inner Dennis DeYoung on this track from 1987’s To Hell With The Devil.
The lyrics are fairly generic at best, “Honestly, I believe in you / Do you trust in me?”
Poison, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
Along with releasing their second studio record Open Up And Say… Ah, Poison also released, arguably, the biggest power ballad of all time in May of 1988.
Upon its release, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” became the quintessential power ballad standard, with other glam bands following suit in hopes that they too would have their moment in the sun (pun intended).
Centered around a failed love affair, the song became a metaphor for Poison frontman, Bret Michaels’, blossoming career. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” became a certified classic after its release as a single, with a music video in heavy rotation on MTV to boot.
The track was the band’s first and only No. 1 on the Billboard 100 chart, remaining there for three weeks.