To some non-metal fans, the first image that is conjured up might be the eccentric style, theatrics, pyrotechnics, makeup, loudly colorful clothing, and pop style of glam metal from the 80’s. In this genre of heavy metal, the look is as integral as the sound.
Glam metal was influenced by glam rock bands, like the New York Dolls, and hard rock bands, like Aerosmith, KISS, and Van Halen. The Finnish band Hannoi Rocks has also been credited by many bands as setting the foundation for all glam metal bands.
The roots of glam began on the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles in the early 80’s. At that time, there were a handful of glam bands dominating the Sunset Strip, but none bigger than Motley Crue. In 1982, they were the first glam band to be signed to a record deal. Glam metal was growing right alongside a heavier, much more respected metal movement, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
As glam began to rise in popularity, Quiet Riot led the charge with their #1 album, Metal Health. The album sales were driven by the Slade cover, “Cum on Feel the Noize,” which was supported by continuous MTV airplay. When Quiet Riot’s album hit #1 on the Billboard charts, it opened the floodgates for dozens of glam bands. Twisted Sister, Night Ranger, and Kix all experienced success in the period from 1981-1984. Def Leppard, which adopted glam metal elements, helped also to popularize the genre.
Clubs in Los Angeles like the Troubador, the Whiskey, and the Roxbury were the new stomping grounds of the glam movement.
Glam metal became the most dominant form of pop music starting in 1986 with Bon Jovi’s multi-platinum album Slippery When Wet. The album went on to sell 12 million copies, fueled by the singles “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and “You Give Love a Bad Name.” The melodic, pop-centric album came to influence other emerging artists and the singles of the second wave of glam metal from 1987-1991.
After the release of Slippery When Wet, the glam genre became further influenced by clothing, hair, and overall band appearance. Bands were beginning to wear more makeup, more flamboyant outfits, and even bigger teased hair. Noticeable acts debuting during this period were Poison, Skid Row, and Stryper. While Guns N’ Roses debuted during the glam movement, their sound was a much more stripped down, classic rock n’ roll with a traditional heavy metal feel that didn’t have the stereotypes, hangups, and cliches of the glam genre.
As glam metal reached its commercial peak, there were other genres of heavy metal building a following in the underground that would shape the next phase of heavy metal. Those included thrash metal, progressive metal, and alternative metal, which would become the dominant sounds after the success of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991.
Even established rock acts began to infuse elements of glam into their music once it became popular in the mid 80’s, like Whitesnake, Aerosmith, and KISS.
Power ballads, a pop ballad laced with metal or hard rock elements, were a formulaic way for bands to achieve success in the 80’s. The archetype for the 80’s power ballad was “Home Sweet Home,” by Motley Crue. While “Home Sweet Home” was not the first ever power ballad, the marketing technique of a hard rock lead single followed by a power ballad as the second single, along with the softer intro/outro would become a common staple of 80’s metal power ballads. This helped usher in the success of other glam power ballads like “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (Poison), “Heaven” (Warrant), “Here I Go Again” (Whitesnake), and “I Remember You” (Skid Row), not to mention dozens of other successful chart toppers of this period.
The decline of Glam metal began with the release of Guns N’ Roses debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Bringing raw, gritty heavy metal back into the forefront of rock n’ roll, this was a turning point for the rock scene between 1987-1988. During this same time, alternative rock bands like Jane’s Addiction, U2, R.E.M., and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were experiencing increasing degrees of success that would influence the next wave of popular rock music to come.
Adding fuel to the fire, Nirvana’s 1991 album Nevermind reshaped the rock climate and dominant form of popular music seemingly overnight. Other developing grunge, industrial, and alternative metal artists like Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, White Zombie, Faith No More, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, and a more bluesy, alternative Metallica would become the leaders of this genre. Compare this to the leaders of the glam metal genre — Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Poison, Ratt, Warrant, Winger, Firehouse, Stryper, White Lion, Cinderella — all of whom experienced declining careers in the mid to late 90’s.
While Glam metal never had a true resurgence, bands like The Darkness and Steel Panther emulated their sound with limited degrees of success. In the decades that followed glam metal, other genres of metal seemed to take few elements from this once dominant genre. Today, reunited glam metal bands tour festivals for nostalgia appeal. Bands like Poison, Ratt, and others have reunited in part or full to take part in the festival circuit, while Bon Jovi have had a very successful career since glam died out. Motley Crue tours consistently, while some bands like Skid Row,
While many heavy metal purists denounce the legacy of glam metal, the record sales speak for themselves. This was the most dominant era of heavy metal, and the glam metal genre had the highest record sales numbers. While this was partly due to the commercial pop appeal of the albums, this same commercial aspect helped to broaden the scope of heavy metal to a whole new group of listeners.
Essential Glam Metal Albums:
- Shout at the Devil (Motley Crue)
- Metal Health (Quiet Riot)
- Pyromania (Def Leppard)
- Out of the Cellar (Ratt)
- Slippery When Wet (Bon Jovi)
- Hysteria (Def Leppard)
- Whitesnake (Whitesnake)
- Skid Row (Skid Row)
- Look What the Cat Dragged In (Poison)
- Night Songs (Cinderella)