Glam metal (also known as hair metal) is a term used to describe the visual style of certain heavy metal music bands that arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States, particularly on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip music scene. It was popular throughout the 1980s and briefly in the early 1990s, combining the flamboyant look of glam rock and playing a power-chord based hard rock musical style.
"Hair bands" was the term popularized by MTV in the 1990s and derives from the tendency among most such bands to style their long hair in a teased-up fashion.
Musically, glam metal songs were traditional hard rock or heavy metal songs with catchy hooks over hard-hitting drumming. Some songs feature flashy shred guitar solos with pinch harmonics where the lead-guitar sound is effects-processed. The overall sound is much more studio-engineered than earlier styles of heavy metal, such as the rough, raw sound of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands. The vocals have a softer melody, sometimes with an anthemic "sing-along" chorus.
In addition, they were usually sung with a clean hard rock tone, in contrast to many other heavy metal music that often employ a more extreme vocal style.
Twisted Sister were typical of the glam metal look with the use of long teased up hair, accessories, metal studs and leather, and makeup during their live performances.Glam metal performers became infamous for their debauched lifestyles of late-night parties — widely covered in the tabloid press - , very long teased hair (hence the alternative "hair metal" tag), use of make-up, and gaudy clothing and accessories (chiefly consisting of tight denim or leather jeans, spandex, and headbands). Many of these traits are somewhat reminiscent of glam rock. However, the earlier glam metal groups also implemented some of the leather and studs imagery which was a stereotype visual look for some heavy metal acts.
The glam metal visual style was influenced heavily by 1970s glam rock acts with the music style of most bands sounding like 1970s/1980s hard rock bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Kiss, New York Dolls, Sweet, Van Halen, Slade, Mott the Hoople, T.Rex, Gary Glitter and others. The very first band of the 1980s to truly travel down the make-up and gaudy clothing route was Finland rock group Hanoi Rocks. They were credited as influences by countless bands, as Hanoi Rocks followed the template laid down by hard rock bands of the 1970s and stuck to the make up and garishness of the New York Dolls.
In the United States, many fans credited that the movement on the Sunset Strip was kick-started largely by Mötley Crüe and Nikki Sixx's former band London after the earliest years when they started as a glam rock band. Others assert that it was kick-started by Quiet Riot's Metal Health album when it reached #1 in the Billboard music charts in the early 80s (c.1983). These bands played a prominent part in the overall look and would go on to influence a lot of the bands who formed from the mid-1980s onwards. During 1980 in England, one year prior to Mötley Crüe's formation, Wrathchild, fronted by Rocky Shades, also emerged. Anyhow, this band was also known for having a really similar image; like they also used pyro similar to that of shock rock and would eventually tour with Los Angeles heavy metal band W.A.S.P. in 1984. However, Wrathchild did not gain the same level of fame as their Los Angeles contemporaries.
First wave (1981-1984)
During the late 1970s and early 1980s glam metal became extremely popular. The first wave of glam metal bands included, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ratt, Twisted Sister and Stryper. Their music was a traditional heavy metal style combined with a glam rock look. The younger contemporaries who would eventually emerge, like Warrant and Poison, whose basic pop rock influenced hard rock musical style ultimately became synonymous with the glam metal look.
Second wave (1985-1991)
By the mid-1980s, glam metal could be defined by two major divisions. On the mainstream side were bands such as Europe, whose single "The Final Countdown" hit number one in 26 countries. The album with the same name also spawned an international success. The bands in this style were and still are described as pop metal. Similar bands including FireHouse, Danger Danger, and Winger would surface in the later part of the decade Los Angeles fostered a more insular scene around the Sunset Strip, starting in 1984-1985. This movement eventually spawned bands such as Poison, Faster Pussycat and London Other bands were associated with that scene's style but actually came from outside of Hollywood such as Britny Fox who were from Philadelphia. In the mid 1980s Stryper brought Christian lyrics to their hard rock music style and glam metal looks. Plus, there were also Some groups who continued in the style originated by the earlier glam metal bands. King Kobra (which would spawn The Bullet Boys, known most notably for their MTV hits "Smooth Up In Ya" and their cover of "For The Love of Money") is a prime example of this.
Since glam metal was an entirely visual aspect rather than a unique musical style it became appealing to music television, particularly MTV when it was launched. During the mid-to-late 1980s, glam metal bands were in heavy rotation on the channel. Glam metal bands often resided at the top of MTV's daily dial countdown, and some of the bands appeared on the channel's shows such as Headbanger's Ball.
The groups also received heavy rotation on radio shows such as KNAC in Los Angeles. The second wave of glam metal would prove to be the most commercially successful and enjoyed widespread success during the 1980s, but bands would sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of critics and certain sections of the music industry.
A notable example came in 1987 with the release of Mötley Crüe's Girls, Girls, Girls. Before the establishment of Soundscan in 1991, Billboard's album chart was decided by a combination of reports from retailers, wholesalers, and industry professionals, rather than on actual album sales. As the band related on MTV's Week in Rock, the week that Girls, Girls, Girls peaked at #2 on the Billboard chart, it was actually the highest-selling album of that week. However, the industry professionals gave extra weight to Whitney Houston's second album, allowing it to retain the top spot. In the band's opinion, the industry simply wouldn’t allow their album to hold the #1 spot. (The band eventually conquered the top spot with their next album, Dr. Feelgood, which became the biggest album of their career.)
Glam metal bands continued to generate hits, growing its fanbase during the 1980s. Poison's second album Open Up and Say...Ahh! spawned a hit single in Every Rose Has Its Thorn, and eventually sold eight million copies worldwide. Skid Row would later release their debut album in 1989, although they had been around since 1986. Other bands which fit the corporate formula at that time, with similar visual styles, included Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns, Roxx Gang, and Dangerous Toys.
A similar movement also emerged in London, England at around the same time. Like Hanoi Rocks, these bands were heavily influenced by early rock and roll and punk rock. The bands from this British movement included bands: Dogs D’Amour and London Quireboys.
In the early 1990s glam metal's popularity rapidly declined after nearly a decade of success. Several music writers and musicians began to deride glam metal acts as "hair farmers," hinting at the soon to be popularized term hair metal. Several factors played a role in the decline, the main one being the rise of grunge music from Seattle, changing audience tastes, and the impacts of band breakups and personnel changes.
In the early 1990s, bands from the alternative rock subgenre grunge including Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden started supplanting glam metal's popularity. Although grunge was influenced by heavy metal, it also mixed in elements of hardcore punk and indie rock, such as apathetic or angst-filled lyrics, a stripped-down aesthetic and a complete rejection of the glam metal visual style and theatrics. Many major labels felt they had been caught off-guard by the surprise success of Nirvana's Nevermind, and had begun turning over their personnel in favor of younger staffers more versed in grunge. As MTV shifted its attention to the new style, bands with the glam metal visual style found themselves relegated more and more often to Headbanger's Ball and late night airplay, and almost entirely disappeared from the channel by early 1994. Given glam metal's lack of a major format presence at radio, bands were left without a clear way to reach their audience.
Another reason for the decline in popularity of the visual style may have been the changing popularity of the power ballad, a slow, emotional song that gradually builds to a strong finale. While the use of the power ballad—especially as after a hard-rocking anthem—was initially a successful formula in the late 1980s, audiences eventually lost interest in this approach. From Poison ("Fallen Angel" followed by "Every Rose Has Its Thorn") to Mötley Crüe ("Home Sweet Home" and "You're All I Need" followed by "Without You"). This formula became so commonplace that it began to be seen as a glam metal cliché. Fans of the visual image balked as well, lamenting that the power ballads typically received far more airplay on mainstream radio.
The decline of glam metal was accelerated when the records stopped selling. Contracts were canceled, and many bands broke up. In late 1991-early 1992, Stryper, White Lion, Europe, and Britny Fox all broke-up. Vince Neil was briefly fired from Mötley Crüe, guitarist Robbin Crosby left Ratt (who then broke up with the departure of lead singer Stephen Pearcy), C. C. DeVille left Poison..
According to a documentary special called Heavy: The Story of Metal that aired on VH1 in 2006 claimed that the 1988 film The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years played a role in the death of glam metal, in which kids who saw it were disgusted by the excess particularly the scene with W.A.S.P guitarist Chris Holmes.