Whatever Happened To: The B-Listers of Hair Metal

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    The ’80s generally can be broken into two parts – new wave in the beginning and pop/hair/glam-metal for the end. As the popularity of new wave’s second wave began to decline in the mid ’80s, hard rock bands, mostly out of the Los Angeles club circuit, like Motley Crue and Ratt, started to fill the vacancy. Boosted by ever increasing airplay on MTV (even creating the metal-centric Headbangers’ Ball), these rockers with their penchant for guitar hooks, elaborate fashion, makeup, and wild hair topped the charts, sold millions of records, and received a lion’s share of radio airplay for much of the latter half of the decade.

    Beginning as pop metal, the most commercial of the heavy metal sounds, the music was centered on the guitar via catchy riff-driven hooks and indulgent solos. The music and song structure was an extension of the hard rock of ’70s bands like Aerosmith and the partying of Van Halen, with the theatrics and flair of artists such as Kiss and Alice Cooper (all of whom had minor comebacks as a result of the genre’s popularity). Glam rock pioneers like T. Rex, New York Dolls, and Gary Glitter would also lend a bit of their aesthetic influence, especially in regards to the androgynous look, first presented by Finnish band Hanoi Rock, and  adopted by the majority of pop-metal bands. Because of the slick productions, overindulgent attitudes, and tendency to favor style over substance, many critics and fans of the harder metal bands began to refer to most pop metal bands as hair metal, deriving their derision from the backcombed, frizzed-out, aqua-netted hairstyles associated with their glam brethren. Hair metal was a somewhat derogatory term when first applied to pop metal to describe the look of these bands and this style of rock. However, upon the release of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet in 1986, and subsequently thereafter, the term was positively associated.

    As the decade winded down, hair metal had became the largest, most commercially successful brand of music in the United States. Once the juggernauts that were Slippery When Wet, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction rocketed up the charts and became ubiquitous on U.S. radio, proving the extreme marketability (and profitability) of these bands and music, the industry did what it always does; it cloned the shit out of the popular sound until it was horribly diluted and a pale comparison to the original. Just like with hip-hop in the late ’90s or the merging of punk-pop and emo to the point of singularity in the early ’00s, hair metal was another recipient of the music industry’s tendency to overindulge. The overcrowding of the scene with bands indistinguishable from each other and the arrival of grunge on the main stage via Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 led to the swift decline of hair metal in terms of sales, popularity, radio play, and most importantly, relevance.


    What happened to all of these bands after the fall of the hair-metal? Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years gave us some insight into the culture, lifestyle, and decadence that contributed to the fall. And from the annals of VH1, we have been fortunate enough to go Behind the Music for a number of the major artists like Motley Crue, Guns N’ Roses, and Poison, but what about the B-listers? The bands that had one hit, maybe two if they were lucky?  The bands that wouldn’t have had careers had it not been for MTV, the ones that looked the part far more than they sounded it: Where are those bands now? Many are still together to some degree, touring since their record sales profits have long since dwindled.  Package tours featuring many of these artists on the same bill have maintained a moderate level of popularity in the U.S.. Some have found continued adoration from European audiences, while others have simply just gone on to other things. The style even had a bit of a revival in the early ’00s with bands like the English outfit The Darkness.

    Before I begin I want to set my disclaimer – I purposely avoided talking about the monster acts – Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, and a few others for obvious reasons. Most of those acts are still in the public conscious, and because of the success of those bands, coverage on them has been pretty well done. With that said, there are some others missing – Skid Row, Cinderella, Dokken, for example. I left them out because, though they may not have been as big as the others mentioned, they still managed a better career than most. It’s those lesser known B-listers and second-third-tier hair metal bands that I wanted to discuss.


    I chose to start with the Bulletboys because the mystique surrounding their career had it that they had just signed a multi-million dollar contract right before the grunge explosion rendered them virtually irrelevant. The Bulletboys began their career in the Los Angeles metal circuit of the late ’80s, forming in 1987 and releasing their self-titled debut a year later. Over the years, the band has had almost 30 members, with the only constant being singer and former Ratt guitarist Marq Torien. Originally the band was compared to and even hyped as the next Van Halen, mostly due to Torien’s look and performance as well as the band’s use of producer Ted Templeman, who had produced the Roth-era VH albums. Over the course of the ’90s, Torien continued with various lineups to produce albums about every other year, ending in 1995. It was another eight years until Torien with other original member, bassist Lonnie Vencent, would release an album, 2003’s Sophie. In 2009, Torien used the Bulletboys name again to release 10c (Ten cent) Billionaire, an album described as the heaviest release yet from the band but still maintaining the “Van Halen collides with Pop Metal” sound. Most recently the band has had some of its music appear in films like Beerfest and Hot Tub Time Machine, which ironically features a song (“Smooth Up In Ya”) that was recorded two years after the events of the movie.


    Vixen originally formed in 1980 in Los Angeles.  After punching and fighting their way through the club circuit, the four (all female) members of Vixen paid more than their share of dues on the climb to pop metal stardom, only to briefly taste success prior to Seattle’s emergence. In 1987, the same year that Appetite for Destruction dropped and the Bulletboys signed, Vixen got their big break after signing with EMI. As with the Bulletboys, a year later the band released their self-titled debut. Riding on the success of the single “Edge of a Broken Heart” (actually written by non-metalhead AOR poster boy Richard Marx), Vixen sold millions of CDs only to tank with their follow up Rev It Up (1990). The album was released prior to the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, and had some songs considered better or stronger than what was on the debut, but with the rise of alternative taking over and EMI’s reluctance to promote the band, Vixen initially dissolved in 1991.

    In 1997, original drummer Roxy Petrucci and original lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Janet Gardner reformed Vixen with Gina Style replacing founding guitarist Jan Kuehnemund and Rana Ross replacing original bass player Share Pedersen (who would eventually be replaced by Petrucci’s sister, Maxine). This version of Vixen continued to tour throughout 1997 and 1998 in support of the album Tangerine. This reunion was cut short after original guitarist Kuehnemund sued the band for copyright infringement. After mending the fences between Kuehnemund and the other members of Vixen, the band planned another reunion. As of 2001, a second reunion occurred with Kuehnemund, Gardner, and Roxy Petrucci coming together with new bass player Pat Holloway. The band joined the Voices of Metal package tour only to split up midway during the tour. All the members except Kuehnemund left, forcing her to reform the band almost immediately. This lineup went on to release three live albums between 2006 and 2009.

    Faster Pussycat


    Named after Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! the band lived up the over-sexed action sexploitation pics of Meyer, delivering a version of glam metal that can only be referred to as sleaze. Personally, Faster Pussycat’s self-titled debut album was one of my favorites in high school and features glammed up sleazy pop-metal perfect for the low brow humor of a teenage boy.  The release of FP’s second album, Wake Me When It’s Over, in 1990 would go on to be the band’s most successful album; however, while on tour supporting the album, original drummer Mark Michals was arrested for attempting to mail heroin to his hotel room. He was immediately replaced by Quiet Riot’s drummer, Frankie Banali, to finish the tour, with Brett Bradshaw taking over duties afterward. The band would record a third full-length, Whipped!, in 1992 and break up the following year. The odd thing was that this album, though not a groundbreaking event in the least, presented a band far more confident in their abilities and for all intents and purposes featured a band at their creative peak.

    The first reunion of the band occurred in 2001 with three original members and three new members pulled from other projects the original members were involved in after the initial breakup. When original member Greg Steele left mid-tour, Tracii Guns of LA Guns filled in. This lineup continued until 2005 when original guitarist Brent Muscat was diagnosed with throat cancer. His replacement on this tour began a long and heated feud between founding vocalist Taime Downe and Muscat. This feud went so far as to have two bands performing and touring under the Faster Pussycat name, with Muscat eventually conceding and has since gone under the moniker Sin City Sinners. Downe’s version of the band released a far more heavy electro-sounding album with 2007’s The Power and the Glory Hole, a title indicative of the band’s ongoing puerile sense of humor. In 2008, Faster Pussycat toured with the latest incarnation of Tracii Guns’ L.A. Guns and as of 2009, released the band’s first live album. Unfortunately, the live album is from the present day, with the current line-up doing the old school line-up’s hits, so consider yourself warned.


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