The Hard Rock/Metal/Hair Metal (I hate that term) movement that dominated the 1980’s was effectively begun in early 1978 with the debut of a group of guys from Pasadena, CA. called Van Halen. Ferocious lead guitar playing combined with solid hooks and a modern polished sound pushed past the trappings of the stalwarts of 70’s era rock groups.
As the decade wore on, many excellent new groups rose to prominence in the hard rock genre, Dokken, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden to name a few. To add credence to the decade’s roster many older bands modernized their sound (and looks) to compete. Such bands that adapted successfully to the 1980s were The Scorpions, ZZ Top, and Whitesnake.
As you know, this story has an ending, But not as abrupt an ending as you may remember. In1991 Nirvana’s Nevermind altered the scene overnight. New heavyweights emerged, among them Pearl Jam and later Soundgarden. But late in the eighties and early nineties the old guard were putting out some seriously fantastic work. The common view today is that “Glam Metal” had become a parody of itself and contained no real substance. In some cases this was a fair point, in others it was not.
I want to highlight a few releases that were not only at the tail end of the decade, but were some of the best albums of the genre. In my opinion the three albums listed below could have been huge dominating works had they received a copyright date a couple of years earlier.
Blue Murder was formed by guitarist John Sykes after he helped write and perform the massive Whitesnake 1987 LP, after which he was unceremoniously fired. He conscripted fretless bass master Tony Franklin (The Firm, Roy Harper) and Drummer Carmine Appice (everyone including Jesus Christ). Notably after trying several singers, Sykes ended up handling lead vocals himself. Sykes was a far better singer than many suspected, and the album was stunningly good. Released in 1989 on the same label as David Coverdale’s Whitesnake (Geffen), it received perhaps less promotion than its stablemates. If you don’t have this album, go listen to it now!
Also the product of a breakup, George Lynch formed Lynch Mob after leaving Dokken. The debut was released in 1990 and is arguably some of George’s finest work. The playing is spectacular, and vocalist Oni Logan has a mesmerizing, sultry voice. Oni would leave the group shortly thereafter only to rejoin decades later in an on again, off again fashion. Lynch experiments here and stretches out a bit more than he did in Dokken. This is likely in part due to being his own boss. Check out numbers like “She’s so Evil (but she’s mine)”.
The end of the decade was apparently good for guitarists striking out on their own. Jake E. Lee formed his group after leaving the shelter of Ozzy Osbourne’s wing. This group was decidedly blues based but had enough polish to fit in with the rest of the scene. Hitting the stores in 1989, a couple of videos saw decent rotation on MTV. Singer Ray Gillan was a soulful powerhouse (and had done demo work with Blue Murder) who elevated Lee’s compositions. A second album (Voodoo Highway) saw them sinking their heels in on an even rawer blues foundation. “Winter’s Call” is a personal favorite.
There are several other albums that otherwise being excellent, got buried in the avalanche that was the grunge movement. Winger’s Pull (1993) is a prime example.
So if you have your old favorites from the “Me” decade that you lost touch with, it’s worth going back and seeing what other efforts they produced after the world stop listening.