Los Angeles has had more than its fair share of musical magic over the decades. This is the city where Dr. Dre prescribed a heavy dose of lyrical flow to an entire generation. It’s where Bowie succumbed to the pale stain of the Thin White Duke and Brian Wilson dropped acid to dream about California girls. LA incubated an especially virulent form of punk rock, made contagious by bands like Germs, X, and Black Flag. Tupac stood on LA asphalt when his legendary bars commanded an entire world of eyes on him. The Doors, the Eagles, Elliot Smith… the list goes on. But you rarely find anyone speaking with any reverence about the glam metal that soundtracked the Sunset Strip through a particularly debaucherous stretch of the 1980s. Still, glam metal is just as much coursing through this city’s veins as any of the above artists. Therefore, today we’re going to look at the best hard rock and glam metal bands to come out of LA.
10. Lizzy Borden
Lizzy Borden pilfered their name (as well as the name of their frontman) from accused axe murderer Lizzie Borden. Fittingly, the band had all of the subtlety of a chop to the neck when they hit the scene in 1983. While glam metal bands were known to break out the make-up, Lizzy Borden were just as prone to dab on a little fake blood. Or a lot as they simulated murders onstage soundtracked by their own brand of raunchy metal.
Their subject matter leaned darker than most of their peers which is probably why they didn’t have quite the same success as many of them. Yet, their compositions were frequently more diverse while also sounding less polished. You can still catch them playing the Sunset Strip occasionally, though with a radically different line-up.
Start with: Menace to Society (1986)
Recommended Tracks: “American Metal”, “Flesh Eater”, “Bloody Mary”
09. L.A. Guns
Admittedly, it’s a bit painful to put L.A. Guns this low on the list. Why? Because they were heavily involved in so much of what made the glam metal of the Sunset Strip iconic. An early incarnation of the group actually merged with another LA group, Hollywood Rose, to become a little group called Guns N’ Roses. Ever heard of them?
But guitarist Tracii Guns was just a few riffs deep into his Guns N’ Roses tenure before he jumped ship and hit the reset on L.A. Guns. Since then, they’ve churned out some of the most melodic yet reliably rocking jams to grace the made-up face of Hollywood glam metal. The band is at their best when augmented by vocalist Phil Lewis’ too-cool-to-really-shriek delivery. And though the line-up changes more than most glam metal groups’ (that’s saying a lot), Tracii’s riffs are consistently quality.
Start with: Cocked and Loaded (1989)
Recommended Tracks: “Never Enough”, “The Ballad of Jayne”, “Electric Gypsy”
08. Faster Pussycat
Sleaze was an integral part of glam metal and none delivered that particular ingredient better than Faster Pussycat. Singer (and only consistent member) Taime Downe co-managed the notorious Cathouse club night with Riki Rachtman. Yes, of MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball fame. The Cathouse was a mecca of glam metal elites, fashionistas, and strippers. And Faster Pussycat was pretty much the house band.
In their heyday, Downe was flanked by two guitarists: dark-and-handsome Greg Steele and enigmatically androgynous Brent Muscat. Together, they’d screech out rusty-nail blues and glam metal sleaze that set the tone for a distinct era. It’s safe to say they lived up to their namesake: Russ Meyers’ legendary sexploitation film Faster, Pussycat! KIll! Kill!
Start with: Wake Me When It’s Over (1989)
Recommended Tracks: “House of Pain”, “Poison Ivy”, “Slip of the Tongue”,
07. Vinnie Vincent Invasion
Where do you go after getting kicked out of Kiss? For shred guitar virtuoso Vinnie Vincent, the answer was Hollywood. Vincent had made a name for himself by replacing longtime Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley during an important transition of the classic rock icons: the point where they took off their make-up. Ironically, Vincent’s subsequent outing, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, found him wearing more make-up than most glam metal bands.
Vinnie Vincent Invasion was a more-is-more band, layering glossy guitar with glittering pink-and-purple sounds. Rumor has it that this excess is exactly what got him excused from his brief stint in Kiss. With lengthy guitar solos that often stepped all over Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Vincent’s talent was often outshone by his cockiness. Vinnie Vincent Invasion allowed him to be himself without restraint. The result is a project that many love, but just as many loathe. Yet, when Robert Fleischman’s Zeppelin-esque vocals (or Mark Slaughter’s Slaughter-esque vocals) soar over Vincent’s prodigious shredding, the skill is undeniably jaw dropping.
Start with: Vinnie Vincent Invasion (1986)
Recommended Tracks: “Boyz Are Gonna Rock”, “Love Kills”, “Ashes to Ashes”
Perhaps no band on this list is more deserving of the “shock rock” tag than W.A.S.P. Their relentlessly crass lyrics, bloody theatrics, and brutal take on glam metal demanded attention. And they notably got plenty of it from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) who made censoring W.A.S.P.’s lyrics and imagery a veritable crusade. If anything, they just turned more bored Gen X teens on to one of the most exciting bands in glam metal.
Between vocalist and guitarist Blackie Lawless and guitarist Chris Holmes, W.A.S.P. had enough talent to forego the raw meat and sawblade codpieces. But for a band so tasteless, they always packed flavor. The band’s name was often a subject for debate with the media hypothesizing it was an acronym for “We Are Sexual Perverts.” When asked about it, Lawless glibly replied, “We Ain’t Sure, Pal.”
Start with: The Last Command (1985)
Recommended Tracks: “Wild Child”, “9.5.-N.A.S.T.Y.”, (and a single we can’t mention in the workplace!)
Often unfairly maligned for their melodic approach, Dokken were easily one of the best glam metal bands for mixing driving rock with emotional impact. This was largely due to twin talents Don Dokken with his powerful vocals and George Lynch with his white hot guitar riffs. Starting out as a hard rock group, Dokken found greater success by embracing glam metal. They regularly lamented love (or lack of it) in a way that demanded you blast it from a 1979 Camaro. They also notably wrote and performed the title track from 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors.
Fans of cult cinema may best recognize Dokken as the opening band mentioned in Heavy Metal Parking Lot. In the underground documentary, Dokken are almost unanimously preferred by the female fans interviewed whereas the males tend to gravitate toward headliner Judas Priest. Yet, it’s important to note that this was filmed during Priest’s tour for Turbo. So, yeah, no one really walks away from that looking tough.
Start with: Back for the Attack (1987)
Recommended Tracks: “Into the Fire”, “Dream Warriors”, “Prisoner”
Probably the most controversial placement on this list, Ratt don’t get nearly the amount of acclaim they deserve. Characterized by Stephen Pearcy’s gravelly delivery and the twin guitar talents of Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini, Ratt produced some of the catchiest tunes in glam metal.
While the late Crosby is often lauded as the group’s real talent, it was DeMartini’s nimble playing that solidified some of the group’s best gems. And it’s made more impressive with the knowledge that he was just 18 years old when he joined. Ratt provided the perfect soundtrack to sleeveless summers, dancing across the line between sleazy and sincere. Just listen to “7th Avenue”, and if you’re going to get it, you’ll get it.
Start with: Dancing Undercover (1986)
Recommended Tracks: “Lay It Down”, “7th Avenue”, “Round and Round”
03. Van Halen
Okay, yes, Van Halen aren’t strictly glam metal. And, yes, they’re not from Los Angeles. But they’re close enough on both counts. The Pasadena-based hardrockers contributed immensely to the template of glam metal, from Eddie Van Halen’s brilliant riffs to David Lee Roth’s odd blend of charisma and sleaze. And from their debut’s very first track, “Runnin’ with the Devil”, they seemed to be everywhere.
Their sun-bleached brand of rock was always delivered with an assured smile, but never came across as pretentious. Rather, these were four guys in their element, inviting everyone else to come along for the party. Especially anyone wearing a bikini. And somehow, they became, at least for a moment, the biggest rock stars in the world.
Start with: Van Halen (1978)
Recommended Tracks: “Jamie’s Cryin’”, “Unchained”, “Runnin’ with the Devil”
02. Mötley Crüe
From the lead shreds of the aptly titled “Live Wire”, the opener on their 1981 debut album Too Fast For Love, it was obvious that Mötley Crüe were special. Sometimes, the recorded output was disappointing (*cough* Theatre of Pain *cough*), but even at their lowest, they were still the Crüe. And that meant that, beneath the lipstick and warpaint, there was a genuine sincerity to the scuzz.
In the next decade or so, they’d plumb the depths of debauchery without shame. Sonically, this often came out as a youthful narcissism that could be just as charming as it was obnoxious. It helped that the band were actually accomplished musicians as well as natural showmen. Just look at Tommy Lee’s rotating drum kit. For Mötley Crüe, glam metal wasn’t a popular genre offering a cash grab. It was a way of life that they frankly pioneered. And we should probably be thankful that no one did it quite like them.
Start with: Shout at the Devil (1983)
Recommended Tracks: “Live Wire”, “Shout at the Devil”, “Kickstart My Heart”
01. Guns N’ Roses
While not strictly a glam metal band, Guns N’ Roses popularized the genre in a way that nobody could touch with their brilliant debut record Appetite For Destruction. Suddenly, people who wouldn’t think twice about Ratt or Mötley Crüe were interested. Though Guns N’ Roses arrived somewhat late to the glam metal party, their gaze was set far beyond the Sunset Strip. And with that ambition, they became one of the most recognized bands on the planet while defining a zeitgeist.
Yet, the lightning in a bottle that was frontman Axl Rose couldn’t be contained so easily. After the one two punch of the grandiose Use Your Illusion double album, the band arguably began to fracture and bring a close to its golden era. But during those early records, they were nothing short of untouchable.
Start with: Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Recommended Tracks: “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”