You’d be hard-pressed to find a rock subgenre more critically reviled than glam metal.
Often referred to derisively as hair metal or pop-metal, glam metal began germinating in the late ‘70s inside Sunset Strip rock clubs like Gazzarri’s, the Troubadour, the Starwood and the Whisky a Go Go. Glam metal acts mixed the thundering, theatrical hard rock of Aerosmith, Kiss and Alice Cooper with the campy androgyny of glam rock and punk luminaries like David Bowie, T. Rex and the New York Dolls.
The first sign of the impending glam metal zeitgeist came in 1978, when former Gazzarri’s house band and recent Warner Bros. signees Van Halen released their self-titled debut album. Listeners were gobsmacked by Eddie Van Halen‘s dizzying two-handed tapping and infatuated with lion-maned frontman David Lee Roth, whose vocals consisted mostly of vowel sounds delivered in a blustery howl.
Van Halen flipped the hard-rock landscape on its side, inspiring countless bedroom shredders and Aqua Netted pretty-boys to form bands in an attempt to move out of their parents’ basements and get laid, musical ability be damned. But glam metal didn’t take the world by storm overnight. Motley Crue further popularized the subgenre with their gritty, self-released 1981 debut, Too Fast for Love, and its major-label follow-up, 1983’s Shout at the Devil. And in November 1983, Quiet Riot‘s Metal Health dethroned the Police‘s Synchronicity atop the Billboard 200 for one week, becoming the first heavy metal album to hit No. 1.
The glam dam had finally burst.
The chart-topping success of Metal Health prompted a ravenous signing spree on the Sunset Strip, and before long, the charts and airwaves were full of big-haired chauvinists singing about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll to the tune of thunderous drums, dexterous riffs and dizzying solos. Ratt, Poison, Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Warrant and Motley Crue were filling arenas with their chest-beating party-metal anthems and bleeding-heart power ballads.
Unsurprisingly, the critics hated it, and not always without reason. For every six-string virtuoso and songwriting genius to emerge from the glam metal era, there were dozens of talentless hacks rehashing the same boring scales and spewing the same ol’ rock-star cliches — singing about a life they would never get to live themselves because their songs weren’t up to snuff.
That’s why we’re here: to sift through the trash and bring you the treasure with our list of the Top 30 Glam Metal Albums. We’ve got the requisite multiplatinum heavy hitters along with some lesser-known diamonds in the rough, and we’ve made a few important exclusions.
While Van Halen influenced an entire decade of glam metal bands, none of their albums actually fit under the “glam metal” umbrella. (Aerosmith‘s, however, do.) Likewise, despite getting lumped in with their poufy-haired peers, Guns N’ Roses never fit the glam metal mold, and their flawless debut, Appetite for Destruction, transcends the medium. (If we did include it here, it would be No. 1 by such a huge margin that it would render the rest of the list meaningless.) And while Skid Row straddled the glam and heavy metal divide on their eponymous 1989 debut, they went for the jugular on their brilliantly heavy sophomore LP, Slave to the Grind, thus disqualifying it from this list.
With those caveats out of the way, read on to see where your favorites rank on our below list of Top 30 Glam Metal Albums.
Top 30 Glam Metal Albums
There’s nothing guilty about these pleasures.