Hair rock was the most notorious music genre of the 1980s. With over-the-top outfits, tabloid-worthy antics, and plenty of hairspray, these bands occupied every corner of American culture for a decade. The music was fast, heavy, and fun.
Countless bands jumped on the hair rock train. But only a handful became mega-stars with chart-topping hits.
Today, we’re looking at seven of the all-time greatest 80s hair rock bands and the songs that made them popular.
Let’s rock out!
About Hair Rock
Hair rock dominated the rock and roll world in the 1980s. Also known as glam metal, this genre had a distinctive, anthemic sound. The musicians of this era took inspiration from the glam rock artists of the 1970s, both in fashion and sound.
But the hair on these rockers took on a life of its own. So much so that a new genre formed around it!
7 Great 80s Hair Rock Bands
Hair rock could be corny and excessive, but it was always fun. Let’s look back at some of the most iconic bands who made this style of music popular.
#1 Bon Jovi
About the Band: Named for lead singer Jon Bon Jovi, this band made some of the biggest hits of the 1980s. The group gained notoriety with their song Runaway, which they wrote and recorded after Jon Bon Jovi’s janitor shifts at a New York recording studio. They toured with famous acts like the Scorpions and KISS before headlining their own massive tours.
Bon Jovi has 15 studio albums, the most recent being from 2020. The group has sold over 120 million records and is one of the best-selling American bands in history.
Greatest Song: Livin’ on a Prayer topped the charts after its release in 1986. The song tells the story of Tommy and Gina, two young lovers trying to make ends meet while keeping their dreams alive.
Jon Bon Jovi doubted the tune’s appeal and nearly omitted it from Slippery When Wet. But in a 2010 interview with The London Times, the singer said he never gets tired of performing it.
#2 Guns N’ Roses
About the Band: Guns N’ Roses (GNR) burst on the hair rock scene in 1987 with their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Singer Axl Rose’s controversial behavior was softened by the steadfastness of GNR’s other members, including guitarist Slash.
Despite being nicknamed “The Most Dangerous Band in the World,” the group sold over 100 million albums throughout their career. Guns N’ Roses entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 and is still actively touring.
Greatest Song: Sweet Child O’ Mine appears on Guns N’ Roses’ debut album. In a Los Angeles Times interview, Rose explained the song was a meditation on his childhood and a love letter to his then-girlfriend. The tune reached the top of the American charts in 1988. Soon after, the band set out on their first headlining tour.
#3 Def Leppard
About the Band: Def Leppard formed in the late 1970s as part of a fresh crop of heavy metal bands from the U.K. The group’s debut album, On Through the Night, did well in Britain, but their second album gave them a U.S. following.
Unfortunately, addiction and tragedy plagued the band, including the infamous car wreck that left drummer Rick Allen with one arm. But Def Leppard kept cranking out the hits.
The group’s lifetime album sales exceed 100 million copies. Def Leppard joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
Greatest Song: Photograph was Def Leppard’s first chart-topping single. It appeared on Pyromania, the band’s third album. The song’s melancholy love story earned them many female fans, which wasn’t common among their peers. Several well-known artists worked on Pyromania, including new wave star Thomas Dolby and legendary producer Mutt Lange.
About the Band: Poison remains one of the best-known glam metal bands. The band, led by Bret Michaels, relocated from the Midwest to sunny Los Angeles to pursue fame. They got it in 1986 with their first album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, which included two songs that topped the charts.
The tenacious band stuck together long after hair rock lost popularity, releasing albums through the early 2000s. Poison, who VH1 called the number-one hair band of the 1980s, still tours today.
Greatest Song: Every Rose Has Its Thorn is easily Poison’s most recognizable song. The track reached the number one spot on the U.S. charts, remaining there for three weeks.
In a 2010 interview with Rolling Stone, Michaels said that his breakup with girlfriend Tracy Lewis inspired the lyrics. Michaels wrote the entirety of the song while washing clothes at a nearby laundromat.
#5 Van Halen
About the Band: Van Halen was formed in the early 1970s in Pasadena, California. Brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen made up the band’s core, with legendary singers David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar stepping in through the years.
Their self-titled debut album cracked the top 20 on Billboard’s pop charts. This great hair rock band recorded 11 more albums and eventually sold over 80 million records.
Van Halen was nominated for many awards throughout their career and even won a Grammy Award in 1992. The band remained active until 1999, reuniting in 2003 and performing until Eddie Van Halen’s death in 2020.
Greatest Song: Jump was the lead single from Van Halen’s sixth album, 1984. It became their most popular single, reaching the number-one spot on the charts upon its release.
The same day the instrumentals were recorded, guitarist and singer David Lee Roth wrote the lyrics to Jump in his car. The track received a low-budget music video that won the Best Stage Performance Video at the first MTV Video Music Awards.
#6 Mötley Crüe
About the Band: Mötley Crüe was one of the most infamous bands in the hair rock genre. Formed in 1981 by Nikki Sixx, Greg Leon, and Tommy Lee, the group was known as much for its antics as for its music. Nine of their albums reached the Billboard 200 Top Ten. The Crüe dissolved in the early 1990s but officially reunited in 2004.
Seven of Mötley Crüe’s albums attained platinum status. They’re still touring today, most recently in 2022 with Def Leppard.
Greatest Song: Dr. Feelgood is the title track from Mötley Crüe’s 1989 album of the same name, which held a spot on the Billboard charts for over 100 weeks. The band’s guitarist, Mick Mars, wrote the guitar hook, and the rest of the song came together afterward.
Sixx wrote the lyrics about his Los Angeles-based drug dealer. VH1 called the track one of the best hard rock songs in history.
#7 Skid Row
About the Band: Skid Row emerged in 1986 in New Jersey. Fronted by Sebastian Bach, the band found instant success with their debut self-titled album, which went platinum. Skid Row played with Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, and Mötley Crüe the following year. But due to artistic differences, Bach and original drummer Rob Affuso left the band in 1996.
After recruiting new members, Skid Row reunited in the late 1990s. The current lineup released their most recent album, The Gang’s All Here, in 2022.
Greatest Song: 18 and Life appears on Skid Row’s first album and remains one of their most successful and greatest singles. Guitarist Dave Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan co-wrote the song after seeing a local news story about a young man who accidentally shot his friend.
As the song and album gained traction, Bon Jovi recruited the band for their tour. In fact, opening for Bon Jovi launched Skid Row to new heights in the hair rock scene.
Big Hair and Hard Rock Defined the 80s
Despite its cheesy tendencies, hair rock defined the look and sound of the 1980s in many ways. The bands from this era cranked out unforgettable hits that are still popular today.
While many of these musicians partied hard, they played even harder. Whether it’s the drums on a Def Leppard track or the incredible guitar solo on a Van Halen song, the power of hair rock can’t be denied.
What’s your favorite hair rock band? Tell us in the comments!