Ah, the 80’s! Rock was king by then (okay, so there was a shit ton of pop music too, and it usually sold more and charted higher, but rock was still very popular). And with the rise of hair metal, men weren’t afraid to wear eye makeup and spandex pants. Songs were about partying and women. There wasn’t much room for doom and gloom because everyone was too busy having a good time. Bands began to fall out of the woodwork, but hair metal’s time in the sun wasn’t to last. In the early 90’s alternative rock came in with bands like R.E.M. and grunge brought us the likes of Nirvana. Hair Metal was over so fast many of the bands and records companies didn’t realize it at first. A lot of really good bands that came out in the late 80’s and early 90’s were done just as they were starting to get going. This led to a lot of great music falling through the cracks. So while earlier songs like Home Sweet Home and Pour Some Sugar On Me have survived the intervening decades to be almost as popular now as when they came out, some great songs get ignored in the nostalgia driven radio shows that keep the music alive. Here are ten great songs that don’t get as much attention as I think they should.
Dirty Weapons by The Killer Dwarfs
The Killer Dwarfs were a Canadian rock band that started in 1981. Although they had some minor success up north, and some occasional play on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, they didn’t really make a dent in the U.S. Dirty Weapons was released in 1990, toward the end of the reign of hair metal. It wasn’t quite bubblegum enough to catch on with the Warrant crown, or hard enough to catch on with the Guns N’ Roses crowd, but it is a super catchy song that is well written, performed and recorded. I think if it had come out a couple of years sooner it might have been at least a moderate hit. The fact that it was better than most of the stuff that was popular on the radio at the time didn’t make any difference, the song barely made a splash before sliding off into obscurity. It would only be a couple of more years before hair metal was more or less gone as well.
Come Along by Salty Dog
Salty Dog formed in 1986 and wanted to be Led Zeppelin so bad they couldn’t stand it. The band was doomed almost from the start, having issues with drugs, their record label, and their own naivete about the music business. They only released one album, 1990’s Every Do Has Its Day. The album didn’t do much, but the lead single shows the promise of a band that could have potentially been really good. The bass rolls along and the lyrics are punctuated with guitar flourishes. There is a deviation in tempo where the band shows that it can really rock out. Legend has it that the band’s video was deep sixed at MTV because an executive at Geffen didn’t like it and was upset that it was released anyway. In the end it probably didn’t make much of a difference anyway, as it appears the band was it’s own worst enemy.
All Lips and Hips by The Electric Boys
This song has an interesting history. The Electric Boys were originally a duo and had a minor hit in Sweden with the original recording of the song. Somehow the song also made it onto the soundtrack for the movie Feds. Once the band added it’s final members they recorded their debut album and reworked the song for the full band. It became a success in Europe in 1989 and eventually came out stateside the next year. The lyrics are kind of silly and made almost unintelligible by the singer’s accent, but the guitar is catchy as hell and the song has a swing to it. Of course, like every other band that started to gain some ground in the first couple of years of the nineties, Nirvana and grunge made sure they never got the chance to take it any further.
Teas’n Pleas’n by Dangerous Toys
Dangerous Toys formed in Austin in 1987, and quickly was signed to a record deal the next year. Their debut came out in 1989, with Teas’n Pleas’n as a single. The song did relatively well for a debut. It has a blues edge to it which was becoming popular in hard rock in the late 80’s. This song also shows a bit of the bands sense of humor as the singer gives his side of an exchange with the husband of the woman he’s been fooling around with. Right after this the song goes into a section with some scat singing, then indulges in some real bump and grind for a bit, before kicking the tempo back up to rock through to the end.
For The Love Of Money by The BulletBoys
The BulletBoys came out of L.A. in 1987 and released their first record in 1987. They had a minor hit with their first single Smooth Up (a great song that didn’t make this list because it still gets semi-regular airplay on stations that play this kind of music). For The Love Of Money also came off this record. It’s a cover of the r&b song by the O’Jays, and keeps surprisingly close to the original while injecting it with a dose of heavy guitars and screeching vocals to make it more palatable to the young hard rock audience of the band. The song has some of the best bass lines to be found in a late 80’s rock song, achieved by just copying the original note for note. Torien’s always strong voice is a great match for the song as well.
Oh Ruby by Dirty Looks
I am not talking about the new wave band Dirty Looks that became popular in the UK in the late seventies and early eighties. I am talking about the hard rock band that formed in 1984 and released their first major label album in 1984. That album was Cool From The Wire, which despite it’s kind of dumb name is a pretty great album. According to the band’s Wikipedia page (which I suspect was written by a band member for reasons that will soon be obvious) many people claim it may be the greatest hard rock album ever. Honestly, it’s a very good album, but I don’t think anyone who heard Appetite For Destruction or Back In Black or Hair of the Dog are claiming this album is better. It did have a pretty amazing single though, Oh Ruby. The tune is very AC/DC inspired, and I can actually imagine Bon Scott doing the verse where the singer speak/sings the line “Ruby’s got class when she shakes her ass. she’s got the sting of a diamond ring”. The tune really rocks and has great vocals and guitar, it really is a great example of how much fun rock could be in the 80’s before grunge came along and bummed everybody out.
Love Can Make You Blind by Every Mother’s Nightmare
Coming out of Nashville in 1990, Every Mother’s Nightmare is another band that probably would have had a great future if not for the interruption of grunge. They were starting to get some traction with their first record, and if you listen to the singe Love Will Make You Blind you can see the elements were there. The song is well written, well played, and I guarantee you that once you listen to it it will randomly pop up in your head. I will have to admit here that I never bought their album, so this is the only song of their’s I have ever heard, but this song alone is strong enough that I never forgot it or the band. How many bands that had one really huge song can you say that about? And this song wasn’t even all that big, it just stuck with those of us who were lucky enough to hear it.
Dream On by Britny Fox
It might be not be quite fair to see Britny Fox as a poor man’s Cinderella, but the comparison can be justified. Their sound was quite similar, down to the nasally rasp of the vocals. They even had a similar look when they started. This is entirely surprising as two members of Britney Fox had been in Cinderella before that band hit it big. Their second album, Boys In Heat, was quite a step up for them, having better songs and vocals that weren’t always a carbon copy of Tom Keifer. They had a small hit with Long Way To Love, but I always felt Dream On was the standout song from the album. It’s not a cover of the old Aerosmith ballad. In fact, it’s more of a mid-tempo rocker that shows that the band had both talent and potential. Unfortunately they were not able to quite get out of Cinderella’s shadow before the hair metal scene came to an end.
Someone Like You by Bang Tango
Bang Tango was formed in 1988 and pretty quickly got a record deal. Someone Like You is off their debut album, 1989’s Psycho Cafe. The song starts out sounding less like hair metal and more like something The Cult might release. There is a bass heavy sound, and while the vocals are a little nasal, they are delivered in a lower voice without the usual screech. It’s catchy and upbeat, but then comes the chorus. That’s when the real hair metal spirit kicks in. The guitars crank up and the singer goes into a full on 80’s shriek. It’s super catchy and rocks pretty hard.
28 Days by Tora Tora
Tora Tora came out of Memphis, getting their first record deal as a result of winning a battle of the bands contest. While a lot of bands were infusing their music with blues riffs in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Tora Tora was playing more pure blues and doing it a lot better than many established bands. They had a couple of minor hits, Walkin’ Shoes and Guilty, and the ballad Phantom Rider got a little notice too. But there is another song on their major label debut Surprise Attack that’s as good or better than these. You might assume 28 Days is about getting sober, but it’s about a woman who doesn’t want to accept that her man is actually leaving her. It has one of the catchiest choruses ever recorded. Tora Tora is one of the most unfortunate casualties of the grunge explosion just a few years after they came out.