When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s

When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s

When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s

By Andrew Daly

You heard it before: “Grunge killed glam.” It’s been said since the early-90s, and the point has been driven home by most who lived through it since. Sure, some outliers disagree, but history shows it’s true.

In the ’80s, L.A. was a big party with muscle-bound dudes, gorgeous girls, hot-rodded guitars, and spandex galore. But sadly, the part didn’t last, and as soon as it began, the hopes and dreams of the Sunset Strip faithful were dead and buried with one stroke of Kurt Cobain’s duct-taped Fender Jag.

Some packed it in and went home at grunge’s onset. Others soldiered on and died a slow, painful death, allowing themselves to spiral into brutal obscurity. But others saddled up and dug in, choosing to show the world that they were more than teased hair, pouty vocals, and shredding scale runs. These brave souls gritted their teeth, chomping down on grunge and unleashing their unholy sounds.

For better or worse, some of the bands we loved in the ’80s stuck around in the ’90s. Some of what we heard is weird—especially given their past exploits. But if you close your eyes, open your mind, and put yourself in those brave souls’ shoes, it’s easy to see that they weren’t assimilating or giving in—it was truly a matter of survival of the fittest. Or maybe a pigheaded refusal akin to a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

Love ’em or hate ’em, these albums exist and, to be fair, are pretty damn interesting. And so, Classic Rock History is taking the journey, serving up ten examples of glam going grunge in the ’90s.

# 10 – Native Tongue by Poison (1993)

By 1993, the substance abuse hampered C.C. DeVille was out, and the golden-voiced guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen was in. Of course, Poison had garnered massive success throughout the ’80s with cuts like “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Every Rose Has its Thorn,” but the writing was on the wall, grunge was in, and changes were needed. To that end, especially with a dynamic player like Kotzen aboard, Poison’s first foray into grunge-tinged meets hair metal rock, Native Tongue, was a success.

Songs like “Stand,” “Body Talk,” and “Until You Suffer (Fire and Ice)” proved relatively popular, but not popular enough to topple the Seattle competition from their perches, and definitely not as successful as the platinum days of the ’80s. All in all, Native Tongue still managed to go gold, but when compared to the band’s ’80s albums, many feel it falls short. It’s also the only album to feature Kotzen, which, despite his efforts, didn’t quite fit Poison in the way that DeVille did.

# 9 – Mötley Crüe by Mötley Crüe (1994)

Losing Vince Neil had to hurt. But then again, considering Mötley Crüe had just signed a $25 million contract with Elektra Records, we’ll assume that life could have been worse. Stacks of hundred-dollar bills aside, Mötley Crüe needed a singer. In short order, Philly rocker John Corabi of The Scream was recruited after a quick call with Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee, followed by a successful jam session. But still, Corabi, despite his gritty voice and capable ability as a riffsmith, was no Vince Neil.

The album that manifested, 1994’s Mötley Crüe, quickly faltered, as did the supporting tour. Looking back, given the breakup with Neil, and the impending doom that Corabi faced, it’s odd to think that Mötley Crüe’s working title was Til Death Do Us Part. Despite its cult following, Mötley Crüe, in all its grungy glory, is bittersweet, as tracks like “Hooligan’s Holiday” and “Misunderstood” are great in their own right. Moreover, if Mick Mars is to be believed, Mötley Crüe is the last full album he lent his licks to.

# 8 – Balance by Van Halen (1995)

Anybody who listened to Van Halen’s Balance in ’95 could sense something was off. And as it turned out, Sammy Hagar knew it, too. As the first album that Eddie Van Halen reportedly recorded sober, Balance was anything but balanced. Making matters worse, Hagar, who is said to have sensed he was to be fired as early as ’94, seemed to struggle with lyrical content, leading to some odd moments and several unfinished tracks that manifested as instrumentals.

Troubles aside, time has been kind to Balance, probably because it’s the end of the much-loved Sammy Hagar era, and, as they say, time heals all wounds. And despite its weird vibe, Balance still reached No. 1 on the Billboard Charts and has earned triple platinum status, making it one of the most successful glam-meets-grunge records ever. And to be fair, “Amsterdam,” with its grungy yet “Panama”-like vibes, and “The Seventh Seal” are pretty tasty, indeed.

# 7 – Subhuman Race by Skid Row (1995)

One can hear some pretty heavy and very mature elements creeping into Skid Row as far back as 1991’s Slave to the Grind. But nothing prepared the New Jersey band’s fans for what was to come with 1995’s Subhuman Race. The record was so shocking that even in retrospect, few fans mention it among their favorite records. And while that may be true, make no mistake—Subhuman Race is a smokin’ album.

If you look at it through the lens of the times, Skid Row was a band faltering due to massive infighting. Songs like “My Enemy,” “Breakin’ Down,” and “Into Another” are obvious odes to the state of the band, giving the listener a crystal-clear picture of the rage-filled grief rife within Skid Row at the time. And so, yes, Subhuman Race is undeniably grunge-influenced and completely and totally off-the-rails heavy to the point that it’s ear-throbbing to listen to. But it’s also a true artistic statement that reveals the depth and dynamic nature of one of glam metal’s finest groups.

# 6 – Ultraphobic by Warrant (1995)

Warrant has long been poster children for grunge curb stomping glam into submission. After all, it was Jani Lane who supposedly walked into Columbia Records after the release of 1992’s Dog Eat Dog, only to be greeted by a giant Alice in Chains poster in the lobby. Ouch. And to be sure, grunge did alter Warrant’s fortunes, making them uncool and old news. And so, more than a little bit ironic that Warrant launched its “comeback” with a record that was grunge infused to the max in 1995’s Ultraphobic.

Tracks like “Family Picnic,” “Stronger Now,” and “Followed” hardly have any of the hallmarks of Warrant’s ’80s past, but that’s not such a bad thing. Lane and company were at their best when being campy, but there’s a certain charm about the backs-against-the-wall nature of Warrant trying to tread water in the grunge era. Some love it, and some hate it, but regardless, Ultraphonic is a fascinating period piece, if nothing else.

# 5 – Acid Monkey by BulletBoys (1995)

When you think of the good-time fun, big-voiced antics, and shredding exploits of the BulletBoys’ ’80s output, it’s hard to reconcile that with 1995’s Acid Monkey. There’s no denying it—Acid Monkey is weird and awkward to listen to. But here’s the thing—it’s just weird and awkward enough to be fun… in a deranged sort of way. But who are we to judge Marq Torien and Lonnie Vencent for allowing their proverbial freak flag to fly?

Times were tough, hair metal was dead, and grunge was in. And so, the BulletBoys took it a step further, spicing songs like “Weazel,” “Diss,” and “Surf Dog” up with not only accents of grunge but heavy doses of pop punk, too. Overall, Acid Money is very ’90s and not at all what you think of when you picture the epic nature BulletBoys, which, in a twisted way, makes this sonic assault dare we say, low-key great.

# 4 – The R*tist 4*merely Known as Dangerous Toys by Dangerous Toys (1995)

The members of Dangerous Toys have often denied that grunge influenced The R*tist 4*merely Known as Dangerous Toys, but considering it dropped in the heart of the grunge era and is unlike anything the boys from Texas had released prior, we’ll challenge that assertion. And sure, Jason McMaster and company were always a bit edgier than their contemporaries. And yes, darkness was always creeping around the edges of much of their music, even the glitziest of stuff.

But the fact remains that songs like “Share the Kill,” “The Numb,” and “Take Me Swiftly” are grungy not only in sound but in their lyrical themes and general intent. The riffs go harder, the lyrics emote deeper, and the vocals grind with more inherent sincerity. But if the music isn’t for you, at the very least, you’ve got to love the cover, which is a spoof of Prince’s infamous Lovesexy cover from 1988. Long live the laconicism of Dangerous Toys.

# 3 – Slang by Def Leppard (1996)

Even the biggest of bands weren’t immune to the grunge scourge, as evidenced by Def Leppard entirely altering their sound in 1996 with Slang. We admit that it’s a bit off-putting to see and hear the likes of Joe Elliott brooding instead of preening, but Slang is not without its moments of glory. Def Leppard always was, and still is, a bang brimming with sublime musicianship, and to be sure, Vivan Campbell and Phil Collen are on full blast here… just not in the way we’re used to.

And it’s that same high-level musicianship, combined with the fact that the mighty Def Leppard were still on good terms on an interpersonal level, leading to some of their most immediate-sounding tunes since Pyromania, if you can believe that. Listening back, songs like “All I Want is Everything,” “Breathe a Sigh,” and “Work it Out” are intensely rhythmic and show just how expansive Def Leppard’s musical vocabulary can be when pushed.

 # 2 – American Hardcore by L.A. Guns (1996)

The grungy soundscapes inherent throughout 1996’s American Hardcore aren’t the only thing that made it memorable. The album is an outlier within L.A. Guns’ discography as it’s the only one to feature Chris Van Dahl, who replaced Phil Lewis on vocals. It’s also the first record to feature bassist Johnny Crypt, too. But American Hardcore wasn’t the first L.A. Guns record to feature a heavier direction; it’s a continuation of the vibes set forth on the record that came before it, 1994’s Vicious Circle, with grunge and groove metal influences throughout.

Despite the lack of hooks, and sleaze, American Hardcore features some of the most primal and guttural riffage and solage Tracii Guns ever laid to tape. There’s angst, anger, and fearlessness, which is refreshing, making this a dark horse favorite among L.A. Guns’ faithful. Songs like “Unnatural Act,” “Pissed,” and “Kevorkian” might not be the catchiest, nor will they win L.A. Guns any street cred on the glam circuit. Still, if you can deal with the fact that Lewis is missing in action, American Hardcore is classic in retrospect.

# 1 – Carnival of Souls: The Final Sessions by Kiss (1997)

Given their status as one of America’s greatest (classic) rock ‘n’ roll bands, the fact that they penned the rock ‘n’ roll national anthem in “Rock and Roll All Night,” Kiss making a grunge record is pretty out there. But then again, Kiss reinvented themselves in the ’80s, leading to platinum-level success, so the idea that they’re one-trick ponies may be a bit shortsighted. Regardless, by the mid-90s, Kiss’s commercial fortunes had bottomed out, and changes were needed.

Kiss had toyed with heavier sounds during the Revenge era with “Unholy” but was now prepared to go full-blown grunge. And so, Kiss proceeded into the great grunge unknown, but not before halting things to reunite with Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. In the end, if not for the efforts of Bruce Kulick, Carnival of Souls probably doesn’t happen. But we’re thankful it did, as Kulick shredded across beastly cuts like “Hate,” “Rain,” and the only Kulick Kiss lead vocal ever, “I Walk Alone.”

Feature Photo: landmarkmedia / Shutterstock.com / Text Design Brian Kachejian

When Glam Bands Went Grunge In The 1990s article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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