Last week, we took a look at the Top Ten Hair Band One Hit Wonders. This week, I'm going with the opposite approach, answering the question I know you've been asking this whole month: "GMYH, I know the big hits, but what in holy hell are the best noncharting songs by the most successful hair bands?" You asked, fair reader, and you deserve an honest, well-thought-out responsive post using an arbitrary metric created by a man who once farted so horribly at a Nashville honky tonk that he had to buy fifteen shots of Fireball for his friends and strangers to make up for the temporary stench. My god, that was awful.
So here's how this is going to work. We have to have some relatively objective method by which to judge which bands are "successful." To that end, I have come up with the following scoring system for each band or artist.
10 points: #1 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #1 album on Billboard 200
9 points: #2-10 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #2-5 album on Billboard 200
8 points: #11-20 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #6-10 album on Billboard 200
7 points: #21-30 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #11-15 album on Billboard 200
6 points: #31-40 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #16-20 album on Billboard 200
5 points: #41-45 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #21-25 album on Billboard 200
4 points: #46-50 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #26-30 album on Billboard 200
3 points: #51-60 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #31-35 album on Billboard 200
2 points: #61-75 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #36-40 album on Billboard 200
1 point: #76-100 song on Billboard Hot 100 or #41-50 album on Billboard 200
Because there are bands that fall within the hair band genre who have had success both before and after the end of the Hair Band Era -- which, as you undoubtedly recall, I have defined as July 25, 1980 to May 23, 1992 -- we will be limiting this list and its "success" metric to those dates. Thus, to qualify for points under the scoring system above, an album, EP, single, or song must have either been released as a single or have been a song on an album that was released between July 25, 1980 to May 23, 1992. So, if it was on an album released before May 23, 1992, but it wasn't released as a single until after, it counts. Conversely, if it was released as a single after July 25, 1980, it counts even if it was on an album released before then. This also includes live albums and compilations. For groups that were around before the Hair Band Era and/or changed their sound to adapt to the Hair Band Era (Kiss, Heart, Scorpions, etc.), I am only including the albums/singles that fit within the hair band genre, in my own subjective opinion.
So, I'll add up all the points for each band and artist, and then take the top ten highest-scoring acts. Once those acts have been determined, I will choose what I believe to be the best (read: my favorite) noncharting song by each of those ten bands or artists. To be clear, noncharting means did not appear in the Billboard Hot 100.
I'll even list out the charting positions for the bands and artists, in case you want to check my math -- not that I'm going to do the list over or anything.
1. Van Halen - "Sinner's Swing!"
-Albums: 5, 3, 2, 1, 1, 1
-Singles: 12, 38, 1, 13, 13, 56, 3, 22, 22, 34, 5, 13, 35, 27, 55
Van Halen basically ruled the '80s, so it should come as no surprise that they are tops on this list. Choosing a song was hard, though, as several of the songs I was going to choose had actually charted. And then "Romeo Delight" -- maybe my favorite Van Halen song -- was on Women and Children First, which was released before the Hair Band Era (see above). So, I am going with "Sinner's Swing!" off of 1981's Fair Warning. Generally a darker album, Fair Warning is the only Van Halen album of the David Lee Roth or Sammy Hagar eras that didn't have a song to chart in the Billboard Hot 100. Passing over "Unchained" was a tough decision for me because I love that song too, but I wen't with "Sinner's Swing!" because I think fewer people have heard it. It's one of the many breakneck energetic deep cuts from the band's first six albums (i.e., the Roth era) -- like "Atomic Punk," "I'm The One," "Light Up The Sky," "Bottoms Up!," "Romeo Delight," "The Full Bug," and "Top Jimmy" -- that, for me, make Van Halen who they are, and that energy was never quite matched during the Hagar era. "Sinner's Swing!" is raw, beautiful rock and roll by four guys who were reaching their prime.
2. Def Leppard - "High 'n' Dry (Saturday Night)"
-Albums: 38, 2, 2, 1
-Singles: 12, 16, 28, 61, 80, 19, 10, 2, 1, 3, 12, 15, 36, 12, 34, 62
1981's High 'n' Dry album is, behind Hysteria, my favorite Def Leppard album. It was the band's last before original guitarist Pete Willis would be kicked out of the band and replaced by Phil Collen, and it was the band's first collaboration with Mutt Lange as producer. It certainly trended more towards their earlier NWOBHM sound than their later more polished hair band masterpieces (Pyromania, Hysteria, Adrenalize), and it produced no songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 (although a remixed version of "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" later hit #61 in 1984). The title track is a hard-rocking song with swagger about getting drunk on a Saturday. Hilariously, it was targeted by the PMRC in 1985 as one of the "Filthy Fifteen" because of its apparent references to alcohol. On the flip side, it has also been named as #33 on VH1's list of the Greatest Metal Songs.
3. Heart – "The Wolf"
-Albums: 1, 2, 3
-Singles: 10, 4, 1, 10, 54, 1, 7, 12, 49, 2, 23, 13, 64
I limited Heart to the Heart, Bad Animals, and Brigade albums, and even then, they came in third. Basically, every song they released as a single between 1985 and 1990 charted. This made it very difficult to come up with a song for this list, particularly as I am not as familiar with Heart's deep cuts as I am with other bands' deep cuts. But alas, all it meant is that I had to do some research. By research, of course, I mean listening to their noncharting tracks on Spotify. Unsurprisingly, the noncharting songs on these albums are, for the most part, pretty solid. I decided to go with "The Wolf" off of the self-titled 1985 album. It's a snarling rocker with great vocals from Ann Wilson and, as always, great guitars from sister Nancy. "The Wolf" appears to be the spiritual cousin of the band's hit "Barracuda." Setting aside the animal analogies, "The Wolf" is also about some sexually harassive asshole man who thinks he's better than he is. ("Barracuda" was written as a venomous diss song towards certain types of men in the record industry, after some d-bag asked Ann how her "lover" was, referring to her sister Nancy.)
4 (tie). Bon Jovi - "Wild In The Streets"
-Albums: 43, 37, 1, 1
-Singles: 39, 48, 54, 69, 1, 1, 7, 1, 3, 1, 7, 9
I was surprised Bon Jovi wasn't a little bit higher on the list, but then again, most of their success came in the last three years of the '80s, so they just didn't have the volume that the top three had. "Wild In The Streets" is the last song off of Slippery When Wet, and it's an uptempo, catchy song that could have very well charted had it been released as a single -- since pretty much everything that they released charted.
4 (tie). Poison - "Look What The Cat Dragged In"
-Albums: 3, 2, 2
-Singles: 9, 50, 13, 6, 12, 1, 10, 3, 4, 38, 35
Poison had their fair share of success, and I decided to go with the title track off of their debut album. "Look What The Cat Dragged In" is a gritty song about the sinful Sunset Strip lifestyle. That opening riff is pretty solid. For whatever reason, when I was ten, I didn't bat an eye when Bret Michaels declared "I gotta girl to a left of me, a girl to my right / I know damn well I slept with both last night."
6. Guns N' Roses - "Rocket Queen"
-Albums: 1, 2, 2, 1
-Singles: 7, 1, 5, 4, 93, 29, 10, 33, 3, 72
I've said it before, and I'll say it many times again: "Rocket Queen" is, was, and always will be my favorite Guns N' Roses song. For an in-depth analysis of the song and my love for it, click here. If reading isn't your bag, then I don't know why you're here, but at least listen to the song below.
7. Mötley Crüe - "Live Wire"
-Albums: 17, 6, 2, 1, 2
-Singles: 54, 90, 16, 89, 12, 83, 6, 27, 8, 19, 78, 63, 37
"Live Wire" was the perfect song to be the first track off of Mötley Crüe's 1981 debut album, Too Fast For Love. It is three minutes of raw energy at a machine-gun pace, announcing to the world that there was a new band in town, ready to rule the world and take your women and drugs on the way. (Note that the video below is inverted. They aren't all normally left-handed.)
8. AC/DC - "Shoot To Thrill"
-Albums: 4, 1, 15, 32, 12, 2, 33
-Singles: 35, 37, 44, 84, 23
It was a pretty sizeable dropoff in points from 7 to 8, but AC/DC was hurt by its lack of big singles. Their albums always sold and charted well, though. "Shoot To Thrill" is a fantastic track off of Back in Black. You've likely heard it in commercials, and I think it's in Iron Man.
9 (tie). Cinderella - "Take Me Back"
-Albums: 3, 10, 19
-Singles: 13, 66, 51, 12, 36, 20, 36, 44
I was glad to see Cinderella make the list because they are an underrated and underappreciated hair band -- definitely more on the bluesy side, especially in their later stuff. 1988's Long Cold Winter contained four charting songs, including three Top 40 songs, but somehow "Take Me Back" wasn't released as a single. It is probably my favorite Cinderella song. With it's slide guitar, it's catchy and it rocks, which as you have seen, is kind of a trend during the Hair Band Era.
9 (tie). David Lee Roth - "Elephant Gun"
-Albums: 15, 4, 6, 18-Singles: 3, 12, 16, 66, 85, 6, 64
After David Lee Roth and Van Halen split ways, Roth went solo and tried his damnedest to form a band with the same level of musical talent as the one he left behind. He came pretty damn close, getting guitar legend Steve Vai, bass wunderkind Billy Sheehan (who would later go onto Mr. Big), and session drummer Gregg Bissonette to join him on his first two albums. "Elephant Gun," off of Roth's debut full-length solo album, Eat 'Em and Smile," is a song that reminds me why I loved Roth with Van Halen. It's fast, energetic, and has great musicianship.