It’s almost Valentine’s Day, the annual 24-hour cycle when playlists, streaming services, and other music robots turn an eye toward love songs. There are literally dozens of love songs out there, so the options can be overwhelming. Sure, you can get down with some Marvin Gaye or R. Kelly or Sade for maximum sexy time, but let’s be honest: Nothing says romance like dudes dressed up like women singing their motherfucking hearts out over some power chords, ripping whammy-bar guitar solos, and the occasional keyboard what-have-you. Back in the 80s, impressively-coiffed fabulons like Whitesnake, Def Leppard, and Skid Row ruled the airwaves—antiquated formats known as “the radio” and “MTV”—as masters of the hair metal love song. If you were alive during this heady decade, there’s an excellent chance that some of these jams penetrated your fragile psyche—and perhaps other orifices—along with such non-metal super-libidos like Prince, George Michael, and Duran Duran. There was no shortage of hair metal love songs floating through the fine mist of Aqua Net that surrounded North America in those days, but below are ten of my personal favorites. ATTENTION, NERDS: This is in no way meant to be a definitive or even numbered list. It’s just for fun. Remember fun? If not, here’s a refresher:
Whitesnake – “Is This Love”
Perhaps the ultimate power ballad of the hair metal era, Whitesnake’s “Is This Love” rocketed to number two on the US singles chart in 1987 on the strength of the band’s second video to feature frontman David Coverdale’s insanely hot girlfriend and future bride Tawny Kitaen, who made her hair metal debut three years earlier on the cover of Ratt’s triple-platinum Out Of The Cellar album and in their subsequent “Back For More” video. Originally written for Tina Turner (!), “Is This Love” has all the metal-lite trappings of the era: Too many keyboards, some gentle fret tapping courtesy of otherwise awesome lead guitarist John Sykes, and even one of those gross double-neck Steinberger guitars with no headstocks. Dressed exactly like the rich beach bum/yacht enthusiast that he essentially was at the time, Coverdale asks his special ladyfriend if it’s love that he’s feeling, or just a particularly persistent erection. Turns out it was the latter: He and Kitaen were divorced in 1991.
Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne– “Close My Eyes Forever”
Peaking at number eight on the Billboard singles chart in 1988, Lita and Ozzy’s “Close My Eyes Forever” duet is the ultimate Shakespearean star-crossed lovers’ tale transposed for maximum hair metal potential. If you were a male between the ages of 14 and 24 when it came out, this was probably your girlfriend’s favorite song. It seemed like MTV played the video once every 90 minutes, which, if you asked 12-year old me, wasn’t nearly enough. The dramatic lighting, deep romantic pathos, and/or the brilliantly edited “reaction shots” are enough to make this clip an all-time classic, but badass Lita takes it to the next level, playing three different guitars while rocking expertly shredded jeans and one massive hoop earring. Meanwhile, Ozzy is at the tail-end of his poofy “Shot In The Dark” phase, and you can tell his hairdresser put a little extra oomph into our man’s pineapple for the video shoot. Still: There’s a word for this song, and that word is fantastic.
Vixen – “Edge Of A Broken Heart”
Four years after appearing as the Go-Gos-style beach band Diaper Rash in the sex comedy Hardbodies, Vixen hit hair metal’s primetime with “Edge Of A Broken Heart” off their 1988 self-titled debut. Co-written by Tubes vocalist Fee Waybill and adult-contempo dweeb Richard Marx (who makes a cameo in the video alongside Poison drummer Rikki Rocket), the song took the cock out of cock rock while leaving in all the stiletto heels, extreme hairdos, and pointy guitars. “Did you think that I’m a dime a dance? Well, the dance is through,” sings Alaskan lead vocalist Janet Gardner as she reasserts female supremacy in hair metal’s Glamazonian battle of the sexes. “I’ll find someone else who’s nothing like you.” Vixen is still around, though original guitarist and founding member Jan Kuehnemund succumbed to cancer in 2013.
White Lion – “Wait”
The lead single off the band’s 1987 album Pride (get it?), “Wait” is probably the greatest song American-Danish glam squad White Lion ever recorded. The video sees Copenhagen-born vocalist Mike Tramp and his New Yawk bandmates lip-synching in what looks like the ballet studio that parts of Carlito’s Way was shot in. Less than a minute in, guitarist Vito Bratta ditches his acoustic 12-string to ride the lightning on a custom Strat, but the real payoff kicks in at 1:36, when Tramp delivers the coup de grace: “Wait, wait, I never had a chance to love you,” he implores his would-be lady. “Or show you my ridiculous leather outfit with the shoulder pads and shit.” You’d never guess that bassist James LoMenzo would join Megadeth nearly 20 years later, but Bratta’s tapped legato solo remains every bit as cuckoo-pants today as it was back in ’87.
Incredibly, I’m not the only person who still loves this song: Director Jim Mickle used it in the closing credits of his excellent 2014 thriller Cold In July, starring Michael C. Hall from Dexter, Sam Shepard, and Don Fucking Johnson.
Cinderella – “Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone)”
The second single off of Cinderella’s triple-platinum Long Cold Winter, “Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone)” would prove to be the band’s highest-charting song ever, ultimately landing at number 12 on the US singles chart in 1988. Filmed largely at Mono Lake, a saline soda lake in central California, the video features frontman Tom Keifer playing a piano on the barren shores, an apt metaphor for both the beauty of the love he’s lost and the desolation he feels after being abandoned by his girl. Or something. The bottom line is that you can imagine all the cigarette lighters being hoisted aloft whenever Keifer and the boys kicked into this tearjerker live.
Dokken – “Into The Fire”
“You weave your spell, your eyes they beckon me,” frontman Don Dokken sings on his band’s incendiary love/lust anthem from 1984. “Your eyes, they speak lies and misery. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t turn away.” This is pretty much the hair metal equivalent of Black Sabbath’s “Evil Woman,” which was originally written and recorded—with horns—by Minneapolis blues-psych rockers Crow in 1969. But Dokken seize the theme and turn it up a notch or three by adding fucking fire, dude. The video has a dystopian Escape From New York look and features a cat lady, barbed wire, a speed boat, a helicopter, fake snow, and a pair of giant green hands built to look like the one that appears on the cover of their Tooth And Nail album, from which this single is taken. Let’s not forget the close-ups of George Lynch shredding balls on his tiger-striped guitar. Lynch has the unfortunate distinction of being the dude who lost the Ozzy lead-guitarist gig twice, first to Randy Rhoads and then again to Jake E. Lee. Also, this song rules.
Mötley Crüe – “Too Young To Fall In Love”
Not sure if this technically qualifies as a love song, but it does have the word “love” in the title—even if the lyrics are basically saying, “Why have a committed relationship when I can stuff my herpetic cock into anything that moves?” Still, it’s worth including here because it’s one of the best Crüe songs ever and also because the video shows the band fighting ninjas and samurai warriors.
Hanoi Rocks – “Don’t You Ever Leave Me”
Finnish glam queens Hanoi Rocks originally recorded “Don’t You Ever Leave Me” on their 1981 debut Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks in an up-tempo punk style before doing the slower—and ultimately more popular—version that appears on 1984’s Two Steps From The Move. The narration that begins about a minute into the song was spoken by the band’s English drummer Razzle, who was later killed by Mötley Crüe vocalist Vince Neil in a drunk driving accident. For what it’s worth, pretty much all the 80s hair metal bands stole their entire look from Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks.
Def Leppard – “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”
It’s easy to view “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” as the moment when Def Leppard abandoned their New Wave of British Heavy Metal roots for the slick commerciality encouraged by High N’ Dry producer Mutt Lange, but it’s also a fascinating snapshot of a band on the verge of superstardom. The Lep were hale and hearty in these days—drummer Rick Allen still had both arms; guitarist Steve Clark was still very much alive—and they were ready to conquer the world. Filmed at a biscuit factory in Dublin, the video features choreographed forklifts, singer Joe Elliot strapped to a boat’s mast in Jesus Christ pose, and a mysterious lady of the lake who pilfers expensive guitars. The key moment—in both the song and video—is 3:12, when Elliot starts screaming “No-oh!” in the run-up to Clark’s tasteful white-pants solo. Bringin’ on the heartbreak, indeed.
Skid Row – “I Remember You”
Correctly recalled by Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach as “the number one prom song in America in 1990,” “I Remember You” was co-written by Skids guitarist Snake Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan (a.k.a. the dude with the nose-to-ear chain) and originally released in November 1989 as the third and final single off the band’s eponymous, five-times-platinum debut. The video follows a homeless man wandering the gray, wintry streets of New York (or Newark/Jersey City/Camden?—the band was from Jersey), pining over photos of his lost love. At the end of the clip, when he can’t bear the pain and heartache anymore, he burns the photos. The woman in them appears to magically change into former Victoria’s Secret model and future Axl Rose girlfriend Stephanie Seymour. Not sure what the moral of the story is there.
J. Bennett continues to enjoy hair metal un-ironically.