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Alternative History

5 worst hair metal to alternative rock makeovers

Motley Crue, Hair Metal (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)

The party rock of the late 1980s was a force to be reckoned with on radio and on MTV, the biggest means of promotion of the day. But, with grunge and alternative rock threatening these groups’ very careers, many of them opted for a quick makeover. Cash grab, change of taste or desperate plea for survival? Either way, here are 5 of the goofiest hair metal/alternative rock makeovers.

Skid Row

Formed as a pop metal band in the vein of Bon Jovi, Skid Row sold plenty of records on the strength of their arena sized debut album. By their sophomore release the group had integrated a more traditional metal sound that paid debt to the likes of Judas Priest.

Skid Row during their alternative rock period

But, with a four year delay between albums and change in musical trends, Skid Row opted to go the route of alt rock with their third album “Subhuman Race”. While the sound makes some concessions to grunge, it is the Skid Row’s gloomy videos that should give you a clue how much the Sebastian Bach fronted group was hoping the new rock scene would embrace them.

The initial lineup would not last long after that. The group reconvened with new singers and continued to put out new material. Nowadays, both Skid Row and Bach perform mostly songs from their more famous hair metal glory days.


Poison with guitarist Ritchie Kotzen in their "mature era"

Not exactly the critics’ darlings in any point of their career, Poison also opted to darken their sound and image. The inspiration was certainly the alternative rock formula. But, for a band known just as much for the insidious amount of hair spray products used as for their music, transitioning to the “serious phase” of their careers could prove difficult.

They tried it for one album. That went nowhere despite the musicians’ competent playing abilities. Poison didn’t release an album for seven years more years. Nowadays, perception about Poison’s merits has deemed and they ride a profitable web of hair metal nostalgia.

Motley Crue

The party band to end all part bands to some. A poor man’s Aerosmith to others. Either way, Motley Crue were a band that could simply not be ignored throughout the 1980’s. Drug addiction, near imprisonment and frequent in-fighting did little to stop the Crue. But, rather it was the songs and sound that felt out of step with the less party-hardy attitude of the early 90s.

Motley Crue with John Corabi

Motley Crue kicked singer Vince Neil out, recorded, for all intents and purposes, and alternative rock album and quickly decided hair metal was more fun anyway. The group’s 180 may have been ridiculous, but the Crue earned the only few positive critical reviews of their lengthy career. Their style morphed back to their arena rock posturing for several lucrative reunions throughout the years.

Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi live in 1995

No 80s pop metal was quite as successful as Bon Jovi. This was the result of the band’s general appeal, considerable musical chops and the business sense of singer Jon Bon Jovi.

With alternative rock threatening to make the pop metal brand seem obsolete, the group retreated into more introspective and occasionally angry songs. That was the bulk of their 1995 album “These Days“. It sold respectably well in spite of alt rockers’ decrying the multi-millionaires ignorance of the genre.

Bon Jovi wouldn’t release an album until 2000 by which time it was once again safe to play arena sized power pop, an area in which they comfortably remain stationed until the present day.


Say what you want about KISS, but they’ve certainly been survivors of most musical trends thrown at them. Starting off as bubblegum shock rock group, the quartet transitioned to hard rock, disco, hair metal and grunge as trends dictated.

Their 1992 album “Revenge” promised to feed of the anger shared with the newer generation. Singer Paul Stanley later admitted in his autobiography that he saw little reason to complain in song while, at the same time, being a successful multi-millionaire.

KISS in the Revenge era

Thankfully, KISS didn’t have to struggle for too long. A smart business decision had them reapplying their familiar makeup and reuniting their original lineup. While the reunion proved swift, they continue to promote the same show until the present day. And, no, they do not play any songs off “Revenge”.

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