Having done the 25 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs and chosen from the heavy, it’s now time to take a gander at the lighter side of the heavy, to what is called “Pop Metal,” “Nerf Metal,” and “Poseur Metal” by fans and detractors alike.
Maybe today it is acceptable for metalheads to admit they liked some of these songs. Chances are the people you work with aren’t likely to call you a poser. My co-workers down at the We Buy Gold mall kiosk don’t even have an opinion about this stuff. But had I been a big fan of “Jump” back in the day, I would’ve found my underwear hiked somewhere over my head by a well-intentioned Slayer fan looking to set me straight.
I allowed only one entry per group and then wrestled with the idea of what that one tune would be. The general rule was the song should be catchy as hell, likely something you’ve heard repeatedly, and that retains some heavy metal flavor. Keep in mind, I have already compiled a Top 25 Power Ballads list, so some tunes you may expect here will be on there.
25. “Kiss Me Deadly” - Lita Ford
Given the strategic “25th slot,” ex-Runaways guitarist Lita Ford sure kept the “Sex: in “Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Did she mind crawling on the ground? At least no one was pushing a black glove into her face. I know many male rock stars get into the biz for the perks, but do women? I don’t know, personally, since women like this clearly do NOT talk to guys like me. Great tune, though.
24. “Wild Child” - W.A.S.P.
It’s a sign of just how tame things are today that W.A.S.P. (now stands for We Are Street People) look not in the least bit corny, but like guys who were having a great time doing what they loved. Remember when punk bands would make fun of bands like this? Uh, dudes, I think these guys were in on the joke.
23. “Seventeen” - Winger
Sure, Beavis and Butthead singled them out for ridicule — as if they were doing something noticeably worse than the other bands of the era — but at least their music looked to reach people. And their guitarist Reb Beach was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever done, completing owning up to shortcomings that Axl Rose would surely never admit. Let’s have a Winger Revival!
22. “Look What the Cat Dragged In” - Poison
I admit at the time I didn’t much care for these guys, and I still haven’t kept up with the exploits of Bret Michaels, but Mechanicsburg, PA’s finest group sound like so much more fun than, say, Radiohead, that I can almost forgive them for their cover of “You Mama Don’t Dance.”
21. “Jump” - Van Halen
I admit this is where I lost interest. I didn’t understand what synthesizers had to do with heavy metal. At least so prominently displayed. Didn’t anyone notice that when you added a soft-sounding synth to a guitar band that the power was blunted? Which is fine if you’re doing music that isn’t reliant on power for its appeal. But heavy metal bands would’ve been better off adding sax before synths. (New slogan: Sax Before Synths!) And for those who don’t think Van Halen is a heavy metal band, I guess you didn’t live through the 1980s, because we didn’t consider them folk music or anything.
20. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” - Twisted Sister
The video is hilarious. From their earliest recordings, Twisted Sister was always a catchy band. They didn’t play many devil guitar riffs, sticking with power-chords and anthem-like choruses. Yet, there is a turn to pop here. It’s slight, but noticeable. The band was a little disappointed with the album’s production, so in 2004 they released Still Hungry, a re-recording of the original Stay Hungry album, where they made it heavier. But people prefer their memories.
19. “Cherry Pie” - Warrant
The video is hilarious. It’s often pointed out as an example of where pop-metal went too far. But methinks people just need to feel like they stand for something. This entire genre became about laughing your way to the bank. Why not let your audience laugh along with you?
18. “Round and Round” - Ratt
This was one of those songs that leaped out of the speakers the first time I heard it. They followed up with “Back for More,” but that was about all the “more” they had in them. But isn’t it best to light a candle for one brief moment than to spend eternity cursing the darkness?
17. “Once Bitten Twice Shy” - Great White
They’re controversial now, but you’re just not going to get me to complain about any band who puts a little money in Ian Hunter’s pocket.
16. “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)” - Aerosmith
Aerosmith looked dead. By the beginning of the 1980s, both guitarists had left and, well, the 1970s were over. So, they reunited, cleaned up, and cleaned up. They might not have been super-pleased to be writing songs with Desmond Child, whose name was on KISS’s “disco” hit “I Was Made for Loving You” and those Bon Jovi tunes everyone knows by heart, but someone had to keep these guys in the game.
15. “Rock and Roll All Nite” - KISS
New kids on the metal block might not consider KISS to be “metal.” But if you had lived in the 1970s or the 1980s, you’d know that metalheads loved them all the same and considered them to be at least honorary members of the club. This anthem of theirs is known by just about everyone on Earth. It is, like, the only song they play on TV anymore.
14. “Girlschool” - Britny Fox
These gents were considered to be pretty crap at the time. Hilarious when you consider that they’re not discernibly different from the rest of the bands of the era. They even did a Catholic girls school video that the other “Britney” would ride to even greater fame. I know the 1980s look like a lot of fun, but as someone who was there, school was just as boring back then as it is today.
13. “Rainbow in the Dark” - Dio
Although the late Ronnie James Dio is now known as a heavy metal legend, there was a time when he was viewed with great skepticism by the “Ozzy is Sabbath” crowd. I remember kids were prepared to hate anything Dio did and then had to admit they liked this track, which really shows the song’s appeal, since it had to be twice as good in order to win over all those hard hearts.
12. “Crazy Train” - Ozzy Osbourne
This track could even be considered a pure pre-thrash metal tune. In some parts of the early 1980s, heavy metal was still considered to be over-amplified blues-based rock ‘n’ roll — or Alice Cooper. So, the definition keeps shifting, and by fans who consider Agoraphobic Nosebleed and Goatlord to be true metal, “Crazy Train” is going to sound like Carole King by comparison. Just dig the guitar solo.
11. “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” - Motley Crue
Nearly a ballad, the tune sports a chorus that one could imagine the very-non-metal Black Crowes pulling off. Unlike the “Looks That Kill” video where they were shown playing left-handed, the Motleys are preparing for the onslaught of the 1990s by toning down the “glam” in their look and going for a more naturalistic image, which means they still look pretty messed-up. Again, fans of Agoraphobic Nosebleed will think this is like Helen Reddy or something.
10. “Rock You Like a Hurricane” - Scorpions
While heavy metal kids surely like power and speed and loudness, they occasionally just like a good tune. For years these good Germans were an underground phenom, but they just as quickly got their hooks together and landed a string of hits that peaked with this little ditty about Klaus and Brunhilde.
9. “Edge of a Broken Heart” - Vixen
Considering that all the dudes were trying to look like the ladies, you’d think there’d be more genuine women cashing in on this trend. Their singer, Janet Gardner, owns the high-end vocal range a lot better than, say, Geddy Lee. (C’mon, Rus fans, I’m counting on you to come to the Gedster’s defense here!) This tune was written by Richard Marx and the Tubes’ Fee Waybill, proving that even non-metal dudes could wear a metal T.
8. “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” - The Darkness
Were these guys kidding, or were they really trying to kickstart glam metal for the new century? Does it matter? The video is great fun and the riff is one to own. Considering how down and out and old rock ‘n’ roll has become, don’t you think we should be glad for anything we can get? I like the guitars.
7. “Photograph ” - Def Leppard
Funny how quickly these gents went from being in front of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to being the leaders of love-metal. Fans of the 1960s and 1970s music scene were not convinced by the 1980s. Yet, now they’d take it in a heartbeat. Maybe all music sounds better in retrospect. Just imagine the slop we’ll be listening to in 2024!
6. “Youth Gone Wild” - Skid Row
Before Savage Animal, ahem, I mean Damnocracy, Sebastian Bach led the last wave of heavy metal before the grunge movement switched things up. Amazing to think that youth who were going wild would soon be licking their wounds because daddy didn’t give enough attention.
5. “Living After Midnight” - Judas Priest
This purebred anthem remains the tune that even non-Priest fans appreciate. Right up there with “Breaking the Law” and “Screaming for Vengeance.” Remember to mention the “twin-guitar attack” of Tipton-Downing, that’s important. It sounds simple, but then why can’t everyone do this?
4. “Gypsy Road” - Cinderella
With a name like Cinderella, these guys were really pushing what metal could withstand. How they made it out of Philly without a name change is beyond me. I don’t imagine Sebastian Bach ever pushing for anything this troubled. Sure enough, ‘Rella eventually tried a roots move, but they were never more convincing than right here.
3. “Cum on Feel the Noize” - Quiet Riot
The members of Quiet Riot did not want to cover this Slade tune. They did it begrudgingly and then it became, according to guitarist Carlos Cavazo, possibly the best thing they ever did. I remember hearing it coming out of boomboxes in 1983 and thinking it sounded a lot better than the other stuff on the radio. But then, “Borderline” by Madonna gives me dry heaves.
2. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” - Guns N’ Roses
The greatest folk-rock band of the 1980s (“Patience,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Lies), even better than R.E.M., really nailed it with “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” which features an opening guitar riff that even grandmothers can identify on first listen. I’m still waiting for Bob Dylan to cover it.
1. “Livin’ on a Prayer” - Bon Jovi
Let’s hear it for Desmond Child, who sharpened Bon Jovi’s pencil and helped them get the lead out. (Geez, you can see why I hate writing puns. I mean, it’s so easy. Oops, wrong band.) Doesn’t everyone sing this song in the car at the top of their lungs? Don’t you love his hair?