Top Hard Rock Frontmen of the '80s


There is certainly no shortage of hard rock frontmen from the '80s that were significant, memorable and highly visible during the era. The most prominent of these tended to operate out of the pop-metal subgenre, but other styles also have plenty of representatives. Here's a look at some of the most popular, flamboyant and even sometimes talented lead singers of '80s hard rock. Just for fun, let's start with the blond ones, both natural and peroxide-assisted. It is called hair metal, after all.

Poison frontman Bret Michaels on stage in 1988.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic / Getty Images

Though rarely championed as the finest singer or even the most charismatic frontman of the late-'80s glam metal heyday, Poison's Bret Michaels has consistently remained one of the most recognizable lead singers of the era. Along with his bandmates, the Pennsylvania native was part of the most commercially successful rock and roll makeup look since KISS. Musically, Poison generated a relatively harmless form of party rock that was often neither remarkably compelling nor offensive. Still, the lyrics and vocals of Michaels meshed well with the performer's good-time stage presence, all of which helped him achieve a respectable swoon-worthiness among female fans. In recent years Michaels has flourished as a reality TV star as well.

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino Atlantic

Likely no one on the planet has ever believed that Dee Snider - with all his macho, bruiser New York City attitude - has naturally blond, curly locks. But that's OK, as the Twisted Sister frontman - to whom I've affectionately referred to this site as the scariest, clown-faced drag king on earth - has always sported a famously bleached look to go with his otherwise noticeable appearance. Snider and his bandmates also did plenty to inject some much-needed menace into mid-'80s pop metal, as much through their sound as their jarring image. Ultimately, however, Snider has persisted as a pop culture icon because of his endless supply of sharp-witted personality. Remember those PMRC hearings?

Despite sporting a stylish, bad-ass shaved-head look for more than two decades, famed heavy metal howler Halford once had flowing, blond locks during the '70s when Judas Priest was getting started. Even well into the '80s, he attempted at times to follow hard rock's long-hair rule even while fighting a receding hairline. Of course, fans rightfully regard Halford most highly for his powerful voice, which helps drive the molten guitars of the band's dual guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. A charismatic frontman who wore leather and studs and somehow guided heavy metal style trends while doing it, Halford is a well-deserved legend the whole world over.

of 10

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard

Def Leppard, from left to right: Steve Clark, Rick Savage, Joe Elliott, Pete Willis, Rick Allen.

Mercury Records/Hulton Archive / Getty Images

I haven't always held full belief that Def Leppard's Joe Elliott is a quality singer - especially based on a couple of live TV performances from the '80s that I can't forget - but he certainly helped lead his band to a uniquely happy medium between New Wave of British Heavy Metal power, glam rock-influenced pageantry, and savvy pop production. Despite the Mutt Lange-engineered gloss of massive hit records Pyromania and especially 1987's Hysteria, Def Leppard flew the flag proudly for classic British hard rock. Even better, Elliott functioned as an emotive central figure in the band, blessed with an uncanny ability to project throwback style alongside a convincingly contemporary '80s image.

Vince Neil of Motley Crue
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Motley Records

At times pop metal icons like Neil and Michaels were probably mistaken for the platinum-haired, tanned groupies that so vigorously pursued them, an irony both would surely have shrugged off with party-time aplomb. Still, these two giants of the genre stand out for other similar reasons, not the least of which is the possession of a workmanlike but unspectacular share of vocal talent. Neil particularly helped Motley Crue drip with leather-clad sleaze, and he effectively balanced the gothic, rather menacing look of the rest of the band. Since his 1985 charge of manslaughter in the drunken traffic accident that claimed Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle, Neil has endured perhaps more than his share of tragedy but has persisted along with his intact band.

With his infectious loudmouth personality and memorable acrobatic stage presence, Roth helped make Van Halen one of the most popular rock bands in the world during the early '80s. That's why his much-publicized departure from the band in 1985 seemed like such a big deal at the time and perhaps the death knell for the premier party band of hard rock and arena rock. The band managed one of the most impressive feats of the decade by continuing with scarcely slowed success as led by the diminutive but large-voiced Sammy Hagar. Nonetheless, Roth's California blond image and fun-loving demeanor defined Van Halen and cement Diamond Dave for some as the band's only "real" frontman - despite a brief original tenure.

David Coverdale of Whitesnake
Album Cover Image Courtesy of EMI Europe

Though perhaps more known for former wife Tawny Kitaen's memorable appearance in Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" music video as a sized-to-scale human hood ornament, David Coverdale was a classic frontman in the mold of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant. Of course, some might say he was too precisely in that mold for his own good, as the comparisons had a tendency to favor the more famous of the two. Aside from the fact that both men have sported huge, curly blond manes for the bulk of their careers, the pair's vocal similarities were easily detectable if not particularly interesting. Still, contrary to popular belief - which tends to see the group as a late-'80s hair metal development - Coverdale led Whitesnake capable for the entire decade.

Emerging as Skid Row Frontman just barely out of his teens, Bach generally wanted no part of the flashy, makeup-inspired glam metal look. The group's sound likewise opted for an edgier hard rock sound than what MTV often featured at the time, something that has earned Bach a fair amount of respect on top of the commercial success generated by the band's self-titled 1989 debut. Despite a requisite amount of controversy and reckless behavior over the years, Bach has essentially proven himself to be a serious technical singer as well as a rock star, even appearing on Broadway and non-reality TV over the past decade. With only one Skid Row album actually released during the '80s, it's amazing that Bach had enough time to become iconic so soon.

Steve Whiteman of Kix
Album Cover Image Courtesy of East/West Records

Ah, so here's a wild card, or curveball, or whatever baseball-themed metaphorical name you want to give to a left-field selection like this. But I think the Kix frontman is a perfectly reasonable choice on the strength of his band's organic, blue-collar, often underrated '80s pop metal output. More than a few music fans probably know the cereal of the same name better than this Maryland rock band, but there's no real excuse for ignorance in this case. As Kix frontman, Whiteman always exhibited a sense of style, theatrics, and humor that didn't depend on the image or romanticized presentation. That didn't stop the power ballad "Don't Close Your Eyes" from becoming by far the most familiar Kix track, but don't blame Whiteman for the oversight.

of 10

David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap

Spinal Tap
Martyn Goodacre/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

OK, before you start thinking of this as a novelty list in which I don't take seriously the many flashy frontmen of '80s hard rock, let me reiterate that I actually believe the fictional Spinal Tap released some of the most enjoyable tunes within the genre. And Michael McKean as St. Hubbins is the perfect embodiment of a rock star genuinely interested in musical eclecticism who doesn't quite have the chops or smarts to equal his ambition. Spinal Tap may utterly qualify as parody, but I've always detected plenty of affection in the 1984 film's historically informed send-up of the prickly roots and branches of '80s hard rock. Cold sores notwithstanding, St. Hubbins has some classic, timeless hair, and he knows how to use it.