RockStory - Heavy Metal: The LA Scene
The LA Scene: LA and Hollywood would be the birthplace of the most commercially successful era of heavy metal

The LA Scene

By Fredrik Nilsson


Los Angeles and Hollywood would be the birthplace of the most commercially successful era of heavy metal, and that was the LA bands from the early 80’s that would later be followed by the “hair bands” in the late 80’s.

Mötley Crüe

Mötley Crüe took off were Kiss and Alice Cooper left off in their heydays, and had four distinct personalities and wore stage costumes and makeup.

But the music was a lot heavier, even if songwriter and bass player Nikki Sixx always had a pop sensibility in his melodies. Singer Vince Neil was just like David Lee Roth a born to be front man, and Tommy Lee was a great drummer and would become one of the most respected drummers in the metal community.

Their two first albums (Too Fast For Love and Shout At The Devil) had everything you could possibly want, great songs, great performing and a shitload of attitude. Unfortunately the honeymoon came to a halt when Vince Neil was involved in a car crash with Hanoi Rocks-drummer Razzle (who unfortunately died). Facing jail time for being drunk and driving, Vince got of easy with just having to do civil service.

But the band was beginning to take its toll because of drugs and alcohol, and the next two albums (Theatre Of Pain and Girls Girls Girls) contained the necessary hit singles, but were also packed with filler material. Fortunately the band bounced back creatively with their 1989 album Dr. Feelgood, which was also deservingly their biggest commercial success ever.

Mötley Crüe would remain in the spotlights the following years, much due to Tommy Lee’s marriages to famous actresses (Heather Locklear and Pamela Anderson), and the legendary status of their wild partying lifestyle (all to be told later in a book called The Dirt).


The band Ratt had a similar style as Mötley Crüe, heavy guitars but with a pop sensibility in the song writing.

Singer Stephen Pearcy was of an acquired taste, with his raspy voice and almost feminine appearance. But he was unarguably a great front man, and a poster dream for many girls of the 80’s.

The rhythm section of Bobby ‘The Blotz’ Blotzer (drums) and Juan Crucier (bass) was also one of the best in the business. The guitar team of Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini somewhat set them apart from Mötley Crüe, and Warren was an extremely talented lead guitar player.

Being from LA they hung out with the Mötley-boys on a regular basis, and would break through a year or two after them.

Their self titled EP from 1983 was raw and heavy but still with sex appeal, and quickly became an underground favourite. But their big break came with the -84 smash album Out Of The Cellar, with excellent songs such as “Round And Round”, “Wanted Man” and “Back For More”.

The follow up album Invasion Of Your Privacy (1985) was equally good, and contained the hits “Lay It Down” and “You’re In Love”.

After these two hugely successful albums the band would lose more and more fans with each album, even if the quality of the albums would remain at a high level. So in the early 90’s the band was put to sleep, and later reunion attempts hasn’t met any considerable success.


The biggest shock rock act of the decade would turn out to be a band called W.A.S.P., which supposedly stood for We Are Sexual P erverts.

Christian groups would claim it stood for We Are Satans People, but the band and the fans just laughed such ridiculous accusations off (Kiss was also accused of standing for Knights In Satans Service).

The debut album released in 1984 was an instant success, with big hits such as “I Wanna Be Somebody” and “L.O.V.E. Machine”. They also released the controversial single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)”, which was better than anything on the album, but unfortunately the record company didn’t dare to put in on the album.

The stage show was also controversial, with lots of skulls, fake blood, and the faked sacrifice of a semi-naked woman. But the band quickly became one of the most popular metal bands of the 80’s.

The follow up album The Last Command was even better than the debut, with songs like “Wild Child”, “Blind In Texas” and the title track.

After a weaker album in 1986 (Inside The Electric Circus), the band bounced back with their most artistic triumph ever. Front man Blackie Lawless had matured as a songwriter, and the 1989 album The Headless Children was a success.

In the 90’s Blackie would replace musicians in the band like a businessman changes ties, but he would continue to release for the most part good music.


Another great band from the LA scene of the early 80’s was Dokken.

They had all the heaviness of Mötley Crüe and Ratt, but their front man Don Dokken had a more romantic quality to his voice (in contrast to Vince Neil’s and Stephen Pearcy’s voices which were loaded with raw sexuality).

The lyrics were mostly unhappy love stories, instead of the typical women and party lyrics of the scene. The debut album Breaking The Chains was a minor success, but it was with the follow up album Tooth And Nail (1984) that the band really hit it big.

The album was indeed great, especially the guitar playing by the virtuous George Lynch. And their 1985 album Under Lock And Key could very well be the most accomplished melodic rock album of the whole decade. The whole album is just perfect from beginning to end.

The following album Back For The Attack (1987) was also great, but after that inner turmoil split up the band.

They were to reunite later, but they never managed to recreate the magic of their 80’s albums.

Great White and Kix

Two other bands from LA that had some success throughout the decade were Great White and Kix.

Both bands were founded in the early 80’s and released a couple of albums. But it wasn’t until Once Bitten (1987) that Great White really broke through, and Kix followed a year later with their superb Blow My Fuse album.

But by then the bands were caught up in the “hair band”-scene, with bands like Poison (who stole a great deal of their image and music from Kix). 


Other bands that weren’t from LA, but still were close to that scene in style and music were Y&T (from San Francisco), Krokus (from Switzerland) and the bad boys from the east coast Twisted Sister.

Y&T was at their peak in the early 80’s, with three splendid albums in Earthshaker (1981), Black Tiger (1982) and Mean Streak (1983). They were one of the better live acts of the 80’s, but unfortunately they tried to commercialise their sound in the mid 80’s, which gave them a hit single (“Summertime Girls”) but essentially drove away their metal fan base.

Krokus was Swiss band with a strong AC/DC-influence, and by the time of their fifth album Head Hunter (1983) they had a successful single in the states with the wonderful “Screaming In The Night”. The following album The Blitz was somewhat weaker, and the expected big breakthrough of the band unfortunately never came.

Twisted Sister took their image to the extreme, and looked almost like cartoon heroes by the time of their 1984 album Stay Hungry. The anthems “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” were big hits, but in spite of the band releasing a couple of solid albums throughout the decade they would always be remembered as one (or two) hit wonders.


As the image of the LA scene was pushed to the front, there came a new breed of bands in the mid and late 80’s. This was to be the most commercial period in heavy metal, and would be dubbed by the media as “Hair Metal”.