In their mascara, lipstick and rouge, Poison were the prettiest of the 1980s “Metal Pretty Boys”

By on August 29, 2017

20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style: Metal Pretty Boys” — which originally aired on “Night Flight” in 1988, and you can now find streaming on Night Flight Plus — was part of our occasional series focusing on style and fashion as seen in music videos.

This particular episode featured videos by pop-metal stylemongers KISS, Mötley Crüe, Britny Fox, Winger, Bon Jovi and “Nothin’ But a Good Time” by pretty boy rockers Poison, the band Pat Prescott tells us were “forged in the factory town of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1983.”

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On the strength of a handful of pop-metal party anthems and saccharine power ballads, Poison had a very successful run even before the end of the Eighties, selling a shitload of records in the late ’80s and early-to-mid-’90s (only Bon Jovi and Def Leppard sold more records than they did).

Their original lineup — Bret Michaels (vocals), Matt Smith (guitar), Bobby Dall (bass) and Rikki Rockett (drums; real name: Richard Allan Ream) — first formed as Paris in small-town Mechanicsburg, eight miles west of Harrisburg, PA, and despite that fact that most sources claim they formed in 1983 (some say ’84), Wikipedia — not always the most reliable source, we realize — says they’d already moved to Los Angeles on March 6, 1980.

Read more about Poison below.

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The Pennsylvania pretty boys were right at home on the androgynous Sunset Strip hair band scene, where the boys and girls onstage and in the crowd were equally awash in tight-as-fuck spandex, chains, leather chaps and mesh half-gloves.

Poison — looking like they’d raided their mom’s makeup kits — girlied themselves up with mascara, lipstick, eye shadow and rouge. Drummer Rikki Rockett had previously been a hairdresser too, so he no doubt offered tips to the fellas on how to tease up their long hair.

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Their musical focus wasn’t all that different from dozens of similar bands — glammy pop metal that was lyrically focused on an adolescent obsession with sex and some leather-clad tough-boy talk — but Poison took those formulaic rock elements to a cartoonish nth degree.

The thing was, Poison weren’t ashamed to admit they wanted to be rich and famous, working hard to become masters of D.I.Y. self-promotion in order to get fans to come out to see them play.

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Truthfully, though, a lot of rock critics and most of their contemporaries in the L.A. rock scene hated them with a passion.

A recent Rolling Stone article about the band begins like this:

“Of all the hair bands to come out of hair-band central on the Sunset Strip, in Hollywood, back in the 1980s – among them Ratt, Dokken, Stryper, Mötley Crüe, Warrant and a thousand more – none was more hated and reviled than Poison.”

The article — which mentions a one-star RS review that called their music “‘limp three-chord clichés,’ with lyrics that amounted to ‘a guided tour of rock-catchphrase hell'” — says that the band’s lead guitarist, New York-born C.C. DeVille, even acknowledged the hate, noting that they were “the L.A. joke band [that] even other bands didn’t like.”

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DeVille (b. Bruce Anthony Johannesson) had come aboard after the band had been in L.A. for awhile (original guitarist Matt Smith returned home to Harrisburg as he was about to become a father). He famously was Poison’s pick to replace Smith, beating out Slash (later of Guns N’ Roses), who balked at wearing all the makeup and introducing himself onstage (“Hi, my name is Slash”) the way everyone in the band was doing.

According to that RS article, they spent “three years sleeping in sleeping bags behind a dry cleaners in L.A.,” doing whatever they could to get noticed by A&R reps lurking in the shadows of all those rock clubs.

In 1986, Poison signed with Torrance, CA-based Enigma Records, and released their debut in August of that same year.

Look What the Cat Dragged In became Enigma’s top-selling title, selling over two-million copies within a year of its release on the strength of three hit singles: “Talk Dirty to Me,” “I Want Action,” and “I Won’t Forget You.”

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Even though the rock press didn’t care much for the band or their music, MTV seemed to really love their videos, adding them to regular rotation.

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The video for “Nothin’ But a Good Time” — from Poison’s multi-platinum sophomore album Open Up and Say…Ahh!, released on May 21, 1988 — opens in a busy restaurant kitchen, where we see a long-haired metalhead washing dishes.

KISS’s anthemic “Rock and Roll All Nite” — a song Poison covered for the soundtrack to the 1987 film Less Than Zero — is playing on a radio, but the dishwasher’s boss yells at him about goofing off and tells him to get to work.

Frustrated, he kicks open a door, revealing that Poison are onstage, playing in what appears to be a large venue.

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Most of the rest of the video is Poison’s performance of the song, complete with acrobatic stage leaps and lots of metal rock riffage, before we return back to the same kitchen setting (this time, all of the dishes are miraculously clean).

Open Up and Say…Ahh! proved to be Poison’s commercial breakthrough, due to the massive hits it featured: “Nothin’ But a Good Time” (#6 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and #19 on the Mainstream Rock chart), “Fallen Angel,” and “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (a #1 hit in the U.S., their first and last chart-topping single).

The album charted at at #2 on the album charts, selling eight million copies worldwide.

You can see most of the band’s early videos in their appropriately-named 1989 video album, Sight for Sore Ears.

Watch Night Flight’s “20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style: Metal Pretty Boys” — and other episodes of our “20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style” series — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.