The hard rock scene in Los Angeles exploded in the early 80s thanks to platinum-selling glam metal bands like Motley Crue, Steering wheel and Quiet Rebellion. But as those groups graduated from Sunset Strip clubs to arenas around the world, they left a void that would soon be filled by a younger crop of bands that were looser, tighter, and meaner than their forebears.
Enter LA Guns, whose geographically specific name belied a transatlantic lineup that went through more than half a dozen iterations before the band released its self-titled debut album on Jan. 4, 1988. Guitarist Traci Guns founded the band in 1983 and assembled a cast of supporters that briefly included former Hollywood Rose singers Axel Rose. Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin would soon sign Guns to a reunited Hollywood Rose, which they quickly renamed Guns N’ Roses, which Guns would leave after an argument with Rose, joining LA Guns and giving up his GNR position to Slash. Do you have all that?
By mid-1985, Guns was back in his namesake band with singer Paul Black, guitarist Robert Stoddard, bassist Mick Cripps and drummer Nickey Alexander (aka Nickey Beat). The quintet began writing songs that would appear on LA Gunsand established itself as part of the Sunset Strip’s next wave.
“Before us you had Ratt and Motley Crue and WASP and Great whitesguys like that who are a little older and were kind of part of the late ’70s rock scene,” Guns told Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock in their 2021 book Nothing but a good time. “What they did was they revived rock after punk had just stormed through LA. So you had some viable rock bands that had record deals that were now leaving town. And the void was filled by Married and Guns N’ Roses and LA Guns and Faster Pussycat and Jetboy, who were from San Francisco, but they were a great band.
“It was definitely a turning point musically because everything got rougher around the edges, more bluesy, more alternative,” he continued. “It wasn’t just about looking like Motley Crue anymore. It was about injecting Stone and [New York] Dolls and the bacteria and all these other influences into it. So what really happened is the quality of the music, the diversity of the music that was put up in the scene. It got dirtier.”
Listen to LA Guns’ ‘Sex Action’
LA Guns caught the attention of PolyGram Records A&R man Bob Skoro, who offered them a development deal—essentially a pre-record deal where the label pays for the band to record some demos to see if they want to pursue a partnership. But they were no longer going to have Black at the helm.
“We’re up there [in a meeting] and Bob Skoro starts asking each guy some questions: ‘What do you want to get out of making records?’ ‘How do you see yourself as a musician in five years or 10 years from now?'” Guns recalled. “Everybody’s giving their game. And then he comes to our singer, Paul Black. He asks the question. And Paul just falls asleep. Like right there on the couch. I had no idea what was going on. And then Bob Skoro says, ‘Sorry, guys. I can’t do this.’ And just like that, it’s over.”
Keen to keep the ball rolling, the band gave Black the boot and quickly recruited Phil Lewis, former lead singer of British glam rock band Girl. (They also poached bassist Kelly Nickels from Faster Pussycat, and Cripps switched to rhythm guitar.) With their lineup solidified, LA Guns took to Los Angeles’ Village recording studio in the summer of 1987 with producer Jim Faraci to begin work on their debut album…
Armed to the teeth with streetwise punk metal bruisers (“No Mercy”, “Nothing to Lose”) and slinky sleaze rockers (“Sex Action”, “Electric Gypsy”) LA Guns set themselves apart from their pretty boy pop metal peers , and their debut album featured raw, in-your-face production to match. “I didn’t want them to sound like Ratt. I didn’t want them to sound like Poison.” said Faraci, who had previously constructed both groups. “I thought they were a completely different band. They were a lot more dawning, a lot more edgy. That’s why if you notice on the LA Guns record, there’s not a whole lot of backing vocals, there’s not a whole lot of cool tunes like we did with Ratt or with Poison, because I didn’t think it needed it. I thought they were a four-story, here-we-go kind of band.”
Listen to LA Guns’ Electric Gypsy
LA Guns was a moderate success, peaking at No. 50 on the Billboard 200 and eventually earning a gold certification from the RIAA. The band quickly followed up with the 1989s Tense & Loaded, which featured the Top 40 single “The Ballad of Jayne.” Although LA Guns never enjoyed the stratospheric success of some of their peers, their first two albums remain the pinnacle of the ’80s glam metal zeitgeist. Their debut in particular crackles with a youthful exuberance, and Guns still prides itself on its unadulterated authenticity.
“The idea was to get enough recognition locally to get a record deal, and then take the record deal seriously once we got it. And then the conversation was about defining a sound,” the guitarist told UCR in 2021. “How do we make sure we take our collective influences and make our own sound? If nothing else, the first LA Guns record did that. You can’t compare that record to anything else. It just doesn’t have obvious impacts.”
Top 30 Glam Metal Albums
There is nothing sinful about these pleasures.