Was Grunge Really Death of Hair Metal?

The Death of Hair Metal at Grunge’s Foundation?

A lot of music fans and music historians point out how Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (along with releases from Alice In Chains and Pearl Jam) immediately led to the further demise, if not outright immediate death, of hair metal from the late 1980s leading to some bands having to alter their sound to fit in or releasing albums to very poor sales after being on top of the world just 3-4 years earlier. I decided to take a look at just how true this aspect of the Grunge take-over was.

First: The Grunge/Alternative Rock Uprising
Let’s start things off by taking a look at how the album sales were doing starting in 1989 and transitioning into the early 90s up through 1995, taking in the “peak” of the grunge/alt. rock movement.

Sorted by Month and Year of Release
Soundgarden – Louder Than Love (September, 1989): #108
Mudhoney – Mudhoney (November, 1989): DNC
Nirvana – Bleach (June, 1989): #89
Alice In Chains – Facelift (August, 1990): #42
The Smashing Pumpkins – Gish (May, 1991): #195
Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (July, 1991): DNC but peaked at #34 in UK
Pearl Jam – Ten (August, 1991): #2
Nirvana – Nevermind (September, 1991): #1
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (October, 1991): #39
Alice In Chains – Dirt (September, 1992): #6
L7 – Bricks Are Heavy (September, 1992): #160
Mudhoney – Piece of Cake (October, 1992): #189 and peaked at #9 on US Top Heatseekers Chart
Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion (February, 1993): #141
The Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream (July, 1993): #10
Nirvana – In Utero (September, 1993): #1
Blind Melon – Blind Melon (September, 1993): #3
Pearl Jam – Vs. (October, 1993): #1
The Breeders – Last Splash (February, 1994): #33
Soundgarden – Superunknown (March, 1994): #1
Stone Temple Pilots – Purple (June, 1994): #1
Candlebox – Candlebox (August, 1994): #7
Nirvana – Unplugged in New York (November, 1994): #1
Pearl Jam – Vitalogy (December, 1994): #1
Veruca Salt – American Thighs (January, 1995): #69
Mudhoney – My Brother the Cow (March, 1995): DNC but peaked at #19 on US Top Heatseekers Chart
Mad Season Above (April, 1995): #24
Foo Fighters – Foo Fighters (July, 1995): #23
Silverchair – Frogstomp (September, 1995): #1
Blind Melon – Soup (September, 1995): #28
Candlebox – Lucy (October, 1995): #7
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (October, 1995): #1
Alice In Chains – Alice In Chains (November, 1995): #1

To no real surprise, it’s clear that grunge and alternative rock in general exploded by late 1991 into early 1992. What’s more interesting is seeing how strong it was still going by late 1995 well after Cobain’s death and just on the cusp of the rise of British Pop invading the United States and MTV.

I’ve decided to do a similar run when comparing the hair metal acts of the late 1980s, starting with 1987 and ending with 1995 when grunge/alt. rock was in full swing. Hair Metal was still going strong by 1989 and into 1990 so it should offer up a good comparison and allow us to see just how quickly the drop off may have been.

Motley Crue – Girls, Girls, Girls (May, 1987): #2
Whitesnake – Whitesnake (April, 1987): #8
Great White – Once Bitten… (June, 1987): #23
L.A. Guns – L.A. Guns (January, 1988): #50
Poison – Open Up and Say… Ahh! (May, 1988): #2
Cinderella – Long Cold Winter (May, 1988): #10
Winger – Winger (August, 1988): #21
Vixen – Vixen (September, 1988): #40
Ratt – Reach For the Sky (November, 1988): #17
Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (January, 1989): #10
Skid Row – Skid Row (January, 1989): #6
Tesla – The Great Radio Controversy (February, 1989): #18
Extreme – Extreme (March, 1989): #80
Great White – …Twice Shy (April, 1989): #9
W.A.S.P. – The Headless Children (April, 1989): #48
Danger Danger – Danger Danger (June, 1989): #88
L.A. Guns – Cocked & Loaded (August, 1989): #38
Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood (September, 1989): #1
Whitesnake – Slip of the Tongue (November, 1989): #10
Slaughter – Stick It To Ya (January, 1990): #18
Poison – Flesh & Blood (June, 1990): #2
Winger – In the Heart of the Young (July, 1990): #15
Vixen – Rev It Up (July, 1990): #52
Ratt – Detonator (August, 1990): #23
Extreme – Extreme II: Pornograffitti (August, 1990): #10
FireHouse – FireHouse (June, 1991): #21
Warrant – Cherry Pie (September, 1990): #7
Cinderella – Heartbreak Station (November, 1990): #19
Great White – Hooked (February, 1991): #18
L.A. Guns – Hollywood Vampires (June, 1991): #42
Skid Row – Slave to the Grind (June, 1991): #1
Tesla – Psychotic Supper (August, 1991): #13
Danger Danger – Screw It! (October, 1991): #123
Slaughter – The Wild Life (April, 1992): #8
FireHouse – Hold Your Fire (July, 1992): #23
Warrant – Dog Eat Dog (August, 1992): #25
Great White – Psycho City (September, 1992): #107
Extreme – III Sides to Every Story (September, 1992): #10
Poison – Native Tongue (February, 1993): #16
Winger – Pull (May, 1993): #83
Motley Crue – Motley Crue (March, 1994): #7
Great White – Sail Away (May, 1994): #168
Tesla – Bust a Nut (August, 1994): #20
Cinderella – Still Climbing (November, 1994): #178
Extreme – Waiting For the Punchline (January, 1995): #40
Skid Row – Subhuman Race (March, 1995): #35
FireHouse – 3 (April, 1995): DNC
Slaughter – Fear No Evil (May, 1995): #182
L.A. Guns – Vicious Circle (August, 1995): DNC

So… did grunge really kill off hair metal? Kind Of. By 1989 and 1990, it was pretty clear outside of a few high peaking albums that hair metal was starting to fade off the charts. It’s worth noting that some bands were able to persevere but by 1992 the writing was pretty much on the wall for the genre.

Also what partially further helped kill off hair metal was the sheer number of bands whom had members leave or bands which actually took hiatuses, such as White Lion whom broke up in 1992. Another band, TNT, took a hiatus that year which lasted through the grunge era. Several popular bands didn’t release albums in 1993 or 1994 or took long times in between album releases, as long as 4 years in some cases by which time the sound of music had completely changed over that span.

Written by David Hunter

David Hunter enjoys writing about wrestling, sports, music, and horror!

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