Though the band released only two albums within the decade, frequent hair metal whipping boys Poison actually recorded a fair amount of serviceable rock music during that time. While certainly not every track was a keeper, the group's best offerings delivered solid songwriting, big hooks and respectable riffage often at least somewhat worthy of the group's intense popularity at the time. Here's a chronological look at a solid short list of Poison's best songs, both familiar and underappreciated.
1. "Cry Tough"
Look no further than this lead-off track from Poison's 1986 debut Look What the Cat Dragged In for perhaps the band's finest musical moment in terms of accessible, melodic hooks. Of course, the song comes off sounding more like Bryan Adams-esque heartland rock than anything resembling heavy metal, but that's understandable given that Poison always leaned far more towards straight-ahead rock with a glam image than truly hard rock anyway. Even so, the song serves as a fine introduction to the best elements of the band: simple, punchy arrangements supported by rousing, anthemic lyrics about chasing one's dreams.
Even if the raunchy, one-night stand posturing of a song like "I Want Action" may have been far closer to the true spirit of Poison in its early Sunset Strip days, this soulful, decently melodic ballad is a far better piece of music that certainly appealed strongly to the band's core audience of young women. The group would go on to release another, far more prominent power ballad that would garner a deserved share of attention, but this track actually holds up quite well for anyone who wants to make the argument that Poison produced its share of decent songwriting and solid rock ensemble arrangements.
Most of the time when Poison chose to overindulge its seamy and hedonistic side, the result tended to be flat musically if not downright embarrassing lyrically (see "I Want Action" above). However, in the case of this memorable rocker, which rightfully defines the band's debut release, the group managed to be playful, sleazy, innocent and tuneful all at the same time. This Top 10 pop hit from 1987 stands undeniably as one of '80s hair metal's most iconic singles, buoyed by a nifty piece of songwriting and some of C.C. DeVille's best guitar work. Even listeners who flatly don't like Poison probably have a hard time entirely dismissing this one.
Poison's 1988 sophomore effort, Open Up and Say Ahh!, revealed that the band was quite capable of consistency, both in terms of a typical brand of party rock and a decent amount of song quality. Supported ably by one of hair metal's best-produced music videos ("You're moving at two speeds, slow and stop!"), this is '80s mainstream hard rock at its finest. That may not be the greatest of compliments, but DeVille's classic riff here alone is enough to recommend this track highly to anyone the least bit interested in the genre. Tight songwriting and a solid band performance help the tune hold up well a full quarter-century later.
Poison's two albums of the '80s, while certainly not the era's most egregious perpetrators of worthless rock and roll filler material, certainly had their share of songs that really needn't have been recorded. As a result, there aren't a bevy of album tracks available for me to recommend with good conscience. I choose this one, however, simply because it provides evidence that the band as a unit certainly knew its way around memorable rock hooks. Maybe Poison had only a limited number of times that such chops would be able to shine through the costumes, the hair and the posturing, but this track is one of those times.
Even as Poison continued to celebrate the glitzy Hollywood lifestyle on its second album, this solid rocker revealed a more thoughtful side to the band's songwriting. Fortunately, the group didn't take this new dose of perspective too far, a crime against hard rock the quartet would wait to commit fully until "Something to Believe In." But here, instead of trying to roll the dice completely on social consciousness, Poison spins a simple narrative of the often cunning, sinister lure of glamor and delivers it atop a driving hard rock riff. The result is one of the band's finest and most favorably representative tracks.
Perhaps the hair metal era's top power ballad of all, this No. 1 hit from 1988 certainly could never be called underrated or underplayed, but that doesn't make it any less of a genuine '80s classic. Employing acoustic guitar more fully than the band had ever done before, this tune foreshadowed frontman Bret Michaels' later fascination with and attempts to infiltrate other, more troubadour-friendly genres of music. Ultimately the songwriting, while not stunning in its level of poetry, comes off as heartfelt and more than competent, which is enough to forge a memorable rock and roll love song any day of the week.