Of the countless glam-rock acts that Los Angeles birthed in the ’80s, Poison was one whose wildly colorful image was backed up with significant commercial success. Swathed in an aura of Aqua Net hairspray, glittery scarves and supermodel makeup, singer Bret Michaels, guitarist C.C. DeVille, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Rikki Rockett were some of the prettiest musicians to catapult from the Sunset Strip to international stardom — and they sold more than 40 million records worldwide, according to Poison’s official website.
The Poison songs that made the biggest impact during the band’s late-’80s heyday, like “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Unskinny Bop,” were pop-metal party anthems saturated in heavy-handed come-ons, bouncy guitar riffs, straightforward drum beats and Michaels’ flirtatious cooing. By the time Poison’s third album, 1990’s Flesh & Blood, arrived, the music’s sugary vibe was dissolving, and guitarists Richie Kotzen and Blues Saraceno (who alternately filled in for DeVille after he was fired in 1991) contributed to the bluesier tones on follow-up albums Native Tongue and Crack a Smile… and More! But little material has eclipsed the over-the-top appeal of Poison’s first two albums, 1986’s Look What the Cat Dragged In and 1988’s Open Up and Say… Ahh! The original foursome have since experienced several reunions, the latest being a North American tour with Def Leppard this past spring.
10. Poison – “SexyBack”
Having struck top 10 chart gold on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1989 with its rendition of Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (see listing No. 6), Poison released an album of covers, Poison’d, in 2007. The rhythmic Justin Timberlake/Timbaland/Nate “Danja” Hills hit “SexyBack” is a left-of-center choice that fits in better than expected among the group’s oeuvre. DeVille’s guitar substitutes for the robotic synths (is that pseudo cowbell we hear?), and the chorus’ call-and-response is left intact with entertaining results.
9. Poison – “Nothin’ but a Good Time”
Poison’s celebration of blue-collar living is simple but accurate: When you’re fruitlessly busting your hump like the sweaty dishwasher shown in this song’s video, the escape of booze, music and women is just as much about survival as it is about decadence. “I raise a toast to all of us/Who are breakin’ our backs every day,” sings Michaels, who declares, “If wanting the good life is such a crime/Lord, then put me away.”
8. Poison – “I Won’t Forget You”
The obligatory ballad on Look What the Cat Dragged In is one of the album’s few tracks that doesn’t revel in joyous sleaze. The acoustic guitar-driven cut, which is as profound as a 99-cent greeting card, earnestly sells the premise that no matter how much raunchy anonymous sex there is to be had, the boys still miss that one special girl back home — when they happen to remember her.
7. Poison – “Fallen Angel”
The cautionary tale that’s told in this Poison song — of innocence lost when a young girl tries to make it big — is no doubt one the band witnessed firsthand, as multitudes of ladies flooded Los Angeles hoping to become glam-band arm candy. Despite its sad story about the downside of living in the fast lane, it’s an upbeat tune that’s wrapped in Poison’s chirpy brand of gang vocals.
6. Poison – “Your Mama Don’t Dance”
Poison re-energizes this Loggins & Messina hit, found on Open Up and Say… Ahh! The band transforms the rebel sock-hop ditty — which gripes about getting busted when trying to get some action at the drive-in — by pumping it up with a swift tempo and lots of electric frills. Poison’s exuberance in playing the song is well captured by the live setting of the recording.
5. Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
Poison did better with this ballad in terms of composition and chart performance than “I Won’t Forget You.” The genuinely melancholy serenade about failed love from Open Up and Say… Ahh! scored the band its only Hot 100 No. 1. It feels more sincere than “Forget” and hints that real pain is roiling beneath the surface, an element that takes us to item No. 4 on this list.
4. Poison – “Something to Believe In”
This piano-tinged, thought-provoking ballad from Flesh and Blood ruminates on a crisis of faith. Michaels sings about personal and global tragedies, like traumatized Vietnam vets, the have and have-nots, and the sudden death of his bodyguard on Christmas Eve. It also features one of DeVille’s most emotive solos. The song reached No. 4 on the Hot 100.
3. Poison – “What I Like About You”
The lead single from Poison’d is a note-for-note romp through The Romantics’ 1980 pop-rock hit, down to the harmonica solo and perky handclaps. The track rates higher on this list than other better-known songs in the band’s catalog because, when its music is stripped of the ’80s production flounces that its earlier material depends upon, Poison is revealed to be a very competent good-time rock’n’roll band.
2. Poison – “Look What the Cat Dragged In”
The title track of Poison’s debut album is a blow-by-blow account of perpetual hedonism. “I went to bed too late and got up too soon/My poor head’s still spinning from too much booze,” admits Michaels — and the two ladies who are in his “no-tell, hotel, motel bed” also contributed to his sorry state. The song’s rapid tempo lends a sense of desperation to the vicious cycle of living a life full of “sin after sin.”
1. Poison – “Talk Dirty to Me”
“C.C., pick up that guitar and talk to me!” No other Poison song exalts being young, dumb and randy with as cock-sure posturing as “Talk Dirty to Me,” and no other track sounds as outrageously fun. Every sexually frustrated male adolescent can relate to the hunt for forbidden sex that involves sneaking around in basements, bushes, and back seats for satisfaction. The track is a flamboyant glam-rock guilty pleasure, right down to Michaels’ “Whoooooo!” at the end.