Hair Metal Chords

…aka “not even a fucking minor iv”.

From: Dan

To: Ian

By our usual metrics, can you think of any “hair metal” songs that are harmonically interesting? I loves me some hair metal, but it seems that things go right from the usual minor or mixolydian (mixolydian possibly being more common than major in hair rock?) (Ratt, Skid Row, Bon Jovi), to stuff you would call “non-chordal”, that borders on prog, like Extreme.

Footnote: once I picked up a pick from Pat Badger, the bassist for Extreme, after an Extreme show. That’s what was left after all the real fans crawled all over each other to get Nuno’s picks.

In any case, Google didn’t help much, but did turn up this article at, which I found pretty thoughtful. But it’s more about guitar interpretation than about underlying chord structure, and basically gives examples with a lot of I → bVII.

From: Ian

To: Dan

I'm assuming key changes and weird bridges aren't enough to clear this bar. Here are some songs with something:

Home Sweet Home, bVI → bVII → I in the chorus:

          [Ab]               [Bb]                [C]
I'm on my waaaaay, I'm on my waaaaay, home sweet home

Once Bitten Twice Shy, I → V → II verse, bVII → bIII prechorus (or maybe 2nd half of verse):

You can't remember when you got your last meal
[G]                     [D]
And you don't know just how a woman feels
You didn't know what rock 'n' roll was
Until you met my drummer on a grey tour bus

Bad Medicine, a nice II → bVII → V leading into the chorus:

          [E]            [E]
First you need, then you bleed
on your knees (that's what you get for falling in love)
    [D]                                [B]
and now this boy's addicted cause your kiss is the drug

From: Dan

To: Ian

You would agree, though, that we have to scrounge for even *something* here?

BTW I also thought of both Home Sweet Home and Bad Medicine, proving either that you and I should no longer bother talking to each other, or that the pool of "hair metal songs with *something*" is actually that small.

I can't stand Once Bitten Twice Shy. Both the melody and chords are IMO on the wrong side of the line between "interesting" and "random". I won't even click on the link. Oh, shit, I clicked on the link.

From: Ian

To: Dan

I really scrounged, and even still I couldn't find anything more interesting than the occasional bVI or II. No Picardy thirds, no Neapolitan chords, not many secondary dominants. Not even a fucking minor iv.

4 thoughts on “Hair Metal Chords

    1. dmorris Post author

      You’re right, and I’m humiliated. Every time I play this song I zone out thinking about the transition from major to minor… I’m not even sure I’d call it a Picardy third, because the whole song is moving back and forth between D and Dm, but either way this is a hair-metal-era classic and we dropped the ball.

  1. dk

    I think the issue here where the tradition is born from. Metal is a blues derivative and by its very nature structured upon I-IV-V or in the case of metal i-iv-V, whereas your pop icons were born out of the popular jazz tradition (gershwin, joplin, etc.) and tend to incorporate a much broader harmonic style. I think the problem is the question is far too narrow. I doubt any casual listener would hear an Alcatrazz song and not immediately define it as hair metal and yet harmonically they are all over the place. I’d put Racer X in there as well. Let me phrase it another way “what boy bands (sub-genre of pop) are harmonically interesting?”


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