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Rock music is full of strange phenomena, but Poison is one of the most inexplicable: an adolescent fever dream of excessive hedonism that somehow achieved world-wide stardom and kept its career alive for over 20 years. One of the first and most influential rock bands of the 1980s, they were known as much for their backstage groupie antics, outrageous clothing, heavy make-up and seemingly endless abuse of alcohol and drugs as they were for their music. Their infamous antics gave them a reputation that was arguably equaled for a time only by Guns Ní Roses. With an exclamation mark in the title and lots of heavy guitar play, their new album Poisoníd! finds the band reinvigorated, doing what they do best.

Poison: Then
Originally known as Paris, the band formed in 1983 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and consisted of vocalist Bret Michaels, guitarist Matt Smith, drummer Rikki Rockett and bassist Bobby Dall. In order to avoid confusion that they were a new wave band, they soon changed their name to Poison and itís been the same since. A year later, the band moved to Los Angles and was soon part of the insular glam metal scene around the Sunset Strip. Guitarist Smith quit soon after, relocating himself back to Mechanicsburg due to the birth of his first child. The band would audition dozens of guitarists to fill Smithís shoes, and were most impressed by an unknown who called himself Slash ~ who a year later would be part of Guns Ní Roses.
Eventually, guitarist C.C. DeVille beat out Slash to get the job by jamming at the audition with a guitar riff he had written. The new line up with their catchy material and over the top Ďglammedí up personas soon began to catch the attention of the A&R men of the record companies. After signing a deal with Enigma records, the band released its debut album in 1986 ~ Look What The Cat Dragged In ~ to almost no fanfare. Thanks to their constant touring across America and MTVís heavy rotation of singles Talk Dirty To Me, I Want Action and I Wonít Forget You, six months after its release, the album eventually broke through into the top five on the Billboard Charts and sold three million records by the end of 1987. The effort was good enough to catch the attention of hot shot Epic Records producer Tom Werman ~ the man behind Cheap Trick and MŲtley CrŁe ~ and he agreed to work with the band on their follow up album.
The end result was 1988ís Open Up And Say...Ahh!, which not only spawned one of the biggest hits of the 80s ~ Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Poisonís only number one hit, and three top 10 hits (Nothiní But A Good Time, Your Mama Donít Dance and Fallen Angel) ~ but also climbed to #3 on the US album charts. After nearly two years of solid touring in support of that album, the band released Flesh And Blood and embarked on another world tour. The album went multi-platinum, reached #2 on the US charts and gave rise to three mega hit singles ~ Unskinny, Bop Ride The Wind and the ballad Something To Believe In ~ cementing the bandís reputation for good. Originally written off as bad KISS imitators, Poison found themselves being hailed one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Poison: Musical Legacy
Where would rock music be today without them? Sure, there were a lot of big acts that populated and fuelled the 80s and early 90s, but few generated as much of a dedicated following within that period as this band did. Their body of work has been extremely influential, with bands as wide-ranging as the Gin Blossoms, Skid Row, Buckcherry and The Darkness acknowledging them among their roots. Building on the Ramonesí style of dirty rock and roll, the Stonesí disco licks and the glam rock of Kiss, Poison created hair metal before there was a term for it. With their debut album Look What The Cat Dragged In, the band crafted the blueprint that would be copied and duplicated for the better part of the 1980s.
For throughout the decade, it was impossible not to hear the bandís influence on records that ranged from the heaviest metal to soft pop. Furthermore, frontman Bret Michaelís antics were copied by singers who took everything literally. With their commercially potent mix of anthemic fist-pounding hard rock driven by sleek hooks and ballads powered by loud guitars, the group gave birth to a new form of rock that presaged both stadium rock and the heavy metal sound of the late 80s. One of a handful of acts from the US to enjoy consistent success on the charts across the world, their enormous popularity subsequently opened the doors for other American rock acts in the eighties to get their music heard. While the band dominated the charts of the late 80s, their popularity waned during the 90s, especially in the US. However, a change in image and move from metal pop toward a more mainstream sound helped them retain a sizable following even today.

Poison Now:
During a period in the 90s, contrary to popular belief, Poison did disband as Michaels ventured out into acting and on his own with a solo album. After six years of being apart, Michaels and DeVille were able to patch up their differences. A Greatest Hits reunion tour in the summer of 1999 rekindled major interest in the bandís catalogue, and a year later the much bootlegged album Crack A Smile finally saw the light of day. The project had begun in 1994, but had been shelved by their record company after Michaelsís Ferrari accident. The album was the first and only Poison release to feature guitarist Blues Saraceno, who had been hired after Richie Kotzen left the band. In 2002, the band released Hollyweird with guitarist DeVille; it was the first full-blown studio project in more than a decade from the bandís original line-up.

You can read the rest of our feature on Poison in the June 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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