In a decade fueled by party anthems and power ballads, Poison enjoyed a great amount of popularity, with only Bon Jovi and Def Leppard outselling them. While the group had a long string of pop-metal hits, they soon became just as renowned for their stage show, and continued to be a major attraction long after the '80s came to a close (bringing the commercial downfall of pop-metal with it). Meanwhile, frontman Bret Michaels reinvented himself as a reality TV star in 2007, and his involvement in several TV shows — particularly Rock of Love, Celebrity Apprentice, and Life as I Know It — helped maintain the band's popularity in concert.
Formerly known as Paris, Poison was formed in 1984 by Bret Michaels, bassist Bobby Dall, and drummer Rikki Rockett. After leaving their hometown of Harrisburg, PA, and resettling in L.A., the boys began holding auditions for a fourth member. Guitarist C.C. Deville got the gig, famously beating out future Guns N' Roses bandmate Slash in the process. With their lineup intact, Poison embraced a glammy, androgynous image and began playing shows in L.A., becoming masters of self-promotion and D.I.Y. advertising in the process. The hard work won them a contract with Enigma Records in 1986, and they released their first album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, that summer. The record spawned a pair of Top 40 hits, "Talk Dirty to Me" and "I Won't Forget You," and sold over two-million copies within a year of its release.
The band was already quite popular by the end of 1987, but 1988's Open Up & Say...Ahhh! proved to be Poison's commercial breakthrough, due to the massive hits "Fallen Angel," "Nothin' But a Good Time," and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (which became the band's first chart-topping single). After a prosperous tour alongside David Lee Roth, the group returned to the studio to record Flesh and Blood in 1990. The album, which included the number three hit "Unskinny Bop" and the number four ballad "Something to Believe In," was another multi-platinum success, but it also signaled the end of Poison's glory days. While touring in support of Flesh and Blood (as documented on the double-disc concert album Swallow This Live), the band began falling apart, and an infamous appearance on MTV showed Deville performing "Talk Dirty to Me" with his guitar unplugged. The band broke into a brawl backstage after the disastrous performance.
Shortly after the release of Swallow This Live, Poison fired Deville due to his increasing addiction to drugs and alcohol. His replacement, 21 year-old Richie Kotzen, made his commercial debut with the band on 1993's Native Tongue. Despite some strong reviews and a hit single, "Stand," the album proved to be a commercial disappointment. Kotzen was fired during the subsequent tour, having reportedly struck up an illicit relationship with Rikki Rockett's fiancé, and solo artist/session guitarist Blues Saraceno became Poison's third guitarist. The band recorded its fifth studio album, Crack a Smile, for an intended release in 1996, but the record was shelved and replaced with the Greatest Hits: 1986-1996 disc instead. Toward the end of that year, Saraceno left and Deville returned to the band, a move that resulted in a successful reunion tour during the summer of 1999. The Crack a Smile sessions were finally released the following spring, followed by Power to the People, which paired five new songs with 12 live tracks from the band's comeback tour. However, another tour was cut short by an accident that left Dall with serious back surgery.
Following Dall's lengthy recovery, the band stepped into the studio and recorded Hollyweird, which was released in the summer of 2002. The following tour was promoted as a nostalgic experience and was funded by VH1, laying the brickwork for a lucrative relationship between the band and the television channel. Deville would later appear in the network's sixth season of The Surreal Life, while Michaels was awarded his own dating show, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels. Hollyweird's reception was lukewarm at best, and Poison spent some time out of the spotlight while Michaels and Rockett released solo albums. They reconvened in 2006, celebrating their 20th anniversary with a nationwide tour and another greatest-hits album. Propelled by Michaels' new status as a reality TV star, The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock debuted inside the Billboard Top 20, a feat the band hadn't accomplished since Native Tongue. The following year brought similar luck, with the band's seventh studio effort — a covers album titled Poison'd! — moving over 20,000 units during its first week. ~ Barry Weber & Andrew Leahey