35 Years Ago: Poison Gets Autobiographical on ‘Fallen Angel’
Poison mastered the art of escapist party metal on their first two albums, but they took care to revisit their hardscrabble roots on "Fallen Angel," released as a single on July 6, 1988.
The Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, quartet — singer Bret Michaels, guitarist C.C. DeVille, drummer Rikki Rockett and bassist Bobby Dall — had graduated from hand-to-mouth hustle to rock 'n' roll fantasy thanks to the multiplatinum success of their 1986 debut Look What the Cat Dragged In. Their 1988 follow-up, Open Up and Say ... Ahh!, was on its way to even greater sales, bolstered by the Top 10 lead single "Nothin' but a Good Time" and the eventual chart-topping ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn."
Sandwiched between those two smash hits was the less enduring — but equally endearing — "Fallen Angel," a bittersweet pop-metal anthem about a small-town girl who hitches a ride to Los Angeles in pursuit of stardom and learns some hard lessons along the way. The subject matter hit close to home for Poison, who cut their teeth on the Central Pennsylvania club circuit under the name Paris before heading west in 1983. "New York was too close. We knew that when things got shitty, we would have just gone home," Michaels told Spin in 1988.
"So we said, 'Let's pack our stuff and take our original set to Los Angeles, where it's not going to be familiar and comfortable, where we've got to play music in order to live.'"
So began a three-year struggle to pique the interest of jaded promoters and record executives. "The first year you're out there, you pay the clubs to let you play," Michaels explained. "You rent a depressing room at Club 88, and if you can get 20 people at your show and impress them, they'll bring their friends next time and there'll be 40. We were a promotion machine." He was quick to note, however, "It wasn't like after we did a gig at the Troubadour, I went home to my parents' place in Beverly Hills. I wish we could have had it easier. But because we had to fight for it, it makes us appreciate it that much more."
Watch Poison's 'Fallen Angel' Video
The hard work paid off once Look What the Cat Dragged In started gaining traction thanks to the Top 10 single "Talk Dirty to Me." Support slots on tours with Ratt, Cinderella and David Lee Roth followed, and Poison quickly found themselves in the big leagues — perhaps too quickly.
"I wish we had the polish that a lot of bands who've been around for years have," Michaels said. "Look at David Coverdale. David Lee Roth has years of experience over me. I mean, when we first came out, we did arenas. I don't think we were ready for them, but I think we got educated pretty well."
It's a story not unlike the one depicted in the "Fallen Angel" video, which starred 19-year-old singer and actress (and Michaels' then-girlfriend) Susie Hatton as an aspiring model who leaves home to follow her dreams. She endures the advances of a sleazy agent (played by actor Anthony James) and acts as his arm candy in exchange for work — the textbook "lost soul caught up in the Hollywood scene, all the parties and the limousines."
Hatton's character eventually gets sick of this gross behavior, kicking James in the crotch and escaping L.A. on the back of Michaels' motorcycle. As they race into the night, another young woman steps off a bus to take Hatton's place.
The video was a hit on MTV, and "Fallen Angel" climbed to No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Poison stuck it out in the fast lane for a few more years before imploding spectacularly at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. That same year, Hatton released her debut album Body and Soul, which Michaels produced. The slick pop-metal effort was dead on arrival amid the nascent grunge revolution, and — to quote "Fallen Angel" — when her ship came in, she wasn't there, and it just wouldn't wait.