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How Poison Overcame Controversy to Break Through on ‘Open Up and Say … Ahh!’

The four painted faces of Poison‘s C.C. DeVille, Bobby Dall, Bret Michaels and Rikki Rockett made their debut in 1986 on Look What the Cat Dragged In. It was the band’s follow-up LP, however, that sealed their fate: Open Up and Say … Ahh!, released on May 3, 1988, crowned Poison as the kings of rock’s glam revival.

But it didn’t come without a fight. Open Up and Say … Ahh! was clouded in controversy from the start. Mega-retail outlets like Walmart banned the album for what they considered inappropriate cover art, loudly steered by groups like the pesky PMRC. Tame by modern standards, the cover features a devilish-looking and crazy-haired crimson vixen with a tongue that would give Gene Simmons a run for his money. Hardly scandalous today, but game-changing in the pre-iTunes era, Poison’s record company offered a censored version of the album cover that hid the offensive tongue, exposing only the she-demon’s eyes.

The ban only added to Poison’s rebellious spirit. With songs mostly focused on sex, good times and general debauchery, Open Up and Say … Ahh! spawned four monster hit singles that benefited from MTV’s around-the-clock exposure.

The album was supposed to be produced by Paul Stanley. But because of schedule conflicts, the Kiss singer was replaced by Tom Werman, whose work with Motley Crue and Cheap Trick suited him for the job.

“Nothin’ but a Good Time,” Open Up and Say …Ahh!’s first single, remains a party staple decades after its release, and it showcases the band’s general disposition: Play hard, party harder. “Fallen Angel,” the second single, reveals a softer side of Poison – drawing on the members’ personal experiences of relocating from rural Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, thus putting everything on the line for their dreams. In a more literal sense, the song relates the fall of a wide-eyed girl embarking on the Sunset Strip.

But the album’s third single has proven to be its timeless classic. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” remains a cornerstone among ‘80s power ballads. Poison’s only No. 1 single, it still inspires hundreds of folks to fire up their lighters (or smart phones these days) in unison. Open Up and Say …Ahh!’s fourth and final single, a pumped-up cover of Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” made it to No. 10.

Still, as hard as it tried, Open Up and Say … Ahh! couldn’t knock Bon Jovi‘s New Jersey out of the top spot, so Poison had to settle with a No. 2 showing. The glam revival would come to a halt once grunge took over, but Poison was undaunted. Five more albums over the next 15 years, though the band suffered through some lineup shifts – mostly due to DeVille’s substance-abuse problems and his departure in 1991. More recently, Rockett was diagnosed with cancer. When Poison has reunited, however, the loudest cheers still greet this album.

See the Top 100 Albums of the ’80s

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