Poison

Talk Dirty to Me

Composed by Bobby Dall / Bret Michaels / C.C. DeVille / Poison

Song Review by

In 1987, "Talk Dirty to Me" became the first Top Ten hit for a band that, perhaps more than any other, came to epitomize the outlandish excess and trashy fluff of pop-metal in the '80s. Poison's debut album, Look What the Cat Dragged In, was released late in 1986, just around the time Slippery When Wet was taking Bon Jovi -- and pop-metal -- to the top of the charts; thanks in large part to support from MTV, "Talk Dirty to Me" helped push Look What the Cat Dragged In to triple-platinum sales, just missing the number one spot on the album charts. Poison's music was generally a bit more metallic -- i.e., driven by catchy guitar riffs and flashy solos just as much as vocal melody -- than previous hits by bands like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard, and there was a strong blue-collar populism in their music; yet, while Bon Jovi explicitly romanticized that sensibility in songs like "Livin' on a Prayer," Poison just wanted to party hearty. The subject matter of "Talk Dirty to Me" runs the gamut from bad girls to wild women, the stuff of frustrated adolescent male fantasy; it's no accident that the chorus contains so many references to sneaking around behind parents' backs (doing it in the old man's Ford, locking the cellar door, etc.). The main riff of "Talk Dirty to Me" is really not much more complicated than that of a simple punk song, although it certainly isn't placed in that musical context; similarly, C.C. Deville's guitar solo sounds a lot flashier and more technically demanding than it actually is. Moreover, Bret Michaels' singing accent is affected as always, trying as hard as he can for authentic grit but never getting there. All of this is certainly symptomatic of an overall emphasis on style over substance, relying on visual and aural glitz rather than, say, the hard-boiled street smarts of a Guns N' Roses. And there isn't really anything revelatory about the subject of "Talk Dirty to Me," either; singing about sleazy sex as a form of rebellion is pretty predictable. Yet it's also difficult to sell that sort of material with anything less than total conviction, which is exactly what Poison brings to the song. Everything here is done with larger-than-life aplomb, essentially the same approach the band used later on when it attempted (less than successfully) to make more Important-with-a-capital-I statements in their music. What "Talk Dirty to Me" lacks in substance is made up for by the bandmembers' utter commitment to living out their glamorous, hedonistic rock & roll fantasies -- the sense that even if it was a lowest-common-denominator sort of song, it was what teenage fans wanted to hear, which meant an escape from the frustrating, humdrum existences that often awaited otherwise. Poison may only have been acting like the rock stars they had yet to become when "Talk Dirty to Me" was released, but they took what might not have been the case at the outset and pretended it actually had been true all along -- and they sold it well enough that it did become reality. Maybe there's still something a little disturbing about fully grown men making a living off of adolescent sexual fantasies, but it's difficult to quibble with the bandmembers when, subsequently, their fantasies are completely fulfilled in real life. Even if "Talk Dirty to Me" was a little ridiculous, it was still entertaining, and that pretty much held true for most of Poison's career. Plus, as it became apparent that songs like "Talk Dirty to Me" were where the band's true strengths resided, and as affectedly artsy and serious alternative rock bandwagon-jumpers began to dominate the pop landscape, a certain down-to-earth honesty revealed itself behind all of Poison's posturing. Granted, that wasn't obvious at the time. But, in retrospect, "Talk Dirty to Me" comes off as less forced and calculating than many of the big hit singles by Poison's contemporaries in the hair metal explosion, and its undeniable catchiness makes clear why the band became as popular as it did.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Look What the Cat Dragged In 1986 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol 3:43
No Image 1989 Capitol/EMI Records / Capitol
Swallow This Live 1991 Capitol 5:41
The Greatest Hits of the '80s, Vol. 2 1995
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 3:47
Sounds of the Eighties: 1987 1995
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:46
Youth Gone Wild: Heavy Metal Hits of the '80s, Vol. 1 1996
Various Artists
Rhino 3:45
Poison's Greatest Hits 1986-1996 1996 Capitol
Champions of Rock-n-Roll, Vol. 3: Stud Rock - Wild Ride 1998
Various Artists
Simitar Distribution 3:46
Rock & Roll Relix: 1986-1987 1998
Various Artists
Eclipse Music Group 3:45
Metal [Delta] 1998
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 3:49
Heavy Metal Thunder [Rhino] 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 3:45
The Greatest Hits of the 80s [Box Set #1] 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc Corp. / Platinum Disc 3:46
Glam Metal Noize 1983-1990 (Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz) 1999
Various Artists
Raven 3:44
VH1: The Big 80's Big Hair 1999
Various Artists
Rhino 3:45
Crack a Smile... And More 2000 Capitol/EMI Records 4:05
Power to the People 2000 Cyanide Records 4:45
Hard Rock to Metal 2000
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 3:49
The Greatest Hits of the 80's 2000
Various Artists
Platinum Disc Corp.
Then: 1986-1987 2002
Various Artists
Brentwood Records 3:45
Hard and Heavy 2004
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 3:45
Heavy Rock Masterpieces 2004
Various Artists
Classic Rock Legends
Rock Breakout Years: 1987 2005 Madacy 3:43
VH1 Classic Presents: Metal Mania - Stripped, Vol. 2: The Anthems 2005
Various Artists
Immortal / VH1 Classic Records 3:55
Seven Days Live [DVD] 2006 Music Video Distribution
No Image 2006 Capitol
The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock 2006 Capitol 3:44
Great Big Hits: Live Bootleg 2006 Sony Music Distribution / BMG Special Products 3:56
The Greatest '80s Metal Moments of All Time 2006
Various Artists
Cleopatra 3:44
Gold: '80s Metal 2007
Various Artists
Hip-O / Universal 3:44
Heavy Metal [Box Set] 2007
Various Artists
Rhino 3:53
Heavy Metal Box [Rhino] 2007
Various Artists
Rhino 3:53
Live: Raw & Uncut [DVD/CD] 2007 Sweet Cyanide 5:30
Seven Days Live 2008 Armoury Records 6:20
10 Great Songs 2010 Capitol 3:45
Nothin' But a Good Time: The Poison Collection 2010 Capitol / EMI Catalogue 4:27
Double Dose: Ultimate Hits 2011 Capitol / EMI Catalogue 3:43
Icon 2013 Capitol 3:45
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection 2014 Capitol 3:45
Be Naughty Be Hair Metal
Various Artists
Warner Music France 3:44
No Image
Various Artists
Razor & Tie
No Image Capitol 3:43
blue highlight denotes editor's pick