That Time Poison Played the Wrong Song Live on TV

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Now one of the heroes of the Stadium Tour, the most in-demand tour of the summer of 2022, let’s remember the time that Poison once screwed up royally on MTV. This train wreck has some cool features: An unplugged guitar, a seemingly wasted band member, and Arsenio Hall.

September, 1991. Although glam-metal’s star is fading (soon to be replaced by grunge as the genre du jour,) Poison, at the time, is still hot shit. They were still hard rock mainstays, buoyed by going triple platinum the previous year for their album Flesh & Blood. 

Two big singles charted from that record, “Unskinny Bop” and “Something To Believe In.” All was not well within Poison’s ranks, however. Frontman Bret Michaels and guitarist C.C. DeVille were all over each other’s last nerve.

The tension had been building for months. The main culprits: A heavy tour schedule surrounded by heavy drug use. Michaels and DeVille had actually duked it out after a tour stop in New Orleans earlier in the summer, and by Michael’s own words, had beat “the living crap out of each other.”

So that was the general state of affairs in Poison before taking the stage for the MTV VMAs that year. Further evidence of an impending biff comes from DeVille “helping” MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown with a promo from the audience earlier in the show.  The clip shows the pink-haired DeVille slurring his words as he shouts to the viewers at-home.

Soon after the performance starts, DeVille delivers the first sloppy moment. He duck walks across the stage to jam near MC Arsenio Hall while playing “Unskinny Bop.” Within half a minute, strangely, he stops playing. There are some awkward seconds while the band gets their act together. They start back up, then abruptly stop again.

Arsenio does his level best to rescue what’s going on. He gives Poison another chance with a vigorous re-introduction. The crowd cheers, Bret Michaels works them. He asks the audience if “they are ready to talk dirty” to him, then Michaels tells C.C. to “hit it.”

DeVille obliges by stepping all over the basic riffs of “Talk Dirty to Me.” That’s par for the chorus as he then proceeds to thrash out discordant riff after grating note. He even somehow unplugs his guitar during the second chorus (3:33 in the video.)

Michaels, throughout the Dumpster fire, attempts to rally the crowd by throwing the mic to them and waving his hands. During DeVille’s solo, Michaels teams with bassist Bobby Dall and reverse duck walks in unison… perhaps as a ploy to distract viewers.

Sadly, they extend the torture by telling Arsenio to hold up, then pull a clearly rehearsed “big finish,” (complete with staggered chords and drum hits, while Michaels jumps to the beat,) that the song did not deserve. As the song mercifully ends, Michaels tells everyone, “It ain’t perfect, but it’s rock ‘n’ roll.”

Nobody really knows what caused the song confusion in the first place. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, one version is DeVille didn’t want to play “Unskinny Bop” in the first place, so he stopped playing it, and made Michaels do “Talk Dirty to Me.” Another version says the guitarist was confused by something Michaels said while talking to the audience (“do you want to talk dirty to me?”) and that got him to begin playing the wrong song. Regardless, This was hard to watch and harder to listen to.

Post-show it was fireworks between DeVille and Michaels. They apparently beat the snot out of each other backstage, and DeVille was canned shortly after. He was replaced with new-on-the-scene shredder Richie Kotzen. DeVille came back to the band 5 years later. They’ve been “good” ever since.

Check out the performance below.  It’ll take you back.  And if you want to score tickets to see Poison (hopefully not shit the bed) with Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and Joan Jett on the Stadium Tour, click here.

Poison Plays the Wrong Song on the VMAs

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