Poison promoted themselves up and made the rounds performing in the famous local clubs. During this period, Poison’s manager negotiated a deal under which the West Hollywood club, The Troubador, would pay for shows. At this time, Smith, who was about to become a father and was concerned about the band’s future, left the band to return home to Pennsylvania. The band auditioned for a replacement guitarist, eventually narrowing down the field to three candidates: Slash, who would later join Guns N’ Roses, Steve Silva from The Joe Perry Project, and New York-born guitarist C.C. DeVille, although Michaels and Dall did not initially get along with him, the band eventually agreed that DeVille’s “fire” made him the best choice.
Michaels, Rockett, Dall, and DeVille signed to independent label Enigma Records in 1986 (see 1986 in music) for approximately $30,000. Their debut album: Look What the Cat Dragged In, was released 2 August 1986. It originally included only one single, “Cry Tough“; however, Look What the Cat Dragged In became a surprise success and subsequently spawned three charting hits: “Talk Dirty to Me“, “I Want Action“, and “I Won’t Forget You“, The record became the biggest-selling-album in Enigma’s history. With heavy rotation on MTV, their debut earned the band tours with fellow glam rockers Ratt, Cinderella, and Quiet Riot, as well as a coveted slot in the Texxas Jam in Dallas. The album ultimately sold 4 million copies worldwide. The band began giving intimate and controversial interviews to rock journalist Judy Wieder at the Hollywood home they all shared in June 1986, before the official release of Look What the Cat Dragged In. Wieder, the first to follow the band closely, circulated their many dicey conversations to the popular rock magazines of the day, including Circus, Creem, Rip Magazine, Rock Express and Hit Parader, insuring enormous visibility for the album’s release. In 1987 the band recorded a cover of the Kiss song “Rock and Roll All Nite” for the soundtrack to Less Than Zero.
Poison’s second album, Open Up and Say…Ahh!, was released 21 May 1988. It peaked at No. 2 on the American charts and would ultimately go on to sell 8 million copies worldwide. The album included the band’s biggest hit, the No. 1 single “Every Rose Has Its Thorn“, along with other hits like: “Nothin’ but a Good Time“, “Fallen Angel“, and the Loggins and Messina cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance“. The album’s initial cover art was controversial, as it depicted a demonic female figure with an obscenely long tongue. A censored version of the cover followed, focusing on the figure’s eyes. By the time the band toured with David Lee Roth in 1988 on the Skyscraper Tour, it was apparent that Poison had become a major live act and the band moved from support status to headlining their own tour in September 1988. As of 1989, the band had become the seventh-best-selling hard rock band in the US of the 1980s, behind Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and Van Halen. In 1989, the band released their first video album titled “Sight for Sore Ears” which featured all their music videos from the first two albums.