The 8 Ball 07.13.13: The Top 8 Shock Rockers
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.13.2013
From Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osbourne to Alice Cooper, Rammstein and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 shock rockers of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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This is one of those weeks where I have nothing much to tie in with. Actually, let me rephrase; I could have tied in with Jay-Z's new album or Pearl Jam's new single and album release date announcement, but I've been hitting up the "Top 8 Songs By An Artist" columns and wanted to go with something more general. Rock and roll has always pushed boundaries, all the way from its inception in the late 1940s and '50s all the way though to the current era. Hand in hand with rock has been the "shock rockers," those artists who didn't just accept the controversy associated with rock; they revelled in it. This week I thought we could focus on the greatest shock rockers to ever take the stage.
Caveat: So let's define "shock rocker" here, just so that we can get it out of the way. A shock rocker is a musical artist (within the rock genre or a subset of rock) who combines their music with elements of theatrical shock value for an overall presentation that repels and/or fascinates. This can include shocking content, over the top onstage antics, controversial actions and more. I was judging the acts in question not specifically on "who was the most shocking by today's standards" but rather on their influence to shock rock and their shock value within the context of their eras. Someone in the 1950s would be incredibly tame by today's standards, but could have been far more controversial than someone with a much higher shock content in today's era. I also gave preference to those whose antics gained them widespread mainstream notoriety. While groups like Dayglo Abortions or Pussy Galore certainly pushed the envelope, the old adage comes into play: "If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" And as always, personal preference came into play.
Just Missing The Cut
• The Voluptuous Horror Of Karen Black
• The Doors
• The Sex Pistols
• Lizzy Borden
• The Plasmatics
#8: Screamin' Jay Hawkins
A lot of people may put Elvis Presley in here as the original shock rocker, but for my money he was far too clean-cut for a shock rocker. Elvis did controversial things, but not because they were controversial. Screamin' Jay Hawkins, on the other hand, set out to shock people and largely qualifies as the original shock rocker. Hawkins grew up wanting to be an opera singer but when that didn't take off, he changed his career path to that of a conventional blues singer and pianist. He had a run at the start of the 1950s as a member of Tiny Grimes' band before going solo, which is when his theatrical style began to take form. It wasn't until he wrote "I Put A Spell On You," however, that his career as a shock rocker--and a time-honored tradition in rock & roll--was born. Hawkins originally saw the song as a ballad, but after the record producer got everyone drunk in the studio they recorded the first version of the song we would all eventually come to know. Hawkins then played it up to the hilt, bringing in props that suggested voodoun and adding a camp shock value to everything. It's fair to say that any of the other shock rockers on this list have done things that would have given Hawkins a heart attack, but without him getting the ball rolling we may not have had any of them, at least in the state we know them as today.
#7: Marilyn Manson
There are some people who like to joke about Marilyn Manson these days. Hell, there are people who liked to joke about Marilyn Manson during his height. And it's probably not a surprise considering how quickly the man born Brian Warner rose to become a pop culture icon, and how quickly the disaffected wannabe-goths jumped on his bandwagon. Everyone loved to talk when Manson and his band first hit it big about his fans and it may surprise people these days how often they forgot to focus on Manson himself. That's just a testament to the power that Manson and his band hand on people. Manson is a brilliant person, and he showed that in how he played the media during his reign on top of the rock world. He took all the hot-button issues in America--religion, drugs, sex, violence in media, LGBTQ issues--and he wrapped it all up in a single package that presented them in a way that completely subverted all of them, turning them on their head and consequently making people who dared to listen actually think long and hard about all of this important issues. And for those who didn't want to think about it, he had something too: pure shock value artistry. His music videos were things out of drug-fueled nightmares and his performances were things of legend. His image was perfectly distilled into the image of everything middle America feared and he had mass protests, religious groups climbing the walls and parents screaming bloody murder. He may have fallen down the ladder over the last several years, but few will ever be able to match the level of panicked hysteria Manson brought to the mainstream.
Most people think of Rammstein as 'those guys who did "Du Hast" song' and leave it at that. Those who have a deeper knowledge of industrial metal, on the other hand, have a far deeper appreciation for them. The Germany-based band has six largely excellent LPs to their record and even more controversies and groups dedicated to hating them. The sole reason that they haven't become hugely hated in the United States is that very few people speak German and thus few people understand what they're saying. If parents groups knew that they regularly sang about taboo topics like incest, cannibalism, rape, necrophilia and S&M they would be public enemy #1. And that's just the content of their songs; it doesn't take into account their over-the-top stage shows that have landed them in legal hot water a time or two and even when they don't are filled with fire, taboo acts and much, much more. All of this is totally discounting the shock rocker looks, their music video for "Pussy" being banned and even the fact that their sixth album Liebe ist für alle da was actually made illegal in Germany to be displayed where underage people could see it. As shock rockers they have totally earned their stripes.
#5: Ozzy Osbourne
You can't talk about shock rockers and not include the dude who bit the head off a bat. Granted, these days he claims that it was an accident and that he thought he was biting a plastic bat's head off, but still. Even if you believe that story, it's just one of dozens of tales that illustrate how Ozzy deserves to be on this list. Ozzy was off to a rollicking start with Black Sabbath, but by the close of the 1970s he was doing too many drugs for them to be able to tolerate. That's an impressive statement right there. So Ozzy went solo and proceeded to forge a path in shock rock history, punctuated with events such as urinating on the Alamo, snorting a line of ants like it was cocaine, putting out horror-tinged hard rock like Bark at the Moon and Diary of a Madman and biting the head off of a dove at a meeting with CBS Records executives. That time, for the record, he damned well knew it wasn't plastic. He had the requisite anger of morality groups, particularly over shock rock-esque songs like "Suicide Solution" and "Close My Eyes Forever," not to mention accusations that his music glorified Satan. And through it all Ozzy has reveled in the attention. He's an icon in the subgenre without a doubt.
#4: Iggy Pop
Seeing an early Iggy Pop performance is said to be an experience to truly remember. When Iggy was a member of the Stooges he was almost more well-known for his stage antics than he was for his music. He is credited as the first musical performer to do a stage dive and he loved such wholesome activities as throwing up on stage or exposing himself to the crowd. When he was in the right mood he might roll around in glass or start a fight in the middle of his set. The point was, he loved to get a crowd riled up and whether that meant voluntarily bloodying himself mid-performance or throwing strange substances on people, he would make sure to do it. While I've always had a strong appreciation for the work of the Stooges, it always felt as if it was missing something, and that's because it was; the whole thing wasn't really complete without seeing the Iggy Pop experience. It was only after seeing footage of his shows that you come to understand exactly how crazy he was and how powerful of a showman, particularly of the shock variety, that he truly was.
Gwar is the preeminent shock metal band. I almost feel like I don't have to explain this one because if you don't understand how a group that goes under heavy masks and makeup--not to mention pseudonyms like Oderus Urungus, Balsac the Jaws of Death, Jizmak Da Gusha, Beefcake the Mighty, Pustulus Maximus, Sleazy P. Martini, Flattus Maximus, Nippleus Erectus and the Sexecutioner are the shock rock band to end all shock rock bands, then I don't know what to tell you. But let's really take a look at them. Sure, the group is basically satirical but then so is Manson in a lot of ways, and being satirical hasn't avoided making them a target of more than a few groups on the religious right. Their incredibly over-the-top graphic and taboo stage shows, which are often sexually graphic and humorously violent, have guaranteed that much. It is a known rule that you never go to a Gwar concert in something you actually want to keep wearing because by the end of the night it will be irrevocably stained, possibly with something you don't want a UV light shining over. The band doesn't just do gross-out gags though; they skewer political situations and have even represented shock rock on various talk shows speaking rather intelligently on the issue. They also have two Grammy Awards to their name, which is perhaps the most shocking thing of all. To some their being as over the top as they are undercuts their true value as shock rockers, but (clearly) I rather disagree.
#2: Alice Cooper
If Screamin' Jay Hawkins is the originator of shock rock then Alice Cooper is its Dark Lord and Master. Cooper's antics are the stuff of absolute legend in terms of rock and roll showmanship, on par with David Bowie but even less culturally acceptable. Cooper was one of the first mainstream acts to truly embrace horror styles within in his persona and he would put on what could only be described as theatrical horror performances during his concerts. Guillotines, electric chairs, his iconic boa constrictor, slasher weapons...Cooper's shows had it all. He even accidentally threw a chicken to its death at the hands of a frenzied mob of fans during a concert. Through it all he carried an undeniable stage presence that drew people to him even as they were repulsed. He was protested as heavily in his day as Manson was and very nearly got banned from the UK altogether due to allegation of horrific acts both on-stage and off. He may be a bit tamer these days but a shock rocker never dies; he merely
#1: GG Allin
GG Allin is far from the most well-known shock rocker in history. If you mention his name, there are many within mainstream America who wouldn't really recognize it. The punk rocker makes up for his lack of mainstream recognizability, however, with the pure extremity of what he did. Alin had one of the most insane stage shows of all time--quite possibly THE most insane stage show of all time. He was disgusting and flat-out nauseating in his acts, and that wasn't when he was too busy slicing his own body open or forcing his naked self on women in the crowd. Obscenity has standards, and Alin blasted every single one of them to oblivion. If you want to throw is stage show out, you still have songs with such titles as "Sleeping In My Piss," "Legalize Murder" and "Antisocial Masterbator." You also have his boasts that he would kill himself on Halloween, which proved to be false as he in fact did so via an accidental heroin overdose in June of 1993. The man was an absolute icon of shock, and this is one of those times where I don't mean that as a compliment but personal preference is outweighed by the sheer power of his ability to offend.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
While I consider them not quite "shock rockers" (they were shocking, but more as a consequence than as a goal), you can't deny the Sex Pistols' controversial reputations. So I had to include them somewhere. Check out their all time classic "Anarchy in the UK"
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.