Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles

Originally published in Tango-Echo

Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 1 Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 1

Style is an important part of rock music and each generation and genre has had its own sense of what’s cool. Some rock movements take a cheeky approach to style, having as much fun with it as they can while other genres of rock use style as a political statement. No matter how different rock styles are, they all have one thing in common, hair.

Hair in rock culture is so important that there is a whole sub genre dedicated to it, 80s hair metal. Rock hairstyles are the source of great debate. What once was cool becomes totally lame. What once was reviled becomes ironically hip.

Rock hairstyles can even lead to riots, like March of 2008 in Querétaro, a town in Mexico where emo kids became the target of violence in the city’s center square. Rock kids with pompadours and punks with Mohawks took to the streets with the purpose of beating up any emo kids with angular haircuts and an abundance of eye make-up.

Some rock hairstyles have roots that reach far back into history long before anyone had heard of rock music. Cutting one’s hair into a Mohawk began as a ritual for warriors before going into battle. The Pompadour is an 18th century style named for the woman who started it Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress of Louis XV.

Rock hairstyles change, falling in and out of fashion until it’s hard to remember where they started. The mullet for example went from being an androgynous cut worn by everyone in the glam rock scene starting with David Bowie to being a favorite look for those who loved to line dance, drink Budweiser, and beat up effeminate males.

The innocent Beatles mop top was the first time since the 18th century that men wore their hair long. The mop top continued to grow and become more unkempt from the shaggy hippie mane to the tangled mass of hair perfect for head banging.

Sometimes a haircut comes completely out of nowhere like the band The Monks, a group of American GIs who were based in Germany in the mid to late 1960s. They wore cassocks, nooses like neckties, and cut their hair into a monk’s tonsures. The idea was to have an anti Beatle’s cut.
Check back every Tuesday through March 2nd for the next installments of this series on some of the most prolific rock hairstyles and their history.

Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 2: The Mohawk
The Mohawk hairstyle has been around for centuries. Mohawk tribe warriors would cut all their hair except for a three inch strip in the middle of the head before going off to battle. In 2003 the well preserved remains of a man were found in a bog in Ireland. The corpse was over 2,000 years old. Clonycavan, as he’s been named, was sporting a Mohawk styled with gel made from plant oil and pine resin, imported from France or Spain.

The Mohawk was then worn by the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division during World War II. The year the Army first started deploying troops by having them jump from airplanes was the same year that the 1939 Paramount movie Geronimo was released. The troops picked the unique “Geronimo!” from the movie they had recently seen to yell to prove that they were tough as they jumped from the plane. The trend grew over the years to include patches and hats featuring the Indian chief and finally during World War II the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division started to paint their faces and cut their hair into Mohawks, against Army regulations.

The Mohawk first appeared in rock during the early punk scene in England. In 1976 Soo Catwoman, a close friend of the band the Sex Pistols, debuted her spiked haircut onto the punk scene. It was shaved down the middle, left longer on either side and spiked to resemble cat ears. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols singled her out as having “skill, style, and bravery”. She was admired by many in the scene and relentlessly imitated.
Punks started to experiment with their own hair and by 1979 the Mohawk was widespread throughout the US, England, and Europe. The Mohawk was most popular in the 80s, thanks to the help of Jonny Slut, from the English goth-punk band Specimen. He grew his Mohawk out very long and teased it out into a giant deathhawk on top of his head. American Punks started to use gelatin and Aquanet to spike their hair into liberty spikes like those on the crown of the statue of liberty. By the 90s the Mohawks popularity began to wane, however, the look remained popular in some form or another with punks, goths, and hipsters.

The newest innovation in the Mohawk was the fohawk. This style originated in the Hoxton neighborhood of London which is why it is also known as the Hoxton fin. This look doesn’t require any shaving. The sides of the hair are cut a little shorter than the top and the hair is slicked on the sides and spiked on the top. The look was shot into the pop culture stratosphere by David Beckham and Maddox, Angelina Jolie’s adopted son.

Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 3: The Pompadour
The pompadour is a rock n’ roll hairstyle with teased roots going back to 18th-century France. This hair style is named for the woman who started it, Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress of Louis XV.

Madame de Pompadour was born on December 29th, 1721 in Paris to a bourgeois family who spared no expense on her education. She was taught by renowned singers and actors to play the clavichord, dance, sing, and recite entire plays by heart. She was a real scenster of a gal and her reputation grew such that the King himself wished to meet her. He threw a royal masked ball as an excuse to meet her and became so smitten that, less than a month after the ball, she was living at Versailles in an apartment directly below his.

Madame de Pompadours’ style influenced the elite of France and soon her elaborate up-do was imitated by women across the country. The hair got bigger over the years and began to include things like toy ships and bird cages. Many men and women began to get pompadour wigs or hair pieces to pile on top of their own hair that were teased and held in place with beef tallow and bear grease.

It’s no wonder that 1950s tent show queens picked the pompadour as their hair-do of choice when performing bawdy R&B numbers for rowdy southern crowds.

Billy Wright was a flamboyant blues singer from New Orleans who performed in southern tent shows in the late 1940s dressed in drag. Little Richard met Wright in Atlanta in 1952 and was greatly influenced by his appearance. He became Wright’s protégé.

Wright had gold fronts on his teeth, wore eyeliner and face powder, and used pomade to pile his hair high on his head. Little Richard began performing with Wright dressed in drag and balancing a chair on his chin while he sang.

As the popularity of rock grew, so did the pompadour. Rock stars like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis slicked their long locks up into pompadours. The pompadour’s popularity waned in the late 60s and 70s but experienced a bit of resurgence in the 1980s with musicians like The Stray Cats and Buster Poindexter of former New York Dolls fame.

The style gained even more popularity in the early 1990s with the emergence of Psychobilly, a fusion of punk and rockabilly. The style is still seen today on greasers and those who are part of the rockabilly and physchobilly scenes.

Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 4: The Mullet
Of all the rock hairstyles, I find the mullet the most fascinating. No other haircut has transcended so many genres, from being worn by virtually everyone to being completely reviled. Somehow this style moved fluidly from Tom Jones in the 60s to Glam rockers like David Bowie in the 70s and then on to the antitheses of glam rock androgyny, machismo heavy metal. I myself had my hair cut into a mullet in the fall of 1986 just in time for kindergarten. I remember bursting into tears when the beautician turned me to face the mirror. Not only had she cut it into a mullet but she’d blown it out into a giant bouffant. Even at that tender age, I knew I looked ridiculous.

The mullet first made its way into popular culture in the 60s on the head of British pop star Tom Jones. In 1972, David Bowie introduced his alter ego Ziggy Stardust and the glam mullet was born. Glam rock was a post hippie genre marked by flamboyant costumes and make-up taking rock androgyny to a whole new level. Glam rock experimented with themes influenced by sci-fi and the theatre. David Bowie went on to produce such revolutionary musicians as Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Glam rock, along with its mullet, grew in popularity such that by the mid 70s, many non glam acts, like The Osmonds, grew mullets and threw some glitter on their faces, though they left out the science fiction, sexual ambiguity and high art. By 1973 Carol Brady was wearing a mullet on the Brady Bunch. And so began the avant-garde hairstyle’s descent into mediocrity.

The 1980s: At the early part of the decade the mullet was worn by new wave bands like Duran Duran and enjoyed some more experimentation in androgyny but by the middle of the decade the hairstyle had made a shift and was being worn by hair metal bands like Mötley Crüe. Sadly, the once avant-garde hairstyle slipped further when it was adopted in the late 80s and early 90s by country acts like Billy Ray Cyrus. Everyone had a mullet at this point, from James Hetfield of Metallica to John Stamos of Full House. Even Little Richard cut his once proud to business in front party in back. The term itself was coined by the Beastie Boys in 1994 in the song Mullet Head popularized in 1995 in Grand Royal Magazine with the article “Mulling Over The Mullet.” The mullet was most hilariously taunted in the Wesley Willis song “Cut The Mullet” with lyrics like “Take your ass to the barber shop. Tell the barber that you’re sick of looking like an asshole.”

The mullet has made a bit of a come back in the past decade on the heads of hipsters, ironically of course. It’s almost come full circle, now back on the heads of the tragically hip that listen to experimental music and push the boundaries of androgyny.

Rock n’ Roll Hairstyles Part 5: The Long Mane

With the exception of the comedy rock band, “The Upper Crust,” once powdered wigs went out of fashion at the end of the 18th century, men kept their hair cut short and neat until the early 1960s.

When the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 with their mop-tops it sparked a revolution in men’s fashion and the youth of America began to forsake their crew cuts in favor of long hair. The mop-top was so named because it reminded the older generation of a wet mop.

Beatle friend Jürgen Vollmer first cut his hair into a mop-top, inspired by the way his hair looked pushed flat on his forehead after going swimming. Vollmer cut Paul and John’s hair into the mop-top when they visited him in Paris. George and Ringo followed suit soon after. The cut became so popular that companies started manufacturing and selling Beatles wigs.

The long hair trend didn’t just start with the Beatles. The folk singers of the late 1950s and early 1960s such as Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott were inspired by 1940s folk singer Woody Guthrie, a migrant worker turned singer songwriter. Guthrie let his hair grow shaggy and unkempt, a look that inspired his new folk singer protégés.

Between the influence of the innocent looking mop-top and the shaggy folk singer locks, men’s hair was getting longer and longer. By the end of the 60s, hippie culture permeated the youth of the UK and the US. Both men and women grew long hair past their shoulders. Long hair became strong symbol of rebellion against the cultural norm.

In the 70s things got dirtier. Dread locks became popular with the proliferation of reggae. Heavy metal started to make an appearance as well with bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. One thing that these bands all had in common was long hair. As the genre grew in popularity so did the importance of long hair. It became a symbol of the hate, angst, and disenchantment felt by the subculture and was used as a tool to rebel against anything and nothing.

Long hair on men has been and still is an important part of American countercultures. Beatniks and Folk singers started by simply letting un-styled hair fall into their eyes and past their ears. The Beatles let it grow even longer so that it could be bopped around as they performed.

For hippies, long hair became a political statement against the social injustices of the cultural norms. Once it reached the Heavy Metal scene, it became an important part of the music; to head bang properly required the metal hair. It was so important in fact, that Heavy Metal bands who shed their long locks as they aged, experienced a back-lash; gone with their hair was their counterculture credibility.