It’s hard to believe that it was at the dawn of this blog that I first wrote about the tonsorial terror of the Mid-80s Malaise®…The Mullet! At the time, I laid the blame at the feet of David Bowie [r.i.p.] for daring to make this look cool among rock and pop stars of a “certain age.” At the conclusion of the first installment, we drew the conclusion that the arrival of The Mullet usually coincided with a drop in quality for the music produced. With another look at the phenomenon today, almost nine years later, will that theory still hold water? Let’s take a look.
It was in the comments the last time that I wrote near the conclusion that I recalled Midge Ure sporting the look, but could not dig up any pictures. Well, I recalled seeing posters that came with the “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and “Lament” 12″ singles of the quartet in their 1984 finery, and yep. That was when Midge was moving to the mullet. To his credit, Ure looks back on that indiscretion with a rueful eye; claiming that he wanted long hair but a mullet was inescapable on the route forward to leonine locks. It is perhaps an irony that Ure has been clean pated for years now. The now elegant elder statesman of New Romantic Rock shaves all over and likes rocking a sharp suit; Fripp style [sans weskit]. Suave. But if we pay attention to the music as it related to his hair, we find that the mullet for Midge was actually his last hurrah of the “Lament” album era. Not the first thing I go to in listening to Ultravox, but clearly work of some merit. I actually find that when Midge got through his dalliance with long hair and cut it short following in 1985-6 was when the music really bottomed out for my ears. So the hair and the music were unrelated here.
Ive Davies of Icehouse managed to completely run the gamut of quality while rocking a mullet for over half of the 80s. We first saw his poodle mullet on the US cover of the amazing “Measure For Measure” album of 1984. A time period that saw the hairstyle spread like wildfire through the former New Romantic community. Meanwhile, Iva was writing some of the best material of his career. He had Steve Jansen drumming with his band, and had Eno on keys as well as singing background vocals! Verily, a man on top of the world.
His next album was “Man of Colours.” An album aimed straight at the heart of the pop charts, yet not without the ability to charm while compromising. It sported two [TWO] US Top 20 hits, and was a monster on the OZ charts as the year’s best selling album. Iva still had a mullet! But the next album after that was 1990’s divisive “Code Blue.” The mullet was gone. But it was replaced by a full on wyldemayne. [see adjacent 12″ single photo] And the lumpen rock of that album lacked all of the charisma that previously Icehouse had been able to still bring to the party even while scoring big hits on the American charts. The album was so poor, that even their American label passed on it. Yes, he was making music that was too crass for the American market! But the mullet had already come and gone. Perhaps, it had struck a bargain that demanded payment; like Satan.
We’ve invoked the New Romantics, and who was more of a kingpin to that trend than Steve Strange [r.i.p.]? But when most of the musicians that had formed Visage jumped ship, Steve and Rusty Egan soldiered on with the “Beat Boy” album that failed to stir the charts up much. This was followed two years later with the Strange Cruise album [which I still need] which paired Strange with Wendy Wu/Cruise of The Photos. I do have the two singles from it, and even though Strange was certainly rocking hair extensions in his mullet on the cover, it still managed to extract The Price. I only have the two singles from this one, but yes. It seems like a full-on mid-80s malaise album to its core. The cover of “The Beat Goes On” was the sound of Strange utterly adrift in a digital sea.
Perhaps the most disquieting mullet I’ve ever seen was the one that Jim Kerr was rocking in the period following his smash hit worldwide “Once Upon A Time” tour that I regretted seeing in 1986 and ever since, for that matter. I just came across this photo last weekend and it was so electric in the disgust that it caused within me that it inspired this unexpected part II to the infamous PPM mullet post.
Every inch of Kerr in this photo appalls. The sh*t-eating grin. The VanDyke. The denim jacket. The chest hair. And the crowning horror of the mullet. Have I ever seen a more punchable image of Jim Kerr? The lead singer to one of my all time favorite bands? How did this happen? Kerr had a mullet the previous year. It looked like this.
Yeah, It’s a mid-80s mullet. But not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It did not inspire gouging my eyes out with a hot poker! The horror of the 1987 model above is that having seen it, I can’t unsee it!! Every smarmy pixel of it. Such that he makes his friend and obvious fashion inspiration Bono look like Bryan Ferry in comparison. It was a weird little reciprocal dance that Bono and Kerr were doing in this period. Bono joined Simple Minds onstage. Kerr reciprocated with U2. U2 went to Eno, thrust “New Gold Dream” at him and said “we want some of this.” Simple Minds went to Steve Lillywhite and thrust “War” at him and said “we want some of that!” For a while everything worked out fine, but soon afterward U2 became absolutely huge. And Simple Minds first became dumbed down with “Once Upon A Time. ” Then they became pompous with “Live In The City of Light.”
But I would rather listen to U2 all day long* than a note of the gaseous plague that was “Street Fighting Years.” It sounded like they were trying to copy ‘The Unforgettable Fire” that time! So we had what sounded like Simple Minds imitating U2 imitating Simple Minds!!!! That 1989 album was my all time least favorite album by a most favorite band. There’s a lot of competition, but Kerr and Co. win that award hands down. For that I can only blame the price The Mullet is known to extract. Of the four musicians covered here, only Iva Davies managed to create his best work under such hairstyle conditions. And even he faltered afterward. They all ultimately stumbled and took years to recover artistically. If ever.
*- Longtime readers may have picked up that I don‘t like that band…