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…
hi mr monk,
thanks for the hilarious look back at the haircuts and singers. i have been getting a lot of tourbooks lately for ultravox, simple minds, and other bands, and its interesting to see the evolution of their styles, fashions, and looks through the decades.
most are balding now, but are wearing suits and are much more stylish looking now.
negative1ne – I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have questionable coiffures in my own life! There was a period where I had hair sort of like Iva Davies. Not the mullet, but the wyldemayne look on the single! I looked like a cocker spaniel! Looking back, I have to ask why, momma, why? I hate hair dryers so I’d shower and my hair would dry out by maybe 1-2 PM! After that came the VanDyke, [another tonsorial crime I can plead guilty to] but not both at once, thankfully!
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The Kerr/Hynde photo is astonishing!
Iva Davies really owned his hairstyles. I believe his hair had sort of a Sampson effect. He was certainly ahead of the curve with his fashion stylist quality locks. Only Bowie’s Ziggy do was more coiffured.
Iva Davies is one of the worst culprits in rock history. Never seen Bowie as a mullet guy, more a persona. Good find with Jim Kerr, he was actually looking pretty cool. I watched Live Aid the other night (UK) and it was a mullet convention!
the press music reviews – Well, Bowie/Ziggy mullet is a persona. Fair enough. But “Never Let Me Down” he had no excuse for. Live Aid as Mullet Convention?! I think you probably hit the nail on the head, there. I bailed from Live Aid after the first 90 minutes. I could tell I was going to have a rough ride with that event.
I enjoy Simple Minds but do find Kerr a prat.
postpostmoderndad – Yeah, I hear you. I think that many of Kerr’s images have been head scratchers. The long-haired ragamuffin on the sleeve of “Good News From the Next World” is also very problematic, for me even if I love the album inside of it! I think he’s grown into his current image honestly enough. The last three shows I’ve seen [’02, ’13, ’18] I think he looks good on stage. At home in his look.
David Bowie was clearly the exception to the rule here, going on to make loads of terrific music (and some not-so-terrific) after the arrival of The Mullet That Launched a Million 80s Lesbians. For Bowie, his Sampson-esque downfall came after he dyed his hair lemon blonde (and wore a suit to match — shirley a mullet-level faux pas!).
chasinvictoria – So true about the 80s Lesbian Mullet Event Horizon! I’d nearly forgotten about that trend that effortlessly crossed genders. Let’s not forget that Bowie originally saw the look on a Japanese model and stole it for men. How Bowiesque can you get?!
Don’t get me started [too late!] on the whole “Bowie and Yellow” thread! My fashion eyed wife has long maintained that Bowie was insane to ever think that yellow was “his color!”
I see Bowie’s mullet as more of an androgynous move. It’s quite Twiggy meets Liza at Vidal Sassoon. It’s a pixie shag – in the 70s American sense of the word. But Monk is right, there is NO defending the Never Let Me Down Mullet. It is an offense to style. I do agree with you that the Lemon Blonde Sterile Corporate look is no better. It certainly matches well with the output during the era he chose to wear it.
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That Kerr/Hynde photo has ruined my day, yikes!. Didn’t Spandau Ballet sport the “Haircut of the Gods” as well?.
Ade.w – Sorry for ruining your day, but mine was already ruined having seen it first and I just had to exorcise the experience in this post. Don’t forget to see part one for Spandau Ballet!
A bit unfair,lumping dear old Steve “Don’t throw out that old blouse,Aunt Nelly-I’ll have it!” Strange with such monsters.As you correctly point out,his use of extensions does look a tad mullet-esque in some shots,but his real hair was spiky cut and very stylish at the time.
The Strange Cruise album was awful,but he was still on the smack so nothing was going to sound good.
That photo of Jim “W*n” Kerr made me shudder…
Gavin – You make me laugh, sir, with your parenthetical interjection! My point of including Strange here was not only “if the shoe fits,” but to illustrate the insidious spread of Mulletism in that awful mid-80s period. My point being that no-one was considered untouchable! The photo of Kerr moves beyond mere shuddering and dangerously courts peristalsis! Thank goodness he’s sorted his image out to something much less troubling over the last 20 years, though I was saying to Echorich this weekend that ’80-’82 was his peak image era.
Jim Kerr’s best style era was when the music was so good, no one worried about what he looked like. So yes 80-82 and then I’ll give him props for an age appropriate look of the past decade plus…
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Echorich – Bingo! You hit the nail on the head.
Lou Reed was also rockin’ the mullet around then, as well as Robyn Hitchcock
diskojoe – Yes! So right on Lou Reed. In fact, Lou Reed and Jim Kerr might have been simultaneously mulleted when Lou performed his cameo on Simple Mind’s “This Is Your Land.” Robyn Hitchcock was news to me, though.
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