The Beatles took separate projects in 1966 when they stopped touring for good that year. John Lennon went to Spain to film Richard Lester’s How I Won the War. George Harrison sped off to India for the first time to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar. Paul dreamed up a way for the band to continue by having their next record sound like the work of a touring band, even if it was the Beatles once removed. Ringo contemplated a film career too, which would come to fruition in the ensuing years.
But despite their individual pursuits, when the Beatles reconvened in November of 1966 for the recording of the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” double-A side they shared one thing in common.
They had all grown mustaches.
Since then, mustaches have been a mainstay in rock from Frank Zappa’s signature ‘stache-n-patch, to the 1800s preacher-boy look of the Band, to Freddie Mercury who led pomp-rock gods Queen to glory, mustache-first.
David Crosby grew one after leaving the Byrds, showing a commitment to a facial hedgerow that endures to this day. U2’s the Edge experimented with a myriad of mo’s, appropriating and discarding them seemingly on a daily basis.
Motorhead’s Lemmy proudly wears his mustache-cum-mutton chops, and Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos’ ‘stache has seen the fashions come and go too. The list is endless. I haven’t even mentioned Frankie Goes to Hollywood…
Here are 10 songs by 10 mustachioed rock and pop artists, some who have stayed true to their ‘staches, some who went through a phase and wisely abandoned it, and others who once wore the ‘stache proudly and the ‘staches of which are sadly no longer with us. In any case, in honour of the Movember Men’s Health Charity, I give you ten unshaven upper lips of the upper echelon.
Jimi Hendrix – Red House
James Marshall Hendrix revolutionized the guitar, first serving time as a sideman to Little Richard. From Richard, he learned that he couldn’t hang back like a sideman should. But, perhaps also, he learned the power of Little Richard’s ‘stache as a rock ‘n’ roll accessory of choice.
And who knows? Maybe the ‘stache was the key to Hendrix’s ability to shred?
Burton Cummings of The Guess Who – Hang On To Your Life
Among their skills as Canadian hit-makers who had some play in the States, despite hailing from the Canadian prairies (Winnipeg, actually), they had an advantage in lead singer and keyboardist Burton Cummings, who’s mustache has become a national icon.
You know that one relative who’s always had a mustache, and you can’t imagine him without it? Think of that on a cultural scale, and you begin to see what Burton Cummings’ ‘mo means to every Canadian, everywhere.
Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter of Steely Dan – My Old School
This man really is the Walrus, defining the ‘Dan’s early career as dual-guitared jazz-rock champions, and defining the extent to which one man might seek to entirely hide his mouth using his own hair.
And if you think the ‘stache is only for unwashed, peace-loving hippies, think again! Not only is this ‘stache still around today, it remains on the face of a man who’s had a second careering in designing guidance systems for missles.
Ron Mael of Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us
If Adolph Hitler stole Charlie Chaplin’s ‘stache in the 1930s, then Ron Mael has been trying to steal it back ever since he could grow one.
I think all would be well, if Mael looked any less insane than Hitler. But, he doesn’t. At all.
Bernard Sumner of Joy Divison – Transmission
Guitarist for Joy Division and later the same for New Order, Bernard Sumner’s brief flirtation with a ‘bumfluff’ mustache at the end of the 1970s has become legendary.
Even in his 1999 guest vocal on the Chemical Brothers “Out of Control” contained the telling line “is my mustache too much?”, proving that mustache shame (or is it envy) can dog you for decades if you play it wrong. Bassist Peter Hook of course hedged (pun intended?) his bets by sticking to his unfashionable beard.
The Village People – YMCA
There were very few bands pulling this look off in the early 80s. But, nearly every member of this unique disco-pop outfit, despite the differences in costuming, had a ‘tache they could be proud of. Cop ‘tache? You bet! Cowboy ‘tache? Check. Biker ‘tache? What, are you kidding me?
The Village People showed that no matter what your walk of life, there was a mustache out there for everyone!
Derek Smalls of Spinal Tap – Rock n’ Roll Creation
It was a ‘first mustache’ for many a special friend on the road.
If Smalls was the lukewarm water between two creative fire ‘n’ ice forces in the ‘Tap, then he is smokin’ hot on the ‘representin’ the ‘tache’ front for his otherwise clean-shaven band mates.
John Oates of Hall & Oates – You Make My Dreams Come True
John Oates was the mustache of the decade in the ’80s, his visual trademark during a very fruitful run of smash singles with Daryl Hall from 1976 to 1986.
Sadly, his mustache is no longer with us, even if (luckily) John Oates is. He shaved it off! Can you believe that!?
George Michael – Spinning the Wheel
There was a time when people thought George Michael was straight. No, honest. At one point in his career around the time this song was on the radio, he rocked a Pancho Villa vibe when it came to his moustache, a look not many reached for in 1996.
Nick Cave, with the Bad Seeds – Dig!! Lazarus Dig!!!
Nick Cave has stuck by his haircut – sort of a gothic mullet affair – from the 1980s when he made his name as the frontman for the Birthday Party. Yet, lately he’s sported a droopy outlaw mustache, kind of like he’s keeping it for a friend.
We’ll see if it and the haircut get along…
OK. It’s full disclosure time. I am growing a mustache, participating in the aforementioned Movember event to raise awareness and money for prostate cancer research. Should you wish to support said mustache, click here to do just that.