Facial follicles in popular music, is a hairy chin an indication of greatness or does the music deteriorate along with the increasing number and luxuriousness of beards in bands?
The only pop star to have patented two styles of facial hair, the designer stubble Wham! look and then his solo half-finished goatee, (beloved of those whose beards won’t grow in a proper circle). The first was more a case of five o’clock shadow, 9am TV appearances, and looking back it’s the hand clapping and skipping antics (akin to Morris dancing) that have become a source of embarrassment. However, the smoother the beard, the cooler the artist and George’s Ming The Merciless look elevated him to celebrity status. But with embarrassing toilet liaisons ensuing, will the beard return?
The solo artist is always prone to chin growth, lots of time spent alone creating in basements with few mirrors, personal hygiene can go out of the window. Although Bob has toyed with various degrees of wispy beard throughout his career, the angry peoples’ poet disappeared, as did his lower face, on Infidels. A dull album of Christian rock with all the musical invention of a person who models his face fungus on Brian Blessed. Enjoyed creative revival as soon as someone got him a shaver. (See also Costello, Elvis.)
The demise of The Who was more due to Pete Townshend auditioning for Planet Of The Apes than his invention of the rock-opera. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind, to walk round looking like you’re being attacked by a couple of loose mink. From fresh faced young mods to indulgent prog-rockers in the time it took to grow whiskers that even eight out of ten cats couldn’t prefer. John Entwistle grew one too, looking more like a buffalo than an ox. Thankfully though, Roger Daltrey had used up his hair allocation on top of his head and Keith Moon was too busy learning to drive underwater.
While the smart money was on Noel attempting to be John Lennon, it only took the overnight growth of thatch around Liam’s gob to possess him with the spirit of the great walrus. Within no time at all he’d married a publicity-seeking woman who threatened to split up the band. It must have been catching as well because, despite Liam not writing the songs, all Oasis music since has been self-indulgent shite.
The toothsome trio have flirted with face fleeces in the same way they flirted with disco. That is smoothed them over and added populist appeal long after fashion has moved on. Giving hope to all men with weird mouths, and harming Victor Kiam’s profits into the bargain. Their current popularity has lead to many pop acts covering their songs, fine as long as they don’t cover their chins at the same time.
The Dublin dad-zone were always going to be prime candidates for confusing serious art with serious beards. The band is at it’s most pompous when Bono’s lost his bic. The Edge can be excused, at least his ‘tache provokes discussion of the Zaptta/Village People variety. When Bono lets his chin pubes get out of control disaster, and looking like Robin Cook, is only an Eno collaboration away. The terrible Passengers album included Pavarotti, a man using a huge expanse of hair to hide his huge expanse of chins.
￼ ZZ Top
Without doubt the most famous rock beards, (and currently challenging Madonna’s breasts for all time top musical appendage). They solved all problems of the band ageing gracefully, since they looked a hundred to start with. It’s a fantastic ploy, there could be anyone under those neck warmers, forget Kraftwerk sending mannequins to gigs, ZZ Top could send Bill Clinton, Richard Whiteley and Cher and no-one would notice. No matter how many times you hear it it’s still hilarious that the clean shaven one is called Frank Beard.
Manic Street Preachers
Not so much beards as a collective decision not to shave very often, the Manics have been rocking the sports casual wino look since the release of Everything Must Go. Less ‘Australia’, more chins that look like a dingo’s backside. It’s worked in terms of record sales however, proving that looking a bit old, fat and scruffy is no barrier to a number one hit (take heart Peter Hook and Monaco). If only they’d thrown away their razors earlier, Richey might still be around.
The walrus of lurve’s beard is a classic of sorts, and can be imitated by shaving around a saucer, combining with a thin chinstrap motif. It’s a high-maintenance goatee though, and the many copyists (Huey out of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals for example) haven’t the time or the army of ‘personal assistants’ to carry it off.
I wrote this back in 1997 or thereabouts for now defunct music weekly Flipside. I discovered it on my laptop the other day along with a few other pieces from the era.