Perhaps you don’t need a gimmick to be successful in rock music, but for a while, it seemed like it. In the sixties and seventies, many bands chose to wear costumes to add to their branding. Here is a look back at some of the more successful rock bands that performed in costume.
Paul Revere and the Raiders
This band, which had a surprising number of hits in the 1960s and into the 1970s, performed in Revolutionary War-era costumes. Few would have guessed they were from Boise, Idaho. Hits included “Kicks,” “Good Thing,” “Hungry,” “Him or Me,” and others. The lead singer, Mark Lindsay, went on to have solo success with songs like “Arizona” and “Silver Bird.”
Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
One can only imagine the discussions. “Look, we need a gimmick.” I say, “Let’s perform in Civil War uniforms.” “Yeah, that’s the ticket.” They did that and had a nice career with hits like “Young Girl,” “Woman, Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” “Don’t Give In to Him,” “Over You,” and “This Girl Is a Woman Now.” As their success grew, they toned down the whole civil war thing.
Devo consisted of two sets of brothers from Akron, Ohio, and a fifth member, and were best known for their biggest hit, “Whip It.” The band, however, was also known for its futuristic outfits and hats that looked like upside-down plant pots. They would also often bounce around while performing. We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried.
The Village People
Members included Felipe Ros, Victor Willis, Glenn Hughes, Jim Newman, Alex Briley, David Hodo, and Randy Jones. Few would remember their names, however. They are far better known as the cowboy, police officer, Native American, soldier, construction worker, sailor, and biker. They were from Greenwich Village in New York City and were the Village People. The colorful act gave us such hits as “In the Navy,” “Macho Man,” and the legendary “YMCA.” The original ad to recruit members stated that applicants must be “macho, dance, and have a mustache.”
Rockers Kiss took costumes, and rock and roll marketing, to new levels. Not only did they wear outlandish outfits and platform boots, but they also wore makeup that covered their faces. They parlayed their success into comic books, pinball machines, video games, action figures, and more. Despite all their success, they never had a #1 hit on the Billboard Chart and only had two top-10 hits. They continue to perform to loyal crowds some forty years after initially gaining fame.
Today, bands like Slipknot, Gwar, Misfits, and others continue the tradition of costumes in rock and roll.
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