An Appreciation of the Misfits

By Oscar De Leon

More than 40 years later, few bands, if any at all, have matched the terrifying reputation and raw sound helmed by the Misfits.  Their music is fast, angry, and shocking. The original lineup, featuring singer Glenn Danzig, bassist Jerry Only, and guitarist Doyle are punk legends.  Their impact on music is still being felt.

In 2016, it was announced that after 38 years, the original lineup would reunite for two shows: Riot Fest Denver on Sept. 4 and Riot Fest Chicago on Sept. 18.  Fans were treated to three more reunion shows over the next two years, which took place in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Newark, New Jersey. In September 2018, it was announced that another reunion show would take place at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL on April 27, 2019.  In the spirit of the upcoming show, it seems only fitting to look back and appreciate all that the Misfits have done for punk.

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Glenn Danzig said, “I got into punk the way everybody else got into punk.  We hated all the, like, crappy bands that the FM radio stations were playing.  Just the worst music in the world.” This spirit of angst and rebellion is present all throughout their 1982 debut album Walk Among Us, which was inspired by horror films and other B-movie genres.  In the same interview, Danzig talks about a show the band played where they hung dead animal heads from the ceiling, creating the horrible smell and look of a slaughterhouse.  It was show elements like these and the fact that they played small clubs that made the Misfits a staple amongst the alienated. They really were just a “B-movie” band. Take the second verse of the song “I Turned Into A Martian”:  “I walk down city streets / On an unsuspecting human world / Inhuman in your midst / This world is mine to own.” These are empowering lyrics to those who do not belong.

Walk Among Us also features much more shocking songs, such as “Skulls,” which features the lyrics, “Hack the heads off little girls and put ‘em on my wall / I want your skulls / I need your skulls.”  “Astro Zombies” is a song that displays their love for B-movie horror, as exemplified by its first verse: “With just a touch of my burning hand, I send my astro zombies to rape the land, prime directive, exterminate, the whole human race.”  All thirteen songs on the album are delivered with levels of ferocity that are comparable to those present in these lyrics. The Misfits proved that you do not to be Jimi Hendrix on the guitar to captivate a crowd. Doyle’s playing style, for instance, consists primarily of power chords. Many punk bands back then sounded the same. Members of the Sex Pistols did not even take proper guitar lessons before releasing their 1977 album. What makes Doyle distinct from other punk guitarists is the speed at which he plays. Each song is produced in a way that the listener can feel every intense strum. His brother, Jerry Only, provides equally impressive bass. It’s nothing outrageous like Geddy Lee or John Entwistle. It’s just pure punk rock.

In the interview, Danzig claimed “Punk bands really just brought it back to that energy and the excitement of writing cool songs and getting people excited, getting them to go crazy.”  The band’s second studio album, Earth A.D./Wolf’s Blood (aka Earth A.D. or Earth A.D. / Die, Die My Darling) is undeniably harder and faster than their previous effort.  Tracks like “Death Comes Ripping” and “Queen Wasp” exemplify an anger and ferocity that only grew since their debut.  Earth A.D. has faster songs.  Doyle plays guitar so fast and Danzig shouts lyrics so passionately that at times it sounds like pure screaming.  This kind of energy translated well with audiences who wanted to mosh till they dropped. Both albums have lackluster production, which gives the music such a raw feeling and give listeners the impression that they’re watching the band live. This would be the last album released by the band for some time, as they disbanded in 1983.  Glenn Danzig would go on to form Samhain, then his self-titled metal band Danzig.

Following the disbanding of the Misfits, the compilations Legacy of Brutality and Misfits (aka Collection) was released in 1985 and 1986.  These compilations featured some of their hits from their albums, previously-released singles, and unreleased tracks from the late 1970s.  In these two compilations, one will find songs that made this band timeless. “Horror Business” features imagery from Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho, and also features the famous chant, “Psycho ‘78!”  Songs such as “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Bullet” explore Danzig’s inexplicable obsession with the Kennedys and conspiracies surrounding them.  “Where Eagles Dare” holds the fun and wild chorus, “I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch, you better think about it baby!” But the standout track is the Legacy closer, “American Nightmare.”  Doyle and Only provide 50s rock instrumentals while Danzig sings like Elvis Presley.  The only difference is Elvis never sang about murdering his lady with an axe.

Every song off of these compilations is unique and the bear witness to the band’s exploration of their diverse capabilities.  The Misfits had a distinct sound, but they did just make one short punk rock song after another.  The song “London Dungeon” is a head banging song that does not share the same speed as most of their other songs.  It could almost be described as quite mellow. These were songs that did not take themselves seriously. All they were meant to do was get a crowd to go crazy.

In 1995, Collection II was released.  Featuring enraged songs such as “Children In Heat” and “Halloween,” their horror image was kept alive.  Finally, in 1997 (the same year Doyle and Only recruited other musicians to play as the newly-reformed Misfits), their 1978-recorded studio album Static Age was released.  Technically, this is their debut album, but unfortunately it was not released for 19 years.  Many of these songs, along with songs from Collection and Legacy of Brutality, were released in the late 70s.  They could not find a label interested in releasing the album.  Static Age helped keep the Misfits alive.  In 1997, after a legal battle between Danzig and Only, the Misfits would recruit drummer Dr. Chud and singer Michael Graves to reform the Misfits.  When thinking about the Misfits, most punk rockers think of Danzig, Doyle, and Only. These are the guys who created such timeless punk classics. Danzig became a successful solo musician, but he always remembered his roots.  In 2011, he embarked on a Legacy tour, which featured him playing songs from the Misfits, even inviting Doyle onstage sometimes. Doyle has seen success as a solo musician as well, having recently finished his World Abomination tour this past year.  During this tour I had the pleasure to meet him. Doyle, like Danzig, is known to play Misfits music during his shows from time to time.

The original lineup would be the ones who live forever in punk.  Metallica helped the band achieve legend status by covering their songs “Last Caress” and “Green Hell.”  Metallica even went so far as to play “Last Caress” live at the MTV Europe Music Awards, which was a bold move considering how violent and explicit the lyrics are. The song starts off with, “I got something to say, I killed your baby today and doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s dead.”  These are the lyrics that scared their way into the future. Other bands such as My Chemical Romance, Blink-182, and Green Day have also been influenced by the Misfits, each identifying with the Misfits’ scary reputation and catchy songs. This is why the Misfits are timeless.

In the same Rolling Stone Interview, Danzig said, “I always wanted to have stuff that lasted and wasn’t just here for a year or two.  I wanted to write stuff that people would be coming back to 20, 30 years later.” The Misfits achieved this. Amateur footage of both Riot Fest shows a crowd united by the sole intention of moshing and screaming every word Danzig ever wrote.  After 40 years (and five reunion shows), the Misfits take over Allstate Arena on April 27, which will hold some of the biggest Misfits fans from across the country. It will be fulfilling for fans to see Doyle and Only don their trademark makeup and devilocks accompanied by Danzig’s legendary vocals.

Steven Norwalk