10 bands that prove why Misfits endure, from Metallica to My Chemical Romance
Presenting a few covers and tributes to the New Jersey horror-punk royalty.January 6, 2022
Misfits are the very model of an influential punk band. Which was most likely not Glenn Danzig’s goal when he formed them in 1977 in his native Lodi, New Jersey, naming them for Marilyn Monroe’s final film from 1961. After initially being driven by Danzig’s distorted electric piano, Misfits became known for sludgy power chords pitched in the key of Black Sabbath set to Ramones-oid tempos and song structures straight off a scratchy old Dion And The Belmonts 45. Initially, as evidenced by Static Age — recorded in 1978, unreleased as a standalone until 1997 — Danzig’s baritone was crooning trash culture-obsessed lyrics over the band’s high-energy roar.
Think of “Hollywood Babylon,” named for Kenneth Anger’s scandalous 1970s book, the JFK assassination ode “Bullet” or the twin television addiction paeans “Static Age” and “TV Casualty.” With material such as “Return Of The Fly” and “Teenagers From Mars,” Danzig indulged his love of trashy black-and-white horror movies, bloody pre-code EC Comics and gothic authors such as Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. Misfits were about to get really spooky.
Danzig and bassist Jerry Only were the only constants in an ever-evolving cast. The Misfits image burned hardest onto the mind’s retina is the devil-locked frontline of Only and brother Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein stripped to the waist like gladiators, flanking the singer in his skeleton-bedecked black clothing, the backline draped with images of their mascot the Crimson Ghost. They’d become a cooler, low-budget KISS for punk rockers. That creature-feature barrage found its utmost expression on 1982’s definitive Walk Among Us LP. Hardcore had begun rearing its shaven lil’ head, adding an extra jolt of velocity to Misfits’ already ripping attack. However, at this stage proceedings never thrashed so hard as to decimate the 1950s melodiousness and “whoa-whoa” choruses that were the band’s trademarks. We had to wait for 1983’s Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood for that to happen.
Past their breakup shortly before that final album’s release, Misfits only grew in stature and influence. They held sway over not just punk rock, but metal and alternative rock. A steady stream of reissues, retrospectives and vault clearings built their profile, even as the various members sued one another over royalties and rights to the name. Only and Doyle relaunched the band in a Danzig-less lineup in 1995, as tribute bands ranging from the all-female Ms. Fits to the proudly rotund Misfats attempted to bottle the magic. Ultimately, Danzig had to return a few years back for a series of reunion shows, to much acclaim. Because there’s just nothing in the world like the original Misfits firing on all cylinders.
You would be surprised who either claims Misfits as an influence or has covered one or more of their songs. Here are a few notable ones.
No band were more famously influenced by Misfits than Bay Area speed–metal titans Metallica. Interviewed for the August 1986 issue of Thrasher magazine, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett both recalled original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton provided their original passage into Misfitsland. “All of his friends were into them and he taped some stuff from his friends,” Hetfield explains. Hammett claimed it was their visual sense that arrested him: “The imagery that they used was like some of the stuff I’ve seen in old horror comics.” The band famously remade “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” in a thrash-o-matic medley for their 1987 release The $5.98 EP – Garage Days Re-Revisited. Danzig even joined them onstage at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium for their 30th anniversary celebration in 2011, for a reprise of the medley plus “Die, Die My Darling.”
For those same Metallica 30th anniversary shows, Green Day filmed this straight-up cover of Static Age’s “Hybrid Moments,” Billie Joe Armstrong affecting his best Danzig impersonation. It also served as a cheeky birthday card from our favorite pop-punk jokesters: “Happy birthday, you old-ass heavy-metal motherfuckers,” Armstrong sings at the end. Metallica birthday celebrations aside, it would stand to reason Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool might be Misfits Fiend Club members themselves. Danzig’s songs are as hooky, tuneful and murderously rocking as any Armstrong has written.
Guns N’ Roses
Punk was always part of the vintage hard–rock stew that Guns N’ Roses stirred up in a pot called Los Angeles back in the ‘80s. They came by it naturally, with singer Axl Rose, guitarist Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan all boasting firm punk pedigrees before digging back into their Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks records. The Spaghetti Incident?, their 1993 punk covers collection, was likely as much McKagan’s brainstorm as anyone’s. Among the various New York Dolls, Iggy And The Stooges and Damned covers was this McKagan-sung version of a Misfits goodie, “Attitude.” Guns N’ Roses add significant Sex Pistols/Johnny Thunders swagger, possibly even improving on the original.
Hard to believe that these Swedish post-core warriors, who radically altered the punk landscape with 1998’s The Shape Of Punk To Come, were ever a straight-up punk band. But the year before, Refused released This Album Contains Old Songs And Old Pictures, Vol. 1: The E.P. Compilation, featuring this stripped-down, lo-fi thrash through Static Age’s “Bullet.” It proved that somewhere within their fiercely anti-capitalist, experimentalist soul was a pure punk-rock heart, fully capable of doing Misfits justice.
“We can play almost every Misfits song,” Alkaline Trio leader Matt Skiba told the Dallas Observer in 2010. “They’re not that hard to play. I love the Misfits, but it’s not brain surgery.” It would stand to reason that Chicago’s ultra-spooky pop-punk kings would have a lot of Misfits in their blackened souls. They even displayed it on the ultra-rare Misfits covers EP above, given free strictly to those in attendance at their 2002 Halloween show at Chi-town venue The Metro. The songs were included in the special features for the DVD of the performance, Halloween At The Metro. “Children In Heat” is given a straightforward blast, but it took titanium steel guts to convert “Halloween” into a morbid piano ballad. And it works.
My Chemical Romance
“I learned about the Misfits from the tattoo on Cliff Burton’s arm,” My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way informed AP in a 2012 interview. Which may not have been the most politic thing for Misfits’ fellow Jersey-ite to have admitted. Nevertheless, he was honest: “Because [Metallica and Megadeth] were into punk, they, in turn, provided a gateway into that culture…Me wondering what that tattoo was on Cliff Burton’s arm was kind of the beginning of that.” MCR paid homage with a relatively faithful cover of the Walk Among Us highlight “Astro Zombies” for Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland soundtrack.
“I just remember the first Misfits record I got, and they’re like templates of songs because they’re so catchy,” Superchunk leader Mac McCaughan told Noisey in 2013. “A song like ‘Hybrid Moments’ or ‘Children In Heat,’ it’s like this crazy combination of total goofiness and stupidity with just awesomely catchy choruses and riffs. It’s just so timeless. A song like that is so great to cover because it can sound like it’s from any time.” The North Carolina indie/punk royalty have indeed covered many a ‘fits tune over time, most notably the above version of “Horror Business” (which they’ve also done live with comedian Todd Barry and Samhain’s London May on drums) and “Where Eagles Dare.” Superchunk even performed in character as Misfits for a Halloween gig at D.C.’s 9:30 Club.
Balzac, a Japanese punk institution since 1992, evolved out of leader Hirosuke Nishiyama’s earlier Astrozombies, which should tell the whole story. They’re practically a Japanese Misfits cover band, doing original material rather than Misfits songs. (There is, however, a side project tribute band with no official releases called 728 Misfits or Naniwa Misfits that is a Balzac alter ego.) With a discography consisting of Nishiyama’s Danzig-esque originals such as “Wall” and “Nowhere #13” filled with those doo-wop melodies and “whoa-whoa” choruses, they’ve served as fine Misfits avatars. They’ve even toured Japan and done a split single with the Jerry Only-led version of Misfits.
Dum Dum Girls
California fuzz-pop act Dum Dum Girls issued an almost-delicate, reverb-drenched take on “Last Caress” as a non-LP B-side to their “Bhang, Bhang, I’m A Burnout” 45. Kristin Kontrol and crew successfully translate the Danzig original to their early Jesus And Mary Chain-style sound, adding a dollop of ‘60s girl group theatricality to the mix. Proof the quality of Misfits’ songwriting is timeless enough to withstand any stylistic approach you throw at it. Which makes one wonder when the country and jazz interpretations are coming?
Flagship riot grrrl act Bratmobile remade “Where Eagle Dare” for their 1994 Kill Rock Stars EP The Real Janelle. In between bouts of patriarchy smashing, the trio of Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman and Erin Smith were capable of some wonderful, goofy humor. This record closer certainly provided some killer laughs, Wolfe and KRS founder Slim Moon trading lines in fine call-and-response fashion, both trying on their best Danzig impersonations. “I ain’t no goddamn son of a bitch!” Moon declares. You can practically hear the smirk on Wolfe’s lips as she answers, “You’d better think about it, baby!”