The A-Z of the Misfits

The Misfits skull logo
The infamous Crimson Skull

They’re one of the most revered and influential bands in punk, their logo is one of the most recognisable in all of music, the classic line-up imploded and they said you would never see them onstage together ever again… But, against all the odds, the classic Misfits line-up – singer Glenn Danzig, bassist Jerry Only and guitarist Doyle Von Frankenstein – have sporadically reunited over the last few years. If you aren’t, and don’t know why you should be, here are 26 reasons why you should be!

A is for… American Psycho

For many music fans, The Misfits were just a band that metal fans knew about from t-shirts and cover versions. But all that changed in 1995 when the band reformed. Sure it wasn’t the original line up, but Misfits V2.0 were still good enough to not soil their legacy.

B is for… B-Movies

More than any other band you care to mention, Misfits are hugely influenced by early rock ‘n’ roll and kitsch 1950s horror/sci-fi B-Movies. It’s obvious in the look and in the sound of the band, but even if you dig deeper it’s still there. Their first single Bullet was released on their own Plan 9 Records, named after cult director Ed Wood’s infamously awful 1959 movie Plan 9 From Outer Space. It’s an aesthetic that remains to this very day.

C is for… Court Battles

After the band originally dissolved in late 1983, Danzig released a series of albums with the rest of the band overdubbed to prevent him having to pay them royalties. In doing so he ignited one of the bitterest legal wrangles in music history. In 1995 Jerry Only and Doyle won the rights to perform under the Misfits banner again, but still the bad blood wouldn’t subside. The last lawsuit was filed by Danzig in 2014… that’s nearly thirty years of court room battles.

D is for… Devilock

After the logo, the second most recognisable element in the Misfits universe is this haircut. The sides shaved and the top scraped forward as far as humanly possible. Perfected and invented by bassist Jerry Only, it was inspired by the ‘tidal wave’ haircut seen in 1970’s skateboarding communities. Much like the band themselves, the cut regained popularity in more mainstream circles in the late ‘90s as punk assimilated with mainstream culture.

Jerry Only shows off his signature hair

Jerry Only shows off his signature hair (Image credit: Derek Storm / Getty)

E is for… The Evil Elvis

Glenn Danzig is one of the greatest frontmen in the history of music. Having immense success, not only with Misfits, but also with Samhain and his own Danzig solo material. And while his persona, stage presence, zero tolerance personality and gothic badass look have all help cement his status as an icon, none of it would mean much without that curled lip, baritone snarl that saw him dubbed The Evil Elvis. Frankly, it fits him perfectly.

F is for… Film Cameos

When a band look as cool as Misfits, and have borrowed so heavily from the silver screen, it’s no wonder that they are the go-to band for movie directors when a scene calls for ‘weird punk rockers’. So far Misfits have appeared in four movies, Animal Room (1995), Big Money Hustlas (2000), Bruiser (2000) and Campfire Stories (2001). Each time playing… themselves.

G is for… Graves, Michale

The man christened Michael Emanuel, but known to fans as Michale Graves, had the biggest of shoes to step into when the band returned in the mid-90s. With Danzig unwilling to perform with the band, and The Damned’s iconic frontman David Vanian turning the opportunity down, Graves was plucked from obscurity after hearing the band were auditioning for new singers from engineer Bob Alecca, who was recording Graves’ band The Mopes at the time.

H is for… Horror Punk

There wasn’t really a genre tag that absolutely captured the entire Misfits package when they formed. Punk rock was still in its early days, yet, even though many of the bands sounded totally unlike one another, this was a band that needed an entirely new sub-genre invented for them. These days horror punk could mean everyone from Send More Paramedics and AFI to My Chemical Romance and Creeper, but none of them would have had a chance without Misfits opening the door.

I is for… Icons

The band have become a truly iconic musical act over the last thirty-plus years, so Misfits aren’t shy when it comes to playing with some of the most revered names in music. When Jerry Only found himself as the sole remaining member of the band, and picking up vocal duties as they entered their 25th anniversary in 2001, he decided to enlist the help of guitarist Dez Cadena and drummer Marky Ramone for the tour. This gave fans a chance to see a Misfits/Black Flag/Ramones mash up onstage together. Punk rock nirvana, in other words.

J is for… Jerry Lee Lewis

Never afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve, it’s clear to see that Misfits have more than a dollop of the attitude of rock ‘n’ roll’s birth in their DNA. On their fairly patchy 2003 covers album Project 1950, they cover everyone from Elvis and Bobby Darin to Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. But it’s their under two minute long cover of Great Balls Of Fire, the iconic calling card of one of rock and rolls most dangerous outlaws Jerry Lee Lewis, that steals the show.

K is for… Kryst The Conqueror

After Danzig left Misfits and they disbanded (originally) in 1983, Jerry Only and Doyle formed this barbarian themed, Christian metal band. The intention of the band was to take fans away from Danzig’s more arcane, dark and evil music and imagery, and lead them towards his righteous message. Unfortunately the only album the band ever recorded, Deliver Us From Evil, is still yet to see the light of day in its full form, appearing instead as one five track EP in 1990.

L is for… Last Caress

Almost certainly Misfits’ most famous song, primarily for the amount of cover versions that have turned up over the years. With NOFX, AFI and The Dirty Nil all delivering covers, it’s Metallica’s rendition for their Garage Days Revisited EP in 1987 that introduced Misfits to a new generation of metal fans. Jerry Only has gone on record to claim that the majority of his royalties have come from the Metallica camp. But let’s not forget that the original is the definitive version, with those lyrics still sounding shocking to this very day.

M is for… Marilyn Monroe

Nearly two decades before a certain M. Manson pulled a similar trick, Misfits took inspiration from one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and decadent starlets by naming their band after Monroe’s final ever film.

N is for… New Jersey

Misfits’ home town is one hour from the punk rock haven of New York City, but is one of the most fertile breeding grounds for music in the US in its own right. Ex-Fugees singer Lauryn Hill was born there, Bon Jovi named an album after it, and NJ birthed hip-hop with The Sugarhill Gang and later Ice-T. But it’s in the realm of punk and hardcore that New Jersey has the most impressive cast list; The Gaslight Anthem, Bouncing Souls, Thursday, Saves The Day, Midtown and Senses Fail all took inspiration from the blueprint laid down by the horror punks.

O is for… Only, Jerry

The one constant in every Misfits line-up. Bassist and sometime vocalist Jerry Only was born Gerald Caiafa on April 21 1959, and deserves immense credit for keeping his band going through the choppiest of waters over the years. He’s been the man to reap the benefits of their success success, and take the blame for some of the more ill-advised ideas (WCW Nitro anyone?). But, for just being there, we salute you Jerry.

P is for… Prison

Bad lads that they are (just take one look at them, you know they are), Misfits have got into many a scrape with the law over the years. The song London Dungeon details the events that led up to Danzig and then-guitarist Bobby Steele being arrested after fighting with skinheads, and spending two nights in Brixton Prison, at the end of their first UK tour. But that was just a skirmish compared to the entire band being arrested in New Orleans in 1982 on a charge of grave robbing. They bailed themselves out, and then skipped their court scheduled court date to play a gig in Florida instead.

Q is for… Queen Wasp

The second track on the band’s final album with Danzig, Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood, released two months after the vocalist had quit the band. Like much of the album, it showcases the band heading into a faster and harder delivery style. Stripping away much of the old rock ‘n’ roll influences of their earlier material, it became hugely influential to the newly birthed US hardcore scene. Even though they still sounded like no-one but the Misfits.

R is for… Riot Fest

It had been mooted before, but no-one really expected to see Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only up onstage blasting out these timeless classics ever again. But the organisers of Riot Fest  pulled off one of the all-time great coups in music history by booking as close a thing as you will ever see to the original Misfits line a few years ago. We still don’t quite know how they managed it but, bloody hell, well done people!

S is for… Static Age

The debut album that took nearly 20 years to see the light of day as intended. The legend of Static Age just added to the mystique of the band, as stories of its recording, subsequent inability to gain interest from record labels, and the slow drip-feed of remixed and remastered album tracks turned Misfits into one of the world’s biggest cult bands. When Static Age was released on the July 15 1997 it still managed to live up to the hype. What an album!

T is for… T-Shirts

Chances are you know someone, or multiple people, who own a t-shirt emblazoned with that famous Misfits skull logo. They might have got it from Top Shop, H&M or Primark… but they definitely didn’t get it from a Misfits show. Such is the power of the Misfits brand that it’s everywhere these days. We’re not saying that half the people wearing it wouldn’t know a single song from Earth A.D. but you should ask them next time you’re at a gig together.

U is for… The Undead

In the late ‘70s rock music could still be shocking to people. Alice Cooper was public enemy number one, Kiss were enraging the moral majority, but punk rock and the Misfits were something else. Taking the most extreme form of music at that time and marrying it with a look straight out of a George Romero movie was bold. They then borrowed the undead villain of the 1946 serial The Crimson Ghost and adopted it as their mascot. Yeah, that’s the guy on all the t-shirts. Can you imagine them without him?

V is for… Violent World

A tribute album released in 1997 after the bands return, Violent World is one of the best albums of its kind ever recorded. If covers by Metallica and Guns N’ Roses opened the band up to the metal world, it was amongst the punk community where the band’s real influence is evident. Featuring a stellar cast from Brit-rock heroes Therapy? to militant straight-edge hardcore band Earth Crisis, via the skate punk of Pennywise, poppy ska of Goldfinger and progressive hardcore of Snapcase – every sub-genre of punk rock tips their hat to the band. If that isn’t enough to convince you to check it out, it’s worth buying solely for NOFX’s Eric Melvin’s hilarious Danzig impression at the end of their version of Last Caress.

W is for… Wolfgang Von Frankenstein, Doyle

Possibly the man that holds the key to a successful Misfits reunion. Doyle is the younger brother of Jerry Only, but has still found his way into enemy territory numerous times over the last few years to get up and perform a number of Misfits songs with Glenn Danzig during his solo shows. If the bad blood between them all is going to wash away, he might be the mediator in it all. Plus, he’s been playing these songs for 36 years now, the lad is no slouch!

X is for… eX Members

Although they are synonymous with two or three main players, the Misfits have seen a hell of a lot of musicians pass through their ranks over the years: twenty two in total! They range from the superbly named likes of Dr. Chud and Myke Hideous to the slightly better known Marc Rizzo of Soulfly fame.

Y is for… You Belong To Me

Another cover from the Project 1950 album. This one was originally performed by Jo Stafford, and is the kind of smooth, waltzing number you’d expect to hear in the background of Casablanca – it’s turned into a dark, scattershot, garage rock banger. If you need a snapshot of the Misfits taking their influences and bastardising them into all manner of shapes, then this will do it.

Z is for… Zero Tolerance

As we mentioned earlier, Glenn Danzig isn’t the sort of man that backs down from a fight. When he originally left the band, leading to its dissolution, it was because an increasingly disenfranchised Danzig snapped during a Halloween show at Greystone Hall, Detroit with drummer Brian Damage turning up too drunk to play the set. He announced onstage that this would be the band’s last ever gig. No warnings, no second chances, that was the end of that. He’s hardly chilled out any over the intervening years either.

Misfits: "Our skull was more well known than our music"

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.