The Best (and Worst) Clowns in Music History

Unsettling in 1957, still pretty damn creepy today.
Unsettling in 1957, still pretty damn creepy today.
Atlantic Records

So apparently, clowns are kind of a thing now. Whether they’re popping up and startling children in random neighborhoods across the country, making threats on local schools, or just kinda standing around quietly, freaking out the locals, clowns nationwide are doing exactly what clowns do. Namely, they are scaring the bejesus out of people. This is somewhat timely, considering Halloween is right around the corner, but this recent clown trend – basically a Pokémon Go sort of fad, only slightly less deranged — got us thinking about the best and worst clowns in music history. (This list is in alphabetical order.)

MOE BANDY, "Bandy the Rodeo Clown"
Moe Bandy was a pretty popular country musician in the '70s, and managed to chart a number of singles throughout the '80s as well. His third album is of particular note for this list, considering it’s titled Bandy the Rodeo Clown. Not only that, but the lead single from the album bears the same name. The title track tells the story of Bandy, a once-prominent bull rider who suffers emotionally when his woman takes off (this is not an uncommon theme in country music), so much so that he loses his ability to ride. A sad shell of his former self, the once-prideful cowboy is now known by his sad moniker – Bandy the Rodeo Clown.

Regardless of your opinion of the demented Detroit duo – and opinions certainly vary – ICP have certainly carved out quite a little cottage industry for themselves. During a career that has spanned approximately 25 years – that’s not a misprint; ICP has more than doubled the Beatles’ active run – Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope have released multiple records, a couple of them platinum sellers. They have even given rise to the Juggalos, a society of ICP supporters who congregate (both socially and at ICP shows) donning clown makeup and spraying Faygo, a sort of poor man’s Midwestern Fanta. Houston Juggalos are on notice — ICP is playing Warehouse Live next Wednesday. Their music isn’t particularly insightful, and some of it is downright deranged, but ICP has shown flashes of musical competence during its two-decade-plus run (see The Great Milenko and The Amazing Jeckel Brothers for examples). ICP even inspired others to follow suit, namely Twiztid, a Detroit-based rap duo who don ICP-like clown paint. That group has been in the business now for more than two decades.

Technically, KISS doesn't aim to portray clowns onstage, but when grown men don black, white and red makeup onstage — all the while putting on a show as elaborate as theirs – one can’t help but draw comparisons. The approach has certainly worked, as KISS has ranked among the most noteworthy acts in rock for the better part of 40 years. This despite a musical catalog that can kindly be described as mediocre.

Pagliacci, Italian for “clowns,” is an Italian opera told in a prologue and two acts. It is still performed to this day, so it’s possible you’ve heard of it. Diehard Seinfeld fans certainly have, as Pagliacci played a key role in “The Opera,” a 1992 episode of the iconic series. In it, the four friends attend a showing of Pagliacci. Elaine’s boyfriend (later revealed to be famed nemesis Crazy Joe Davola) bows out at the last minute, electing instead to sob, dress up like the opera’s clown, then terrorize the main cast. It’s among the funniest (and weirdest) episodes Seinfeld ever produced.

Mac Sabbath is composed of a bunch of dudes who put a unique spin on old Black Sabbath tunes, and do so while dressed up as demented versions of their counterparts from a certain famed hamburger chain. That includes front man Ronald Osbourne (get it), a deranged clown who eerily resembles a slightly less deranged clown from said hamburger chain. These guys are entertaining, to say the least, and you can find out firsthand; they'll be at White Oak Music Hall on October 22.

"Send In the Clowns"
Written by Stephen Sondheim for the early-1970s musical A Little Night Music, “Send In the Clowns” is a ballad in which one of the musical’s main characters reflects upon her life’s sad circumstances. The song has since become Sondheim’s biggest hit, and with good reason. A partial list of major, name-brand entertainers who have covered the song includes Frank Sinatra, Shirley Bassey, Perry Como, Grace Jones, Barbra Streisand, Cher and Madonna.

Another group of demonic masked types that have lasted far longer than many originally thought they would, four of Slipknot’s five studio albums have debuted inside the top three of the Billboard charts (the last two have debuted in the top spot). You can forgive skeptics for considering the band a novelty upon their emergence in the late '90s. This, after all, was a group of nine hyped-up maniacs stage-diving and moshing, all the while donning jumpsuits and various deranged masks. The masks, it turns out, have a backstory. Turns out drummer Shawn Crahan was the first Slipknot member to rock a mask, one that just so happened to be that of a clown. By the time they hit it big, Slipknot had decided that all members would wear a unique mask and jumpsuit onstage and would adopt a stage moniker as well. Crahan’s choice? “Clown.”

Upcoming Events

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >