Last Sunday, HBO aired the Season 3 finale of Eastbound & Down, the series about down-on-his-luck minor-league relief pitcher and morally bankrupt human being Kenny Powers. Besides a certain unvarnished wisdom ("death is for pussies") and a peculiar way with the ladies, Powers has one of the most spectacular haircuts on television. It's a little short to be a true Kentucky waterfall, but Powers is the (very) proud owner of one of the highest-profile mullets to come down the pike in some time.
Mullets and music have always gone hand in hand, so much that the haircut is synonymous with the kind of hard-rockin' tunes that flourished on FM radio in the '70s and '80s. Even today, cut-rate compilations like Mullet Rock Vol. 1 and Monster Mullet Rock can be had dirt-cheap both on Amazon and in the diminishing CD section of your local big box. On those discs, bands like Foreigner, Night Ranger, Billy Squier and Great White hold the lighter of mullet-rock proudly aloft.
Hell, next week Fat Possum Records is releasing its own collection of mullet jams "hand-picked" by Powers himself, by way of a soundtrack to the show. "This is the music that Kenny Powers rocks out to when he's getting ready in the morning," says Powers' best friend and sidekick Stevie Janowski. "This is the music Kenny Powers listens to in the late hours, when the night terrors come and we are all children again."
That includes songs by the Black Keys, R.L. Burnside, Kenny Rogers, the Stooges, the MC5 and Too Short, a curious definition of "mullet rock" if we've ever heard one. (And Ram Jam.) But there is another, lesser-known subspecies of mullet-rock that flourished mostly in the UK in the '80s. Here, rather than "business in front, party in the back," these groups' guiding light was "the bigger the hair, the closer to God."
5. The Call: Whether or not they ever actually had mullets, San Francisco's the Call was the closest thing the U.S. had to UK mullet-rock. Despite the patronage of Bono, Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson, the Call's success never quite matched their widescreen sound. That was no fault of their own, though; songs like "In the River," "The Walls Came Down" and "Let the Day Begin" did quite well on college radio and do not sound (too) dated today. Tragically, Call lead singer Michael Been died of a heart attack in 2010 while on tour running sound for his son, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Robert Been.
4. The Alarm: The Alarm may have been the best-named band of the '80s. Mike Peters and his Wales-formed crew had all of punk rock's idealism and none of its nihilism; one of their early hits was an adaptation of Steven King's novel The Stand. The Alarm put out anthem after anthem until stalling after 1991's Raw, and although they never quite scaled the commercial heights of Bono and the boys, "Spirit of '76," "Sixty-Eight Guns," "Blaze of Glory," "Rain In the Summertime" and many others make a more than solid anthology. Peters hasn't lost any of his convictions over time, either: The headline on the Alarm's Web site is "the music must and shall be preserved."
3. Tears for Fears: Tears for Fears always preferred synthesizers to guitars, but that doesn't matter when you have a sweet mullet like Roland Orzabal does above. The Beatles-loving duo of Orzabal and Curt Smith debuted with 1983's The Hurting, which combined pop elegance with uncomfortably personal subject matter on songs like "Mad World," "Pale Shelter," "Watch Me Bleed" and "Suffer the Children." Then they released 1985's Songs From the Big Chair and became one of the biggest bands in the world anyway.
2. Simple Minds: Formed in Glasgow -- the same city that gave us the Jesus & Mary Chain and later Franz Ferdinand -- Simple Minds were always more than the poor man's U2. Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill started the group in love with Roxy Music and David Bowie, and broadened their sound over the course of several albums. (Try 1982's New Gold Dream '81-'82-'83-'84.) Breakfast Club theme "(Don't You) Forget About Me" was more of a fluke than anything else; the band didn't even write it, and in fact both Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol turned it down.
Although 1985 album Once Upon a Time did quite well, personnel problems after that kept Simple Minds from taking their spot in the front rank of stadium bands for very long. Today, the group is down to a core of just Kerr and Burchill again, and playing five songs from each of their first five albums on tour this year.
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1. U2: Of course. Bono's mullet was the little acorn from which the mighty U2 grew. When the band started, his haircut was so majestic and distracting that he and The Edge had to come up with singles like "I Will Follow," "Gloria" and "New Year's Day" just to get people to think about something else. Eventually he saw the error of his ways and retired the mullet after the "Pride (In the Name of Love)" video, leaving what many people still consider the best part of U2's catalog behind him.
"I don't think people should look like their hair has been ironed," he said in 2002.