Born in Lodi, New Jersey, The Misfits are a horror punk band that were originally around from only 1977 to 1982 — in their original incarnation — before years of legal battles and new lineups finally gave way to a series of reunions that began in 2016.
This article will, for the most part, concentrate of the music that came out of the classic 77-82 era and the lineup of vocalist, songwriter and occasional keyboardist Glenn Danzig; bassist Jerry Only; guitarist Doyle (well, Franché Coma and Bobby Steele were also around for a good chunk of this time) and a rotating cast of drummers that rivals Spinal Tap for frequency of members quitting, if not outright dying through misadventure.
Even the name of the band is a movie reference, as the last movie that a doomed Marilyn Monroe would make — Monroe and the end of the 60s Camelot are referred to in songs like “Who Killed Marilyn?” and “Bullet” — The Misfits, which is also the last film of Clark Gable.
Not all songs by the band are references to films — “She” has lyrics referring to Patty Hearst that shout “She walked out with empty arms, machine gun in her hand/She is good and she is bad, no one understands/She walked in silence, never spoke a word/She’s got a rich daddy, she’s her daddy’s girl” — but by and large, no band ever referred to more movies, much less genre movies, than The Misfits.
The Misfits mainly released singles for the start of their career, only releasing full albums late in their career before the original lineup split up in October 1983. As such, this list is in order of the singles and then EPs and albums. Feel free to correct any errors that show up.
Seeing as how we already covered “Cough/Cool” backed with “She,” let’s get into the “Bullet” 7-inch.
Bullet (1978): The first release from Glenn’s label Plan 9, which yes, is a reference to Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space, “Bullet” may be my current favorite Misfits song, but that changes nearly every day.
Plan 9 was a needed name change, as their label was originally called Blank Records. Months after the release of “Cough/Cool,” Mercury Records issued a Pere Ubu record on their own Blank Records label. unaware that a legally smart beyond his years Danzig held the trademark. They offered him thirty hours of studio time in exchange for the rights to the name, which he accepted and used the time to work toward tracks for the proposed Static Age album, which would not come out in its entirety until 1996.
“We Are 138” is another song that no one in the band can agree with Danzig on. Only and Steele mention that Danzig used to draw these androids with 138 on their foreheads and included these pictures in fan club materials. If anyone asked what it meant, it was supposed to be some secret that meant nothing. Or it was a reference to the movie THX-1138. As for Glenn, he said, “They didn’t write it and they don’t know what the fuck it’s about. It’s about violence.”
“Attitude” is straight-up rock and roll, getting covered years later by Guns ‘N Roses, while “Hollywood Babylon” is way too close to Kenneth Anger’s book title of the same name.
Horror Business (1979): “Horror Business”, “Teenagers from Mars” and “Children in Heat” appear on this 7-inch (well, 25 early copies have “Horror Business” on both sides) and there are plenty of movie references within. It’s also the first appearance of the band’s mascot, which was taken from the 1946 movie serial The Crimson Ghost. The back cover also has the band’s images along with Lon Chaney from The Phantom of the Opera.
“Horror Business” might be about Sid Vicious killing former girlfriend Nancy Spungen. On the evening of February 1, 1979, a small group of Vicious’s friends — including Jerry Only — celebrated him making bail. At the party, a detoxed Vicious was given heroin and overdosed that night and found by his mother the next morning. Only helped Beverley collect Vicious’s belongings and invited her to attend a Misfits recording session — at one point the band was to back him up on a solo record and one wonders how Glenn would have dealt with that — and one of the songs they recorded while they were there was this one, a song which has the lyrics “You don’t go in the bathroom with me” — Spungen was killed in a bathroom — and “I’ll stick a knife right in you.” That said, Glenn shouting “PSYCHO ’78!” might just be his way of saying that this is a song about Psycho and not anything in the news.
There are also tons of strange sounds and voices all over this track. Instead of paying to re-record it, the band claimed it was recorded in a haunted house. The Misfits had all sorts of urban legends written about them, such as how Ian MacKaye once said that he heard that the entire band were crippled and scarred maniacs who could only be released once a year to perform and always on Halloween (this makes some sense, as Bobby Steele had a minor case of spina bifida as a child, which forced him to wear a steel leg brace and walk with a cane).
“Teenagers from Mars” is obviously named after the 1959 science fiction movie Teenagers from Outer Space. “Children In Heat” isn’t about any movie, which is surprising.
Night of the Living Dead (1979): Obviously, The Misfits loved George Romero’s film and even used the logo from the movie. Glenn also includes a reference to his reading material in the lyrics “You think you’re a zombie, you think it’s a scene/from some monster magazine.”
“Where Eagles Dare” takes its name from the 1968 war movie and “Rat Fink” is the only cover the original Misfits lineup recorded. It’s originally an Allan Sherman song and yet is still credited to Danzig, who recorded “The Hunter” on Danzig 1 and took a writing credit, even though it was written by Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson Jr., Booker T. Jones and Carl Wells and originally performed by Albert King.
Beware (1980): First released in January 1980, this EP combined the Misfits’ previously released singles “Bullet” and “Horror Business” and was meant to be brought by the band to the UK for their abortive tour with The Damned. It also has the first release of “Last Caress,” a song whose lyrics are so rough that Only wouldn’t even perform it live after Danzig left.
3 Hits from Hell (1981): While “London Dungeon” is about Glenn and Bobby getting jailed after a fight with skinheads on The Damned tour, while “Horror Hotel” is the Americanized name of City of the Dead. Many claim that “Ghoul’s Night Out” is a reference to Ed Wood’s Night of the Ghouls, that movie was not released until 1984. Maybe Glenn was referring to reports of the film being made, but more likely people just saw an Ed Wood movie had a title close to this song and just assumed that it was based on that movie.
Halloween (1981): The first Misfits release to take the font from Famous Monsters of Filmland, “Halloween” has two versions of the song, “Halloween” and “Halloween II.” This has nothing to do with the John Carpenter movies, but instead Glenn’s memories of the holiday — “This day anything goes / Burning bodies hanging from poles / I remember Halloween” — while the other version is in Latin and says, “Ancient formulas of exorcisms and excommunications / that witches and those made wolves believe / I maim now the demon clothed in wolfskin / Having to hide in the hollow of a tree / I believe that they so can be changed.” Danzig’s next band, Samhain, would cover this song, if you can cover yourself.
Walk Among Us (1982): The first Misfits release I bought — on cassettete — Walk Among Us is the record that changed my life. How can someone turn wearing a Captain Harlock shirt and using the art from The Angry Red Planet and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers into a career? Well, The Misfits were doing it.
It was the first full-length album to be released by the band, even if it was the third to be recorded after Static Age and 12 Hits from Hell. Recorded between June 1981 and January 1982 in studio — other than “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” which was a live track.
“I Turned into a Martian” seems to reference the theme of so many movies of the 50s, like I Married a Martian or the Ray Bradbury story “Dark They Were And Golden Eyed.”
“All Hell Breaks Loose” references one of my favorite Hammer movies, Twins of Evil, and has one of the best Misfits lyrics: “I send my murdergram / To all these monster kids / It comes right back to me and it’s / Signed in there parents’ blood.”
“Vampira” is all about Maila Nurmi, the KABC-TV horror hostess who also appears in Plan 9 From Outer Space. “Hey! Black dress moves in a blue movie / Graverobbers from outer space / Well, your pulmonary trembles in your outstretched arm / Tremble so wicked! Two-inch nails! Micro waist! With a pale white feline face / Inclination eyebrows to there.” pretty much tells you that this is all about the horror icon.
How happy do you think Glenn was in these photos?
The Damned also released “Plan 9, Channel 7” and Vampira herself released two seven-inches with the band Satan’s Cheerleaders, “I Am Damned” and “Genocide Utopia.”
“Astro Zombies” is based on the Tura Satana and John Carradine-starring film, and has equally evocative words in it: “With just a touch of my burning hand / I’m gonna live my life to destroy your world / Prime directive, exterminate / The whole fuckin’ race.”
“Violent World” either comes from a magazine that used to show death scene photos, but “Skulls” comes right from Glenn’s brain, a singalong song about murder and loving every minute of it.
Glenn may have taken “Braineaters” from The Brain Eater, as the idea that zombies eat brains did not arrive until Return of the Living Dead in 1985. It is the only music video the band ever did and was given to their friends.
Evilive (1982): In just 13 minutes, the band tears through “20 Eyes,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Astro Zombies,” “Horror Business” and “London Dungeon” from a December 17, 1981 show at The Ritz in New York City and “All Hell Breaks Loose” and “We Are 138” from a November 20, 1981 performance at On Broadway in San Francisco.
In case you wondered, the album art is based on the poster for the 1957 movie The Undead.
Earth A.D./Wolfs Blood (1983): By 1983, Danzig was aleady planning his next band, the slowed down goth darkness that is Samhain, with the songs “Bloodfeast” (which could reference either the 1963 Herschell Gordown Lewis Blood Feast or the alternate title for Silent Night Bloody Night) and “Death Comes Ripping” meant for that band.
What emerges is less of the singalong sound of the band and more of a move to a hardcore sound. “Earth A.D.” slams out of the start of the album — is the reference to every horror movie adding an AD in the late 60s and early 70s, like Dracula A.D. 1972 and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. — and even has the lyric “you bet you’re life because the hills have eyes.”
“Queen Wasp” could have come from the movie Queen Wasp or The Wasp Woman, while “Devilock” is a reference to the band’s haircuts. “Green Hell” is a reference to either The Monster from Green Hell or the film Green Hell. That song and “Last Caress” were the gateway for a lot of new fans, as Metallica covered them on their The $5.98 E.P. – Garage Days Re-Revisited. The Misfits got tons of new fans from the band, as they often wore their shirts on stage.
“Wolfs Blood,” “Demonomania” and “Hellhound” may be horror in theme, but don’t reference any movies.
Die! Die! My Darling! (1984): Released seven months after the band broke up, this single contains the song “ie! Die! My Darling!,” which takes its title from the Hammer movie Fanatic, which took on that title when released in the U.S. The front cover is a complete ripoff of Chamber of Chills #19 — ask Glenn where he got the Danzig skull someday — and it has a great Pushead back cover. There’s also the lyric, “Your future’s in an oblong box,” which one assumes refers to The Oblong Box.
“We Bite” is a straight-up angry horror punk song, while “Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?” is a direct reference to the poster for the 1966 Amicus movie The Psychopath.
Legacy of Brutality (1985): This compilation album contains overdubbed mixes of previously unreleased songs, mainly from the January–February 1978 Static Age sessions.
“Static Age” doesn’t have any references, but “TV Casualty” is filled with references to 70s syndicated TV, including “i wish they’d put prince namor on the tube” (the 1966 Sub-Mariner animated show) and samples of NYC Channel 11 playing Star Trek and Channel 5’s repeat of I Love Lucy.
“Hybrid Moments” may be amongst the band’s finest songs, yet I can’t find any references, nor in “Spinal Remains,” “Come Back,” “Some Kinda Hate,”” Theme for a Jackal,” “Angelfuck” or “American Nightmare,” as by the time Glenn fully embraced Samhain, there was no more time for singing about 50s monster kid movies.
Then — yearrs of litigation over who owned the band’s name, Danzig playing in Samhain and his own self-named band, Doyle and Jerry — taking on the name Mocavious Kryst — playing in a band called Kryst the Conquerer with Yngwie Malmsteen singer Jeff Scott Soto and attempting to release music that was the opposite of the “Satanic, evil and possibly damaging to impressionable youths” songs of Samhain and Danzig. Once Jerry and Doyle reached an out of court settlement with Glenn, they became The Misfits and redid these songs.
The revised Misfits line-up of Jerry, Doyle, Dr. Chud and Michale Graves went the opposite direction of Glenn’s Lucifugian left hand path and released this album, which references American Psycho, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, This Island Earth, The Crimson Ghost, Day of the Dead, The Haunting, Mars Attacks, Poltergeist, the Outer Limits episode “Don’t Open Till Doomsday” and Hell Night, while a music video for “Dig Up Her Bones” that had clips from Bride of Frankenstein, which the band wrote about in “Hate the Living, Love the Dead.”
The difference with the new line-up was that while classic Misfits songs had references, these songs were outright completely based on movies. trying to follow the success of what Glenn once wrote about. Then again, he never had the budget to get Famous Monsters cover artist Basil Gogos to paint the album cover.
I Wanna Be a New York Ranger (1998): A hidden fact about the original band is that while Glenn is a short — and later muscular — comic book fan, Jerry and Doyle were football stars in their high school who loved Van Halen. As such, there’s no way that Danzig would have approved of their sports song “I Wanna Be a NY Ranger,” which they released as a single written by John Cafiero, who directed the music videos for “American Psycho” and “Dig Up Her Bones.” It’s basically the song “Airborne Ranger” and was intended for The Ramones, who broke up before they would perform it. Graves is not on the single version; that’s Cafiero singing. This song is also 1:38 long, which I’m still laughing about.
Famous Monsters (1999): The last album with this line-up, Famous Monsters keeps going for the easy reference game by directly calling out the Forrest Ackerman magazine. Songs include “Kong at the Gates” and “Kong Unleashed,” (King Kong and the entrance music for WCW wrestler Vampiro, who The Misfits used to come to the ring with; the band even wrestled a few matches) “The Forbidden Zone,” (Planet of the Apes) “Lost in Space,” (you tell me, right?) “Crawling Eye,” (based on The Trollenberg Terror) “Pumpkin Head,” (were they even trying?), “Die Monster Die” (Die Monster Die), “Them,” (Them!), “Helena” and “Helena 2,” (Boxing Helena) and “Devil Doll” (Devil Doll).
The song “Scream” was written in a parking lot in Seattle while the Misfits were on tour, as the band had learned that director Wes Craven was interested in using Misfits songs for his film Wishmaster. Instead, they wrote this for Scream 2 and it was not used. It does have a music video directed by George Romero, though! Romero was in Toronto filming Bruiser and needed a band to perform during the film’s final murder scene. The Misfits agreed to perform in the film and to record two songs for the soundtrack — “Fiend Without a Face” and “Bruiser” — if Romero directed their video. In the liner notes for Cuts from the Crypt, Only states, “It was an even trade, we shook hands and the deal was done. Business complications soon followed and I became very unhappy with my record label and my publishing company.” Of the stuff that the late Misfits line-up did, this video is probably the most fun, as it has them as zombies in a video directed by, you know, the king of zombie movies.
There’s also the Psycho in the Wax Museum EP, an Evilive 2 album with this line-up that has Graves performing some Danzig-era songs, and Cuts from the Crypt, which has different versions and unreleased songs like the aforementioned soundtrack songs from Bruiser.
Following Project 1950, the first Misfits album with Jerry singing, there would be another Misfits line-up, this time featuring Dez Cadena and Eric “Chupacabra” Arce.
Devil’s Rain! (2013): In 2009, The Misfits released a song called “Land of the Dead” which had the line-up of Jerry, Dez and former Misfits drummer Robo. The two songs from that release — which also has cover art by Marvel Zombies artist Arthur Suydam — were “Land of the Dead” and “Twilight of the Dead” and yes, they both reference Romero’s Land of the Dead.
Those songs also appear on this album with songs that namecheck The Devil’s Rain!, The Black Hole, The Mummy’s Hand, Ghost of Frankenstein and Dark Shadows, while “Vivid Red” is inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Only’s son, Jerry Caiafa II — also billed as Jerry Other — is also on the album.
Where The Misfits were once a band that scared the hell out of people, now they were happy goofballs out to put on a show. I mean, could you see Glenn singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” “Monster Mash” or “The Cockroach That Ate Cincinnati?”
Friday the 13th (2016): Jerry Only, Jerry Other and Eric “Chupacabra” Arce put out this slasher influenced album on Misfits Records with songs about Friday the 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Mad Monster Party.
All is well that ends well, though, as there’s now a classic Misfits line-up of Danzig, Only, Doyle, the best drummer ever Dave Lombardo and guitarist Acey Slade that are playing live shows, but never seemingly recording anything new.
In 2016, Doyle told Rolling Stone, “Eventually Doyle’s got to write a new album; I’ve got to write a new album; Glenn’s got to write a new album. Why don’t we work together and make the greatest album ever? Now we’ve got different elements. We’ve got Doyle playing more of a metal kind of thing. We’ve got Dave, who we’re trying to figure out what the fuck he’s doing. And Glenn’s got his own thing. And Acey (Slade, second guitar) fills in good, too. And I’ve got the band where it is today. So it’s a matter of re-molding and using all the different elements that I’ve got.”
The band has also appeared in the following movies: Animal Room, Big Money Hustlas, Campfire Stories and Bruiser, while Glenn appeared in The Prophecy II and directed Death Rider and Verotika.
Thanks for reading through this. Obviously, I love The Misfits and their appreciation for movies made me seek out stuff I may have never seen. Are there any references I missed?
Wikipedia: The Misfits.
Song Meanings: The Misfits.
Letterboxd. Songs inspired by The Misfits.
Misfits Central. Song and name information.
Perfect Sound Forever. The Misfits Guide to Film.
I forgot that there was a track “Mephisto Waltz” on Collection 2. It’s based on the movie The Mephisto Waltz and may have Samhain/Danzig bassist Eerie Von playing on it.
And oh yeah…
Static Age (recorded 1978, released in 1996): This has Return of the Fly, which is basically Glenn saying the credits of the movie. Really. “Return of the Fly, Return of the Fly/With Vincent Price/Helen Delambre, Helen Delambre/François, François/Cecile, Cecile.” This album was on The Misfits Box Set but a lot of it was also in Legacy of Brutality.
I’m absolutely certain I read somewhere that Hybrid Moments was inspired by Humanoids From The Deep. Can’t find any info about it now, though. Might’ve read that in the Misfits boxset booklet 20+ years ago.
Although, that can’t be because Hybrid Moments was written before Humanoids came out. This is going to drive me nuts now….
I just had a friend tell me Alien was another rumor, except that it got made after Glenn wrote the song.