Leather in Pop music
Don't think pop musicians started wearing leather recently. They have been doing this since the beginning of modern pop music; the early sixties of the twentieth century!
Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent
In 1957 young American musician Eddie Cochran scored his first hit, others were "Summertime blues", and "C'mon everybody". He was more successful in England than in the US. He was an idol for the English Rockers movement. Early 1960 he appeared wearing leather pants for the first time in English television shows.
Left: Eddie Cochran in leather pants.
Right: both friends on one record.
Gene Vincent had been very successful too. He arrived in England one month earlier than Eddie Cochran to appear in the same television shows presented by Jack Good. Vincent did not at all look like the slick 50's pop stereotype with his marked limp, bad teeth and unruly hair. As this could not be hidden, Good persuaded Vincent to exaggerate it and to emphasize his tough man's appearance by wearing leather from head to toe. A month later Cochran followed his example.
Eddie Cochran in leather pants.
Right: the last picture ever taken of him.
Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran toured together in the first four months of 1960. "Eddie and I were as close as two guys can get without being queer" Vincent once revealed. In April 1960 they were both in the same car that crashed. They were injured but Vincent survived while Cochran sadly died days later at the age of 21.
Feb. 1960 NME Poll Winners' Concert, three guys wear leather.
Left to right: John Barry, Eddie Cochran,
Adam Faith and Gene Vincent.
Also in 1960 Vince Taylor was performing in full black leather. He was an Englishman who had lived in the US and he was very successful especially in France. "Full leather" is to be taken literally: he wore black leather pants, a black leather long sleeved shirt, and even black leather gloves. A very similar appearance to Gene Vincent, in fact they appear to wear the exact same leather shirt!
On a Vince Taylor website his full leather outfit is explained in the following story. "One day when he was walking through the streets of London, he stopped dead in front of a winter sports shop window, a model dressed in black leather from head to toe, caught his eye. He bought the whole kit and wore it the same night on stage, increasing the reactions and enthusiasm of the public."
On his personal page Edward from Amsterdam tells about two Vince Taylor concerts in the Hague in 1962 that he witnessed. Below a picture of one of those concerts.
Vince Taylor performing in The Hague, Netherlands.
Two videoclips of Vince Taylor performing in black leather,
in the early 1960s.
In 1961, the then still unknown Beatles played the Cavern in Liverpool and in the nightclubs of Hamburg - Germany. From early that year they were dressed as tough boys in full black leather.
Left to right: George Harrison, Pete Best, John Lennon
and Paul McCartney, the Cavern, December 1961.
But once the Beatles hired Brian Epstein as their manager in December 1961, the (for the big public far too hot) black leather was soon replaced by dull gray suits.
1961: the Beatles in a full leather outfit.
In April 1962 they played in their leathers for their biggest fans of the Cavern for one last time. During the break they changed into their suits emphasising their change of style. Which proves that taking off their leathers was a for leatherfans unfortunate but indeed conscious decision.
Link to a page with a lot more pictures of the young Beatles in leather.
Jim Morrison, the Doors
Luckily, unlike the Beatles and so many others, some artists keep their leathers on, even after they become famous. Jim Morrison was one of them.
Jim Morrison, well known for his leather pants.
He seems to have worn leather throughout the sixties always, still to be enjoyed on numerous pictures. Jim Morrison died much too young at the age of 27 in 1971 in Paris - France.
In 1968 Elvis Presley wore full black leather in his very famous television comeback show.
Elvis Presley, pictures from his comeback show 1968.
This was a one time flirt with black leather, at least black leather pants, but the show had a very big impact on the general public. Who finally saw leather on someone far more close to them.
In the 1970's more and more pop musicians start wearing black leather. So called "glam rockers" wear leather, after them the "punk rockers" later just called "punks", and of course the "hard rockers", they all wear leather. And they all lean heavily on the image created by the English rockers movement of the fifties. Glam rocker "Alvin Stardust" carefully copied the image of Vince Taylor and Gene Vincent, including the black leather gloves!
Left: 70s Idol Leif Garrett; Center: Billy Idol
Right: Alvin Stardust in full leather cat suit
In Belgium, 22 year old Punk Rocker Plastic Bertrand was not wearing "plastic" but leather while performing "ca plan pour moi!", one of the few songs in French to hit in the USA. There were far more musicians wearing leather at the time, this list is by no means complete.
Below, pictures of Thin Lizzy, the Clash and the Sex Pistols all from 1978.
Left to right: Thin Lizzy, the Clash and the Sex Pistols.
In the late seventies, under the influence of all those people in leather, wearing leather pants got to be an in thing, even for kids! In 1979, the ad below, by a major European clothing company, appeared in a Dutch popular science magazine for boys.
Advertisements for imitation leather pants.
Left: the Netherlands 1979. Right: Germany 1983.
Other notorious people in leather in the 1970's were Alice Cooper, and Rob Halford, the front man of Judas Priest, who came out as gay man in 1998.
At the time he was heavily flirting with the image of gay leathermen, wearing even the typical cap and a lot of chains.
There were indeed connections between the leather in pop music and the gay world. Late 1979, the erotic outfits of the American group "the Romantics" in bright red leather for instance, were created by a leather crafts woman in Detroit, who until then usually created leather clothing for the gay s&m world.
The Romantics from Detroit USA.
Not openly gay at the time either was Queen front man Freddy Mercury, who in the early nineteen eighties wore leather like a gay leatherman!
Freddy Mercury, lead singer of Queen.
In the 1980s there were many more flirtations with the symbols of gay leathermen from both gay and heterosexual pop stars and band members.
Flirtations with symbols of gay leathermen.
Leather harness, cap, shirt and chaps.
In the 1980s leather pants were worn more and more or so it seemed.
English band Duran Duran
Ode to leather
In 1988 Australian band "Kings of the Sun" released a track called "black leather". The lyrics clearly reveal a black leather fetish:
"hey boy, come on wrap your toy in black leather, skin tight sure feels all right, it's black leather! (...) I want it, I need it, I got to have it all, all over me!"
Black Leather videoclip
But leather was worn by all kinds of musicians by now, not only the rockers or singers closely related to that style wore leather. Now main stream ballad singers like Johnny Logan who won the Eurovision Song contest in 1980 could wear black leather.
Left: Def Leppard front man, center Scorpions front man
Right: Johnny Logan in the 1980's.
In the second part of the 1990s there were suddenly a lot of boybands. And it seemed that every boyband was clad in leather. From Take That to the Backstreet Boys, from Boyzone to Human Nature to N'Sync and 2B3, they were all dressed in leather pants at some time, but especially at the beginnnig of their careers. Probably to stress how tough they were...
Left: Boyzone (Ireland)
Right: Human Nature (Australia).
Leather on 'everyone'
Leather worn by starting boy bands, by country singers, German traditional singers and heavy metal rockers. At the end of the twentieth century wearing leather in almost every style of popular music became totally accepted!
Some of the pop singers in leather pants in the 1980's and 1990's.
Twenty first Century
When at the end of the twentieth century leather almost reached each and every pop musician, the next logical step seemed to be classical musicians wearing leather!
In 2000 young American classical violin player "Joshua Bell" opened his website with a very nice -off stage- picture of him. His valuable Stradivarius violin standing on his black leather clad leg. And he also showed some pictures without the violin.
Violin player Joshua Bell showing his Stradivarius on his leather clad leg.
Black leather pants, starting out as the icon of rebel rockers, fifty years later became fit for violinists. Who would have thought that!
But we saw a sharp decline in the number of pop singers wearing leather pants on stage in the first couple of years of the 21st century. Perhaps because that rebel image has worn off a little, but there are still very different pop stars wearing leather pants. Leather pants and pop music are very connected so it will only take time before leather will be worn in greater numbers again.
Left to right: Jake Shears in brown and in black leather,
Tommy Shane Steiner and Bill Peck.