Tag Archives: rock n roll

The Unlikely Origins of the Metal Battle Jacket

Battle jackets and vests are now a very common sight at metal shows, or even just on the street. They are an iconic and instantly recognizable aspect of rock n roll culture. However, how they were invented is, surprisingly, not common knowledge. Even people who have them may be surprised that they have more of a story than just looking cool.

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Battle jackets were initially invented in WW2, when Air Force pilots would decorate their flight jackets with squadron insignia patches, and later pop culture icons. After the war ended, many pilots got into motorcycling for the excitement and speed. They kept their flight jackets to use as motorcycle jackets, since they offered protection against crashes, but sometimes sawed the sleeves off, as they could be restricting.

They continued to decorate their jackets with logos of clubs, gangs, and rapidly developing subcultures as they began to evolve in the 50s. Since paint flakes off of leather easily under rigorous use, they began to sew patches onto their jackets instead. Sewing denim is a lot easier and faster than leather, so denim jackets were used as well alongside leather.

These clubs and gangs did not usually get along, which caused them to be affiliated with street fights, mass brawls, extreme devotion to their club, and a violent appearance to the general public. Take the two most widespread British subcultures for example: the rockers with their Triumphs and Harley-Davidsons and gangster attitudes naturally opposed the mods with their hideous Italian scooters and an alarming obsession with lights and mirrors.

As the 60s arrived and rock n roll made its mainstream breakthrough, it fit the picture perfectly. There were two very different types of music-inspired jackets that came together to spark the rise of the modern battle jacket.

The first was that the gangsters found the rebelliousness of the new genre and it defying societal norms appealing, leading them to decorate their jackets with the bands’ logos and album art. The other was the Woodstock era hippie culture, who had a radically different ideology but with surprisingly similar motivations: mostly, free self-expression and defying the expected norms.

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The two branches came together as the hippie music era dawned into a new wave of rock n roll: the various genres and subgenres of the 70s. Classic rock, punk, and heavy metal appeared almost out of nowhere, and as a result of the sudden change a lot of the new bands kept the fashion, which was naturally copied by the fans.

Punks were the first non-gangster group who started customizing their jackets with band logos, and they were quick to invent the addition of metal studs to their outfit as well. The existence of modern metal jackets is largely the unintentional consequences of punk fashion in the late 70s–an influence that some metalheads try to forget.

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There are two people who brought denim and leather, respectively, over from the punks to heavy metal. Judas Priest is one of the greatest metal bands of all time, but next to the sound, they also invented a now-classic new look by bringing head-to-toe leather into the genre. Rob Halford’s signature move of riding a motorcycle onto the stage may also have something to do with it. The denim was brought over by none other than Lemmy, who smashed his way into metal somewhat unintentionally and very drunkenly toward the end of the 70s.

With battle jackets in punk and metal, it inevitably seeped into the middle ground, traditional hard rock, as well, and eventually covered the entire musical spectrum of rock n roll. Design aspects from specific genres mixed into one. Modern battle jackets are common among any genre related to rock n roll, from grunge to black metal.

Making your own won’t take too long either–just get a cheap denim jacket, optionally hack the sleeves off, and sew patches on in whatever order you get them in.

The 5 Bands That Shaped Early Metal

Some genres seem to appear out of nowhere, but others can be traced to very specific roots, artists and dates. The latter type predictably causes some controversy as to what is actually a new genre, and what is just a fancy twist on the old one. Metal is one of these; it comes directly from hard rock and rock n roll, but it’s exact beginnings are a little fuzzy. It’s come such a long way since then though that it is hardly recognizable as one genre anymore; modern ‘core is hardly comparable to the 70s glam swagger that started it all. But when it comes to finding the very first metal bands, there are a few that come to mind.

Obviously, there are much more; these are just the most influential. Metal would not have been possible without dozens of other bands in the 60s and 70s, but these are the bands that kickstarted the genre and made the rest possible.

Van Halen:

VH is credited with inventing glam metal, understandably. However, their influence didn’t stop there. Eddie’s brilliant solos invented and/or revolutionized many styles used extensively in later metal subgenres, such as two-handed tapping, whammy dives, pinch harmonics, pinch harmonics combined with whammy dives…you get the idea.

Led Zeppelin:

Led Zep is not exactly a metal band. Their most well-known song, Stairway to Heaven, may be a lot of things but it is hardly metal, and their bluesy hard rock sound was not at all unusual at the time. However, as the 70s progressed, their sound only grew heavier, eventually heavy enough to inspire future metal bands and possibly to be considered metal themselves. The definition of metal music has changed over the decades, but in the mid-70s, Led Zep fit the picture.

Deep Purple:

British prog/psychedelic hard rock outfit Deep Purple seemed like an unlikely band to kick off a genre like heavy metal, but here they are. Their sound may have been bluesy or psychedelic at times, but at the end of the day it was heavy as well, and at the time that stood out. Their unusually heavy guitars are what earned them their place by Led Zep and Black Sabbath in what is now known as the “unholy trinity” of British proto-metal.

Motorhead:

You probably weren’t expecting to find Motorhead on this list. They called themselves rock n roll, and for a while that worked out. They lived the rockstar life like no one else–leather, whiskey, and amps cranked to 11. They never cared what the world thought; they just played their music regardless of what people called it. But given their sound from the very beginning, it was no surprise that people started calling them metal as soon as the word had a meaning in music, and while their sound remained relatively stable, the labels changed from hard rock to heavy metal to early thrash metal. While the accuracy of those labels is debatable, Motorhead remains one of the most underrated and overlooked bands to influence the beginnings of metal to this day.

Black Sabbath:

Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. Sabbath is the first band to be considered actual metal, and their influence is beyond measure. The song “Black Sabbath” is credited with inventing all of metal and while one song couldn’t possibly start such a diverse genre singlehandedly, it’s album, ironically also called Black Sabbath, was the first album to be considered legitimate metal. Some of their other songs, such as Iron Man, Paranoid, War Pigs, and Children of the Grave, together were where it all began, followed up by Crazy Train and other songs by Ozzy and his new guitarist Randy Rhoads. The band’s influence on the future of metal is unmatched by all of the others combined.