“We believed that anything that was worth doing was worth overdoing.”—Steven Tyler
It takes a certain kind of person to reach rock-legend status, and you could maybe describe that type as “extra.” The sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle sounds exhausting to some of us, but for many people, it’s the ultimate goal. Even if you’ve never picked up a guitar, these facts will give you a taste of the excitement, struggles, and excess that go into being a rock god.
42. Her Majesty
John Lennon once claimed that the Beatles shared a reefer in the bathroom of Buckingham Palace, while they were waiting to meet the Queen. He later went back on the claim, and Paul McCartney has said that they actually just smoked “sly ciggie” to calm their nerves, so we’re just left to wonder just how sly that ciggie was.
41. The Day the Music Will Die
A year before Buddy Holly’s tragic death in a plane crash, producer Joe Meek predicted that the rock ‘n’ roll legend would die in February. Sure enough, Holly’s plane went down on February 3, 1959.
40. Final Resting Place
No one is entirely sure what happened to Sid Vicious’s ashes, but Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the Sex Pistols, claimed that Sid’s mother spilled her son’s ashes in the arrivals lounge at Heathrow Airport.
39. Think of the Children!
Pink Floyd wrote the first swear word to receive regular radio play. Though other songs with curses had made it to the radio, the offending words were always bleeped out. Roger Waters’ line “Don’t give me that no good, goody-good bullshit” from Dark Side of the Moon’s “Money” somehow made it to the airwaves uncensored.
38. Foxy Lady
Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham, later of Fleetwood Mac, got their start opening for legendary acts like Buffalo Springfield, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. During one concert, Hendrix pointed to Nicks, who was standing just offstage, and dedicated a song to her. One time my friend’s band mentioned me on stage and it was the best day of my life, I can’t quite imagine what that might have been like if he’d been Jimmy Freakin’ Hendrix.
37. Follow Your Dreams
Before the band settled on their iconic Rumors-era lineup, Fleetwood Mac had a virtuosic guitarist named Peter Green. Green left the group to become a farmer. Rock on, Peter!
Clearly, Peter Green didn’t fit in with the rest of Fleetwood Mac. One of his reasons for leaving was because the rest of the group rejected his idea to donate all of their profits to charity. Man, a rock star that wanted to give away all his money and left the ‘biz to grow food for people? They sure don’t make ’em like that anymore.
35. Ahead of His Time
These days it seems like all of our music is online, but where did it all begin? Well, like many things, it was with Prince: In 1997, he became the first artist to release an entire album (Crystal Ball) exclusively online.
34. Mercurial Origins
Freddie Mercury’s birth name was Farrokh Bulsara. Him and his family were Parsis who practiced Zoroastrianism, and Mercury’s funeral was presided over by a Zoroastrian priest.
33. Don’t Fret
Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi worked as a welder before hitting the big time. On his last day of work, Iommi lost the tips of two of his fingers on his fretting hand. In order to keep playing the guitar, he had to convert to lighter gauge strings and use a lower tuning, which is a large part of Sabbath’s signature dark sound. If you look closely, you’ll notice that to this day Iommi plays with what are essentially plastic thimbles on his right middle and ring fingers.
32. Not Bad for an Afterthought
Legendary Black Sabbath hit “Paranoid,” perhaps one of the greatest hard rock songs of all time, was written in 20 minutes to fill space on an album.
31. Wolves at the Door
Pink Floyd made a ton of money from Dark Side of the Moon, which they invested in such harebrained schemes as a floating restaurant and a skateboard company, all of which were failures. Fleeing the taxman, Pink Floyd wound up in France, where they recorded The Wall to even more acclaim.
On December 8, 1980, Annie Leibovitz took a now-iconic photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Rolling Stone Magazine, with a naked Lennon wrapped lovingly around his wife. He was assassinated later that same day.
29. Tell It Like It Is
The Guns N’ Roses hit “Sweet Child o’ Mine” ends with the epic repeating line “Where do we go now?” This line came about because, after they decided to put a breakdown in the song, they didn’t know where to go with it. Makes sense. The song itself began as a string skipping exercise that Slash did for practise. Axl Rose heard it and insisted that they make a song out of it, even though Slash thought the idea was stupid—he’s resented the song, despite its wild success, ever since.
28. Parental Approval
Janis Joplin felt a desperate need to please her parents throughout her short career. After she had left home to pursue fame and fortune in San Francisco, she wrote to them, “Weak as it is, I apologize for being just so plain bad in the family,” which is just plain heartbreaking.
27. Drawing Up a Budget
In 1986, EMI gave the Red Hot Chili Peppers a budget of $5,000 to record a demo tape. Of that, the band set aside $2,000 for drugs.
26. Hearing What He Wants to Hear
It’s widely known that Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana, but to his credit, he was’t trying to be a pusher—he thought they already smoked pot. He had heard their song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and thought that they were saying “I get high” when they’re actually saying “I can’t hide.”
25. Credit Where Credit’s Due
Elvis Presley didn’t write a single one of the 600 songs he recorded.
24. Picky Eaters
Van Halen had a strict rule that no brown M&Ms were allowed in their dressing room before concerts. Believe it or not, they weren’t just picky about their candy: The band had extensive safety rules, and they hid the M&M request deep in their contract’s guidelines. The band would know that the venue hadn’t read their contract closely if they found any brown M&Ms.
23. Where do You Get Your Ideas?
The Mötley Crüe lyric “Valentine’s in London, found me in the trash” has an unbelievable origin: Band member Nikki Sixx overdosed on heroin at a drug dealer’s house in London; after trying to beat him back to life with a baseball bat, the dealer left Sixx’s passed-out body in a dumpster, where the rock star woke up a few hours later.
22. Never Settle
Pat Benatar was a bank teller and housewife (she married her high school sweetheart) in the early 70s, when she went to see Liza Minnelli perform live. Inspired, Benatar quit her job and formed a band.
21. Troubled Genius
Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, had an IQ of 149.
20. Showing Some Skin
Morrison had a knack for getting crowds worked up. One audience rioted after Morrison taunted local police, who then arrested the singer on-stage. At another concert, Morrison told the crowd “Let’s see a little skin, let’s get naked.” He and the audience then stripped down, causing Morrison to receive a conviction of indecent exposure.
19. Bathroom Explosions
The drummer of the Who, Keith Moon, was fixated on blowing up toilets in hotel rooms. The estimated cost of the damage he caused to plumbing is as high as $500,000, and Moon was banned from all Holiday Inn, Sheraton, and Hilton hotels, plus the Waldorf Astoria. Cus sometimes, you just need to blow up toilets.
18. The Cursed Flat
In 1978, Keith Moon rented an apartment from singer Harry Nilsson. Nilsson was reluctant to rent the flat to Moon because Mama Cass had died there four years earlier, and Nilsson believed the place was cursed. Moon died there just a few months later.
17. Off to a Bad Start
Bruce Springsteen, the Boss himself, got kicked out of his first band because his guitar was too cheap.
16. Totally Haunted
In 1992, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, began renting the same Beverly Hills home in which the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate and four others. He recorded The Downward Spiral there, but eventually he moved out of the place because, as he put it, “there was too much history in that house for [him] to handle.” He did, however, take the house’s front door and install it at his next recording house, Nothing Studios.
15. Record-Setting Accolades
Only one person has been nominated for a Grammy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, and a Nobel Peace Prize: U2’s Bono. That’s impressive and all, but remember that he also gave us “Discotheque.”
14. The X Factor
In 2002, for 17 of 18 consecutive weeks, Dave Grohl sat at number one on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart, though he did so with three different bands: Nirvana, Foo Fighters, and Queens of the Stone Age.
13. Tribute Act
Dave Grohl was a member of some of the most iconic rock groups of the past 25 years, including maybe the most iconic: Tenacious D. Grohl was the drummer on every one of their albums.
12. Friends in High Places
The film Monty Python and the Holy Grail was made on a shoestring budget—they couldn’t even afford horses, so they banged coconuts together and made a joke of it. The film’s main investors were a coalition of rock stars including Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Jethro Tull, and Pink Floyd. Rock stars, they just keep on giving.
11. I’ll Do It Myself
23 record labels rejected Joan Jett before she founded Blackhearts Records herself in 1980. It was the first independent record company run by a female artist.
10. Devilish Fun
During the recording of Station to Station in 1975, David Bowie was so out of his mind on cocaine that he later couldn’t remember any of it. The recording session was also marked by experiments in witchcraft, and Bowie apparently held an exorcism that burned a silhouette of Satan on the bottom of a swimming pool.
9. He’s a Believer
In the days of clean-cut, prefab early-60s pop acts, Jimi Hendrix emerged as a powerful counter-culture figure. This makes it even weirder that for his first American tour, he opened for the Monkees, and it doesn’t get much more “white bread” than the Monkees.
In 1974, shortly before his band the Stooges were going to play a show in Detroit, Iggy Pop went on the radio and challenged a local motorcycle gang to a fight. The gang came to the Stooges’ show and pelted the band with glass, urine, eggs, and even shovels. In response, the Stooges played an improvised, 45 minute long version of “Louie, Louie.” The concert finally ended when Pop focused in on one particular heckler, saying “Listen, asshole, you heckle me one more time and I’m gonna come down there and kick your ass.” Pop jumped down into crowd, and proceeded to get the ever-living crap beaten out of him by the angry biker.
7. Sex, Drugs, and Yorkshire Pudding
Ah, the heady life of a rock star. A Newcastle audience nearly rioted once when Guns ‘n’ Roses were late for a concert. They probably weren’t impressed with the band’s excuse: Axl Rose wanted a full roast dinner, and he was waiting for his Yorkshire puddings to rise.
6. Sleeping It Off
Eric Clapton had a tough time in the 70s, a period when, “To be on stage, you were almost expected to be drunk.” In addition to just wandering off stage from time to time, Clapton remembers performing one concert lying down, with the mic propped up next to him—”and nobody batted an eyelid.”
5. Something in the Way She Moves
British model Pattie Boyd has been married to two of the greatest rock stars of all time, George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Her marriage with Harrison disintegrated when he had an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife, and Boyd then married Harrison’s close friend Clapton. She inspired some of the greatest love songs of all time, including “Something,” “Layla,” and “Wonderful Tonight.”
4. Friendly Rivalry
In 1984, Ozzy Osbourne went on a tour with Mötley Crüe that has been described as one of the “craziest drug- and alcohol-fuelled tours in the history of rock and roll.” Trying to outdo each other’s extreme antics, Nikki Sixx of Mötley Crüe set himself on fire, then Osbourne snorted ants off the sidewalk. I’m not sure who won that contest, but it sounds like both of them lost.
3. Gaining Custody
In the 1970s, Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler fell in love with a 16-year-old fan, Julia Holcomb. Since it was illegal for them to be together, Tyler somehow convinced the girl’s parents to sign over custody so that he could live with her. They broke up when Holcomb was 18.
2. Friends With Benefits
David Bowie’s wife Angela left him in 1980, but couldn’t speak publicly about it for several years. In an interview ten years after the divorce, Angela revealed that she had found David naked in bed with men several times—including Mick Jagger! Jagger has denied these allegations, and Angela did later admit that she just because she said she found the men in bed together, she didn’t necessarily see anything explicit occurring.
1. Everybody Hurts
Kurt Cobain’s body was found, three days after his death, with the stereo still on. He had been listening to R.E.M.