I Love a Band in a Uniform

The fashionable dos and duds of pop's greatest costume gimmick bands

Ever go to a KISS convention and see people clamoring for a Bruce Kulick doll, or a lunchbox with Eric Singer's mug plastered on the side? Of course not! It took Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley 13 pageant-free years to figure out what the rest of us knew all along--KISS without the clown white and chain-mail crotch guards is like an Elvis movie without the lip-synching and fisticuffs.

No one's surprised that pulling its sequined vestments and platform shoes out of the attic chest has given a reunited KISS the proverbial smooch o' life. But while Gene, Paul, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss make up easily the most $ucce$$ful costume band ever, they're certainly not the only ones (if the New York Dolls had just dumbed down their music, the KISS show at America West Arena on Wednesday could have been a double bill slugged "Gods of Glam"). Here's a survey of some of the most glaring ensembles ever to cost Mr. Blackwell his beauty sleep:

Adam and the Ants--In his 1981 UK hit "Prince Charming," Mr. Ant maintained that "ridicule is nothing to be scared of." Wanna bet? If the sorry sight of these Gary Glitter wanna-bes rain-dancing across American concert stages in war paint and Pirates of Penzance knockoffs wasn't incentive enough to unplug the jukebox, there was always the band's be-kind-to-ants agenda. Viva la crock!

Angel--Gene Simmons introduced this group to Casablanca Records (which also has the Village People to answer for) where it became the label's good-guys-wear-white answer to KISS. Bedecked with gossamer gowns and perfectly coifed hair sprinkled with baby's-breath, the group had a helluva time finding a heavy-metal following. Not even Frank Zappa's ode to the group's guitarist Punky Meadows in Baby Snakes ("Punky's Whips") could break the fey typecasting. One of its last album covers (White Hot) actually had a painting of the band being burned at the stake like Joan of Arc quintuplets. Holy shit, indeed!

The Banana Splits--Sure, most baby boomers remember Bingo, Fleegle, Drooper and Snorky--four overgrown Muppets who collectively made one tra-la-la-lousy album for Decca in 1969. But does anyone recall the group's second-banana spin-off--the Skatebirds? Didn't think so.

Blues Magoos--The only hit this Bronx-based psychedelic group had was "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet." Some might have begged to differ, since the members did have plastic stage suits with neon-tube trimming that would flicker on and off like a flashback.

The Count Five--In late 1966, this San Jose garage band captured the public's fancy with its psychedelic Yardbirds rip-off "Psychotic Reaction." The reaction to the band's rip-off Count Chocula look, however, was a terse "no fangs!"

Devo--Last year, Devo cracked that whip and returned to active recording, donating a new song to fellow costumed quintet the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Too bad those superheroes weren't on hand to rescue the band during last month's Lollapalooza performance at Compton Terrace. Luckily for the de-evolutionists, the half-chewed burgers, nachos and slushy sodas nonplussed Metallica fans pelted them with only accessorized the band members' yellow-paper radiation suits.

Gwar--Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, and let's keep it that way. Any band that dresses up like impalers from Uranus and waves around Styrofoam severed limbs that spew nonstaining fake blood on its audience should be allowed to proliferate with no socially redeeming value whatsoever.

Labelle--Hard to believe these extraterrestrial divas were once Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, three Philly girls who rode to fame with a down-to-earth ditty about selling their hearts to the junkman. Refashioned as Labelle in 1973, they boldly went where no girl group had gone before, unearthing the same costume pattern Ace Frehley would later use for his space-cadet suit. The group aborted its 15-year mission in 1976 when Patti, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash couldn't agree on which planet they were supposed to be from.

Los Straitjackets--Unlike early KISS, these surf-music hombres don't really care if you see them sans shrouds, since they usually sidle up to the bar for drinks after a set without changing their stage shirts. Those masks they wear are authentic replicas of ones donned by south-of-the-border wrestling greats. Last fall, a carload of Mexican wrestling fans saw a photo of the band in New Times and arrived at the Rhythm Room asking where the ring was (they got in to the show free).

Paul Revere and the Raiders--The Raiders were arguably rock's first costume band, and their revolutionary dress was designed to combat a British takeover of the colonies' pop charts. And forget the mop tops--the Raiders were celebrating shaggy manes as far back as 1961 with the hit "Like, Long Hair," and remains the only group to have members set fire to their own hair onstage without screaming "Tito! Tito!"

The Plasmatics--Former porn priestess turned auto-destructo rock star Wendy Orleans Williams blew up Cadillacs, sledgehammered TV sets, chain-sawed guitars and risked going blind onstage by finger-flustering herself. And she did it her way, wearing little more than cotton briefs and electrician's tape across her nipples. Not one to be upstaged, guitarist Richard Stotts sported a shocking-blue Mohawk and a nurse's uniform. Better ask him what's in that syringe first.

The Ramones--Speaking of Lollapalooza . . . most people get committed for wearing the same clothes for 22 years straight--these guys get to play their swan song on the megafestival's main stage! The Ramones have been photographed only once without their trademark leather jackets, in a shot for the End of the Century album in 1980. Johnny refused to pose without his usual threads until Joey, Marky and Dee Dee formally outvoted him, and he still hasn't forgiven them.

Stryper--These God-fearin' rockers caught hell from both sides of the pulpit. TV evangelist turned weeping john Jimmy Swaggart questioned their motives for throwing Bibles into the audience after shows, while audiences questioned what passage in Stryper's Bibles told 'em to dress up like bumblebees from hell.

Twisted Sister--This Long Island hair band made a strong argument for locking up both Daddy's liquor cabinet and Mommy's makeup mirror. But then again, if you've ever seen how Long Island girls tease their hair and apply makeup with the same finesse Jackson Pollock threw paint on a canvas, then you know Dee Snider and company were just calling it as they saw it.

The Undertakers--Far from burying the competition, this Liverpool group was overtaken by every loser band the British Invasion could muster in 1964. Kids the world over simply didn't dig the band's macabre mortician outfits. Fortunately, the group could unload its coffin collection on the Count Five.

Village People--Second only to KISS in gimmick bands that struck it rich, these fellows managed to hoodwink Middle America into believing the Village People were only interested in a good meal and a hearty workout at the YMCA. Most of the characters in this group could pass for happy community helpers--the brave cop, the sturdy construction worker, the faithful Indian scout. But not leather man, who tried to tone down his S&M-bondage look with "Have a Nice Day" buttons.

The Young Rascals--The greatest practitioners of "blue-eyed soul" may have taken their Italo-American roots too far by adopting the Little Lord Fauntleroy suits and matching Florsheim shoes of Roman Catholic grammar school inmates. When the guys dropped acid and the "Young" prefix in 1967, they thankfully burned their britches behind them.

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