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The 10 most infamous rock 'n' roll moments of all time

Today in 1967, rock’s most infamous moment is said to have occurred. At his 21st birthday party, hosted at a Holiday Inn in Flint, Michigan, the Who’s drummer, Keith Moon, is said to have driven a Lincoln Continental into the hotel swimming pool. Moon was a man whose ludicrous off-stage antics that has subsequently cemented his name into the annals of pop culture history ad infinitum. Unfortunately, Moon died prematurely at just 32 years old. However, his life was comprised of many of these sorts of unhinged yet iconic occurrences. 

Yes, you may be steadfast in passing this anecdote off as apocryphal, as many have cast doubt on this anecdote since Moon first recounted it in Rolling Stone back in 1972, but what cannot be dismissed is its importance. Since it first entered the canon of rock ‘n’ roll history, the story has been vital in demonstrating the “golden” era of rock and roll’s excesses and in providing a somewhat allegorical angle of how-to and how not to live. 

It isn’t just the symbolic element of the Lincoln Continental submerging in the pool, but everything else that is said to have happened on that fateful evening back in 1967. Whilst at this juncture, it is essential to note that society has changed markedly since those excessive days of the ‘British Invasion’ and that the antics by Moon and Co. were really the first and last of their kind. Yes, the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s saw their own unique forms of excess, but nothing on the scale of the ’60s has been matched. As with society, the laws have changed. Moon and his boundary-pushing contemporaries pushed the law to its limits. This would also be a perfect opportunity to state the obvious: don’t try any of what is to follow at home.

Moon’s 21st birthday party was hellish, to say the least. After The Who had played a show at the nearby Atwood Stadium, they returned to their hotel. Before too long, Moon had started a food fight, and cake was flying in every direction. Things got so hectic, Moon knocked out his front tooth, a fight erupted, and fire extinguishers were sprayed everywhere. This wasn’t all, though. Objects and guests were thrown into the swimming pool, and the list of these water clogged casualties is said to have included a piano. 

The scene was so out of control that the police turned out with guns drawn. This promptly put an end to Moon’s apocalyptic birthday celebrations. The enraged Holiday Inn management presented The Who with a bill of $24,000 for damages. It was also later claimed by guitarist Pete Townshend that the Who were banned from all of the hotel chain’s properties for life. 

The anniversary of this fateful day got us thinking. What are the ten most infamous rock moments of all time, regardless of their mythic status? Don’t blame us; rock music has built itself an opaque history over the years owing to mountains of discourse and hearsay. We reiterate, please don’t try any of these at home. 

The 10 craziest moments in rock music history:

The Beatles are “more popular” than Jesus

In March 1966, the Beatles frontman John Lennon caused then the biggest stir that had ever been made in music history. He offended the entire older generation with a quip he made in the Evening Standard regarding the church and the Beatles. In possibly the most rock ‘n’ roll statement of all time, he opined that: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink.” 

Lennon didn’t stop there, however. Whilst the above comment actually displayed some degree of foresight, the one that got everyone’s knickers in a twist was that Lennon claimed that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. This is one of Lennon’s most memorable quotes as the furore that ensued was considerable. Of course, the righteous of the world were calling for Lennon and the band’s heads, and it even lead to a lifetime ban of Lennon’s records in apartheid-era South Africa.

Johnny Rotten calls out Jimmy Saville on air

Johnny Rotten is no stranger to infamy. As the snotty, yet incredibly perceptive frontman of British punk icons The Sex Pistols, Rotten gave the world some of its finest punk tunes and moments to boot. Totally anti-establishment in his younger days, coloured by the faux-nihilism of the original punk wave, Rotten’s early career is full of instances in which he caused offence to the notoriously straight-laced masses of 1970s Britain.

Whether that be the lyrical content of the iconic 1977 single ‘God Save The Queen‘, or swearing live on TV, Rotten and Co. blew the doors off of the deeply-entrenched social mores. However, one lesser-known moment, but arguably his most infamous, came in 1978, when he was fronting his post-Pistols outfit, Public Image Ltd. 

On a 2015 TV appearance on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, Rotten revealed that he had been personally banned by the BBC in 1978, for calling out the depravity of Britains most infamous sex-criminal and paedophile, Jimmy Saville, who at the time worked for the BBC. Let that sink in. 

Nirvana on Top of the Pops

One of rock music’s most hilarious yet equally infamous moments came in 1991 as grunge legends Nirvana hit the big time with the release of smash-hit single ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the game-changing album, Nevermind. In the wake of the single’s unprecedented success, the Seattle trio were invited to perform on British music’s most hallowed TV show, Top of the Pops (TOTP). The thing about TOTP was that acts didn’t play live. They either lip-synced or played to a prerecorded backing track. Weird, yes, but that’s the way it was. 

Anyway, what ensued is one of the most bizarre, yet iconic moments from all of rock history. Always ones for sticking it to the man, Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl did their best effort of showing the medium up for what it was; a farce. Frontman Cobain sings in a low, modulated octave, imitating Morrissey from The Smiths. He even tries to ingest his microphone at one point. Most infamously, he changed the iconic opening line of “load up on guns, bring your friends” to “load up on drugs, kill your friends.” Cobain was supported by drummer Grohl dancing rather than drumming, and Novoselic swinging his bass above his head.

Either way, this surreal, nihilistic approach was lapped up by the rabid audience, who absolutely blow the roof off. 

Woodstock ’99

The official logline for the new HBO series, Woodstock 99: Love, Peace and Rage, reads: “Woodstock ’99, a three-day music festival promoted to echo unity and counterculture idealism of the original 1969 concert, but instead devolved into riots, looting and sexual assaults.” These three lines sum the notorious weekend up perfectly. A weekend of carnage, featuring the worst elements of humanity, Woodstock ’99 has gone down in history as a total disaster.

Whilst it featured some memorable performances by the likes of Korn, The Offspring and Moby to name but a few. What ensued under the baking hot sun overshadowed this and can only be regarded as the antithesis of the iconic 1969 Woodstock. Encapsulated by the White, V-necked bro-metal of Limp Bizkit, the event showed the worst of white male privilege. Sexual abuse and wanton destruction took place over the weekend, and shameful is the best adjective for it. 

Tony Iommi sets Bill Ward on fire

Black Sabbath’s iconic axeman has always been known as a joker. In the fast times of the group’s early success, his prank’s became so severe that they nearly ended up in the death of a bandmate. This particular malpractice was concerned with setting people ablaze.

“It was our party piece,” Iommi confirmed to The Guardian in 2016 about setting people on fire, “Which always worked until the last time we did it.” The final time took place as Martin Birch looked on, the producer who was already a little cautious of working with the disreputable band.

Iommi remembers: “Bill says – in front of Martin – ‘Are you going to set fire to me then, Tony?’ I tipped rubbing alcohol over him. Normally it just burned off, but this time it soaked into his clothes, so when I lit it, he went up like a bomb. He was rolling on the floor, shouting and screaming. I thought it was part of the joke, so I poured more stuff on him. Martin couldn’t believe it. We had to get an ambulance for Bill.”

Adding: “He’d got third-degree burns. I felt bloody awful. We still play jokes on each other. Not quite as severe as that. I learned my lesson.”

Keith Richards burning the Playboy Mansion

The incident in question took place in 1972, a time whilst the Rolling Stones were on their infamous tour of North America that saw the group cause a torrent of chaos in every town they visited.

The Stones performed three shows in Chicago at the International Amphitheatre. Upon their arrival, where else would the sexiest rock act on the planet take their rest apart from Hugh Heffner’s original Playboy Mansion?

In his autobiography, Richards came clean about the scandalous stay at the party house and explained how he nearly made the whole mansion erupt into flames. “(Saxophonist) Bobby (Keys) and I played it a little far when we set fire to the bathroom,” he noted. “Well, we didn’t, the dope did. Not our fault. Bobby and I were just sitting in the john, comfortable, nice john, sitting on the floor, and we’ve got the doc’s bag, and we’re just smorgasbording.”

Richards then disclosed further detail: “‘I wonder what these do?’ Bong. And at a certain point… talk about hazy, or foggy, Bobby says, ‘It’s smoky in here.’ And I’m looking at Bobby and can’t see him. And the drapes are smouldering away; everything was just about to go off big-time… There was a thumping on the door, waiters and guys in black suits bringing buckets of water. They get the door open, and we’re sitting on the floor, our pupils very pinned. I said, ‘We could have done that ourselves. How dare you burst in on our private affair?'”

John Bonham Chateau Marmont

Iconic Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont, located on Sunset Boulevard, first opened its glamorous doors in 1929. Ever since then, it has welcomed some of history’s most famous stars, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hunter S. Thompson. Tragically, Blues Brother John Belushi overdosed whilst staying there in 1982.

However, its most notorious occurrence came at the hands of late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. It is said that the percussionist rode a Harley Davidson motorbike through the hotel’s lobby at the start of a string of such events at the Continental Hyatt House Hotel and the Andaz West Hollywood. The iconic drummer destroyed the carpet of the hotel lobby. However, the hotel kept it in the state he left it to mark his legacy after his death in 1980. Sadly, when Andre Balazs purchased the hotel in 1990, he would replace the Bonham tire marks.

GG Allin 

Just one of many notorious GG Allin incidents, it was hard to pick a winner.

The late GG Allin was labelled “the toughest rockstar in the world”, and has gone down in history as one of the most shocking performers of all time. He claimed to have been arrested over 50 times. However, the most notorious instance came a year before his death in February 1992. This arrest followed a show his band the Murder Junkies had played at Austin’s Cavity Club.

In keeping with his shtick, the spectacle soon descended into madness. Not long after hurtling into their set, the vocalist was naked, covered in a mix of his own blood and faeces. Austin’s boys in blue were called to the scene. One policeman filed a report after witnessing punters “running away from the stage gasping and covering their faces.” Another unlucky crowd member gave a statement claiming that “the band member that was nude threw faeces…striking him (in) the head.”

Amidst the faecal furore, Allin was sent to a nearby hospital to be treated for a self-inflicted head wound. Quickly after being dischargedhe was arrested and deported to Michigan, where he was already wanted for violating parole on an assault charge.

Mayhem Church burnings

Is there anything more black metal than burning a historic church down? Maybe, killing your bandmate. However, the picture of some of Norway’s most historic places of worship engulfed in flames is hard to beat on a visually striking level. The early black metal scene of ’90s Norway had a particular penchant for sensationalism and misanthropic worldviews.

In a “retaliation” against Christianity in the country, members of the ‘Black Metal Inner Circle’ undertook a spate of arson. Between 1992 and 1995 over twenty churches were targeted. Featuring the likes of Varg Vikernes, Faust, Samoth and Gaahl, you’d be hardpressed to find any of Norway’s black metal pioneers who didn’t either take part in the burning’s or get arrested for them. Surprisingly, this was to be the tip of the iceberg for the satanic scene, as violence was a key part of the underground scene’s sentiment.

David Bowie and Dennis Hopper smuggling cocaine into a psych ward for Iggy Pop

The Stooges frontman, Iggy Pop, had been in the throes of drug addiction for quite some time come 1975. This resulted in him withdrawing from his friends and family, and by this time, in the middle of the decade, it had taken its toll. He found himself admitted to a psychiatric ward.
On his own, and missing his favourite narcotic, the white powder de jour, cocaine, Pop’s friends, the equally as out of hand David Bowie and Dennis Hopper, decided to lend him a helping hand.

Bowie and Hopper, the ’70s most famous cocaine users visited Pop at the facility stoned out their minds wearing spacesuits. Owing to the pair’s massive stardom, they made it in fairly quickly and presented Pop with a box of his white idol.

Bowie later recalled: “If I remember it right, it was me and Dennis Hopper. We trooped into the hospital with a load of drugs for (Iggy) him. This was very much a leave-your-drugs-at-the-door hospital. We were out of our minds, all of us. He wasn’t well; that’s all we knew. We thought we should bring him some drugs because he probably hadn’t had any for days.”

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