July 30, 2021
The turbocharged twist on rockabilly enraptured 80s punks and rock’n’rollers – and alienated plenty more – with its food fights, ferocious club nights and phantasmagoria
Big quiffs, zombies and dead crows: the wild world of psychobilly
If you wanted to date the moment one of the biggest youth subcultures of 80s Britain arrived, you could pick 40 years ago this month, on 4 July 1981. That night, at the Marquee club in Soho, a few hundred kids gathered to watch a band who were almost singlehandedly kickstarting a new wave of alternative music. Waiting for them to come on, those fans launched into the song that served as their heroes’ unofficial theme, from David Lynch’s Eraserhead. “In heaven, everything is fine,” they sang. “You’ve got your good things, and I’ve got mine.” A few months later, that chorus opened, and gave its name to, the first LP by the Meteors. And as their frontman would later claim, “Only the Meteors are pure psychobilly.”
In time, psychobilly – a turbocharged twist on rockabilly, the country-enhanced variant on R&B that prefigured the classic rock’n’roll of the late 50s – would become codified. “My take on it would be a much more aggressive, loud approach to rockabilly that must include a double bass, modern lyrics – no cars, pinups or bubble gum – lots of graveyards, vampires, zombies, horror flick and death-influenced lyrics,” says Mark Harman of Restless, who came through the psychobilly scene in the early 80s. “Anything goes, really. Overdriven guitars and full rock drum kits, big quiffs, weird and wild clothing, makeup and props – blood and skeletons welcome. It should be fast and loud, exciting and fun.”
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