Personally, it’s been the “One Bad Album” rule. That’s all it takes for a band’s musical reputation to be asterisked forever, which makes getting a tattoo of that band, well, risky. You have to wonder how often thirty-somethings across the land hear “Nice Chi’ Peps tat, brah,” sarcastically said to them by a stranger, regarding the ink they received during a black-out trip to a Daytona Beach tattoo parlor during Spring Break ’92.
That scenario will and should keep anybody from getting tattooed with the logo (or, God forbid, lead singer’s face) on their skin for the rest of their life. But it won’t faze those fans who wear their ink as a badge of honor.
It’s true, some bands inspire tattoos more than others — evidenced by the utter lack of Third Eye Blind tattoos. Here, based on highly scientific research conducted in bars, dimly lit clubs and arena parking lots, are the twenty bands that most inspire tattoos among their fans:
20. The Rolling Stones With the median age of the Stones’ largest fan group inching toward the seventies, the number of tattoos by Stones fans is significantly smaller than say, ICP fans. But like the band’s music, Rolling Stones tattoos are kind of timeless, which puts them at Number 20 on our list.
19. The Descendents Many of the bands on this list seem to come from the punk scene, which is explained by a few things: 1) The age of that scene’s fans (maxes out at about 55), and 2) the rebellious nature, an attitude that tattoos have been sleeping with since before Joey Ramone first copped dope. The Descendents’ iconic “Milo” logo — or a personalized variation of it — has been spotted on forearms from coast to coast since the mid-’80s, when the band really came into popularity. The band’s resurgence and reunion tours only helped keep the tattoo guns buzzing.
18. Hot Water Music The fire-over-water logo is another symbol frequently spotted around rock shows. Like all the bands on this list, Hot Water Music inspires a dedicated — cult, even? — following among its fans, inspiring new bands that sound like HWM and a hot sea of tattoos.
17. Led Zeppelin The original heavy-metal band (debate below in the comments), Led Zeppelin’s rumored dabbling in the occult only helped its cult status among fans. Also, Led Zep has so many cool logos (see above), there are plenty to choose from if you’re looking to make a statement about your outlook on life, as well as your favorite choice in music. Also, the fact they they hardly released a bad record, or even song, makes a Zeppelin tattoo a safe bet. An Alison Krauss and Robert Plant tattoo? Not so much.
16. Type O Negative Longevity and a commitment to a particular sound — usually based around a solid lineup — plus an iconic logo will result in more than a few tattoos. That’s the case with Brooklyn-founded Type O Negative, started by the late, great Peter Steele (RIP). Any big metal show in the country should include a few Type O tattoos; if it doesn’t, you might want to question your taste in mainstream metal, because as that style goes, it’s hard to top Type O.
15. KISS Paradoxically standing in both cult territory and a state filled with grossly commercial success, KISS was Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga, Madonna before Madonna or Metallica before Metallica. Hell, they practically coined the term “army” after their name. As such, members of the KISS Army march forward, led by their vile general, Gene Simmons. If these fans are going to go out in public dressed like Peter Criss, then getting inked for the good of the Army is pretty easy. You don’t see too many KISS tattoos these days, but the ones you do see are usually huge. Because with KISS, you don’t do anything small.
14. Alkaline Trio The sons and daughters of KISS fans may scoff at their elders’ ink while confidently looking at their own band tattoo. That tattoo is often the logo of Chicago-based second-wave emo punks Alkaline Trio. The skull-in-heart logo has been put on stickers, shirts and record covers, and extended to skin. It’s iconic and deep — love and death and all that.
13. Operation Ivy With the popularity of Bay Area punks Rancid in the mid-’90s came renewed interest in Operation Ivy, a band that had two members of Rancid. In comparison with early Rancid material, Op Ivy songs, while less structured and raw, resonated with fans of the sound. The political “message songs” only compelled fans to get tattoos of the band.
12. Radiohead Radiohead has a cult following, but the band’s introverted style isn’t one that always jibes with the run-out-and-get-tattooed crowd. Still, you’ll spot a Radiohead tattoo at mainstream music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, and on undergrads at college campuses, of course, who just downloaded The Bends and whose minds have changed forever — or at least for a semester.
11. Phish Phish’s heyday in the late ’90s was a time when you could spot a Phish tattoo on any guy or girl involved in a sweaty, quick-moving game of hacky-sack. It was a time of small, inconspicuous — cute, even — tattoos, when rainbow-colored dolphins swimming around a full moon were also everywhere. There’s no need to explore the dedication of fans who live by the music of Trey Anastasio and Co. This is Denver, after all. Phish tattoos today are tougher to spot in certain areas of the country, but still exist in the wild.
10. Red Hot Chili Peppers Yes, the Chi’ Peps. A timeless band, forever hip, forever cool among early twenty-somethings. RHCP is in a select group with bands like Rage Against the Machine and 311, who will be as omnipresent in college dorm rooms as Scarface posters. But like Phish, their stock is dwindling as the growth of new fans slows and gives way to dubstep and the neo-folk of bands like My Morning Jacket. The kinship it shares with other bands on this list is getting that RHCP star logo on your wrist or shoulder blade at one point meant a few things: You were easygoing, a free thinker and prone to getting funky.
9. Misfits Probably the cult punk band in terms of size of the fan base. While the Misfits have sold truckloads of merch over the last thirty years (even bringing their own screens on tour in the early days to screenprint the iconic Crimson Ghost logo on leather jackets), the Misfits tattoo has been spotted on frontmen of bands punk and metal, and on fans of all styles.
8. Slayer The eyebrow-raising imagery in Slayer lyrics and its artwork brought up conversations about the band’s social leanings (read: Third Reich), which is enough to make some folks run out and get a tattoo right away. But the real reason you see so many Slayer tattoos? The innovative thrashing that Slayer put down on records like Reign in Blood and Hell Awaits. The simplicity of the name and, again, that army-style logo, helps. Finally, listening to the wail of singer Tom Araya during the opening of “Angel of Death” alone may be enough. That’s probably the best thing to say, that you like the singer’s voice. Just avoid the controversy.
7. Green Day Most often spotted was the original logo as seen on the Kerplunk record, but as of late — a new generation of fans, perhaps — is the American Idiot heart-shaped grenade. Green Day fans of the American Idiot era who were sixteen in 2004 are now 22, prime age for getting a tattoo, according to Pew.
6. Motörhead “Lemmy is God.” That line is the most-remembered thing (not just line, but thing) about the movie Airheads, and with good reason. The frontman of Motörhead is badass incarnate, and Motörhead hasn’t fucked with the formula of New Wave British Heavy Metal much since forming in 1975. Getting a Motörhead tattoo is a safe bet, and Lemmy’s lyrics about the grimy universe in which Motörhead resides ooze attitude — another reason you see so many Motörhead tattoos.
5. Sublime The death of singer Bradley Nowell in May 1996 — just a month before the band’s incredible self-titled third album was released — made Sublime a cult band before they made it big. The California lifestyle espoused by Nowell — surfing, pot and politics — on Sublime records mushroomed into a lifestyle for teens in the South, in Middle America and on the East Coast. There was zero chance of the band putting out a bad album.
4. Social Distortion SoCal punk rockers/outlaws/proud scumbags Social Distortion have the key tattoo elements going for them: iconic logo, lifestyle lyrics and a kinship among fans. At any given Social D show, you’ll spot at least a dozen tattoos of the long-running band.
3. Insane Clown Posse Since going to a major label in 1995, ICP and its growing army of Juggalos with Hatchet Man tattoos is this era’s best example of a musical group with a cult following. By just showing off your hatchet-man tattoo, you’re accepted into the largest gang of self-described outcasts, the Juggalos. You could write an entire magazine story on being a Juggalo, but we’re going to move on, because others have already done it.
2. Black Flag Probably the most famous punk-oriented tattoo, the Black Flag bars were first and most famously sported by the band’s most popular — if not best — lead singer, Henry Rollins. Since that tattoo was worn on flimsy club stages across America in the ’80s, the Black Flag bars have been customized by fans, filled with the colors of a city’s flag, surrounded by other artwork and even sported by Academy Award nominees.
1. Iron Maiden Perhaps the most iconic metal band if only for its iconic Eddie character, Iron Maiden’s rise to fame in the ’80s — and again this decade — shows that its fans are loyal at both the record store and in the tattoo parlor.