Heil, Heil, Rock-n-Roll. What’s with Brit Rockers and the Third Reich? Part One

Aug 18, 2013 | 10883 Views | 22 Comments

Betcha didn’t know that Adolf Hitler is on the cover of The Beatles’ most revered album.

sgt_pepper_hitler2That’s right. When art director Robert Fraser and designers Jann Haworth and Sir Peter Blake began working with the band to conceptualize the cover art for “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” they told each Beatle to compile a list of people they admired. Their idea was to create life size cardboard models of these characters and place them in the background, as an “audience” behind the Pepper band. The affable Ringo forfeited his choices to the others, who settled on such diverse characters as Shirley Temple, Carl Jung, and Lenny Bruce. The ever sardonic John Lennon suggested two historical figures bound to cause controversy: Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler. Excluding JC from the cover was a no-brainer: John’s 1966 “Beatles are bigger than Christ” remark had already caused enough of a brouhaha. But convincing him to forgo Hitler took some persuading. The designers went so far as to create and place a cardboard model of the Nazi leader on the set. A picture from a March 30, 1967, photo session clearly shows a non-uniformed Hitler standing to the right of hand-waving writer Stephen Crane. In fact, Der Führer remained in the final shot, unseen, hidden behind Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller, who stands directly behind Ringo.

What was John thinking? Sure, he loved black humor, but this clearly crossed the boundaries of satire. I guess the bigger question is: Why have so many British artists had a fascination with Hitler, with Nazi fashion and, in some cases, with fascist philosophy? It’s intrigued me for years. In this two-part article I’ll attempt to provide some insight — hopefully, without appearing to excuse, justify or make light of truly bad behavior.

jimmy_page_naziLet’s start with the Nazi uniform itself – one of the Third Reich’s greatest works of propaganda.  Its dashing look was designed to attract followers and instill fear in the enemy.  It conveyed German power, pride, and superiority.  Quite simply, it was a “bad ass” uniform. Perhaps that’s one reason so many British rock rebels have donned Nazi garb through the years. Or is there more to it than that? Were they merely mocking Hitler? According to journalist Nigel Farndale, in a column that appeared in the January 2005 issue of The Telegraph following the uproar over photos of Prince Harry in full Nazi regalia: “Dressing up as Nazis…belongs to a long British comedy tradition dating back to [British sitcoms] Dad’s Army, ‘Allo ‘Allo, and Fawlty Towers and, before them, to Charlie Chaplin.”

Oh, now I get it. Combine British tradition with mind-altering drugs and machismo posturing and you get stage-strutting rock stars sporting SS attire of all types. Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page Nazi-fied himself during at least one 1977 concert, wearing knee-high jack boots, black shirt and pants, a white scarf, sunglasses, and an SS officers cap, complete with the Nazi “death head” insignia. According to über-groupie Pamela Des Barres, who spent many a night with Page, his fetish extended beyond the stage; she said he liked to visit transvestite clubs dressed in full Nazi regalia.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 12.37.17 AMRolling Stones bad boy Keith Richards’ motto is “keep it dark,” and that philosophy applies to his fashion sense, as well. British blues singer Terry Reid described the guitarist’s attire following the wedding of Mick and Bianca Jagger in 1971: “By and by we could hear a clanking noise growing ever louder. It was coming down the corridor towards us. Clanking and rattling; very weird. All of a sudden it stopped right outside. The door swung open, and everyone did a double take. A man stood on the threshold. He was in full Nazi uniform. He seemed to be standing to attention, all SS tunic, with an Iron Cross or two dangling round his neck, and black jackboots. It was Keith.” Mr. Richards’ penchant for Nazi fashion began early: In 1965 he appeared with the Stones on the Ed Sullivan show, wearing a German Panzer Division tunic.

mick_swastikaEven the less rebellious Mick Jagger, now Sir Mick, was once spotted wearing a swastika t-shirt. But former Rolling Stone Brian Jones went much further. He loved to play dress-up and probably thought he looked quite fetching in his form-fitting Nazi garb.

Supposedly, his then-girlfriend, Italian-German actress Anita Pallenberg, persuaded him to don the uniform in 1966 for the cover of Danish magazine Børge. It’s worth noting that Anita was just as scary as many Nazis. It was probably her idea to have him crush the doll with his foot.

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In a January 1967 interview with music journalist Keith Altham, Brian defended himself, saying: “Really, I mean with all that long hair in a Nazi uniform, couldn’t people see that it was a satirical thing? How can anyone be offended when I’m on their side? I’m not a Nazi sympathizer.” Yet, sources say the long gone Jones slipped into his SS gear on more than one occasion. I can just picture him swooning over himself in the mirror.

But it was Who drummer Keith “the loon” Moon who played the Hitler role to the hilt, sometimes staying in character for days on end, according to his ex-wife Kim. He loved to visit pubs and restaurants decked out in full Nazi attire, often accompanied by sidekick Viv Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. The two created quite a disturbance with their alcohol-charged “heil Hitlering” and boot heel-clicking. In an extraordinary display of bad taste, he even paraded around London’s Jewish neighborhoods in the get-up.

Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 5.40.09 PMThere’s no evidence that Moon embraced Nazi ideals — or any ideals, for that matter. Booze-related delirium turned him into a class clown gone berserk. He was convinced an Indian couple, a Mr. and Mrs. Singh, was living in his head, spurring his destructive behavior. Whether or not they commanded him to dress like Hitler, we’ll never know. He died from his excesses in 1978.

And then there’s Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister. With his mutton chops and saggy mole-ridden face, he would never be considered a man of vanity (I mean, it would take a dermatologist exactly 2 minutes to remove those marble-sized moles). Yet, when it comes to clothing and accessories, he values “the look” as much as any performer.

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 9.30.09 PMSays Lemmy, “From the beginning of time, the bad guys always had the best uniforms. Napoleon, the Confederates, the Nazis. They all had killer uniforms. I mean, the SS uniform is f…king brilliant! They were the rock stars of that time.” Hmmm. Despite the fact that he collects Nazi memorabilia, has an Iron Cross encrusted on his bass guitar, and frequently dons a Nazi cap (for which he was almost arrested in Germany, which forbids the wearing of Third Reich items), he maintains that he is “anti-communism, fascism, any extreme.” He says he collects Nazi paraphernalia as “a safety valve to stop that form of government ever existing again.” Okay, whatever. It’s still tasteless. I would bet my life that American rednecks do not display confederate flags as a “safety valve” against slavery ever existing again.

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 5.45.05 PMIn the mid-1970s, Third Reich symbols became part of the uniform of the burgeoning punk rock movement. You can put some of the blame on designer and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. Imagine, a bar mitzvahed boy who spent 6 years in a private Jewish school churning out Nazi-inspired fashion! His Jewish grandmother told him, “to be bad is good, and to be good is boring.” He and his partner, now-Dame Vivienne Westwood, sold items such as swastika-embellished clothing, SS handkerchiefs, and Gestapo buddy rings in their shop called Sex. Westwood said they aimed to de-mystify the swastika. That subtle concept was lost on the likes of headline-grabbing Sex Pistols Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, who loved Nazi gear.

Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 12.56.55 AMMost disturbingly, the Pistols released two tasteless songs that referenced an infamous Nazi concentration camp: “Belsen is a Gas,” and “Holidays in the Sun” (I don’t wanna holiday in the sun / I wanna go to the new Belsen / I wanna see some history). In a January 25, 2005, article for The Telegraph, journalist Nigel Farndale asked former Pistols guitarist Steve Jones to explain the band’s thinking with regards to Nazi imagery. Jones replied, “We weren’t finking [he means thinking] at all. It just seemed like a good way of shocking people and having a laugh.” Seriously, who laughs at songs about concentration camps?

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 5.47.12 PMPunk rocker Siouxsie Sioux of The Banshees sums up the Nazi fascination this way: “It was an anti-mums and dads thing. We hated older people always harping on about Hitler – we showed him – and that smug pride. It was a way of watching someone like that go completely red-faced.” She goes on: “The culture around then, it was Monty Python, Basil Fawlty, Freddie Starr, The Producers’ Springtime For Hitler…And you know what? I have to be honest, but I do like the Nazi uniform. I shouldn’t say it, but I think it’s a very good-looking uniform…It’s almost like you feel like saying, ‘Aw, come on. Nazis — they’re brilliant.’ Political correctness becomes imprisoning. It’s very…what’s the word? It’s being very Nazi! It’s ironic, but this PC-ness is so f..cking fascist.” Now there’s a pretty convoluted take on freedom of expression.

joy_divisionJoy Division was another Nazi-conscious punk rock group from that era. The band’s name sprang from a 1955 novella called House of Dolls, by Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nur. (He used his prisoner number – Ka-tzetnik 135633 – in his pen name.) In his book he refers to concentration camp “Joy Divisions” (a fictitious name for actual camp brothels), in which Jewish women were kept as sex slaves for Nazi officers, guards, and favored prisoners. Supposedly, the band members’ fathers fought in World War II, and they wanted a name that referenced the audacity of the Holocaust. I fail to see the point. Furthermore, the band’s “An Ideal for Living” LP featured a drawing of a Hitler Youth member on the cover! Joy Division incited even more controversy when they renamed themselves “New Order,” a concept that was featured in Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Yet, band members maintained that they never had Nazi sympathies.

I do need to point out another type of punk rock that clearly was anti-Semitic, performed by neo-Nazis and white supremacist “skinheads” who proudly publicized their fascist fanaticism. These bands are so obscure and disgusting that their names aren’t worth mentioning. Even Jello Biafra, a man with the gall to name his punk band The Dead Kennedys, deplored these haters, penning a song with the title, ”Nazi Punks F..k Off!”  The Nazi skinhead punks were giving the so-called mainstream punks a bad name. Imagine that.

In part two we’ll take a look at three British A-listers who never donned Third Reich symbols, but – more disturbingly – voiced some mighty shocking views at the height of their fame.

The image below is a painting by the late artist Guy Peellaert, from Rock Dreams, the book he co-published with rock journalist Nik Cohn. It presents a series of fantasy pictures of popular rock bands and artists – often portrayed at their imaginary worst. This depiction of the Rolling Stones was probably inspired by Brian Jones’s Nazi portrait. It is NOT meant to imply that the Stones were Third Reich followers or pedophiles.  As offensive as it is, I’m including it because it’s such a powerful statement of how one artist perceived rebellion and decadence run amok.








Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 9.29.11 AM“Heil, Heil, Rock-n-Roll. What’s With Brit Rockers and the Third Reich. Part Two. Click here.



© Dana Spiardi, Aug 19, 2013





  1. Rockin Janey Mac says:

    August 20th, 2013 at 4:15 pm (#)

    Hitler damaged the whole nation’s collective unconscious. Stockholm Syndrome manifesting through multiple generations. A diagnosis from Dr. Janey Mac.

  2. Daniel Margolick says:

    April 24th, 2015 at 7:12 pm (#)

    WOW! That painting has to be in the worst taste I’ve seen in a long time. Combining Nazism with child porn really hits a new low. I’d be PISSED if I were a member of the Stones, and probably sue the artist. Another Robert Maplethorpe.

  3. LINDA says:

    May 9th, 2016 at 8:52 am (#)

    Around 1980 I visited a NYC apartment owned or rented for him and his roadies. It was more like a crash pad, with mattresses and guitars strewn about. But I saw two things I remember. A snapshot of a young Jade Jagger. And a real Nazi photo album. The photos were affixed onto
    black pages, and captions were in German in white ink.

  4. Doober says:

    February 18th, 2017 at 11:35 pm (#)

    try again – I suspect John actually admired Hitler for real. He had the frequency to suspect that you can’t believe absolutely everything you’re own society tells you about its enemies. It surfaced in the subconscious minds of artists quite regularly, particularly in the UK.

  5. Dana Spiardi says:

    February 19th, 2017 at 3:23 pm (#)

    Thanks for your comment, Doober. I agree. He’s the man who proclaimed “gimme me some truth.” He searched for it all his life. I love John, but it’s important to remember that the Lennon we have come to associate with “give peace a chance” and “all you need is love” differed greatly from the Lennon of slightly earlier times, when the “angry young man” inside him often mocked people who were different (such as gays and the handicapped). John was a man of many contradictions. And that’s okay. You know what Emerson said: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

  6. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 6:23 am (#)

    What’s with brit rockers and the third reich? Is because it’s cool that’s why!

  7. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 6:30 am (#)

    You said: “Westwood said they aimed to de-mystify the swastika.” How and in what way?

  8. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 6:32 am (#)

    You know Karl Marx was on the album cover of Beatle’s Sgt. Pepper too and he murdered way more people than Hitler ever did. (Through his ideology, not physically of course.)

  9. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 6:59 am (#)

    One more thing. In regards to the “Destroy” t-shirt that Vivienne And Malcolm designed, it was not pro-Nazi or whatever. It was recognised as a dismissmal and to destroy all 3 subjects. It was meant to destroy, religion, politics and authority. 1: The Queen (her head is cut off) 2: The Christ (hanging upside down) and 3: The Nazi’s. Now let me explain. The Nazi symbol is in a day-glo colour, it’s not it’s usual Black Red and White background, it looks homosexual like, basically everything that the Nazi’s were against. Therefore the Destroy word is destroying 3 things, The Queen, Christ AND the Nazis, it’s NOT a pro-Nazi t-shirt… at all!

  10. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 7:19 am (#)

    So yeah, so if anything that Destroy t-shirt is ANTI-Nazi!

  11. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 13th, 2017 at 8:09 pm (#)

    Ha ha the reason why the 6th comment is still awaiting moderation is because you don’t know that I’m joking or not. Do you!?! Ha ha!

  12. Dana Spiardi says:

    June 14th, 2017 at 1:18 pm (#)

    Dear Rotten Poppa, I really don’t care about your agenda, but I’m all for freedom on speech, so here you go. Thanks for reading my articles.

  13. Sickle And Hammer says:

    June 15th, 2017 at 5:31 am (#)

    What agenda? I don’t have an agenda, do I?

  14. zenlo says:

    August 5th, 2017 at 5:35 pm (#)

    Does anybody knows the address and even the name of the shop in London that Jimmy Page ran in the 70’s selling Nazi regalia.Many thanks

  15. Dana Spiardi says:

    August 7th, 2017 at 2:55 am (#)

    Jimmy owned a shop called Equinox, located at 4 Holland Street, Kensington, London. Here’s a link to more info. Thanks for reading my article, Zenlo. http://www.shadyoldlady.com/location.php?loc=2645

  16. Zenlo says:

    August 7th, 2017 at 6:20 am (#)

    Oh yes, suddenly that rang a bell and I remember distinctly.And again there’s another famous ‘music person’very friend of Jimmy and I know he ran a nazi regalia’s too, raided by the police many years ago. I am talking’ of the fantastic and immensely powerful singer Chris Farlowe, that out of blue I met last Friday at the fortnight record fair in Spitalfield.Be patient…. the location and all details of that will be fully appreciated.A huge thanks

  17. Karl says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 8:42 pm (#)

    You published my e-mail!! But that’s not why I am here. I’m here to discuss Paul Simonon of the left-wing / socialist Clash fame. Everyone seems to forget that Paul also wore Third Reich gear (see here for evidence: 451 best THE CLASH images on Pinterest | Music, Books and Celebrities pinterest.co.uk370 × 550Search by image this is PUNK ROCK !) but no one says “boo” about that especially his Jewish manager Bernard Rhodes. Yet Bernie wouldn’t let other british punks play on stage if they wore Nazi regalia. Double standard much? Why does one person get the right of way whilst the other does not. AND HE WAS BRITISH too!!!

  18. Dana Spiardi says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 8:54 pm (#)

    Well, Karl, it just goes to show that most people are hypocrites in one way or another. Thanks for sharing that.

  19. Karl says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 10:50 pm (#)

    Also one more thing this is called what’s with brith rockers and the reich. BUT! What about Americans they are/were also fascinated with wearing nazi garb and regalia and swastikas also!
    Here’s 10 I can already name off the top off my head:
    1: Probably the most saddest and weirdest is singer and musician Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of Grateful Dead fame. It’s so sad and disappointing. They were supposed to be a peace loving band. So sad.
    2: Johnny Thunders of New York Dolls fame again total disappointment and sadness. The thing
    that pisses me off the most is that he was brought up Roman Catholic and his Sicilian Mother always told him to be a good boy. Don’t think she would have thought he was good when he was wearing a swastika on stage.
    3: Dee Dee Ramone from you know who…
    4: Ron Asheton of The Stooges fame
    5: Ace Frehley of Kiss
    6: Peter Criss again of Kiss
    7: Jeff Hanneman of Slayer and his Father fought against the Nazis in WWII and his Father was German.
    8: Marilyn Manson now this is debatable whilst he has fascination with Nazis and Hitler and anything Third Reich and wears uniforms that resemble Nazism garb etc, etc. I don’t know if it’s official. (See here: Degenerate Art” | Marilyn Manson & Nazism – The NACHTKABARETT
    Nachtkabarett250 × 360Search by image
    Adolf Eichmann head of the Gestapo department for Jewish affairs & Manson with SS visor cap, minus the Nazi regalia.) Could be, don’t know.
    9: Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver. I know I should not speak ill of the dead but I hated him for wearing Nazi shit!
    10: And Glenn Danzig of Misfits and Danzig fame wears an Iron Cross
    There is probably heaps more like the AMERICAN punk band from the 70’s the Dead Boys for example but… My point is please just don’t blame the Brits for wearing the “Reich” stuff. Terrible joke. I know. Anyway… Goodnight and peace!

  20. Dana Spiardi says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 11:19 pm (#)

    That’s all very interesting. Thanks so much for the history lesson. I focused on the Brits because I always felt I knew more about U.K. artists than American artists, having been weened on the Beatles, Stones, Cream, Faces, et al, from the earliest days. I recall reading Creem and Circus magazines as a youth, and seeing so many photos of Moonie and Lord Brian in their snazzy regalia. I detected a trend, and then I started to dig a bit deeper, and found the comments made by Clapton and Bowie (both drunk and/or coked out of their minds at that time) in the mid-70s. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know all that much about British OR American rock musicians, post 1985. So, the info you provided on Slayer, Manson, Weiland, and others is most welcome. I honestly think that the Nazi dressers Page, Moon, and Richards were merely acting out, trying to be funny, or look tough. The punks’ main purpose was to shock and thumb their noses at everybody. Again, there’s a lot of hypocrisy everywhere. Speaking of Pigpin, one of my favorite lines about the flower-power peace-love movement is from the Grateful Dead: “Most of the cats that you meet on the streets speak of true love / most of the time they’re sittin’ and cryin’ at home.” Thanks so much for reading my blog, Comrade Karl.

  21. Karl says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 11:04 pm (#)

    Oo. One more American person just before i say nighty-night again. Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fame. AMERICAN. It’s not just the Brits. 🙂 Goodnight. My point to all this is I’m Australian and have British ancestry and I hate reading that Brits get a bad rep just for wearing something that’s offensive and inexcusable like other nations do too. Peace!

  22. Dana Spiardi says:

    January 19th, 2018 at 11:28 pm (#)

    Yes, I totally see your point. Thank you again for pointing out all those artists. I strive to make my blog entertaining AND a bit educational. I would have never even thought to research the trend among American musicians, but it’s so obvious that the wearing of Nazi garb is NOT isolated to a particular country or group of people.

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