Psychobilly music takes the most maniacal aspects of punk and rockabilly and fuses them to create one of the most exciting types of modern rock music. The genre’s best bands are by no means global stars, but they’re heroes of underground rock.
I find that psychobilly echoes the qualities of early rock n’ roll, getting rid of all unnecessary frills. And, besides, it’s hard not to fall for the shlocky, retro horror style these musicians promote.
Part carnival ride, part demon-paced rock machine, these bands deserve recognition. That’s why today I am ranking down the 10 best psychobilly groups of all time.
Top 10 Best Psychobilly Bands
10. Guana Batz
What Guana Batz lacked in ability, they more than made up in excitement. Since its formation in 1982, the English group has been one of the most exciting live propositions in the growing psychobilly movement. They’re one of the premier bands to take the 50s rockabilly dress, fashion and sound and give it a punk edge.
Guana Batz has disbanded a few times over the years. But this psychobilly unit has always come back and managed to release a number of successful studio albums, such as their debut “Held Down to Vinyl… At Last”. Psychobillies still sing their praises.
9. The Creepshow
Psychobilly has always been a visually stimulating experience. Modern groups in the genre have taken advantage of this. Canada’s The Creepshow, Zombie Ghost Train or Koffin Cat, are one of the most successful groups at doing exactly this.
The band’s videos have racked up millions of views online. This has helped the band tour extensively across Europe and North America. They have the art and the fashion of horror punk and psychobilly all figured out.
Their most recent horror-inspired album, “Death at My Door,” was released in 2017.
8. Mad Sin
Mad Sin was a band that believed in the greatness of The Cramps and The Meteors when others ignored it.
Formed in Germany in 1987, their albums and live shows acted as ambassadors for the psychobilly movement across continental Europe. (Netherlands’ Batmobile also deserve credit for spreading the gospel of psychobilly across “the old continent” and, more recently, France’s Astro Zombies)
Their love of the style’s furious tempo, their rockabilly men hair do aka quiff and horror B-movies has never waned. Mad Sin has been going at it for over a quarter of a century and have released 12 studio albums.
Psychobilly works in the same way that genre movies do. The great ones know how to rely on the style’s most emblematic characteristics. Nekromantix play up the genre’s best-known markers. But their commitment has made them one of psychobilly’s biggest bands.
Yes, Nekromantix’s discography includes an eight-studio album run at present. However, integral to Nekromantix’s live touring success is the band’s image. This includes a double-bass dubbed “coffinbass,” pompadour haircuts, and all-black clothing. Everyday people they are not these psychobilly musicians.
The band has been going since 1989. They’ve released records on Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat Records. In recent years, especially, they’ve earned considerable support online for songs like “Gargoyles Over Copenhagen.” Their shows earned the reputation as veritable psychobilly meeting spots.
6. Tiger Army
Tiger Army are another of the few psychobilly bands that have crossed into the mainstream. They’ve done it on the back of excellent songs, relentless touring, and a helping hand from Jerry Finn.
Finn, who has worked with the likes of blink-182 and The Smiths‘ Morrissey, worked on their album “Music from Regions Beyond.” It became an unexpected hit with the song “Forever Fades Away” even making it into the charts.
They’ve supported bands like Rancid, The Dropkick Murphys, and Social Distortion. Their discography and energy-filled live shows have made Tiger Army a favourite band for retro-rock fans and punks alike. And thus they’ve helped expose psychobilly to a brand new audience.
It takes a lot of effort to play in a psychobilly band. It involves great knowledge of the suitable sound and style. When it comes to these, few are more striking than Horrorpops.
The Danish group has one of the genre’s most recognizable characters in singer and bass player Patricia Day. So much so that there’s an action figure modelled on her likeness.
Since 2004’s album “Hell Yeah,” HorrorPops have successfully toured across Europe and the U.S.A. They’ve opened for bands like The Offspring and Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards. And they’re one of the modern psychobilly’s greatest groups.
4. The Meteors
The Cramps were shy about taking responsibility for the birth of psychobilly. The Meteors, on the other hand, had no such issues.
The Meteors were responsible for inspiring a host of similar horror and double-bass-loving bands across Great Britain. They declared themselves as apolitical, delved deep into their obsession for horror and gore, and their fans, The Wrecking Crew, may have invented slam dancing.
Most importantly, from the first day of activity, their work features the label “psychobilly.”
The Meteors are revered in the scene. But, in some ways, they were too weird even for psychobilly enthusiasts. This meant that they didn’t benefit commercially from the rise of psychobilly, cowpunk or swing and rockabilly revival during the 1990s.
That seems to have mattered little to the trio. They’ve released albums at a steady pace. They keep touring. And, bands like The Quakes, Coffin Nails, or Batmobile all owe a debt of gratitude to their work, as do psychobilly boys and girls the world over.
3. Demented Are Go
In a scene obsessed with gore and violence, Demented Are Go took the genre’s filth fascination to a new level.
It was hard to know how much of it was an act. Singer Mark “Sparky” Phillips’ creepy stage persona and gritty vocals only added to the mystique. In fact, you could well call Sparky’s take on the pompadour “the psychobilly haircut.”
The band’s debut, “In Sickness & In Health,” is one of psychobilly’s high watermarks. And, if anything, Demented Are Go have become more sinister with time, recording in recent years such albums as “Hellucifernation” and “Welcome Back to Insanity Hall.”
Sparky’s raspy singing was utilized to great effect on The Hillbilly Moon Explosion‘s hit “My Love for Evermore,” and he’s collaborated with other retro-tinged bands. In many ways, this was rockabilly music for a new generation.
But through it all, Demented Are Go’s legacy is that of one of psychobilly’s top bands, along with The Meteors or The Cramps.
2. The Reverend Horton Heat
The Reverend Horton Heat brought psychobilly into the alternative rock era. The Reverend wasn’t relying merely on gimmicks and timing either.
A mixture of excellent musicianship, clever writing, and dogged persistence is what made them, arguably, the most famous psychobilly group of the modern era.
Like many on our list, guitarist Jim Heath started out by playing a mix of country and rockabilly tunes to polite audiences. It was once that he revved things up and renamed himself, and his project, The Reverend Horton Heat, that he really found his calling.
The band was signed to Sub Pop, the label that had helped launch Seattle grunge into the world. The 1992 debut album, “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em,” with its dazzling guitar lines and songs written about all matters of dangerous or illegal hobbies, became an underground hit.
The trio that makes up Reverend Horton Heat have toured the frantically ever since. They’ve palled around with Lemmy Kilmister, The Butthole Surfers, and Ministry.
They’ve had “Psychobilly Freakout” be used in Guitar Hero, which turned it into an unofficial anthem for the genre. In fact, “Psychobilly Freakout” is as much associated with the style as the double-bass or a slick, custom Cadillac car.
And they’ve helped create numerous groups, like Hillbilly Hellcats, that whip out the Gretsch guitar and double-bass while worshipping at the Reverend’s feet.
1. The Cramps
The Cramps are the definitive psychobilly band despite reneging any association with the genre. Still, The Cramps are the one that each of the groups on my list has named as an influence and, most likely, has covered more than once.
In the early 1970s, singer Lux Interior and guitarist Poison Ivy were daredevil artists who had a novel idea of what rock music could be. Their group would bring the excitement of early live rock n’ roll shows and meld it with their shared obsession over gory horror movies, trailer trash jokes, and cheesy violence.
The Cramps was a band that immediately impacted the punk rock scene. But they were never fully embraced. Instead, they invariably helped create a scene of their own. It’s a scene in which The Cramps tattoos function as insignia, and no Halloween party is complete without their music.
While their contemporaries, Misfits, helped birth horror-punk, The Cramps were responsible for psychobilly. The term itself had been used by Lux Interior, jokingly, in a bid to promote live shows. “Rockabilly voodoo” was another.
Most likely, he took the idea from Johnny Cash’s song “One Piece at a Time” in which the singer mentions driving a “psychobilly Cadillacx§
The Cramps, however, never sought to profit from the rise of bands like The Meteors or Demented Are Go, from 80s psychobilly. The Cramps never truly embraced the idea that they were a niche band.
Instead, The Cramps released many classic rock albums, including “Songs the Lord Taught Us” and “Stay Sick!” and were relentless about their pursuit of great sleaze-rock until Lux Interior’s sad passing in 2009.