The 10 Most Outrageous Moments From MTV's Headbangers Ball
“It’s Headbangers Ball, so I thought I’d wear a gown,” Kurt Cobain deadpanned, referring to the banana-yellow ball gown he was wearing while being interviewed by MTV host Riki Rachtman.
The Nirvana singer-guitarist made his infamous appearance on Headbangers Ball, the cable channel’s heavy metal–themed show, on Oct. 25, 1991. It was a little more than a month after the release of the Seattle trio’s sophomore album, Nevermind.
Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic appeared on the show alongside Cobain, both seated on a well-worn couch. At one point during the interview, Novoselic noted one of the band’s goals as their buzz grew was to let mainstream listeners know “there’s more bands out there than just mainstream giant Harley-riding rock bands.” The bassist was referring to glam-metal acts like Mötley Crüe, who were a big part of Headbangers Ball, sure, but certainly not all the show played by any means.
On the 25th anniversary of Cobain’s yellow gown appearance, here’s a look at 10 outrageous and memorable moments from the great Headbangers Ball.
They call Kurt mellow yellow
Cobain’s Headbangers Ball gown featured a cartoonishly large collar. His eyes were hidden behind dark circular sunglasses, and he’d reportedly passed out earlier in the green room. Cobain spent most of the interview dazed and detached. While Cobain and Novoselic clearly weren’t too psyched about appearing on Headbangers Ball, Rachtman pulled off a solid interview. Rachtman said he thought Nevermind had a “heavier Replacements” sound to it (pretty damn accurate). He asked about the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video shoot, whether they’d played club gigs with Seattle acts Alice in Chain or Soundgarden, and their thoughts on the (somewhat) new genre description “grunge.” Novoselic did most of the talking, but one of Cobain’s few responses came after Rachtman asked what music Nirvana had been listening to lately, and Kurt name-checked Leadbelly, Bikini Kill, Breeders, Pixies, R.E.M. and The Melvins. Neither Cobain nor Novoselic looked too impressed to learn “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was Headbangers Ball’s “Number Five Skull Crusher” before Rachtman played the clip.
Guns N’ Roses trash the place
Guns N’ Roses hadn’t broken big yet when they appeared on Headbangers Ball in 1987. They were just a hungry young rock band appearing on the show to promote their debut LP, Appetite for Destruction. GNR had been getting a dangerous reputation within the music industry for a while, though. The Ball’s then-host Adam Smash asked the band about being known as “wackos” and their rep for blowing away the more established bands they’d been opening for. After the interview, Smash asked GNR to “redecorate” the Headbangers Ball set, and they trashed it like a bunch of stoned denim and leather zombies.
Before jumping out of an airplane during a 1991 Headbangers Ball episode, Megadeth mastermind Dave Mustaine looked into the camera and said, “Like to see Mark Slaughter try this.” Rachtman also skydived during the segment. A song about skydiving, “High Speed Dirt,” would appear on Megadeth’s next LP, 1992’s Countdown to Extinction. Rachtman, however, did not receive a co-write.
Head-banging with Motörhead
There’s a marvelously manic YouTube clip, believed to be from 1987, of Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister and "Philthy Animal" Taylor guest-hosting Headbangers Ball. Lemmy was a noted speed enthusiast, so there’s a decent chance that’s what’s fueling things here. After playing the music video for Ozzy Osbourne’s single “The Ultimate Sin,” the dastardly handsome young Lemmy recalls finding Osbourne “in hotel corridors with his trousers down around his ankles, with eyes tattooed on his bum.” Later, Taylor bangs his head with a metal dustpan. The musicians then announce a list of upcoming Motörhead tour dates at a preposterous, fast-forward velocity.
Alice in Chains and on a water slide
In 1993, Rachtman and grunge rockers Alice in Chains visited Vernon, N.J.’s, Action Park amusement park for a hilarious episode. Alice guitarist Jerry Cantrell is particularly a hoot. He sports a blue Speedo and answers interview questions either by talking through his snorkel or by barking and clapping his diving-fins-covered hands like a seal. Cantrell also does battle with Rachtman, who hosted Headbangers Ball from 1990 to 1995, in a wrestling ring where both men wore inflatable sumo suits.
A very Ozzy Christmas
Hey, why does Santa Claus have a pirate hook where his right band should be? Because metal wild man Ozzy Osbourne is the man behind the Santa beard and cap. Osbourne’s hot-shot guitarist Zakk Wylde also appears in the clip, which is accented with a skull-covered Christmas tree. Osbourne also sports caveman-feet shoes and brandishes a medieval club in the segment.
Ace’s forecast includes snow
Dramatically coifed Adam Curry hosted the Ball from 1988 to 1990. Curry had his hands full while interviewing Skid Row and Ace Frehley. Frehley announces he’s in a good mood due to an “incredible dose of snow.” The former KISS guitarist clarifies, tongue in cheek, that he’s referring to the music of singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow and not, you know, cocaine. Someone on-set eventually produces an acoustic guitar and Frehley leads Skid Row through a rowdy singalong of KISS classic “Cold Gin.”
Stone Temple Pilots go acoustic
Even if you think Stone Temple Pilots’ 1992 single “Plush” aped Pearl Jam, it’s hard not to be impressed by the acoustic version singer Scott Weiland and guitarist Dean DeLeo played on Headbangers Ball. Weiland delivers a soulful and stirring vocal. And stripped of the big electric guitars and drums, the song’s ragtime chords draw the listener in deeper.
Faster, Pussycat! Seal! Seal!
Classic-era Headbangers Ball ran from 1987 to 1995. Most fans think of Curry and Rachtman when they think of the show’s host, but oddball VJ Kevin Seal helmed the show in 1987 and 1988. In this clip, Seal interviews Faster Pussycat frontman Taime Downe and guitarist Greg Steele. The Sunset Strip sleaze-rockers talk about naming their band after Russ Meyer exploitation film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Meyer directing the video for Faster Pussycat’s “Don’t Change That Song.” After Seal inquires about the band’s other inspirations, Downe cites “pornographic movies” while Steele credits Tipper Gore.
Welcome to Danzig castle
Rachtman traveled to Germany to catch up with doomy band Danzig, who were on tour there at the time. The dramatic Old World backgrounds are a fitting setting to interview sullen, vampiric singer Glenn Danzig. After Rachtman asks if the band is doing any songs by Danzig’s former groups Misfits and Samhain while on tour, Glenn calmly but firmly answers: “No. Is this band called The Misfits or Samhain? No. It’s called Danzig.” Danzig then goes on to name-check two other cult faves, Velvet Underground and Bauhaus, before adding, “There was a time those bands were around and ... [the press] should have asked questions about those bands at that time. And they didn’t ask the questions then. Now they want to ask the questions. Well, you blew it.”
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.