The Return of the Mods and Rockers
Submitted by Don Graham
Maybe you’re too young to remember the Mods and Rockers of Great Britain in the 1960’s. Or maybe you just don’t remember? Like Wavy Gravy said , “ If you remember the 60’s you weren’t really there!” Or as Ringo Starr said in the movie Hard Days Night when asked “Are you a Mod or a Rocker?” he replied “ I’m A Mocker!”
Anyway, if you watched the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England and saw The Who doing their thing then you saw the mirrored Vespas that the Mods favoured. The Mod movement in the British 1960's was a cultural phase that saw young English urbanites dressed to the nines, meticulously coiffed and strutting and riding about on those stylish scooters. The coloured RAF roundels used by the Who as part of their pop-art stage apparel came to symbolize Mods.
The movie Quadrophenia, based on The Who album of the same name, is the story of Mods and Rockers and their conflicts and the re-release of a double DVD of the movie later this month will bring the story back to the forefront.
The “anti-Mods” were Rockers, who wore blue jeans and black leather jackets. Rockers rode motorcycles and were into Gene Vincent and the “teenage rebel” music of the era – think James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and Marlon Brando in The Wild One. The Rockers considered Mods to be effeminate posers, and Mods saw Rockers as grubby and low class.
The Rocker subculture was centered around bad ass motorcycling, and their clothes and general appearance reflected that. Rockers generally wore black leather jackets and motorcycle boots. The common rocker hairstyle was a well greased pompadour which went along with the 1950's rock 'n' roll. (the Rockers' music of choice.)
The Mod subculture was centered around fashion and music, and a lot of the Mods rode around on stylish and safe compared to the big motorcycles the Rockers rode, Vespa scooters. Mods wore suits and other clean cut outfits, and preferred 1960s music genres such as soul, rhythm and blues, ska and beat music. The Mods preferred music that was modern jazz like Dave Brubeck, soul music like Booker T & the MGs and girl vocal groups like The Ronettes, while fashion included hand-made Italian shoes, jeans in high-toned colours, zoot suits, and Fred Perry sweaters with a special insignia to denote the garment’s authenticity. Their jobs (which were white-collar) made it able to pay for their expensive taste in fashion.
Rockers by contrast favoured Bill Haley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran and fancied jeans and leather jackets. Look at pictures of John Lennon during the Johnny and The Moondogs days. They took blue collar jobs like truck drivers and manual labour. Mods and Rocker, Punks and Preppies, the evolution is there for all to see
Without the labels of Mods and Rockers, it existed in North America in the 1950’s. Pat Boone would have been a Mod 'while Elvis would have been a Rocker. So defined were the lines that Boone would cover Presley songs like 'Tutti Frutti' to make it more palatable to ‘white bread’ America.
With the British Invasion of the 1960’s the lines were drawn once more. Beatles or Rolling Stones? Gerry and the Pacemakers or Eric Burdon and the Animals? The Kinks or Herman’s Hermits?
So get ready for the return of the Mods and Rockers with the re-release of Quadrophenia and see how cultural differences shaped music and fashion for generations to come.
Editors Note: Modraphelia, Toronto’s only Mod Store is hosting a Mod Fashion Show on September 19 at the Mod Club.