John Lennon created 3 Heavy Metal "Firsts"
A study in little-known facts

FACT 1: In 1967 John Lennon creates the famous Heavy Metal "devil's horns" Hand Signal

NOTE: There is a distinction between the "devil's horns" signal and the American Sign Language sign for "love"...The American Sign Language sign for "love" has an extended thumb, while the middle and ring fingers are touching the palm. The "devil's horns" signal is formed by extending the index and little fingers while holding the middle and ring fingers down with the thumb.

You know the "devil's horns" signal? It is the universal heavy metal sign for "you rock", usually used in unison with the music at heavy metal concerts. It is also known as the "sign of the horns". Not to get satanical or anything, but the sign is supposed to represent the sign of the beast, with horns represented by the index finger and pinkie raised. If you raise both hands with this sign, the band "really rocks!"

Over the last few years there have been two artists that have claimed to have created the famous Heavy Metal "devil's horns" Hand Signal. Ronnie James Dio claimed to have created the gesture before joining Black Sabbath in 1978. Gene Simmons (KISS) also claims credit, writing in his 2002 autobiography that it was the bass-playing demon of KISS that created the international heavy metal symbol.

So there is no evidence that the symbol was created earlier than the '70s...or is there?!

Ronnie James Dio

Gene Simmons

We have discovered irrefutable photographic evidence that is was none other than Beatle John Lennon that created the famous sign in 1967. Furthermore, it was even used in animation for the Beatles YELLOW SUBMARINE (just check the original vinyl album cover). These are photographic images that can be tied down to specific years PRIOR to the '70s.

Beatles photo from mid-1967

Lennon Close up mid-1967

A close up from the soundtrack album

The photo of Lennon giving the sign appeared in one of the first Beatles pictures in which the band promoted the upcoming YELLOW SUBMARINE animated movie. Since the Beatles changed appearance often and were one of the most photographed icons of the '60s, it is possible to date the photo between June and October of '67. YELLOW SUBMARINE was being animated between '67 & '68, so the cartoon image of John flashing the heavy metal sign can also be verified date-wise.

Didn't Lennon really give the American Sign Language sign gesture for "love"? Well, if you look closely at both both the photo and the animation, Lennon has his thumb down, not extended. So he is NOT giving the sign for "love"!

1969 Soundtrack album front cover

1969 Soundtrack album back cover

1968 Rolling Stone cover

Although the film YELLOW SUBMARINE was released in 1968, the vinyl album (on which one can clearly see Lennon displaying the sign) was not released in the U.S. until 1969. But that is still years before Ronnie James Dio or Gene Simmons!

FACT 2: In 1964 John Lennon wore the first Heavy Metal guitar strap

In heavy metal fashion, it seems that John Lennon was another pioneer.

When you think of heavy metal bands playing on stage, most people think of the studded leather look. Even the guitar straps are studded. Many credit Rob Halford, of Judas Priest, with bringing the studded leather look to heavy metal. Other bands that used the look are: Iron Maiden, Motörhead, and Saxon - in many variations, such as studded belts and bracelets, bullet belts, spiked gauntlets, etc.

Rob Halford

Halford with Judas Priest

Guitar strap available in current shops

Right: Lennon wearing his "Armored" Python Shoulder Strap at Shea Stadium in 1965 - and a closeup of the strap

However, back in 1964 John Lennon was wearing a guitar strap of black leather with 'python' metal plates and studs!

In 1964, John asked Dick Denney at Vox if he could make him a snake-skin guitar strap, and Denney created the Vox Armored Python Shoulder Strap (#V822).

A quick search of youtube and you can see all the above performances, and see the strap for yourself! Look for the following:

  • Lennon first used this strap on Dutch TV in June 1964 with his new Rickenbacker 325 12-string.
  • Lennon can also be seen with the strap in the 1965 "Day Tripper"/"I Feel Fine" videos.
  • Lennon uses it at the historic 1965 Beatles Shea Stadium concert.

Oh, by the way, Lennon gave his strap to Eric Clapton during his Cream days in 1967.

FACT 3: In 1970 John Lennon recorded the first Heavy Metal "Cookie Monster" vocals

Who can forget the memorable heavy metal Cookie Monster voice, with its coarse, growling vocal style? Named so by its similarities with the voice of the Cookie Monster muppet on Sesame Street!The voice is usually thought to have originated with Lemmy of Motorhead.

"Plastic Ono Band" - Dec 1970
Click to listen to clip from:
"Hold On"

"Early 1970" 45rpm - Apr 1971
Click to listen to clip from:
"Early 1970"

But it was John Lennon who first used this heavy metal voice back in 1970, on his debut solo album, "Plastic Ono Band". During the track "Hold On", he breaks into full cookie monster mode, suddenly singing, "Coooookie". This is the first use of the future death metal vocal style on a recorded album!

A few months later, fellow Beatles Ringo Starr also gives Lennon credit, on his own solo B-side, "Early 1970". In the song, Ringo laughingly immitates John's cookie monster voice, alluding to John and Yoko's affinity for lying in bed and watching Sesame Street together.


We've proven that John Lennon was a heavy metal pioneer in 3 areas: gestures, fashion, and vocals. But, there is still more!

  • With the Beatles, John recorded the first heavy metal record and recorded the first use of feedback on popular record. On April 9, 1965 the Beatles released "Ticket To Ride", which Lennon later described: "That was one of the earliest heavy-metal records made." But what makes it "heavy metal"? Heavy metal is characterized by loud distorted (or metallic sounding) guitars, emphatic rhythms, dense bass-and-drum sound, and vigorous vocals. "Ticket To Ride" contains all these elements. However, some still point to 1968's "Helter Skelter" - the first tracks of which were laid down on July 18, 1968, seven days before the "In-A-Gada-Da-Vida" album was released.
    Note: Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" coined the actual term "heavy metal" - but coining a phrase is quite different from actually playing it. Steppenwolf isn't really heavy metal at all.
  • Finally, the very first use of feedback on a rock record is the Beatles song "I Feel Fine",recorded in October 18, 1964. This was before both The Who (1965) and Jimi Hendrix (1967).

So there you have it...FIVE instances in which John Lennon influenced heavy metal. He was a first in these five topics, all of which can be proven!

Betcha didn't know?

So, all you metal heads - it is time to raise both those arms in the universal heavy metal devil-horn salute and say..."John Lennon - YOU ROCK DUDE!"!