Metro Weekly

Hell Bent for Leather: a musical primer for Mid Atlantic Leather

Later this week leather afficianados from all over the world will descend upon Washington, DC for the annual Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend. Old friendships will be renewed, new ones will be made, and guys and gals will show off their leather and other gear, buy new stuff, party, go to the multiple events at the host hotel and all over the city, and well, who knows what else might happen (Hint: lotsa sex). Leather and rock and roll (and sex) have of course been intertwined going back to the very beginning, and of course music will play a big part in the festivities this weekend as the dance-floors are thumpin’ at various locations around the city.

Here are just a handful of tracks that would be a perfect accompaniment or primer to get into the mood for M.A.L. 

Judas Priest – “Hell Bent for Leather”

No discussion about leather in rock ‘n roll should begin without mentioning Judas Priest. Rob Halford and his bandmates have been rockin’ out in leather since the late ’70s. Halford, who came out as openly gay in 1998, has decked out in some truly fantastic leather gear over the years. Judas Priest continues to tour and a new album is expected this year. “Hell Bent For Leather” is the title track to their 1978 album (in the US only – around the rest of the world it was called “Killing Machine” but that title was just too violent for our gentle American sensibilities according to the censors at Columbia Records). 

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – “Crimson & Clover”

Let’s face it: nobody rocks leather like Joan Jett. From the early days with The Runaways through her years with The Blackhearts (and of course “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”), leather has always been an essential part of her look. She even recorded a song called “Black Leather” with The Runaways and then again as a solo artist. Joan Jett had the attitude, the look (and the leather), and of course the music – – she was just badass (and in fact she still is). This clip is a more recent performace, a fantastic take on “Crimson &  Clover,” the Tommy James classic that she had a hit cover with in 1982. Watching it will leave you with little doubt that she’s still as fierce as ever.

Billy Idol – “Flesh For Fantasy”

It’s hard to think of rockers in leather without Billy Idol immediately popping to mind. He made leather a huge part of his look. “Flesh for Fantasy” seems an appropriate song for M.A.L.; it’s one of his lesser-known singles, but it’s a great one. I just wonder if anybody’s ever counted how many times he curls up his lip in this video. From the album “Rebel Yell,” “Flesh for Fantasy” hit #29 in 1984. 

My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – “Leathersex”

The gothic/industrial/dance combo My Life With the Thrill Kult released “Sexplosion!” in 1991, an electric album that was dripping with glorious seediness. It’s music for a dimly-lit dance floor, a dark back room or perhaps a dungeon, which seems to be exactly what the band had in mind. It’s a great album, and “Leathersex” is one of the hottest tracks. 

Grace Jones – “Warm Leatherette” 

Grace Jones looks stunning in anything, but especially leather — and she sports it quite frequently. And what could be more perfect than her brilliantly funky cover of “Warm Leatherette,” an early new-wave classic originally by The Normal? “Warm Leatherette” is the title of her superb 1980 album which also features “Private Life,” “Love is the Drug,” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.” 

Motley Crue – “Looks That Kill”

It’s hilarious to remember how wicked these heavy metal videos seemed at the time, and how incredibly hilarious and campy they look now. Perhaps one day the opening sequence of this video will be reenacted at M.A.L. — I’d pay to see it. But Motley Crue was definitely decked out in leather top to bottom and this is actually a really killer rock track from their 1984 album “Shout at the Devil.”

Lita Ford – “Kiss Me Deadly

Joan Jett isn’t the only lady rocker who knows how to look incredibly hot in leather. In Lita Ford’s video for “Kiss Me Deadly” she kills it — and it’s a great song as well. From her 1988 album “Lita,” “Kiss Me Deadly” crossed over on the pop charts and hit #12. A song that still sounds great when you blast it as loud as you can. And a nice cameo in the intro piece by MTV VJ Adam Curry’s remarkable hair. 

Rihanna – “S&M”

This one seems rather self-explanatory. One of Rihanna’s many #1 hits, from the album “Loud.”

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – “Relax”

We have some actual leather guys in the “banned” version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s most famous single, “Relax.” The video is generally an approximation of what you might see in some dark corner of one of the events scattered about the city this coming weekend, and I mean that in a good way of course. From the classic double-album “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” produced by Trevor Horn, “Relax” hit #10 in the US in 1983. 

Britney Spears – “Lace and Leather”

Yes there is the classic Stevie Nicks & Don Henley ballad “Leather and Lace,” but a high-energy Britney Spears track just seems more appropriate for M.A.L., and “Lace and Leather” is a pretty catchy, fun song from her album “Circus.” Although… “I’m a Slave 4U” might also be a quite excellent choice. 

Eurythmics – “Missionary Man”

Annie Lennox is beyond fierce in her tight leather garb for the “Missionary Man” video — one of their best singles. The hard rockin’ track is from their 1986 album “Revenge,” and was the first single from the album in the U.S. where it reached #14.  Annie can make anything work, but her dominatrix look here is stunning; and Dave Stewart has some leather action goin’ on as well. Killer track, still potent musically and visually all these years later. Turn it up!! Oh, and just as a side-note, I was born an original sinner as well. 

The Ramones – “I Wanna Be Sedated”

The Ramones and leather go hand in hand: leather jackets, to be precise. They sported them from the very beginning, including on the iconic photograph of the band on the cover of their self-titled first album. Their 1980 single “I Wanna Be Sedated” is probably their most famous song, and for good reason. It’s melodic, it’s fun, and it rocks. 

Madonna – “Human Nature”

Not necessarily about leather, but hey — isn’t M.A.L. about more than just leather? Of course it is; and it seems a crime not to include Madonna’s “Human Nature” on this compilation. She and her dancers look stunning in tight black as they dance and simulate scenes of bondange — and the song is pretty damn good too, a funky pop/R&B concotion from her 1994 album “Bedtime Stories. “Express yourself, don’t repress youself.”  If that line doesn’t capture the essence of M.A.L., then nothing does.

Depeche Mode – “Master and Servant”

A little bit of leather pops up in this video, but again it’s more about the subject matter. “Master and Servant” was the 2nd single from Depeche Mode’s 1984 album “Some Great Reward” and reached #9 in the UK despite being quite controversial (I can’t imagine why…) It was also a dance-club favorite in America. “This play between the sheets, with you on top and me underneath.. forget all about equality, let’s play master and servant.”  Yes, please. 

George Michael – “Faith”

Wouldn’t George Michael end up burning this famous leather jacket in his video for “Freedom ’90,” the song in which he seems to be embarrassed by shaking his ass and being seen as a sex object and not a serious artist? One wonders if he also burned the $$$ this leather jacket helped earn him. Somehow I doubt it. Still, classic song, great look, iconic leather jacket… and George Michael was undeniably sexy as hell. 

Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”

Probably NSFW. Depending on where you work, of course. At one point in this ’90s classic Trent Reznor, all decked in black leather, is rotating, suspended in the air. I’m not sure if you’ll see that at the vendor fair this weekend, but… I can’t guarantee that you won’t. Regardless, what track could be more perfect for M.A.L.? “Closer” is from the landmark 1994 album “The Downward Spiral.” 

Tori Amos – “Leather”

 “If love isn’t forever, and it’s not the weather… Hand me my leather.” Okay, but…can I ask what you’re gonna do with it first? This seems a good place to wrap up this compilation, with Tori Amos and her famous track “Leather” from her 1992 album “Little Earthquakes.” It’s on the softer side, but hey — leather can be very soft indeed.


17 great songs to put you in a Mid-Atlantic Leather frame of mind. Of course, the list can go on and on — there are doubtless countless more than could be mentioned. Feel free to make your own additions in the comments section below. 

Most importantly, for those coming to D.C. this weekend for the festivities (and for all you locals, too), be safe, have fun, enjoy the city, and rock out in that leather and gear to the best of your ability!

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