The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends  

Mike Rothschild
2.8k votes 580 voters 129.4k views 17 items

The mythos of rock and roll music started as soon as Elvis and his swiveling hips hit the stage. But with a powerful mystique comes stories, legends, and myths - some of them true, some of them true but exaggerated, and some of them just plain made up. Others are misconceptions passed down through the generations, despite never being true.

These are the most persistent urban legends and rumors in rock history, with an emphasis on the rock myths that are a little more unknown. Sure, you know about Phil Collins and the drowning man, but did you know that despite wearing dark glasses all the time, Roy Orbison was not actually blind? Or that two famous rock legends actually did die in the same apartment, years apart?

Note that this list omits some of the more well known and disgusting stories, such as Led Zeppelin's "mud shark" (which didn't happen) or that one about Rod Stewart (which also didn't happen.) The emphasis here is on stuff you've heard about and think might have happened... and maybe did.
The Beach Boys is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends
Photo: ABC Television/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Legend has it that Charles Manson wrote a song with or for The Beach Boys. Before you scoff at the impossibility of this, know that it's completely true.

Before he was a psychopathic murderer, Manson was just another struggling songwriter in LA. In 1968, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson had a chance meeting with two female members of the nascent Manson Family, picking them up while they were hitchhiking, leading to Manson and Wilson forming a strange friendship. Manson wrote a song for Wilson to give to The Beach Boys, titled “Cease to Exist.” Wilson liked the song, re-wrote the lyrics and titled it “Never Learn Not to Love.”

Manson was reportedly enraged by Wilson changing his lyrics and taking credit. Though accounts differ as to what happened when Manson confronted Wilson, the strange songwriter was soon out of Wilson’s life, and went on to bigger things, namely carving a swath of destruction through Topanga Canyon.

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Harry Nilsson is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends
Photo: kevin dooley/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

This one is actually true. Mamas and the Papas singer Mama Cass and The Who drummer Keith Moon did actually die in the same London flat, four years apart. The apartment belonged to American singer Harry Nilsson, who was so spooked by the two deaths that he never went back. Instead, the apartment was bought by The Who lead singer Pete Townshend, to keep it from being exploited as a tourist trap.

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Van Morrison is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends
Photo: Warner Bros. Records/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Why would someone record three dozen intentionally bad gibberish songs? In 1967, Irish troubadour Van Morrison was stuck in a brutally unfair record deal, and tangled in a dispute with his manager’s widow. Finally, he managed to get his contract bought out by Warner Brothers, but was still bound to the terms of his old deal, which required him to write and record 36 more songs.

But Morrison got the last laugh. Knocking out over 30 songs in one day, Morrison fulfilled his end of the deal, recording short, out-of-tune, nonsensical tracks about ring worms, Danishes, and overdue royalty checks. These so-called “revenge songs” were useless to his old record company, but they did the trick, freeing Morrison up to start a run of albums that are hardly surpassed in rock greatness.  

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Aerosmith is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Most Infamous Rock and Roll Urban Legends
Photo: Rob Rubio/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Various stories have swirled about Aerosmith almost buying the plane that later crashed and nearly killed everyone in Lynyrd Skynyrd. What actually happened is a lot less mystical, and is based on good observation and strong human resources. Right before the Skynyrd crash, Aerosmith’s assistant chief of flight operations (yes, that’s a job) checked out the Convair CV-300 that Skynyrd later chartered and deemed it unworthy of the Boston band, either because he saw the crew drinking or the engine caught on fire in his presence. Unfortunately, for Skynyrd, they had no such luck, and spent years trying to pick up the pieces from the incident. Note to future rock stars: your assistant chief of flight operations might save your life one day, so check references.

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