20 Iconic Rock Star Move GIFs
From the Moonwalk to the fist pump, check out these unforgettable moves
On YouTube, you’ll find dozens of people playing guitar with their teeth – yet only one of them is famous for it: Jimi Hendrix. The very best rock star moves will inspire millions of imitators to make fools of themselves. So before you try Roger Daltrey’s swinging microphone bit, we suggest you place all your breakables in a secure place. Then we strongly advise that you to do something else instead, like enjoy this collection of classic rock moves as animated GIFs.
Michael Jackson was a star at an age when most of us weren’t done with our doll phase. But after Motown’s 25th anniversary special aired on NBC in 1983, he became a mega-star. That’s when Jackson performed “Billie Jean” for a live audience and unveiled his now-famous Moonwalk dance, creating the illusion of moving forward while moving backward. He wasn’t the first to do it – tap dancer Bill Bailey performed the famous move as early as 1943 in the film Cabin in the Sky – but it became MJ’s signature move, prompting middle-schoolers everywhere to prove it wasn’t as easy as it looked.
The Duck Walk
Chuck Berry’s place in history might be a little less memorable had he worn a different pair of pants – or had an iron. During one of DJ Alan Freed’s shows in 1956, Berry was embarrassed by the wrinkles and pleats in his silk trousers, so he attempted to hide them behind a guitar. To do so, he performed a trick he’d done as a child, squatting and moving forward with one leg swinging back and forth as he continued to play guitar. Fans went nuts, and Berry duck-walked for the rest of his career.
The Cape Flourish
At the Grammy Awards in 2007, Danny Ray draped James Brown’s glittering red cape across a microphone, in honor of the Godfather of Soul’s passing and a nod to his most memorable move. For more than 40 years, Ray played a key part in the move, which occurred during the song “Please, Please, Please.” During the song, Brown would drop to his knees, prompting Ray, his emcee, to walk onstage and place a cape – inspired by cape-wearing wrestler Gorgeous George – around Brown’s shoulders. As he was escorted off the stage, Brown – seemingly exhausted – would shake off the cape and continue, solidifying his reputation as the hardest-working man in show business.
During an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, the Who’s guitarist said he got his signature move – repeatedly stroking his guitar in a windmill fashion – from Keith Richards. One night, when the Who were opening for the Rolling Stones, Pete Townshend said he saw Richards do the windmill as he walked onstage. When Richards later told him he had no plans to continue doing the windmill, Townshend adopted it. The move often leaves Townshend with bloody fingers – and he once wound up in a hospital after puncturing his hand on a whammy bar – but images of his windmill are among the most iconic in rock & roll.
The Arm Chop
The Talking Heads may have been art-school nerds, but after the “Once in a Lifetime” video began airing on MTV, even the cool kids chopped at their arms while declaring “same as it ever was.” The odd move, David Byrne told Pitchfork, was inspired by a group of Japanese rockabillies in Tokyo. After spotting the kids dancing in a park, Byrne began to videotape their moves, which included the famous arm chops.
The Rooster Strut
Before the Maroon 5 song “Moves Like Jagger” praised Mick’s skills, the Rolling Stones frontman’s dancing style was the subject of many parodies, mostly because it was so easy to imitate: simply grab at the air, point a few times, place your hands on your hips and strut around like a rooster. Of course, Jagger has more moves than that – check out the dude’s James Brown footwork sometime – but the strut is quintessential Mick.
The Stage Slide
After Bruce Springsteen’s slide went a little long during the Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2009, he explained the mishap in a post-game website entry: “Too much adrenaline, a late drop, too much speed.” On the cool scale, Springsteen’s camera-crashing superslide paled in comparison to Pete Townshend’s memorable slow-motion power slide from The Kids Are Alright, but let’s see who can do a better one today.
The Hip Swivel
After Elvis Presley appeared on The Milton Berle Show in 1956, NBC received thousands of angry phone calls and letters. Because during his performance of “Hound Dog,” Presley dared to swivel and shake his hips in a way that 1950s types assumed had to suggest sex. Which it did. The outcry was so intense, Ed Sullivan would famously allow Elvis to be filmed only from the hips up.
The Temptation Walk
As the Temptations angled for Motown royalty in a field packed with stars, member Paul Williams suggested they had to sell sex, which meant they had to dance. So he developed what became known as the Temptation Walk. While several members of the group could do backflips, the Temptation Walk didn’t require great athletic skills. (Check out some of the amateurs trying it on YouTube.) But five guys in suits snapping, clapping and stepping in unison was just slick enough to catch on.
At 220 pounds, John Belushi was self-conscious about his weight. So he must’ve had something to prove in 1978 when the Blues Brothers appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. During the song “I Don’t Know,” he pulled off a cartwheel, creating a comic visual. Even as the Blues Brothers became serious about playing gigs, Belushi continued his move, once cartwheeling onstage during a set by the main act, the Grateful Dead.
The Fist Pump
We get the fist pump: it feels good. Empowering. That’s why the Black Panthers used it, as well as those dudes from Jersey Shore. But if one were to anoint a Godfather of Fist Pumps – the artist who championed the fist more than any other – it’d have to be Billy Idol. The mere mention of his name, after all, conjures images of a leather, fingerless glove wrapped around a rotating fist. During a live “Rebel Yell” performance, only the willfully unfaithful will resist clenching a fist of their own.
The Karate Kick
Throughout his life, David Lee Roth has been many things – a radio show host, a sheepherder, an emergency medical technician and, of course, Diamond Dave, the original and current frontman of Van Halen. But before all that, Roth was big-time into martial arts. Roth made use of his training after he became a rock star – his scissor-kicks, roundhouses and spread-eagle jumps became a staple of live shows and music videos.
The Slide Glide
When a sheriff’s deputy in Summit County, Ohio forced inmates to dance like Usher if they wanted to use a jail microwave, his future as a deputy was on borrowed time. But while the inmates entertained a small crowd of deputies, Usher’s slithering, rotating, occasionally robotic dances have thrilled millions. His patented move – the Slide Glide – sets Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk sideways.
The Monster Paws
Lady Gaga fans call themselves Little Monsters – and one day, while driving in Boston, Gaga saw two Little Monsters greet each other with a claw-hand gesture and decided she had to adopt the symbol. Also known as the Monster Paw, fans use it to show they agree with something or to show how, like Gaga, they are inspired by art. Gaga’s been known to use it a few times herself, as seen (often) in her “Bad Romance” video.
The Spinning Guitar
One day, guitarmaker Dean Zelinsky received a call at 2 a.m. from ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, who was at a party with Def Leppard. (It’s what you did in the Eighties.) The urgent message: Gibbons needed guitars covered in sheep’s wool. Gibbons shipped some sheepskins to Zelinsky, who fortunately had a horse-hair trimmer – his then-girlfriend trained horses – to trim under the strings. Later, bassist Dusty Hill had him add spinning units. Nearly 30 years after the furry guitars spun in the “Legs” video, the band still plays the fur-tars and scores of others have created their own sheepskin six-strings.
The Snake Dance
When comedian Mark Malkoff created a kids-only Guns N’ Roses tribute band in 2004, nine-year-old singer Alexa Rose Palminteri (yes, that’s her real name) didn’t just learn the words to “Welcome to the Jungle.” To capture the essence of Axl Rose, she also learned the snake dance. Luckily, learning the dance was a cakewalk – as opposed to a Moonwalk – for the lead singer of Li’l Gn’R. Featured in videos for “Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Patience,” the snake requires only that one move slitheringly, occasionally while holding a microphone stand. And don’t forget the headband.
The Running Man
You’re gonna say it anyway, so let’s get it out of the way: “Stop. Hammer Time!” That’s the first thing you think about when MC Hammer’s name is invoked. Then you chuckle something about parachute pants. And then that’s when you remember the dancing, which was really good. As featured in “U Can’t Touch This” – his magnum opus – Hammer could spin and do that side-to-side shimmy thing real fast. But what he’s best known for is the Running Man, that aerobics-like move that simulates running while going nowhere.
Strike a pose? Sure, we all did – though in our efforts to imitate Madonna, we mostly looked like morons. In the Eighties, the Vogue was a dance performed in the underground gay scene in New York. There, clubgoers used a series of complex hand gestures, body poses and movements to imitate Hollywood icons. Inspired by that, Madonna co-wrote the song “Vogue” in 1990 and in the video, she offered tribute to bygone stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth.
Jerry Lee Lewis was a little too high-strung to sit down during an entire performance. So, on the advice of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, he began standing at the piano. But just standing would be boring, so he kicked his seat out of the way, banged the keys with a foot and sometimes even stood on the piano, making it clear that rock & roll was a little different from anything his audiences had seen before.
Bieber didn’t invent the style – its origins are with Seventies break battles – but the pop phenom is the new champ of synced arm-and-hand geometry. The tut is now one of his signatures, so much so that there are hundreds of Beliebers who’ve posted their own tutting tutorials on YouTube. You’ve got to hand it to the Biebs for keeping the old-school move alive.
Animated GIFs created by Griffin Lotz