This week, amid some hullabaloo over whether they’re actually “good,” Creed released an album. More significant to us was the return of singer Scott Stapp and his remarkable chest. In baring his Christian nipples, Stapp carries on a long tradition in music, one not defined by the strategic placement of gym socks, but the manifold expressions of strength, vulnerability, and the desire to expose oneself to life’s rich multiplicity of venereal diseases. Which chests speak most eloquently of these and other concerns? Here we count down a list of the fifteen greatest, from rappers to dinosaur rockers (and including Devendra Banhart, who also has a new album this week). You’ll no doubt tell us who we left out. In the meantime: Come on, boys — show us your tits!
Before he rebranded himself as Mark Wahlberg, frequently shirted actor, Pecs McGee here ran with men like Hector the Booty Inspector in his Funky Bunch. With his gleaming white skin and ridiculously pumped muscle groups, he repped Boston hard: To this day, bars and clubs from Southie to Back Bay fill with Marky Mark’s jostling gym-rat brethren and the men and women who love them.
We know what you’re thinking: Sally Draper’s got more of a chest than this reedy, weedy, “freak-folk” standard-bearer. But you needn’t be capable of a pull-up to embody a certain appeal: his is heroin chic without the unsightly track marks, an upper body that says, I crash with vegans. If a chest had a footprint, his would be low-carbon — and its relative hairlessness is a sexy shock.
Historically, warriors for Christ have preferred swords, but underneath Stapp’s chain mail of righteous indignance resides a great weapon of love: a moderately muscled, gently furred breast that invites the heads of rock-tolerant Christians and Florida fraternity brothers alike. For his comeback, Stapp shaved his head, once and for all proving that his power lay not in his awesomely stringy hair, but over his swollen heart.
Diamond Dave wasn’t called that for the cutting power of his erect nipples, but given the tautness of the surrounding landscape, one can imagine how that might’ve been possible. Even framed in silver lamé, one can see how Roth’s Van Halen–era asset bridged the gap between the naturalistic chests of the seventies and the gym-sculpted ones that would come later. Without men like him, the rock chest might have been lost.
You might think that Chesney’s signature up-curled cowboy hat would define his silhouette, but if he’s got any ten-gallon accessories, it’s his pecs. Not even the most virulent country-hater can form the word “redneck” at the same time they gaze upon his oiled goodies. Bonus points, of course, for his having written the hit “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.”
Queen’s “We Are the Champions” — that great anthem of faith in oneself, whatever one’s outward strength — could only have been sung from a chest like this, a chest both manly and childlike, hairy and well-groomed, ideally shaped but not exceedingly muscled. It was a chest anyone could love, and many did.
Would we be talking about Navarro’s upper trunk if it weren’t for his nipple rings? Of course not. We might even be highlighting his Jane’s Addiction bandmate Perry Farrell instead. But his rings introduce a new wrinkle: They acknowledge the fetishization of the male chest. They are, in short, meta. Although he’s likely not thinking about that when they get all irritated underneath a freshly starched shirt.
For a man who sang — and still sings — with ravishing beauty about love and marriage, who throws red roses out to his female audience members, the chest served as both as a uniquely overt and completely unnecessary reference to the real raw-dog stuff: the S-E-X. No one, perhaps, has ever been cooler or more at ease flashing his goods. That’s why they call it soul music, not rock and roll.
The Eminem of his day — you kids remember Eminem, right? — Axl shored up his vulnerabilities with mounds of angst and offensive gestures. But the chest he beat so furiously (early on, that is) was a boyish, pale one, as unintimidating as any bared by his gender-bending hair-metal brothers. Later, it would muscle over into just another impenetrable shield.
No amount of black mesh could contain this barrel chest at the height of its Conan-like glory, but even — or perhaps especially — in its softer incarnations, the asset announced a human beholden to no man’s personal trainer or sleeved shirt. It’s the chest of a high-school comics fan and goth who grew up into his own idea of a superhero; taking off his shirt, one senses, was more a matter of costume than an expression of unbridled ego.
The quintessential punk chest, a reaction against the sensual, prideful chests of the rock dinosaurs. To this day, Iggy’s upper body is compact and hard, almost a straightjacket of flesh and tendons; it’s as if, by baring it constantly, he means to maximize its exposure to the elements. (Before those took their toll, he would roll around in broken glass.) One can only imagine that, when a woman strokes it, it produces the same sound as nails down a chalkboard.
Let’s be honest: Robert Plant was really more about his cock. But he also represents the bare-chested ideal of mystical rock as articulated by his own Led Zeppelin, who counts among its influences ancient peoples who never even knew the word “tunic.” His is the pastoral chest.
Ladies love cool James, and he’s loved them back since 1987, with, yes, “I Need Love,” where he foreshadowed a career of great highs and lows with one core value: pure, unadulterated chest. In LL, the loverman met the meathead, and the two formed a seemingly indestructible dynamic. Forget two tickets to the gun show: He can give you the world.
The iconic rock chest, owing as much to the poster for Oliver Stone’s The Doors as anything else. But it was iconic in another way, too: smooth and slender in a hippie-ish way but menacing in its taut strength, Morrison’s asset, like the singer himself, represented the dark side of the sixties. Morrison inspired Iggy Pop, and chests as diverse as those belonging to Scott Stapp and Devendra Banhart show its influence. Like Jim, it lives on, for better or worse.
In a word: pec-tacular. Fifty’s upper half resembles a glacial landscape; it seems impregnable to anything less than an act of God. And yet, it’s as if it sprung from sheer determination — that ol’ go-get-’em, get-rich-or-die-trying attitude — in the aftermath of his assassination attempt. (We all know, by the way, about the scandals in professional sports, but there’s no putting an asterisk next to an entertainer’s chest.) Bare or sheathed in a bulletproof vest, his chest tells a story — one, granted, that probably involves a hilarious anecdote about Curtis Jackson getting waxed.