top of page

Some of my favourite vintage badges are old yet sport a timeless message. Sometimes it's a novelty message 'Vampires Stole My Lunch Money', or a protest slogan 'Nuclear Power, No Thanks'. Either way, the phrase continues to resonate with society because it's funny, catchy, or on the nose. The 1977 'I'm A Mess' button pin is one of these special badges, as it captures the unabashed recklessness of early punk.

Original 1977 'I'm A Mess' Badge, @PunkBadges

Many pins made after the initial explosion of punk get carried away with obvious signifiers. Cartoon safety pins, Union Jacks, British Bulldogs, and any other stereotypical punk imagery that fits onto a 32mm surface area. Whilst these badges can be charming, there's no denying that they look dated, cliched, and dilute the original spirit of early punk.

The mass-produced punk badge below even appropriates fascist imagery by including a swastika ring on a clenched fist. It lacks the nuance, context, and intended shock factor of the original usage of fascist imagery by a few famous individuals - and even then this subversion was controversial, to say the least.

1980s punk badge of a clenched fist with rings. A Nazi ring with a swastika has been scratched out by the previous owner.

The 'I'm A Mess' badge on the other hand is achingly simple. The statement makes it punk, not the graphics. The black and white colourway and capital letters in Times New Roman give the blunt statement an authoritative air; it looks like it could have been made on a typewriter in an office - a standard-issue badge. By wearing the pin, a person could become a certified mess and gain a certain power by owning the undesirable credentials that society rejects.

The badge has gone on to represent the epitome of punk. It bears resemblance to the 'Bored Teenager' badge made to promote The Adverts single of the same name (if you add an 's' to the end.) The statement is as bold and as simple as possible; the words look like they are being shouted at to the general public.

Original promotional badge for The Advert's single 'Bored Teenager'

The 'I'm A Mess' badge has been worn by some famous self-declared scoundrels. Most notably, Sid Vicious. The phrase become so associated with him that Sid's compilation album released in 2015 featuring songs recorded live in Camden, 1978 is named after the badge. He wore it attached to his black leather jacket on the Sex Pistols tour of America.

However, Wreckless Eric beat Sid to the post, wearing the badge a year before. It makes an appearance on his jacket lapel on his debut album cover in 1978. Lemmy Killiminster was also spotted wearing the badge on Top of the Pops in 1979. More recently, and less excitingly, it has been worn by Noel Fielding on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in the mid-2000s.

Wreckless Eric Self Titled 1978 Album Cover Featuring the 'I'm A Mess' badge on the guitar strap

Unfortunately, the original punk badge is notoriously hard to come by and expensive. The last one seen for auction on eBay went for an eye-watering £127.00. Furthermore, the origin story of the badge is unclear. I decided to look into the history of the badge in an effort to track one down.

The first surprise was finding out that 'I'm A Mess' is the name of a single, by a little known band called Stormtrooper from the Isle of White. In September 1975 the band made a demo tape which was rejected by a number of labels. By December, the band had split and it seemed like the world was destined to live without the 'I'm A Mess' single.

In 1977, by means that I'm not entirely sure of, a self-financed record had been cut from their original demo tape, and 'I'm a Mess' was released two years after the band had split. It sold around 3,000 copies, mostly in and around London. Each record came with the 'I'm A Mess' badge as a promotional freebie.

The record is now hailed as one of the earliest known punk singles. It was described by the early 70s British music press as “the sound of a commuter being shoved under a tube train”. Looking at the lyrics there is no doubt that it embodies the spirit of the punk era. It's not hard to see why it resonated with a generation of soon-to-be punks in 1977.

I'm A Mess

I always go out drinking

On a Friday night

After a week of coming down

I'm bustin' for a fight

My brother gives me pills

And me mother gives me ice

'cause every Saturday morning

My head don't feel so nice

(Chorus) I'm a mess But don't tell me I'll beat you Don't need no friends see

My doctor says I'm down And I need a two-week rest So I take it down in Soho 'Cause I fight down there best And the man from down the "dilly" Sells me bombers and hash And I'm always found in Wardour Street, Where the junkies all crash

(Chorus) Three o'clock on Friday night A copper comes along And after kicking me around I started to run But the law was all around me So I just hit out Now they've thrown me in the nick Where I can scream and loon about

(Chorus) You're a dirty mess I'm a dirty mess

Sid Vicious photographed wearing 'I'm A Mess' badge on Sex Pistols 1978 US tour

As a tribute to one of my all-time favourite badges, I've made a few bootlegs. 'I'm A Mess' is printed in Times New Roman on aged vintage paper to give it a pleasing off-white hue. It comes in two sizes, a modest 32mm or the classic 63mm bin lid size for those who are loud and proud about being a mess.

Bootleg 'I'm A Mess' Pin Badge by @therustypin

With thanks to for research into this badge.

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

V&A Archive Assistant Alice Ridgway examines the imagery used by the band, Black Sabbath, and their role in defining a heavy metal subculture.

The V&A Department of Theatre and Performance holds a large collection of Rock and Pop memorabilia. This assortment of posters, t-shirts, badges, concert tickets, and other ephemera allows an insight into pop and subcultures from the past. This blog will focus on some examples of objects relating to the heavy metal band, Black Sabbath.

2017 saw the final Black Sabbath tour. Aptly titled ‘The End,’ the tour marked their departure from the music scene as the band that defined the heavy metal genre. Black Sabbath’s self-titled first album was released in 1970, a time now popularly viewed as an era of free love, utopian visions, and prosperity. However, Sabbath’s satanic imagery, horror-inspired lyrics, and frontman dubbed ‘The Prince of Darkness’ offer a stark contrast to this propagated view of life in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The band members’ working-class upbringings in the industrial city of Birmingham resonated with a legion of fans who were unable or unwilling to embrace the lifestyle of the middle-class counterculture. Black Sabbath offered an outlet for their frustrations and lack of opportunity in a town that was dominated by a future in factory work.

Fans of Black Sabbath used band memorabilia to show their allegiance and create a loyal heavy metal community as fans could be easily identified. Battle jackets became an iconic look. These DIY jackets were mostly leather or denim jackets with cut-off sleeves. Fans would sew on their favourite band patches and pins to express their music taste. The jackets would express an individual’s style and each would be unique.

The black leather patch above depicts the band's subversion of religious imagery with gothic gold writing on a black cross. Similarly, the pin badge from 1973 shows a wooden cross inscribed with Black Sabbath and a white hand making ‘the sign of the horns’ which became a popular symbol in heavy metal culture. The imagery of the merchandise aimed to challenge authority, disrupt normality and intimidate people whilst simultaneously uniting the large allegiance of fans in the metal subculture.

The Black Sabbath ‘Greatest Hits’ poster and album artwork further illustrate the band’s wish to portray a bleak, satanic aesthetic. The poster uses the painting ‘The Triumph of Death’ by Bruegel in which the army of skeletons comes to destroy the living, wreaking havoc across a desolate landscape. The Black Sabbath logo and writing in a rusty orange mimic the infernal scene unfolding. It can be argued that the landscape of post-war Birmingham following severe Luftwaffe bombing raids and extensive housing demolition were drawn on by the band when selecting the above imagery to celebrate their hit songs.

The imagery embraced by heavy metal bands and their fans in the late 1960s and early 1970s stands at odds with the more middle-class utopian counterculture most associated with the period. Ozzy Osbourne, frontman of Black Sabbath, aptly conveys the feelings of early heavy metal subculture:

"You gotta remember the time, 1968 was still that flower power. To us that was bullshit, living in the dreary, dismal, polluted town of Birmingham. We were very angry about it. We thought, let’s scare people."

This blog post was first published on the V&A website.

For more information on rock and pop memorabilia in the V&A Collections visit Search the Collections.

bottom of page