Heavy Metal; the heaviest, most extreme, loudest, and most theatrical of all of rock's genres has been around, in one form or another, since 1968. It enjoyed its first heyday from about 1969 through 1976, until punk and new wave rendered it passe. Nearly driven to extinction for a few years, it enjoyed a major renaissance in the 1980's; while it has become a very fragmented genre since then, it has never again been in danger of dying out completely.
The roots of heavy metal can be traced at least as far back as the Kinks' power-riffing "You Really Got Me" in 1964 (later a hit for Van Halen). Power trio bands like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which amplified blues progressions to undreamt-of levels, and reveled in feedback and walls of noise were touchstones the first proto-metal bands borrowed from. These bands, like Blue Cheer, Iron Butterfly, and Black Pearl, which appeared from the dying mist of psychedelia in 1968, were more distant from the blues, and amped-up and slowed down in their riffing.
The titans are well-known; Led Zeppelin towered above them all, Black Sabbath was the darkest and heaviest, Deep Purple was the loudest and had that dense organ, Uriah Heep dabbled in fantasy, Motorhead was all about speed. Blue Oyster Cult was bikers, speed, leather, S&M, and dope.
In the 80's, a new generation of metal appeared; the playing was faster; punkier than the music of the forefathers. Much of the pomposity was toned down (although not always), themes got darker than Black Sabbath's worst nightmares, and a pop variety of metal that scored radio hits broke through as well.
This week's play list is an overview of the first and second wave of heavy metal artists. As such, it cannot come close to being all-inclusive; sometime in the future, we'll examine the sub-genres of metal. Each artist is represented by either their biggest/best/most influential/most representational song.
01: Black Dog | Led Zeppelin
Leadoff cut from what would become Led Zeppelin's best selling album ever, alternately known as Untitled, Zoso, and IV. In many respects it captures all that was best about Led Zeppelin. Plant's frenetic vocals set the bar for 70's hard rock vocalists. Page's apprenticeship in the Yardbirds is still evident in his rave-up playing. This reached #15 in 1972.
02: Iron Man | Black Sabbath
Paranoid, the album, yielded up the only two near-hits Black Sabbath ever had, the title track, which reached #61 on the singles chart, and this one, which reached #52. Ozzy Osbourne's singing bears traces of Jack Bruce in it; Iommi's guitar is hea-vy; tuned down an octave.
03: Ace Of Spades | Motorhead
Leader Lemmy Kilminster started out in the British heavy psychedelic space-rock band Hawkwind. His playing in Motorhead eliminated the progressive influences, amplified the biker rock, and focused on speed. In this sense, Motorhead's adrenaline pumping music was a bridge between 70's metal and 80's metal. "Ace of Spades" made the top-20 in England.
04: Hush | Deep Purple
From their debut LP, this was a #4 hit in 1968. The stars on this song the rhythm section of Nick Simper and Ian Pace, and especially organist Jon Lord, whose flourishes are the real hook of the song. Deep Purple would attempt a progressive route with mediocre results until simplifying into an intensely loud and rich metal in the early 70's. Their biggest hit was "Smoke On The Water" which also reached #4, in 1972.
05: Sweet Emotion | Aerosmith
The first single to chart from what many consider their best album, Toys In The Attic, this reached #36 in 1975. Built around Stephen Tyler's flamboyant posturing, and Steve Perry's hard-boogie guitar, they are America's longest-lived heavy metal band.
06: You Shook Me All Night Long | AC/DC
From Back In Black, the first album recorded after singer Bon Scott's death. Brian Johnson does a better job than Scott might have; Angus Young comes up with one of his greatest time-to-party riffs, and drummer Phil Rudd lends a big hand to the song's propulsion. The single made #35, the album, #4.
07: Summertime Blues | Blue Cheer
Acid Rock band from the late 60's, known for super-amplified blues; Blue Cheer is one of several bands that bridged the gulf between late psychedelic and early metal. Guitarist Leigh Stephens had earlier played in the garage band The Other Half. "Summertime Blues" the Eddie Cochrane hit, is given a volcanic treatment here; it was a surprise hit at #14 on the charts. From Vincebus Eruptum, their second album.
08: Enter Sandman | Metallica
Metallica was arguably one of the two most important artists in the heavy metal renaissance of the 1980's; the other is the late Randy Rhodes. They played a tough, stripped down, speedy metal. They dressed in street clothes, instead of typical rock star fashion, bringing metal down to earth into an organic working-class music. "Enter Sandman" reached #16 on the charts; the album, Metallica, was #1.
09: Paradise City | Guns 'N' Roses
Guns 'N' Roses real legacy is their 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction. A classic-mode rock band in the late 80's, a rarity in itself, they had as much in common with the Rolling Stones as they did with any metal band. They were harder more than heavy, riff-oriented, and Slash and Izzy Stadlin played dueling guitars while Axl Rose caterwauled on top. "Paradise City" was their biggest international hit, reaching #5 in America.
10: Runnin' With The Devil | Van Halen
Van Halen began life as a San Fernando Valley bar band and ultimately seemed poised to challenge Led Zeppelin for the crown of most popular heavy metal band. After David Lee Roth left, they never seriously challenged that title again, but for awhile they were huge, commercially and influentially. "Running With The devil was their first chart single. Though it only made #82, it encapsulates perfectly all that was best with this group.
11: Flying High Again | Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne's miraculous recovery from out-of-work Black Sabbath front man to cutting-edge 80's metal pioneer was one of the least likely stories in rock history. In truth, the real star on Ozzy's first two groundbreaking albums was guitarist Randy Rhodes. "Flying High Again" reached #2 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart; it remains one of Osbourne's signature solo tunes.
12: Symphony of Destruction | Megadeth
Formed by singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine in 1983, after he left Metallica, Magadeth was once the quintessential speed-metal band. Now at it for more than 20 years they've slowed down considerably, but still maintain a large loyal fan base. Symphony Destruction, from 1992, represents something of a peak for the band. While Countdown to Extinction featured more radio-friendly music then their rawer earlier albums, it also remains quite possibly their best.
13: Raining Blood | Slayer
Possibly the most extreme thrash metal band to gain a large following, Slayer specialized in graphic, violent lyrics, the kind the PMRC hates. "Raining Blood" is from the Rick Rubin produced Reign in Blood, an album full of carnage and satanic imagery and power-packed two-and-a-half minute aggressive slabs of mayhem and torture. This album helped give birth to the death-metal genre.
14: Breadfan | Budgie
70's British Metal band Budgie sounded like a sped-up Black Sabbath, while vocalist Burke Shelley's voice resembled Geddy Lee's to an extant. "Breadfan", from Never Turn Your Back on a Friend , is one of the band's best known songs, thanks largely to Metallica's cover version. Never more than a cult band in the US, their reputation has grown over the years.
15: Gypsy | Uriah Heep
Leadoff cut from Uriah Heep's debut album. Uriah Heep most closely resembled Deep Purple, but dabbled in lyrical themes of magic and fantasy. Their classic period lasted through 1976 and centered around the vocals of David Byron, the organ of Ken Hensley, and the guitar of Mick Box. This is an extremely heavy track, with a frightshow Hammond solo in the middle.
16: (Don't Fear) The Reaper | Blue Oyster Cult
Blue Oyster Cult reinvented themselves in 1976; changing from a dark bike band that dabbled in sleazy, sadomasochistic lyrics to a mainstream album rock band with clean, clear production. They subject matter didn't get any lighter, however; this song can be read as an ode to suicide. It is also an excellent song, ominous and catchy at the same time, and features a classic midnight matinee guitar solo from Buck Dharma.
17: Mouth For War | Pantera
Metal was at a crossroads in the early 90's. Many thought grunge would render metal obsolete. Then there was Pantera. Pantera took speed metal and slowed it down, but not so it sounded anything like the slow granddaddies of heavy metal. Vocalist Phil Anselmo roared with hardcore ferocity. Vulgar Display of Power, from 1992, stands as one of the 90's most influential albums.
18: Antisocial | Anthrax
Along with Metallica and Megadeth, Anthrax was one of the big-3 architects of speed metal. Anthrax also became one of the first metal bands to explore the possibilities of hip-hop, even touring with Public Enemy. "Antisocial" was a cover of a Trust tune, from State of Euphoria, their 1988 sophomore album.
19: Can I Play With Madness | Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden's 1988 concept album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an interesting release. The band's last with guitarist Adrian Smith, it didn't even try to align itself with the prevailing metal trends of the day, thrash metal or radio-friendly glam metal. This song made the top-10 in England, as did 3 other singles from the album. Older fans may prefer "The Trooper" or "Two Minutes To Midnight" but this represents a kind of peak for the band.
20: Breaking The Law | Judas Priest
Spearheads of the New Wave of Heavy Metal in the late 70's-early 80's, Judas Priest combined doom laden lyrics with speed; another bridge spanning between classic 70's metal and speedier 80's metal. "Breaking The Law" from the 1980 album British Steel was one of their signature tunes from their big breakthrough album in America.