The Pre-history Of Metal

Written by: Aristarchos
Published: 05.08.2014
The roots of heavy metal could of course be traced back how far you want, starting with classical music, which many metal bands are influenced by, over to the introduction of the electric guitar in jazz (and to a lesser extent in blues at around the same time) in the 30's, to T-Bone Walker in the 40's, who was the first more successful electric blues guitarist.

In the early '50s, Memphis blues guitarists Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson and Pat Hare started to make use of distortion and power chords in their playing style. The instrumental blues guitarist Link Wray was also an important predecessor to metal, especially his hit "Rumble" from 1958, which was banned from air play because it sounded too evil. Link Wray has been called the first mainstream musician to use power chords. Other early predecessors include surf rocker Dick Dale and garage rockers The Kingsmen, or at least their hit "Louie Louie" from 1963.

The song many consider as the first example of hard rock is "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks from 1964, featured on their self-titled debut album. The song contains power chords and distortion, which was created by guitarist Dave Davies by slicing the speaker cone of his guitar amplifier with a razor blade and poking it with a pin. The song became a huge hit (The Kinks' breakthrough hit), even reaching number one in England, and number seven in USA. The Kingsmen's song "Louie Louie" has by Ray Davies of The Kinks been mentioned as the biggest influence for "You Really Got Me." Most of The Kinks' other material is more pop/rock. Another early song that often is mentioned as hard rock is The Who's "My Generation" from 1965. The Who took the use of power chords further. Their sound, though, is generally power pop or rock, and not hard rock. Sometimes "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, from the same year, is called hard rock, too.

The first band to play a more constant harder music was the supergroup Cream, a band that exclusively consisted of members who had been voted as the best instrumentalist on their respective instrument; bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton (earlier in The Yardbirds) and drummer Ginger Baker. Cream's music was still heavily rooted in blues, but they played harder than anyone before them. Cream is also remembered for their live shows, where they extended their songs with never ending solos; originally because they didn't have enough material to fill the shows. Cream released their debut album Fresh Cream in 1966. Their second album, Disraeli Gears from 1967, was probably equally influential. On the song "Tales of Brave Ulysses" (later covered by Trouble), they were one of the first bands to use the wah-wah pedal, around the same time as The Jimi Hendrix Experience on "Burning of the Midnight Lamp."

The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first single, "Hey Joe," in 1966. The second single, "Purple Haze," released in the spring of 1967, was probably the heaviest song of its day, and became a big hit. The same year came the debut album Are You Experienced?, which has been hugely influential, but still it wasn't metal. The Jimi Hendrix Experience also released a second album in 1967, Axis: Bold As Love, and their third and last album, Electric Ladyland, in 1968.

The first band that bordered on metal was Blue Cheer (named after a type of LSD) when they released the first single, "Summertime Blues," from their debut album Vincebus Eruptum. My sources differ from each other over whether the single was released in late 1967 or early 1968, but the album was released in January 1968. "Summertime Blues" is a cover of the Eddie Cochran song from 1958 (The Who used to do a cover of this song live), but Blue Cheer's version is way heavier. Whether "Summertime Blues" crosses the border to metal could be discussed; it still had a strong rock element, but is in my opinion the most metallic song of the '60s - even more metallic than anything Led Zeppelin did. "Summertime Blues" became a big hit of that time, reaching number 14 on Billboard single chart.

"Summertime Blues" is quite untypical of the album and the only song on it bordering metal. The rest of the songs on Vincebus Eruptum are mainly psychedelic rock, or heavy psych as it is called. Vincebus Eruptum is sometimes also called the first stoner rock album. Although Blue Cheer was part of the psychedelic scene, they distanced themselves from the happy flower power side of it. Blue Cheer also released a second album the same year, Outsideinside, named so because it was recorded both outside and inside. Since they were playing too loud the studio couldn't manage the volume, which is why they recorded outside. People 14 kilometers away complained about they were playing too loud! After that album they would change for a softer sound.

1968 also came to see the release of many other heavy albums. Just like Blue Cheer, many of the bands behind these albums came from USA. The band that would turn out to be the biggest of these was Iron Butterfly. Iron Butterfly released their debut album, Heavy, in early 1968. The title says quite a lot of what they were trying to sound like. Also, the inclusion of the word iron in their band name indicated that it was a heavy sound they were after. Heavy wasn't as heavy as its follower, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, though.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was also released in 1968 and shows a heavy psychedelic organ-dominated sound. It is most remembered for the 17-minute-long title track, which often is seen as a predecessor to progressive rock with its long solos (for example, a three-minute-long drum solo) as well as to heavy metal, but in my opinion the whole album is still great. The song "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was also released as a single in a short three-minute version, but the radio chose to play the long 17-minute version. Today it is hard to understand how huge Iron Butterfly once was, when they today are relatively forgotten. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was left on the Billboard chart until 1971, best reaching number four, and has today sold more than 30 million copies, something merely The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road are the only albums from the '60s to have succeeded with too! In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida was also the first album receiving a platinum album, which means it has sold one million albums in USA. After this album Iron Butterfly would not be relevant in the history of metal more.

When I mentioned The Beatles I could add that they in 1968 released their album The Beatles (more known as The White Album), which featured the song "Helter Skelter," a song that is often seen as a proto-metal song and was one of the heaviest of its day.

Next we have Vanilla Fudge, also Americans. Vanilla Fudge is another psychedelic rock band, but they were also heavily influenced by soul. They released their first album, Vanilla Fudge, in 1967. It only consisted of cover songs. Their version of The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" became a big hit. After a not equally successful follower, they released their third album Renaissance in 1968. Renaissance is Vanilla Fudge's most relevant album in the discussion of metal, and also my personal favourite album of the '60s proto-metal albums. It contains three covers and four original tracks. Just like Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge played a heavy organ-dominated proto-metal, and both Deep Purple and Uriah Heep have mentioned Vanilla Fudge as one of their biggest influences. Jon Lord of Deep Purple has said something like, "today people are talking about Jimi Hendrix, but back then Vanilla Fudge was the biggest band for us; in the beginning we were trying to be nothing else than just a Vanilla Fudge clone." When Vanilla Fudge were touring they had Led Zeppelin as opening act. They have themselves said that when Led Zeppelin played, sometimes the audiences were booing!

Deep Purple released their first two albums in 1968, but at that time they were still a pop band, and wouldn't be relevant for metal until two years later.

Canadian-American Steppenwolf is most famous for their song "Born To Be Wild," featured on their 1968 eponymous debut album. It is often mentioned that the lyrics of "Born To Be Wild" include the use of the phrase "heavy metal," though not referring to the music, but to a motorcycle (and the word heavy metal had been used in lyrics in other ways earlier). Steppenwolf's early music is often described as psychedelic rock. They also recorded a second album, The Second, in 1968, from which they received a hit with the song "Magic Carpet Ride."

From the USA also came the heavy psych band Dragonfly. Dragonfly only released one self-titled album. Some sources say the album was released in 1970, but both, and some other sources say it was released already in 1968. Heavy for its time.

Another band who would release their debut album in 1968 is the British Gun, who had a Cream-influenced sound. The album is simply called Gun, and is most famous for the brilliant single "Race With The Devil," which became a big hit, and is a must for every metal fan to hear. "Race With The Devil" has since been covered by Judas Priest and Girlschool, among others.

The Jeff Beck Group, consisting of, among others, Rod Stewart on vocals, Jeff Beck (earlier in The Yardbirds) on guitars and the later Rolling Stones bass player Ronnie Wood, would release their debut album Truth in 1968. The album included guest performances from both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, both later in Led Zeppelin. Truth is still a very blues-based hard rock album, influenced by Cream, but took the sound closer to heavy metal than Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Led Zeppelin has mentioned this album as their main influence for their sound, and even recorded their own version of the song "You Shook Me" for their debut album. Now already Jeff Beck's version of "You Shook Me" was a cover, written by Willie Dixon, first recorded by Earl Hooker as an instrumental under the name "Blue Guitar" in 1961, and then overdubbed by Muddy Waters in 1962 as "You Shook Me". In 1969 The Jeff Beck Group would release their second album Beck-Ola, another heavy album, that has been influential to metal.

Led Zeppelin was formed out of the ashes of The Yardbirds, when they only had one tour in Scandinavia left. Jimmy Page, who was the only remaining member of The Yardbirds, pulled together some new members, and the band turned out to be Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin released two albums in 1969, called Led Zeppelin (also known as Led Zeppelin I) and Led Zeppelin II. Led Zeppelin is most famous for the song "Dazed And Confused," but the most important song for metal is probably "Communication Breakdown." "Communication Breakdown" is sometimes mentioned as a predecessor to speed metal. Led Zeppelin II is often seen as Led Zeppelin's heaviest album, and most famous for the song "Whole Lotta Love," but the album is still very blues-based. "Communication Breakdown" and "Whole Lotta Love" are the only two Led Zeppelin songs bordering metal.

Apart from Led Zeppelin's two albums, probably the heaviest album released in 1969 is High Tide's Sea Shanties. High Tide is often called progressive rock, but they played heavier than any other progressive rock band of their time. King Crimson, who released their influential debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King the same year, is only truly relevant for metal for the song "21st Century Schizoid Man," although many metal bands later would mention their music as a big influence.

In 1969 also Alice Cooper would release their debut album Pretties For You, but they wouldn't be truly relevant until two years later. An American hard rock band that was way bigger at that time (especially in North America and Australia) was Grand Funk Railroad. They released their first two albums, On Time and Grand Funk in 1969.

Coven was more of a psychedelic rock band than hard rock, but they deserves to be mentioned because of their satanic lyrics and their use of the sign of the horns, something they were probably the first band to use. Their debut album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls was released in 1969. From 1969 also Iron Maiden's album Maiden Voyage could be mentioned.

MC5 and The Stooges (especially The Stooges) would be more influential for punk than for metal, but both deserve to be mentioned in the history for metal, too. Both released their debut albums in 1969; Kick Out The Jams and The Stooges, respectively. In the case of The Stooges it would be their second album, Fun House, released in 1970, that would be their most influential one, but for MC5 it was the debut.

In 1970 Led Zeppelin would release their album Led Zeppelin III, which was less heavy than its two predecessors, and more folk-influenced. The only song relevant for metal is "Immigrant Song," which sometimes, because of its lyrics, is called the first Viking metal song.

But there was one other band that in 1970 would create a heavier and darker sound than anyone before them: Black Sabbath. Black Sabbath released two albums in 1970: Black Sabbath and Paranoid. These two albums are the first two albums often accepted as metal.

Black Sabbath is most famous for the title track and "N.I.B." Overall the album still contains elements of blues and jazz, and it could be argued that the album is as much heavy blues rock as metal; especially I find the harmonica on "The Wizard" quite unmetallic. But for the song "Black Sabbath," there is no doubt that the only description that is fitting is doom metal, the first song of that sort (a little more info about that song could be found in my article about the history of doom metal). The album features two covers, "Evil Woman" and "Warning." The first one was also released as a single. Some of the lyrics of the albums were about occultism, but not really satanic.

Paranoid contains the title track, which also was released as a single, and is, along with "Iron Man" (also from this album), the most famous Black Sabbath song. "Paranoid" was written just before they recorded the album, because they needed a three-minute filler for the album. It is well-known that Ozzy was reading the lyrics while they were recording. While some of the other tracks on this album have a doomy feeling, "Paranoid" is faster and could be considered as the first pure traditional heavy metal song (on "Children Of The Grave" from the next album, they would take that sound further).

Since we now reached the start of metal as a genre I could quit this article, but before I do that I'm going to take a look at what else happened in the hard rock genre in 1970.

Next to Black Sabbath's both albums, the most important release for metal in 1970 was Deep Purple's In Rock. In Rock's most classic song is the 10-minute-long epic "Child In Time", which is based on It's A Beautiful Day's song "Bombay Calling." The heaviest song on the album is the other classic song "Speed King." But what probably made this album most special is the production, which was way better than, for example, both of Black Sabbath's albums, or any '60s proto-metal album. The song "Black Night," which was released as a single the same year, wasn't featured on the album. Before this album Deep Purple had kicked out two of their members. One of them was the bassist Nick Simper, who instead would form the band Warhorse. The album Warhorse was released in 1970, and musically it isn't too far from Deep Purple's In Rock.

Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple are often together called the "classic three" in hard rock, but sometimes a fourth band is added: Uriah Heep. Uriah Heep released their first album ...Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble in 1970. It is bluesier than their later material. The most classic (and in my opinion most interesting) songs on the album are "Gypsy" and the ballad "Come Away Melinda." The US version of the album also includes the brilliant song "Bird Of Prey," that also would be featured on their next album, Salisbury, in 1971. Uriah Heep is often accused for copying [band]Deep Purple[band]'s sound, because of the way they use organs, but both Iron Butterfly and Vanilla Fudge had used organs in hard rock earlier than Deep Purple, and I think Uriah Heep is as much reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge as of Deep Purple. Uriah Heep's sound is closer to progressive rock than Deep Purple's.

Another band that would play hard rock with influences from progressive rock is the German Lucifer's Friend, who released their self-titled album in 1970. This album is best remembered for its opening track "Ride In The Sky." Lucifer's Friend's singer John Lawton would later join [band]Uriah Heep[/i]. Lucifer's Friend have also been mentioned as an influence for doom metal.

I have already mentioned that Grand Funk Railroad reached big success in USA. Their best-selling album (double-platinum in USA) was their 1970 release Closer To Home.

Another band that would reach success in USA was Mountain. They released their debut album Climbing! in 1970, best known for their song "Mississippi Queen," but my personal favourite song is the cover "Theme For An Imaginary Western."

A band that didn't succeed at all back then but was re-discovered later is Sir Lord Baltimore. Their album Kingdom Come was probably, along with Black Sabbath's first two albums, the heaviest album released yet. To some people it is even accepted as metal. Although the sound was very heavy, it was still very bluesy and psychedelic. My personal favourite song on Kingdom Come is the title track. Sir Lord Baltimore is often referred to as "the godfathers of stoner rock," although other would argue that the start of stoner rock dates back longer. There is a famous review for this album by Mike Saunders, where he wrote "Sir Lord Baltimore seems to have down pat most all the best heavy metal tricks in the book." Although this wasn't the first use of heavy metal for describing the music, it helped to spread the word.

Mike Saunders had one year earlier written "Here they were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-leaden shit-rock band with the loud and noisy parts beyond doubt," when reviewing Humble Pie's As Safe as Yesterday Is from 1969. As Safe as Yesterday Is was far from what we now consider as heavy metal. Their 1970 eponymous release was at least a little heavier, although not metal.

The Jeff Beck Group and Vanilla Fudge split up in 1969 and 1970 respectively, but members from the latter band would form another band called Cactus, including Rusty Day, Jim McCarty, and the two former Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice. They released the album Cactus in 1970.

Black Widow is a band that, just like the aforementioned Coven, is most famous for their satanic lyrics. Because of similarities in name and image, they were sometimes mixed up with Black Sabbath, something Black Sabbath wasn't happy about, but Black Widow didn't have anything against. Black Widow released their debut album Sacrifice in 1970. The most famous song on the album is "Come To The Sabbath." Their sound is often compared to Jethro Tull.

Jethro Tull released the album Benefit in 1970, which wasn't their debut, but their heaviest album throughout.

Wishbone Ash is famous for introducing the twin lead guitars, later adopted by Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, among others. They released their eponymous debut album in 1970. Other bands associated with hard rock that released their debut albums in 1970 include Atomic Rooster and Bloodrock. Both had self-titled debut albums.

I end this article with mentioning my home country Sweden's first hard rock band, November. They released their debut album En ny tid är här... in 1970, which included lyrics in Swedish. When touring in England, they translated the lyrics to English, but the audience wanted the Swedish lyrics. November's biggest hit was "Mount Everest."

Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


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Aristarchos - 05.08.2014 at 10:36  
Of course there were many more hard rock albums released during these years, especially in 1970, but there is especially one more album from 1969 that I have discovered since I wrote this article that I want to mention: The 31 Flavors' Hair; especially for the song "Distortions of Darkness" which could even be called the first doom metal song ever. Really heavy for being 1969. For fans of Heavy psych, I could also recommend Randy Holden's album Population II from 1970. Randy Holden was for a short while also a member of Blue Cheer.

To sum up some recommended songs I have created this list, also featuring songs from the rest of the 70's: Songs From The 60's And The 70's I Think Every Metal Fan Should Have Heard.
Hex_Omega - 05.08.2014 at 10:47  
Lucifer's Friend

Glad to see someone remember this band . Their first album is an absolute classic of early heavy metal music.
Aristarchos - 06.08.2014 at 11:21  
Written by Hex_Omega on 05.08.2014 at 10:47

Lucifer's Friend

Glad to see someone remember this band . Their first album is an absolute classic of early heavy metal music.

I'm far too young to remember this band, but I have done my research about the history of hard rock/metal.
krrrrebets - 06.08.2014 at 22:11  
Thank you very much for that. A very nice article.'

Few of the bands are new to me. Got some listening to do now...
Aristarchos - 08.08.2014 at 15:20  
Written by Guest on 06.08.2014 at 22:11

Thank you very much for that. A very nice article.'

Few of the bands are new to me. Got some listening to do now...

Bad English - 10.08.2014 at 02:42  
Good one I will try those blues guitarist what you mentioned ... I never have heard Vanilla Fudge , Gun, Butterfly , High Tide ... but good article, even I get new band names, its all, good for begginers, not me (nothing personally) but I knew all those thinks
Aristarchos - 11.08.2014 at 15:40  
Written by Bad English on 10.08.2014 at 02:42

Good one I will try those blues guitarist what you mentioned ... I never have heard Vanilla Fudge , Gun, Butterfly , High Tide ... but good article, even I get new band names, its all, good for begginers, not me (nothing personally) but I knew all those thinks

I'm not doubting you already know everything worth knowing about metal.
Bad English - 11.08.2014 at 15:41  
Written by Aristarchos on 11.08.2014 at 15:40

Written by Bad English on 10.08.2014 at 02:42

Good one I will try those blues guitarist what you mentioned ... I never have heard Vanilla Fudge , Gun, Butterfly , High Tide ... but good article, even I get new band names, its all, good for begginers, not me (nothing personally) but I knew all those thinks

I'm not doubting you already know everything worth knowing about metal.

well still nice to read
Karlabos - 12.08.2014 at 04:31  
For an instant I thought the cover was lovesilkpalemilk - Mircea

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