The Polishing of Metal Part 2
By Derek McDonald
The precise beginnings of Metal can be traced to 60's
psychedelia where proto-Metal groups took 60's rock and blues and pumped it up
to a higher level. Such individuals and groups as BLACK SABBATH, PINK FLOYD,
ARTHUR BROWN, STEPPENWOLF and JIMI HENDRIX, among others established the
earliest traceable forms.
JIMI HENDRIX played his guitar like both a lover and a
weapon. By taking advantage of the random electronic feedback given off by the
use of an electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix produced sounds never before heard. He
also added to his talent by burning and smashing his guitars on stage or
playing them with his feet or teeth, anything to get that feedback sound. To
this day he is considered the king of guitar players. He was a musician as well
as a showman. Although now he is considered classical, he was controversial
from the get go when his shows came to the attention of the press in 1967. His
contribution to Metal's evolution is beyond calculation. His drug induced death
in 1970 is still talked about today.
ARTHUR BROWN, who's hit Fire gave an excellent example of
psychedelia meets Metal. His example helped to established the valuable links
that would later form Heavy Metal.
BLACK SABBATH, an English band, got their start with their
unique dark sound. Although they are not considered to be the FIRST Metal band,
although some go farther to say they were the first "doom-Metal" band, they
certainly set themselves up to pave the way for those who followed. Black
Sabbath would go on to entertain audiences for decades to come.
PINK FLOYD was another English group who excelled in the
1970s and lived well beyond to tell the tales. Their songs were long and
intricately detailed. Pink Floyd is one of those bands that are always around,
always working in the background. Their music will be considered as classical
in centuries to come. In 1989 their song The Wall was featured at a
celebration-concert for the destruction of the Berlin Wall, but this was not
their moment of glory. That honor was in March 1973 when their Dark Side Of The
Moon LP became the Concept Album by which all future Concept Albums were to be
STEPPENWOLF are given credit for naming the genre through
their lyrics in their 1968 hit Born To Be Wild. The song featured the first
rock-n-roll use of a term originally coined by author William Burroughs, "Heavy
Metal." Although the term meant different things in each case - Burroughs used
it in a science fiction aspect to describe a mechanical man: "The Heavy Metal
Kid," while Steppenwolf used it to describe the sound of motorcycles: "Heavy
Metal thunder" ("Heavy Metal" being biker slang for motorcycle). Steppenwolf
used what ended off being the best description for this new evolving sound, so
the name stuck. Steppenwolf were short lived. They made it big after leaving
Toronto, Canada for L.A., USA but decided to call it quite in 1973 after many
successive hits. It is surprising to note that Heavy Metal may have been
invented by Canadians. It is also interesting to note that September 19, 1968,
the day that Born To Be Wild made it to gold status, could very well be the
birth date of Heavy Metal even though this style of music had been experimented
with before and the name and musical genre were not "officially" recognized
until the late part of the '70s.
Modern Metal was formed in the primordial soup of music in
the 1970's. Such groups as: T-REX, LED ZEPPELIN and ALICE COOPER. From this
start classic bands like KISS, MOTORHEAD, DEEP PURPLE and AC/DC, now considered
as staples in any Metaller's collection, came to rise in the 70's.
T-REX (a.k.a. Tyrannosaurus Rex) was a band who leaned
heavily to a dark slower sound of rock. One of their most classic albums is
that of The Electric Warrior. One of their biggest hits was Bang a Gong. T-Rex
is often over-looked but supported the new sound of rock with enthusiasm.
LED ZEPPELIN was probably the most popular Metal band of the
1970's. They were also probably the first Metal band to form in the era of
Metal. They formed exactly 1 month after its suspected birth date.
Instrumentally they were more than able and with a deep attachment to the
hippie culture they managed to attract as many female followers as well as
male, which is an accomplishment on its own due to the fact that Metal usually
only attracts the attention of males. This band had such an impact that years
after their breakup fans who had never seen them play still demand reunions of
them as often as possible. Their hit Stairway To Heaven is now a staple guitar
anthem, so much so that even to this day many record shops and guitar stores
have banned it from being played on the premises because the keepers have grown
sick of hearing it for the past 20 years.
ALICE COOPER had two key Metal specialties: to shock and to
play the rock anthem. His theatricals, including face paint and snakes, managed
to impress or disgust all who came to see him. He was so good at his art that a
reputation followed him. One of these legends that established his reputation
is a rumor that he ripped off a chicken's head and drank its blood. This rumor,
as it turns out, is incorrect. The true story is while at the Toronto Peace
festival in 1969, an audience member threw a chicken onto the stage. Alice
tossed it back and the audience tore the poor thing to shreds. His reputation
was engraved into stone. Some of his earliest works include School's Out (an
all time student anthem) and Elected.
AC/DC was Australia's contribution to Metal and their answer
to the fast approaching Punk movement. Starting at scratch in London pubs their
name came from their electric stage performances. Some of their greatest albums
were Back in Black and Razors Edge.
DEEP PURPLE was accredited as being the loudest band in
history, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and with their
dabblings in black magic imagery they also worked their way into the book of
KISS was another theatrical band who formed in the mid
1970's to a slow start. Their sexually charged rock fantasies with fireballs,
face paint, spikes and leather quickly gave them the popularity to survive for
decades. Their popularity waned in the 1980's when they stopped wearing the
fancy clothes and paints but by this time they had created such a marketing
extravaganza that they survived well into the 90's and beyond. Their marketing
engine has been matched by none. A recent "KISS Unplugged" tour - a kind of
meet the band, concert and flea market - attracted thousands of fans paying up
to $100 each to get in. One of their more humorous marketing attempts included
miniature play dolls, 15 or so years previous. At the 1996 Grammy awards KISS
gave a guest appearance dressed, once again, in the face paints and leathers
they became famous for and announced a new tour. Is this the return of
theatrics in rock, a new age of Metal? Only time will tell.
MOTORHEAD. Shortly after Lemmy Kilminster got the sack from
HAWKWIND he started his own band which de described as "The kind of band that
if we moved next to you, your lawn would die." Originally to be named Bastard,
MOTORHEAD debuted at the Roundhouse in London in May of 1975. Lemmy obviously
knew what he was doing for in 1981 MOTORHEAD's live album, No Sleep 'Til
Hammersmith, went immediately to number 1 on the UK charts, the first Metal
album to ever do so. On Lemmy Kilminster's 50th birthday he was crowned the
King Of Metal.
The 1970's was a time of experimentation. The decade where
rock met its past and future. It was also the last time an artist could just
make an album and was not expected to create EP's and Singles as they do today.
During this period it was also discovered that big money could be made by
performers and record companies alike. In fact it was during this time that the
record companies stopped being "Record Companies" and became "The Music
This decade also saw the fad known as DISCO gain wide
appeal. DISCO was a music designed for dancing and depended heavily on
synthesizers and drum machines. But, DISCO is important to mention because it
was one of the reasons why, in many people's opinion, the quality of rock music
was improved for the decades to come. It improved to make sure DISCO was dead
Traditionally, the use of synthesizers and other
electronically aided instruments or computers have been discouraged in Metal
because the results have usually been less than desirable and because of the
legacy that DISCO left behind. This has not always been the case, however, some
artists in Metal have managed to use them and get away with it. One such
performer was known to most only by his stage name. The man, MEATLOAF, who's
massive 1977 hit album Bat Out of Hell made him a legend. In the UK it stayed
on the music charts for 400 weeks! During the 80's he would follow that hit
with a series of market flops. He would not see a smash hit again until 1993
when he released the follow-up album Bat Out of Hell II: Return to Hell. This
album was a big hit for him, but none could match his original.
MEATLOAF (Real name: Marvin Lee Aday) was a large man, the
"Man-Mountain" as he was known. With the help of eccentric songwriter/producer
Jim Steinman he created a Heavy Metal phenomenon. His music was best described
as "Rock Opera." He also dressed the part and performed his shows in concert
halls accompanied by a complete orchestra. Looking more like an opera singer
than a rocker, the non-fan would have no clue to his unique form of rock music
by simply looking at him. He successfully incorporated synthesizers, pianos and
other such items into his music.
Later, other Metal groups would increasingly experiment with
synthesizers and computer dubbing with varying degrees of success.
In 1995 the band FEAR FACTORY took up the electronic baton
and devoted a large portion of their Demanufacture album to songs which were to
some degree computer aided. This album made them mainstream Metal stars and may
have paved the way for increasing use of electronic music production in Metal.
By the mid seventies Punk had added its contribution into
the mix with such greats as the SEX PISTOLS. Punk did not only influence the
music but also the industry. Punk was a wonder of entrepreneurship. In order to
publish their works, many independent/private record labels known as "Indie
Labels" were established who were dedicated to the distribution of Punk Rock.
Later, such labels would give the big record companies a fresh influx of talent
with which to publish Metal. Indies had always existed, but now their influence
Punk also revolutionized rock music in general. By the end
of the '70s rock was dying. But it took punk, often seen as a dead fad, to put
life back into it. Punk added the energy of youth into an ailing music genre.
In fact Punk was so important that it almost single handedly saved all forms of
rock and survives underground to this date. Perhaps rock music should not be
classified on its sound (i.e.: Pop, Metal, Alternative, Rap, etc..) instead it
should be classified by its date: Post-Punk or Pre-Punk because punk
revolutionized all forms of rock. It was ground 0 for the rock explosion that
would soon consume the '80s.
SEX PISTOLS were the biggest and most well known punk band.
Founded by sex shop owner Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols grew in popularity
and their wildness. Most of their hits and controversy was squeezed into one
year, 1977. In this year they not only were booted out by EMI but also A&M
for rowdiness and by complaints from other artists. After a battle they walked
out with close to 100,000 pounds from the two companies. They were then picked
up by Virgin who runs all the way to the bank with them. Sid Vicious joins the
band. During this year the all-time punk anthem Anarchy In The UK goes top 40
(their only release with EMI). Later, they released a controversial song
entitled God Save The Queen the very year of the Queen's Silver Jubilee.
Although it tops the UK music charts the name, for the first time in music
history, is censored out and all that remains in the slot it occupies is either
nothing or a black bar. To further promote themselves (or to cause a
disturbance, depending on your point of view) they floated a barge out to the
center of the Thames river which passes through London. Here, they performed a
concert for all to see. They had to be chased down and arrested by police. The
year would close with the album Never Mind The Bollocks - Here's the Sex
Pistols! Going to number 1 in the UK and them switching labels yet again to
Atlantic, an American label. The show didn't stay in England, however. The next
year they would tour America and visit small towns. Here they were known to
antagonize their audience. It was on this tour that they broke up and
disappeared into oblivion and punk followed them into the underground from
which it came. The Sex Pistols would not be heard from again until 1996 when
the remaining members (minus Sid Vicious who died some years previous) would
plan a 20th anniversary tour.
As forms of musical rebellion, punk and Metal had a lot in
common: loud guitars, attitude, well dressed and the utter disdain of society
at large. But they had different opinions where that rebellion should lead.
Punk's world view lunged towards a gleeful acceptance of boredom and no future,
but Metal somehow clung to its optimism. Sure, life sucked but Metal reminded
its listeners that, good times or bad, the bands and the fans were all in it
together. Metal provided a comforting solidarity in the face of adolescent
alienation and middle-class ennui.
By the end of the 1970's the basic groundwork that was to be
Heavy Metal was laid. The result was the arrival of an energetic modern Heavy
Metal who had something to say through images which commonly depicted the
darker side with close ties to the biker and horror film cultures.