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 judged by.

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 history.

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 Industry."

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 for good.

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 was recognized.

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.