The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter Seven

1969 – The Turning Point

The two big years of psychedelic music caused a change in popular music that was unlike anything to have come before or after. Within those two years, rock was transformed into serious music; short and simple dance songs dropped out of favour and instead longer compositions with more technical playing or more advanced and complex music was becoming the in thing. Short songs were still necessary for radio play and hits, and simplicity still appealed to a large portion of the listening public. But rock musicians were interested in experimentation and thus many new sounds and styles emerged that had previously been heard only in experimental tinkering or not at all.

As previously discussed, in 1966 there were four foundations that would each contribute to the development of heavy metal: electric blues, garage rock, psychedelic rock, and the nascent progressive rock subgenre. Over the two years of 1967 and 1968, when psychedelic music mushroomed and swallowed just about every form of popular music, the three other foundations were transformed as though they had gone through adolescence and reached adulthood. Electric blues bands like The Yardbirds and Cream had adapted to the new sounds of the psychedelic period but by the end of it, both groups had folded. Yet the blues had not dropped of the music map at all. On the contrary, it re-emerged in 1969 with new muscle, and the most exemplary would have to be Led Zeppelin’s debut in January of 1969, featuring blazing guitar work by Jimmy Page, Robert Plant’s powerful howls, and a rhythm section with John Paul Jones and John Bonham that simply pounded the floor. If there was to be one album of 1969 that resonated furthest into the future of heavy guitar rock, this would be the one.

Garage rock as it had been in 1966, which was perhaps also its peak year, also underwent a great transformation. Bands had managed to work in the psychedelic sounds of ‘67/’68 and for many this lead to a harder-edged style. The Stooges, MC5, and the final album by The Litter are examples of the new approach to the garage rock style, and from this new sound the forth-coming subgenre of punk rock was in gestation. A great majority of bands, however, faded out by 1968, finding it difficult to maintain success with the style of music that had drawn the respective musicians together in the first place.

The subgenre to benefit most from the psychedelic peak years was progressive rock. By 1969 a slew of new groups had formed – mostly in Great Britain but also in Germany and Italy – who were interested in experimenting with music and who would take rock music far beyond its unsophisticated beginnings. Among these new groups, King Crimson was likely one of the most influential, not only in prog circles but also in heavy metal and most notably for their monster heavy hit of ’69, “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

The most important point that distinguishes the music of 1969 from previous years is that there were numerous new bands who recognized that it was not only possible but desirable to record an entire album, or nearly entire album, of heavy guitar rock music. Prior to 1969 perhaps the only album that was truly heavy to that extent was Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum”. Led Zeppelin’s debut in January was a monster in itself with a heavier guitar sound than had appeared on most earlier blues rock recordings (except for maybe a couple of tracks from Cream’s “Fresh Cream”). More importantly though was that the music was no longer strictly adhering to the blues but had become blues-based. Speed burners like “Communication Breakdown” and the hurricane force of the instrumental section of “Dazed and Confused” combined speed and heaviness in ways barely unheard of and established this form of music as more than just a novelty but as a new style. The appeal to playing loud and heavy music extended even beyond bands who would establish themselves as classic heavy rock acts. After The Who had released “I Can See for Miles” in 1967, The Beatles had topped it for hard-hitting heaviness in 1968 with “Helter Skelter”. But in 1969, Pink Floyd beat that with “The Nile Song”, which had even more distortion and shouted vocals than The Beatles had in them.

With the appeal of loud, heavy guitar music, other new bands that appeared on the rock scene and thundered their way across vinyl were Americans like Grand Funk Railroad and Sir Lord Baltimore, whose muscled up music was so loud and raucous that it earned from critics the derisive appellation “heavy metal”. Lesley West played his heavy blues rock in his new band Mountain and Yesterday’s Children managed to cut a sole LP in 1969 of their brand of heavy rock. In Britain, Andromeda and High Tide were combining heavy guitar rock with the more complex musical approach that the new progressive rock bands were experimenting with, and the soon to be famous Deep Purple were approaching a critical moment in their history when guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would push the band further into a heavy guitar rock direction.

Without contention the most influential band in the early history of heavy metal, Black Sabbath, was also coming into form. Having changed from a folk-based band called Earth, the four musicians from Birmingham were working on a new sound that combined blues and jazz with heavy psychedelic sounds and fantasy and occult themes. Though their debut would not see record store shelves until 1970, their earliest single releases were quick to grab attention around the world. Iron Claw in Scotland, Pax in Peru, Bang in the U.S. and Flower Traveling Band in Japan, to name a few, snapped up this new heavier sound and began writing and recording music over the next couple of years.

Though heavy metal music is identified by its guitar sound and playing style, for a lot of heavy rock bands in 1969 the Hammond organ was equally important. Vanilla Fudge had introduced the sound of loud, heavy guitar with swirling Hammond organ chords to great success in 1967, and this sound had appealed to Ritchie Blackmore, who wanted to create a band that would be like Vanilla Fudge. Other bands in 1969 who included a Hammond organ player were Valhalla from Long Island, Spice (soon to be Uriah Heep) from the U.K., Warpig in Canada, and Lucifer’s Friend in Germany.

Naturally, as this new style of music became in vogue, many of the bands that had helped initiate it in 1967/’68 struggled to fit in the new scene. Iron Butterfly experienced a line-up shake down, losing guitarist Erik Braunn and taking on two new guitarists, Mike Pinera and Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt. The band managed one more album in 1971 before folding. Vanilla Fudge performed their farewell concert on March, 1970. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was no more as Hendrix began work on a new band project, Band of Gypsies. Other bands like Blue Cheer moved away from the heavy and voluminous sound they had created and ventured into another new subgenre called roots rock, which brought back the country and acoustic origins of rock and roll. More heavy rock bands would later also follow this route.

The year 1969 saw the rock music scene begin to coalesce into new subgenres out of the fertile nebula of psychedelic music. It was the year that progressive rock began to rise to the surface, that punk rock began to take on a form that is recognizable against the style that became popular in the mid-seventies, that roots rock started to attract a loyal following of musicians, and the year that a good number of bands around the world agreed that loud heavy guitar rock, sometimes including a thundering Hammond organ, was the direction in which their music lay. The first generation of heavy metal bands was born.

The History of Heavy Metal – Chapter Six: Break On Through

The years of 1967 and ’68 were arguably the most influential and important years in the evolutionary history of pop music. The world of pop music prior and the world of pop music after look very different from one another. As far as the development of heavy metal was concerned, the psychedelic peak years were the period when some classic proto-metal music was recorded.

In chapter five we considered four developing sub-genres of pop music – British invasion electric blues, American garage rock and its British counterpart known as freak beat, the nascent progressive rock scene, and the emerging psychedelic music scene which was very closely tied to the proto-progressive bands (chiefly The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention). The psychedelic explosion that occurred over the above-mentioned two years altered the other three sub-genres profoundly. Blues artists such as Cream and The Yardbirds entered the psychedelic years on strong legs and experimented with the immensely varied possibilities that psychedelic music created. Cream gave us two very different and remarkable albums with “Disraeli Gears” in ’67 and “Wheels of Fire” in ’68. Their blues sound became less emphasized but their music more diverse and imaginative, yet still they managed to keep the blues an integral part of their music and scored memorable hits with “Strange Brew”, “Sunshine of Your Love”, and “Crossroads”. Yet despite their success, or because of it, Cream disbanded in 1969.

The Yardbirds, under the guidance of Jimmy Page, were moving toward a harder blues rock sound; however their 1967 album “Little Games” was influenced too greatly by their producer Giorgio Gomelsky who pushed for more quirky British psychedelic songs. Though Page continued to steer the band toward heavy psychedelic rock, the band dissolved before the end of ’68 and Page hastily summoned new members, forming The New Yardbirds who soon changed their name to Led Zeppelin. Their debut album in January of 1969 is a landmark album in the history of heavy metal music.

The garage rock and freak beat scenes were divided from the beginning with some bands pursuing more pleasing pop numbers while others preferred a grittier sound with rough vocals and fuzz tone guitar. The Seeds and The Sonics both emerged early on with their distinctive sounds – The Seeds with a sneer and penchant for fuzz tone and The Sonics with their highly energetic and aggressive approach. Their styles, however, became significantly mellow during the peak psychedelic years. On the other hand, The Litter and The Amboy Dukes (led by Ted Nugent) went in a heavier direction with The Litter’s final album in ’69 being as much a proto-punk album as a proto-metal one, and The Amboy Dukes experimenting with heavy guitar-based progressive music by the end of the decade. Britain’s The Attack also turned heavier with the inclusion of guitarist John Cann, and though they would dissolve in ’68, Cann would create his heavy progressive act Andromeda during the final year of The Attack’s existence. Ultimately, though, garage rock would lose popularity and run its course as psychedelic music encouraged more experimental and often more complex music.

The progressive music scene was likely the one that benefited most from the psychedelic explosion exactly because it encouraged experimentation and complexity. Early landmarks were The Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for its almost conceptual nature and Procol Harum’s hit “Whiter Shade of Pale”, which was derivative of Bach and further expressed the concept of writing pop music with classical influences. Indeed already The Beatles and The Beach Boys had already created albums that were meant to be listened to and not just music for dancing and parties. By the year 1969, progressive rock was miles ahead with debut albums by King Crimson and Yes, and the envelop-pushing sounds of The Nice.

Psychedelic music gave musicians and song writers the freedom to explore any approach they desired. This meant music could be mellow and sweet with acoustic guitars, flute, organ, and harmony vocals (many Summer of Love anthems), loud and powerful with brass and deep, soulful vocals (The Electric Flag, Tom Jones), trippy and experimental with in-studio effects or guitar and organ effects (Jefferson Airplane’s “After Bathing at Baxter’s”), or raucous and aggressive (Blue Cheer’s “Vincebus Eruptum”). As such, some bands sought a heavier sound with emphasis on electric guitar and distortion effects. To accompany this, louder and more powerful vocals were often necessary. The rhythm section of drums and bass also advanced to help create more complex music. In particular, changes in the styles of drumming occurred with great leaps as drummers with strong jazz backgrounds contributed their talents and eastern rhythms were introduced in western music. Ron Bushy’s drum solo in Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” was distinctive of the new drumming styles of the late sixties.

Few would argue against the notion that heavy metal’s most recognizable instrument is the electric guitar with its distortion. Guitar playing was already making great advances in the early to mid-sixties with musicians like Dick Dale, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and the lesser-known Ritchie Blackmore developing new methods of playing. But in early 1967, one man would bring to the table a way of guitar playing and song-writing that was unprecedented. Jimi Hendrix dropped jaws at his debut appearance at the Marquee in London, and among those jaws that fell open were those of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Pete Townshend. The Jimi Hendrix Experience released the single “Purple Haze” in March, 1967 and their debut “Are You Experienced” came out in May of the same year. Hendrix’s blend of traditional blues with eastern modalities, guitar distortion and his unique style made him a sensation. His band’s short run would produce a number of classic hits and as well influence countless musicians, particularly those in the still nascent heavy metal and hard rock genres.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream produced two of the most memorable guitar riffs in 1967 with “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love” respectively. The Who, following The Beatles example of a concept album, recorded their commercial sell-out concept album, “The Who Sell Out” and featured the killer psychedelic hard rocker “I Can See for Miles”. Jefferson Airplane began the year of ’67 with their classic album “Surrealistic Pillow” that scored two hits: “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”. But it was their follow-up to that, “After Bathing at Baxter’s” where the guitar experimental sounds and a harder edge to some songs entered their repertoire. Fellow California-born band The Doors held no bars with the frantic pace of “Break On Through (to the other side)“. The Yardbirds album “Little Games” might have been a disappointment to many; however, “Think About It” on side B introduced an early version of the guitar solo that would appear on Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” in ’69. Meanwhile on the American east coast, Vanilla Fudge were creating a unique sound with soulful vocals, Hammond organ, and a heavy guitar sound. Their covers of “You Keep Me Hanging On” and “Ticket to Ride” caught the attention of many musicians, including one Ritchie Blackmore who decided that he would like to create a band like Vanilla Fudge. Also worthy of mention in ’67 was the debut of Pink Floyd, which featured some loud and experimental guitar numbers “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine”.

Amidst these stand out points, there were bands across the western hemisphere who were exploring heavy psychedelic and aggressive garage rock. As 1967 reached its autumn, new bands were recording debut albums to be released in January of ’68. That month gave us two excellent proto-metal hits with Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and Blue Cheer’s bombastic thundering cover of “Summertime Blues”. Also in that month, Iron Butterfly released its debut with “Iron Butterfly Theme” being an exemplary instrumental of loud, heavy psychedelic rock.

The year 1968 also saw the formation of Deep Purple, and though the music on their first three albums would pale beneath the thunderhead album that was “Deep Purple in Rock” in 1970, there was still a drive by Ritchie Blackmore to feature energetic and creative rock music with classical influences and hard rock guitar shredding. Some of Blackmore’s most volatile solos can be heard on these early albums.

It was the year of a turning point in rock music. Though 1968 saw certain bands reach the peak of their careers, there were new bands forming in the wings, and while the older bands whose careers had already spanned two or three years – or even more in some cases – were continuing with the current trends, the new bands were picking out the best of the heavy sounds and preparing themselves for the final year of the sixties. Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” had produced yet another classic proto-metal riff. Jimmy Page was taking a violin bow to his guitar. Jeff Beck had released his debut with Rod Stewart on vocals. Vanilla Fudge were getting heavier. The influence of Blue Cheer’s debut was rippling outward. Cream and The Yardbirds were getting heard in America. The Who were enjoying worldwide success. The Beatles tried to top The Who by recording the pounding stomper “Helter Skelter”. If anything, hard-hitting, heavy and aggressive rock music was becoming attractive. And the new bands of 1969 would usher in the next generation of heavy rock, a style that would earn itself the title heavy metal.

The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter Four

Most documentaries and accounts of the history of heavy metal music will mention the debut album by Black Sabbath as the first instance of the popular music sub-genre. Others will report initial stirrings of the style in the psychedelic years of the late sixties. Black Sabbath could never have been if it had not been for this crucial musical development in their home country. For when the British discovered the blues, that really set things in motion.

Chapter Four: The British Invasion

Rock & Roll came to Britain in the 1950’s and immediately appealed to the British youth. By the late fifties, Britain had produced its own stars like Cliff Richard and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Rock & Roll was a product of America and was exported to the U.K. via the American service men who brought records from back home with them. This included not only Rock & Roll but also jazz and blues. The exotic sounds of African American music, particularly its focus on rhythm, inspired many young Britons who were already interested in picking up instruments and learning to play Rock & Roll. While many young drummers turned to jazz, a good number of guitar players and singers preferred the blues. The Blues were led by a guitar riff and featured soulful vocals. The guitarist was given the spotlight for a lead performance. Bands dedicated to the blues began forming around the country.

The vanguard of the British Invasion (as the succession of chart-topping British pop bands came to be known in the U.S.) was fronted by the Mersey beat mop tops, the Beatles whose music was very pop oriented. However, close behind were The Rolling Stones whose career would stick closely to the blues and who began doing mostly covers of old American blues numbers. The Kinks became famous for their garage rock hit “You Really Got Me” but initially they also covered blues classics. Originally known as The High Numbers, The Who did R&B numbers and American pop hits covers but with intensity and they referred to their music “maximum R&B”. There was also The Yardbirds, with a young Eric Clapton on guitar, who really tried to stick with the image of a true blues band, even going as far as to record an album with blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson II (a.k.a. “Rice” Miller). The five bands mentioned above were each very distinct in their musical styles from one another. During the years between 1964 and 1966, two of them would have the greatest influence on the development of heavy metal.

The Beatles were the lords of the pop charts. In all of their career, their contribution toward heavy metal would remain at a minimum in comparison with the other four bands. The Kinks inspired distorted guitar riff rock with their songs “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”, and these songs are sometimes cited as the first instances of heavy metal music for their raw sound and blazing guitar solos. Indeed the songs have been covered many times by rock, punk, and metal bands, and Van Halen’s cover of “You Really Got Me” in 1978 put the song back in the spotlight. The Rolling Stones, as we saw in Chapter Three, kicked the fuzz box craze in motion with their buzzing classic riff for “(I Can’t Get no) Satisfaction” in 1965. But neither The Kinks nor The Rolling Stones would develop the heaviness of their music quite like The Who and The Yardbirds.

From the onset, The Who was not content to be another British pop band. They did R&B covers, and Pete Townshend scored the band’s first hit when his efforts write a garage rock riff number churned out “I Can’t Explain”. The B-side of the single included a cover of “Bald Headed Woman” with a rather heavy fuzz-toned guitar opening played by young session musician, Jimmy Page. Through 1965 and ’66, The Who would record many more originals as well as covers, and the band’s individual members would turn The Who into legends. Guitarist Pete Townshend would become famous for his leaps and scissor jumps on stage while swinging his arm like a pinwheel and slashing the guitar strings. Bassist John Entwistle became a leading force in bass playing and is featured playing a fuzz tone bass in his solo “The Ox” and known for his bass solo in The Who’s smash hit “My Generation”. His playing style influenced many future bass players. As the lead vocalist on most songs, Roger Daltrey put a face to the songs. He would later develop a rougher and more powerful style of singing. And then there was drummer Keith Moon, whose off-stage antics became almost as legendary as his drumming style. It was said that Townshend and Entwistle would play the music and Moon would just solo over everything.

As much as their music, The Who would contribute to the future style of heavy metal in two other ways. One was Pete Townshend’s quest for volume. As The Who moved out of small clubs and into bigger venues, the band required greater amplification for their instruments. Townshend worked together with Jim Marshall at Marshall amps to develop an amplifier that could deliver the output required. This led to the development of the Marshall amplifiers that gave The Who their wall-of-sound and earned them the title of loudest band in the world. The Marshall amp became synonymous with heavy metal music in the late seventies and eighties.

The other crucial contribution by The Who was their stage performance. The British Invasion emerged during a time of Mod culture in Britain, when young men pursued fashion in the way of Italian suits. Early recorded performances show British bands standing erect and proper, dressed in suits and playing their instruments cheerfully in the TV studio or on the stage. The Who would change that one night when Pete Townshend raised his guitar and accidentally rammed it through the low ceiling over the club stage. The audience found this amusing and this infuriated him more so he crashed the guitar onto the stage. The audience took notice now as did Keith Moon who promptly kicked his drum set over. Daultrey began stomping on his microphone. News of the band’s wild behaviour spread and this wanton destruction of their instruments on stage became a shock factor that people wanted to experience. Loud, wild, and rocking, The Who may just as well have been one of the first punk rock bands, too.

The smooth blues of the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton as their lead guitarist earned them a following among electric blues fans. However, the band was not getting on the charts as their contemporaries were, and a pop number “For Your Love” was recorded. This got them recognized on the charts, but Eric Clapton was not pleased as the band began considering doing more pop numbers. Unwilling to sell out, Clapton quit the band. After Jimmy Page declined to take over, he suggested his friend Jeff Beck. Beck was an ideal fit because he could play the blues, he could play more pop-oriented numbers and perhaps most importantly, he was eager to experiment with the sound and style of the guitar.

With Jeff Beck on board, The Yardbirds’ sound became grittier. Jeff used fuzz boxes for guitar solos as in “Heart Full of Soul” and “Mister You’re a Better Man Than I” but he also played more aggressive riffs such as on The Yardbirds’ cover of “Train Kept A Rollin’” and “I Ain’t Done Wrong”, the latter including an instrumental part that sounds like twelve-bar blues thrash metal. Another important instrumental number is “Somebody to Love Part 2” which features lots of experimental fuzz guitar playing and some unusual scales with a more eastern sound. In Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds also had their own Wildman. Beck’s hair was longer than most musicians at the time and he also had a habit of breaking the wooden casing of his fuzz boxes. He was prone to take out fits of frustration on his guitar. In the 1966 movie “Blow Up”, Both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page appear playing in The Yardbirds performing a heavier, re-written version of “Train Kept A Rollin’” called “Stroll On”, and when Beck’s amp starts acting up, he smashes his guitar and throws the neck out to the audience.

The British bands gave rock music a new look and sound: guitar-based rock bands that played the blues with more aggression and a grittier sound and with more volume than ever before, and who could gain notoriety through wilful destruction of their equipment. What had started as a fascination with African American blues had turned into a new style of playing rock music. The influence of their music would last well into the seventies. In the meantime, on both sides of the Atlantic musicians and studios were changing. No longer content with standard classic Rock & Roll, new ideas were being brought into pop music and the recording studio was going under a make-over. The Psychedelic age was about to begin.

Who Were The Firebirds/The 31 Flavors? – A Music History Mystery

I love a good music mystery and I discovered another good one concerning a pair of albums made by a band of two names, The Firebirds and The 31 Flavors, in the late sixties.

The Firebirds album “Light My Fire” and the 31 Flavors album “Hair” were both published on the Crown Records label, apparently the former in 1968 and the latter in 1969. Both albums feature the use of heavy distortion and a Jimi Hendrix-inspired approach largely overlaid with Blue Cheer fondness for heaviness. As such, these two heavy psychedelic albums have earned themselves a place among the ranks of other proto-metal artists from the late 60’s.

But who were The Firebirds/The 31 Flavors? It seems the albums have caught the attention of many bloggers and music reviewers around the world and some posts include several comments by people who are familiar with the recordings. There are some conflicting facts: for example, one writer says that Crown was the British supermarket label answer to the American K-Tel and thus the band(s) must be British, while another site says they were probably from L.A.

Recently Gear Fab Records have released a double-disk re-issue of these two albums and I ordered a copy from Amazon. The CD comes in a mini-album paper sleeve with a single square sheet of paper printed on one side only with minimal background information. To understand the recordings well, it seems one has to know about Crown Records, and there is an excellent web site here: The Crown Records Story. As it explains, Crown Records emerged as a budget label of the New York-based Modern and RPM Records (suggesting the band was likely American). At first they re-issued previously published stock but later began releasing new recordings. In many cases, existing hit songs were re-recorded on Crown by bands that often included one former member of the band that created the hit song. Crown often bought the rights to songs for a flat fee to avoid paying royalties and session musicians were paid a daily wage. Crown became known as the “King of Junk” for all its shoddy rehashes of well-known songs and albums comprised largely of filler.

Based on what I have found, The Firebirds/The 31 Flavors (and later in 1969 known as The Electric Firebirds on their “Dance Party Time” album) were likely a young group that was paid to record covers of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and later songs from the “Hair” musical soundtrack, “Hair” and “Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In” for Crown Records. To fill the album, the group were permitted to record their own songs, and as many of the songs are instrumentals, I suspect that they were likely a trio of guitar/bass/drums with one member providing vocals on a few songs. Not on any of the web sites I checked nor on the square paper that came with the CD is any credit given to any band members, and considering Crown’s policy of buying up rights and paying musicians a working wage, it’s no surprise that no one was given any credit. Quite likely the albums were just meant to be sold to poorly discerning buyers who only recognized the titles of the well-known songs printed in large letters on the album cover.

As for the albums, the music suggests a young band that had some songs well-rehearsed and ready for studio recording but some others that sound as though they were possibly improvised and recorded after only one or two rehearsals, particularly on the first album. The running order of the songs on the album cover is not the same as on the CD and I found that on some sites that picture the original vinyl albums, the running order is different again. Here’s a quick run down of the music on the Gear Fab re-issue.

The+Firebirds+Light+My+FireThe Firebirds – Light My Fire

Light My Fire – The title track sounds like a guitar/bass/drum backing track for the famous Doors’ song. It’s in a slightly different groove but you can sing the lyrics to the music. Maybe try a deep and smooth lounge singer vocal style and see how that works.

Delusions – This introduces the mega-fuzz guitar but needs some help. I can’t help think that this one was not well-rehearsed prior to recording.

Reflections – Takes on a very serious heavy psych/fuzz guitar journey, complete with Mitch Mitchel style drumming and a rudimentary attempt to blend Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” with Blue Cheer’s more doomy sound.

Bye Bye Baby – A blues effort of b-grade.

Gypsy Fire – Send in the Hendrix mimics. The vocal style here is a deliberate attempt to sound like the legendary JH.

Free Bass – A short instrumental that features a not-so-interesting bass solo. This track is actually part of an instrumental piece that also featured a drum solo and a guitar solo but those two would not appear until the “Hair” album. I listened to the three instrumentals back to back and clearly they are from the same session.

No Tomorrows – Ultra fuzz here as the band reach the apex of their proto-metal sensibilities. The sound is rather crappy and it reminds me of my best friend and I at the age of 16 and before we took any guitar lessons jamming in his bedroom. There are audible pops in the sound that suggest this CD release was taken straight from the vinyl. In spite of the sound quality and garage band sound, the song does attempt to push the boundaries of heavy rock. The guitar solo and accompanying drums, however, sound unfocused and could have used more work.

Warm Up – The opening track on the original album, this song has left me with little impression. It seems I already removed it from my iPhone!

thirtyoneThe 31 Flavors – Hair

Hair – Appalling.  Who is singing? Someone was drunk and taking the piss on Bob Dylan. “Not lack for bread”? Good only as a painful joke.

Aquarius / Let the Sun Shine In – A young woman who didn’t place in a high school singing contest gets the lead vocals here. Sometimes going flat, this is one of the most abysmally performed vocal performances I have ever heard on record.

Protest – Has potential. Less distortion (none on the Hair songs). With a little more work this could have turned into something. As it is, it’s not too shabby.

Free Fuzz – The guitar solo part of the the “Free” series. At times the guitarist seems to be on to something but I think the “Free” series was just an improv jam session. At least the distortion is back.

One-Two-Three-Four – Another song that seems to have great potential. Perhaps after a year or so of playing together, the band actually managed to work out their material more for their second recording session with Crown. Another no-distortion number that resembles a less intense song by the very intense Sonics.

Real Far Out – The distortion is back but used with a little more attention to detail here. This is an instrumental that show cases the guitar playing in a bluesy kind of style.

Free Drums – The drum solo in the “Free” series.

Distortions of Darkness – Ah, here we have the song, or instrumental, that most proto-mental fanatics (including me) came for. The guitar here attempts to make Blue Cheer look like a flower meadow. Actually, it reminds me of a very early version of the music of Pelican on “What We All Come to Need”.

All in all, a few tracks here make this double-album CD release worth checking out. Whatever happened to the band? With this re-issue of their work will someone stand up and claim it as theirs? Did anyone later become famous elsewhere? Or did everyone take up non-musical careers and are now enjoying their retirement oblivious to the fact that their music has now garnered interest?

Here are links to other sites that discuss these two albums. Read the reviews for some wonderful descriptions of the music.







The Quest for the First Heavy Metal Song – Part Three

In parts one and two we looked at Bitter Creek’s song Plastic Thunder and its place in proto metal history, mentioning contemporaneous music and albums that could also be considered proto-metal. In part three, I would like to look at bands and their songs that were recorded between 1964 and 1966 that also portent the coming of the metal age.

For a really heavy guitar sound Cream’s debut in 1966 “Fresh Cream” was probably the heaviest to reach the market, at least the mainstream market. Already many bands were experimenting with guitar sounds – using fuzz boxes, coming up with fuzz toned guitar riffs, and honing soloing skills. Eric Clapton had made his mark in the world with the Yardbirds and continued with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. Still claiming to be a blues man and wanting nothing to do with pop, Clapton teamed up with Jack Bruce (bass/vocals) and Ginger Baker (drums) and they released an album of mostly blues covers, which was common enough, but with a new sound that was simply heavier. The two tracks that stand out as far as proto-metal goes are “Spoonful” and “Toad”. The Willie Dixon song “Spoonful” is given a whole new sound with a guitar that gets more powerful as the song develops, most notably after the guitar solo. “Toad” is actually Ginger Baker’s drum solo but it opens and closes with the band playing some pretty heavy guitar rock.

The Guess Who
Most recognized for their hit in early 1970, “American Woman”, Canadian band The Guess Who has never been associated with heavy metal. However, during their early years they too were attracted to the rock guitar sound developing in the U.K. Guitarist Randy Bachman had a “pipeline” to records in the U.K. and this steered their sound away from the pop rock of their earlier recordings when the were known as Chad Allan and the Expressions. In fact, it was their very Yardbirds-sounding cover of Billy Kidd and the Pirates’ “Shakin’ All Over” that got them their first hit and the name change to Guess Who? in 1965. An energetic piece with a fuzz-toned reverb guitar, forceful vocals (the singer had a cold and was lying on the floor of the studio, nearly shouting at the mic) and a guitar solo that went beyond standard pop and blues, “Shakin’ All Over” was just one of the songs recorded over 1965 and ’66 that would feature a harder rocking guitar sound. Two other tracks notable for their hardness and the use of distortion are “Seven Long Years” with a very aggressive middle part and really harsh and heavy chords, and “It’s My Pride” where the bass guitar was plugged into the fuzz box and played as the lead rhythm guitar.

The Rolling Stones
Another rock band that is not usually listed in proto-metal history, their hit song of 1965 “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” features a couple of key ingredients for heavy metal: the guitar riff (with distortion) and lyrics related to sex. The Stones have often been called the original bad boy rock band and in the early days when the Beatles still had a clean image, the Rolling Stones were honing their image in the opposite direction. Some of their earlier work, though not as close to proto-metal as other bands’ music, inspired hard rock bands of the seventies and their rock and roll image influenced the image of countless bands in the hard rock and hair band genres.

The Sonics
Often cited as a proto-punk band, Seattle’s garage rockers The Sonics spent the early part of their career recording mostly high energy and aggressive cover songs of rock and roll and rock-a-billy hits. Their cover of “You Keep A-Knocking” sounds determined to be the fastest and most aggressive version ever. The vocals were rough and usually shouted, the guitar played hard and the amplifier tampered with to create a distortion sound, and subtlety a word left outside the studio. In 1964 they penned their own tune entitled “The Witch”, a simple but heavy rocker built on their trademark sound of guitar, saxophone, bass, and drums with very punk-like vocals. By their second LP in 1966 they had added two more wonderful heavy rockers, “He’s Waiting” and a cover of “Louie Louie”. The former was about an unfaithful girl whose very soul is in danger for her deceit because “Satan knows what you did.” The guitar is gritty, there’s a simple but heavy riff, and a guitar solo that sound like the grinding of steel. The “Louie Louie” cover seems almost a deliberate attempt to take The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night” and make it look like pussy rock. The Sonics take on the garage rock classic is so hard and heavy that it is easy to see how this could have influenced both heavy metal and punk rock.

The Who
Another band whose influence was felt across both metal and punk, The Who produced their fair share of rockers between 1964 and 1966, “My Generation” being the most recognized of these. Late in 1964, Pete Townsend tried to create a song in the vein of the Kinks “All Day and All of the Night”. “I Can’t Explain” was built on a simple bar chord riff and while not as gritty as the Kinks’ guitar sound, still provided inspiration for many future hard rock and heavy metal guitarists. The single was backed with “Bald Headed Woman” which was a blues-based rock tune and featured a heavy distorted guitar note at the beginning. Apparently that guitar playing can be attributed to Jimmy Page who was a session musician at the time and “the only one in the country who owned a fuzz box” according to the liner notes of the “Odds and Sods” album by The Who.

The Yardbirds
Track for track, their was likely no other band who recorded more songs that experimented with pushing the electric guitar further into its future place in heavy metal. With Eric Clapton’s blues solos setting the pace originally, it was the addition of Jeff Beck to the band when things started to turn gritty and wild. In 1965 the band recorded two tracks of particular interest to proto-metal, “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, which was a cover of the rock-a-billy version by Johnny Burnette, and “I Ain’t Done Wrong”. This second song features bar chords and a simple rock riff and is in 12-bar blues format. However, the music suddenly breaks into what can best be described as 12-bar blues thrash as the chords are played with speed and aggression and the drums keep up with explosive bursts to match the guitars. There’s a guitar solo followed by more heavy chords. The song closes with very hard-played guitar. “Train Kept A-Rollin’” became not only part of Led Zeppelin’s early set list but was covered by Aerosmith and Motorhead in the seventies. It was re-written and recorded as “Stroll On” for the movie “Blow Up” in 1966 and features the addition of Jimmy Page. This version is heavier than the original “Train Kept A-Rollin””.

Ritchie Blackmore
The future guitarist of Deep Purple and Rainbow spent his formative years playing in bands like The Outlaws and Screaming Lord Sutch as well as doing hundreds upon hundreds of session jobs. A versatile guitarist who could play country, folk, and rock, his real love was for playing more hard edged rock and as early as 1964 he was wowing audiences, albeit largely underground audiences, with his guitar technique. Listen to his very innovative solo on this 1964 track by The Outlaws, “Shake with Me”. This was to be their last recording after having been an electric western music band. They went into the studio and said, “Let’s record what we want to play.” The single also featured their cover of “You Keep A-Knocking” and more of Blackmore’s personalized take on rock guitar solos.

The Kinks
Sometimes cited as the inventors of heavy metal, The Kinks’ two biggest contributions to the genre came early in their career with “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”. Though barely resembling in any form and sound what has become heavy metal music as we know it today or even as it was in the 1980’s when I was a youth in denim jackets, The Kinks gave us distorted bar chords comprising a hard rock riff, energetic rock, and wild guitar solos. Both songs have become rock classics and can just as easily crop up spontaneously at a punk concert as at a metal show. “You Really Got Me” was revived in 1978 when Van Halen covered it on their debut album.

Before every story there are events which led up to it. And before heavy metal’s early days in the seventies, and even before the proto-metal efforts of the late sixties, came the above groups and their songs which paved the way for the music to come. But even these artists of this period written about here found inspiration in earlier music. That, however, I will leave for others to write about.

The Quest for the First Heavy Metal Song – Part Two

Bitter Creek’s “Plastic Thunder” is posted on YouTube with the claim that it is the first ever heavy metal song and that it is from 1967. In part one I took a look at this claim and tried to discover the real date of publication, which seems likely to be fall of 1968, as well as I considered what other proto-metal songs and albums were being released in 1968. In part two we’ll take a look at seven albums with proto-metal tendencies that could make the claim for the Bitter Creek song invalid even if it is from 1967. We’ll go in reverse from the release dates.

The Who Sell Out by The Who – recorded May to November, released in December
Surely one of proto-metal’s favourites, The Who easily make the list with their early use of guitar distortion, their highly energetic playing, and their influence on both the heavy metal and punk rock genres. The Who Sell Out includes “Armenia City in the Sky” which positively stomps in the rhythm section while Pete Townsend’s guitar plays in fuzz box frenzy both forwards and backwards. The album is most famous, though, for “I Can See for Miles” which, according to one story, Pete Townsend said was the grittiest, heaviest song they’d recorded or, according to another story, was reported by one music critic as being the heaviest song he’d ever heard. In both versions, the claim is supposed to have inspired Paul McCartney to write “Helter Skelter” in an effort to one-up the Who in heaviness.

After Bathing at Baxter’s by Jefferson Airplane – recorded June to October, released in November
Least likely of the seven to be considered a proto-metal album, Jefferson Airplane’s third album took a sharp turn away stylistically from their previous album, released earlier in the same year. While Surrealistic Pillow showcased the bands inventive combination of folk and commercial psychedelia, After Bathing… saw them embrace more wholly the experimental guitar trend of the time. Guitar distortion was used liberally and although most of the tracks are still too light weight to be considered “heavy metal”, there are parts when the band do turn up the energy and let go with some fuzzy guitar solos backed by some chunky bass and allow themselves to venture into some heavy power chord territory.

Disraeli Gears by Cream – recorded in May, released in November
Cream had already established themselves in the world of heavy guitar and distortion on their 1966 debut. Their sophomore album was lighter in regards to sound but perhaps more metal as they attempted to write shorter songs that were steeped in guitar distortion and mostly not covers of American blues classics as much of their first album had been. “Sunshine of Your Love” was the hit single that presaged heavy metal music with it’s power chord chorus, but other songs like “Tales of Brave Ulysses” and “SWABLR” with it’s ripping hard rock guitar intro easily fall into the proto-metal pack. Not forgetting to mention, Eric Clapton was already a guitar god whose solos graced every song and Ginger Baker was perhaps the first drummer to introduce the double bass drum set up.

Vanilla Fudge by Vanilla Fudge – released in August
In 1967, this band’s calling card was their re-arrangement of R&B and pop hits which filled the well-know songs with a flood of organ, waves of gospel-like chorus vocals, and a guitar and drum section that gave the songs sonic weight. Though not as heavy as their third to fifth albums would prove to be, this early attempt at combining heavy guitar with original arrangements of cover songs makes Vanilla Fudge’s debut both a proto-metal and a proto-prog album.

Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd – recorded February to May, released in August
Though Pink Floyd is not a band to be confused as heavy metal, they have given the genre their fair share of influence. Their debut, now cited as one of the most defining albums of the psychedelic era, was a blend of experimental musical sounds, exotic instrumental passages, and quirky English children’s story book type lyrics. Two tracks that stand out in the proto-metal field here are the lengthy experimental instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive” and the less aggressive but eerie sci-fi number “Astonomy Domine” which was later covered by Canadian speed and progressive metal band, Voivod.

Little Games by the Yardbirds – recorded March to May, released in July
This could have been one phenomenal guitar album. Jimmy Page was now the (sole) lead guitarist after Jeff Beck quit the band and he was very keen on continuing the band’s role as one of the flagship British bands in guitar experimentation. Live, the Yardbirds were playing their heavy guitar classics and extending them by playing longer solos and adding Jimmy’s violin bow technique. But when it came time to record an album, the record company unwisely decided to call in producer Micky Most and try to get some pop-charting singles out of the band. The result was disappointing for everyone, and Jimmy Page’s opportunity to showcase on vinyl what he had been doing live was nearly nullified. Fortunately, a bit of fast fingering on electric guitar and distortion still get served in small helpings. The best though is on “Think About It” where the early workings of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” guitar solo can bee heard.

Are You Experienced by the Jimi Hendrix Experience – record December 1966 to April 1967, released in May
Though his music was a combination of traditional blues and R&B, it was unlike anything anyone had ever heard of before. There is hardly any need to expound upon Jimi Hendrix’s influence on rock music in general, never mind guitar music, hard rock, and heavy metal. But as an example, the following remarks and accolades are mentioned on the Wikipedia page about the album: “American musicologist Gilbert Chase asserted that the album ‘marked a high peak in hard rock’.” “The Miami Herald credits it for introducing… the guitar style of heavy metal.” “Kerrang! Magazine listed the album at #41 among the ‘100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time’.” “Creem magazine named the album number six on the Top Ten Metal Albums of the 20th century.” And remember that “Purple Haze” – a proto-metal classic – goes back to late 1966.

I think we can see that the claim that Bitter Creek’s “Plastic Thunder” is the first heavy metal song has some very heavy competition. I would rather simply place the song among the pantheon of landmark proto-metal songs that were coming out of those consequential years of 1967 and 1968. But to every story there is a prequel and in the third and final installment of the quest to find the first heavy metal song, I will look back even further to a selection of ten songs recorded between 1964 and 1966.