The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter 9

Decline and Hard Rock

Until the Age of the Internet and digital music sharing, the popularity of any sub-genre of rock and pop was likely to last about five years. The new sounds would first begin to show up with some obvious connections to a previous generation of pop in the first year and develop into one of the new popular sounds of the second year. By the third year it would be at its most robust but also suffer a lot from music industry influence. By the fourth year a decline would set in as the next new flavour was beginning to take off. The fifth year usually marks that last year of any noteworthy songs or albums of the sub-genre before it became supplanted by the next new thing. The new sub-genre would gradually slink into the underground, outside of mainstream view for the most part, waiting for some future revival and evolutionary infusion. The case of the first generation of heavy metal suffered the same fate, albeit with an interesting twist to the tale.

Heavy guitar music had gradually at first and then more rapidly caught on in the sixties and it had come through some phases and changes. By 1969, a new wave of groups that had formed in ’68 were releasing albums of even heavier and more aggressive rock. In 1970 the new sound was established with the likes of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and scores upon scores of others. During this year and the next two, albums were recorded and released, some not released, singles hit the charts, and the new heavy guitar rock sound had a following. But by 1973 the scene was changing. Some bands like Necromandus and Iron Maiden (of Essex) had folded because of a lack of support. Other bands changed their sound to the more radio-friendly roots rock (Bang), pop guitar rock (Grand Funk), or even to progressive rock (Bloodrock and Hightide). Deep Purple became funkier, Black Sabbath more progressive but still very heavy, and Uriah Heep became less progressive and heavy and more hard rock. In fact, the hard rock movement was really coming to the forefront.

The serious heaviness of heavy metal was a bit much to maintain for most. Either albums weren’t getting recorded anymore or bands found it easier and more natural to follow the market and lighten their sound. The former manager of Bloodrock commented on one fan site that after some changes in the band roster, the band worked more on progressive rock than aggressive rock because they found the heavy rock sound limiting. As the early American punk scene focused on songs more than complex progressive music and the blues rock revival of the late sixties had made blues-based guitar rock fashionable again, a new wave of guitar rock was on the rise. Bands like Aerosmith and KISS were about having a good rocking time. Ted Nugent’s garage/psychedelic/progressive band The Amboy Dukes turned into a simple hard rock party band and became known as Ted Nugent. Scotland’s Nazareth had released one heavy guitar rock album followed by an unexpected experimental album of folk, blue grass, and blues before they became the hard rocking, blues-based hit band of the seventies. Blue Oyster Cult had begun their career as America’s answer to Black Sabbath but very quickly evolved into a hard rock band with occasional progressive tendencies. Boogie rock was one branch of rock that combined blues-based rock with hard rock guitar but was not particularly heavy. The seriousness of heavy metal lyrical themes was also something that fell out of favour with the general public as the fast living themes of hard rock life better appealed to the generation of the mid-seventies.

All over the world, bands who had been playing and recording heavy, slightly progressive, and deep music were now changing their styles. As the new sub-genre of hard rock sneakily usurped heavy metal’s throne, most first generation heavy metal bands collapsed. April Wine, AC/DC, Gary Glitter, Thin Lizzy, and the new breed were in the spotlight. Glam rock with its flash and sparkle also briefly claimed centre stage with KISS in the U.S. and Sweet in Britain scoring hits. Black Sabbath were one of the few bands to retain its heavy guitar sound, yet by the mid-seventies even Sabbath were struggling to find direction and not only produced a couple of their least popular albums of the seventies but also temporarily lost singer Ozzy Osbourne who considered starting his own band.

But it was not only hard rock that was surpassing heavy metal in popularity. American punk rock had been catching on, suspiciously with beginnings often considered developing in tandem with the first generation of heavy metal. The Stooges and MC5 were more punk rock than metal and yet they are regularly mentioned as pioneers of the heavy guitar rock sound. By the mid-seventies, once the British punk rock movement had arrived, old school metal – along with progressive rock – was practically stamped out. It would take an innovative change to the style of heavy metal to bring about the second wave, and that wave would be built upon the achievements of not only the first generation of heavy metal, but also in part it would be built on the unanticipated addition of punk rock and progressive rock sensibilities. First, however, an album by British rockers Judas Priest would set the blue print for the next sound development in heavy metal on their 1976 release “Sad Wings of Destiny”.

In the meantime, for most people, the change in style didn’t disrupt the popular view that loud, heavy guitar music performed by long-haired men (and some women too!) should be know as anything else than rock, rock n’ roll, or even heavy metal. As far as 1974 and 1975 were concerned, heavy metal was KISS, Aerosmith, Sweet, Nazareth, Blue Oyster Cult, and all those other bands. Canada’s hard rockers (with some metal and progressive tendencies) Triumph sang on their 1976 debut, “We’ve been five years working in a rock and roll band / blasting heavy metal right across the land”. But not matter how hard and heavy these bands rocked, there was often little semblance to the heavier sound of the early seventies when songs were about war, death, the evils of politics, the occult, and environmental destruction if not about lusty women.

The story of heavy metal’s second coming is, however, for some future topic. For now we can consider 1973 as an important transitional year when the last of the early seventies heavy guitar rock bands (excluding Black Sabbath) recorded albums of really heavy music and the new wave of hard rock bands began charting singles and selling debut albums.


The History of Heavy Metal – The First Generation: Chapter 8

Defining a New Sub-Genre of Rock

On February 13th, 1970 the debut album of a new band, Black Sabbath, was released in the U.K. The album came amidst a wave of loud, heavy guitar rock albums and at the time it was poorly received by the music press. From one perspective, the eponymous debut was nothing exceptional. The guitar was loud, played with distortion effects, used power chords, and included lots of soloing. The bass was not simply quietly in the back as a rhythm instrument but mixed near the front and often playing an important lead melody. The drums hit hard but had a jazzy swing to them. And the vocals were a little higher register than those of some contemporary vocalists but sung with passion and power and a certain degree of theatrics as the music required. Lyrics were about the occult, war, and fantasy. Individually, all these elements were nothing new. They had all been emerging in rock music over the previous several years and had become part of the new sound of heavy rock that grew out of the peak psychedelic years in 1967 and ’68. But as history would prove, there was something special about the music of Black Sabbath that distinguished it from the music of most other bands of the time.

One important factor was in guitarist Tony Iommi’s playing style. Having sliced off two finger tips in a sheet metal shop accident during his final days of employment, he was mortified that he would never be able to become a professional musician. Thankfully, he learned of another guitarist who had suffered a similar accident and how that guitarist had fashioned false finger tips. Iommi took inspiration and did the same, moulding artificial tips from plastic. Playing the guitar with this plastic tips wasn’t easy however, and to facilitate his playing technique, Iommi down-tuned his guitar. This would prove to be a crucial reason for the band’s future success.

Down-tuning was nothing new. As far back as 1966, the American garage rock / early psychedelic band, The Music Machine had tuned their instruments a key lower than usual in order to give their music a darker, heavier sound. But Black Sabbath would strike a chord, so to speak, with the addition of one element more: the diabolic tri-tone. It was avoided in western music for centuries because of its dissonant quality. As early as the 18th century, it became known as diabolus in musica, and many writers assert that the tritone and other dissonant chords were avoided in medieval and renaissance music because of its satanic connotations. It later became acceptable to use in western music composition, and the tritone that famously opened Black Sabbath’s self-titled song which opens the debut album, was inspired by Mars, the Bringer of War from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

The album begins with the sound of rain, the distant peal of a church bell, and rumbles of thunder. Then abruptly the band play the tritone riff, slowly and ominously with an underscore of force, giving the music a frightening tone of heaviness and foreboding. The lyrics, “What is this that stands before me? / Figure in black that points a me,” were inspired by a real-life incident experienced by bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler when one night he alleged to have awoken to find a black figure standing before his bed. The sound of this new album was something different. Heavy guitar rock fusing psychedelia, jazz, blues, and even classical music, and lyrics of dark subject matter were already about (the band Coven had even written a song entitled “Black Sabbath” a year earlier), but it all came together here, along with Iommi’s down-tuning to create a monster of a hair-raising song with the rest of side one following the course with songs about paganism, wizards, and Lucifer. Several musicologists claim that the title track, and as well side one of the album, were the turning point of heavy rock music, where the elements that came to be recognized as synonymous with heavy metal music appeared in the right combination for the first time.

But in 1970, this particular new approach to rock and roll had not yet found an identifying moniker, and the term heavy metal had only just come in to use in reference to music – loud, raucous, untalented, rubbish music.

The term had been about in chemistry describing metallic elements with high atomic numbers, and it had been used in a 1962 novel by William S. Burroughs, “The Soft Machine” for the character Uranium Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid. A follow-up novel linked heavy metal with drugs and the term “metal music” appeared. “Heavy” became a term used in the late sixties to describe something potent and profound. The term could also refer to something grave and emotionally weighing. Steppenwolf famously used the term in their 1968 hit “Born to Be Wild”; however the phrase “heavy metal thunder” referred to the engine of a motorcycle. Heavy music was a beatnik phrase applied to slower and more amplified music. In the May 1968 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, reviewer Barry Gifford referred to Electric Flag’s album A Long Time Coming as the “synthesis of white blues and heavy metal music”, though Electric Flag’s music bears very little resemblance to that of Black Sabbath.

Perhaps the most famous use of the term comes in a review by critic Mike Saunders. In his November 1970 review for Rolling Stone of Humble Pie’s Safe as Yesterday Is, he described the music as “noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-laden shit-rock”. In May of 1971 for Creem magazine, Saunders wrote of Sir Lord Baltimore that they seemed to have “down pat most of all the best heavy metal tricks in the book”. The term became used as a putdown for the music of other bands like Grand Funk Railroad and Dust, and the drug reference of Burroughs returned in 1979 when a New York Times music critic panned heavy metal rock as “brutally aggressive music played mostly for minds clouded by drugs”. In an interview with Black Sabbath’s Terry Butler, he said that people described their music as “the sound made when one drops a load of heavy metal”. Drummer Bill Ward coined the term ‘downer rock” and it became used for other bands like Bloodrock as well until the term heavy metal became the popular term.

Though Black Sabbath’s style may have best captured the essence of what was to become known by future generations as heavy metal, there were between 1970 and 1972 countless bands around the world playing their own take on heavy guitar music. Led Zepplein had already established themselves a year earlier as a heavy guitar rock band, though much of their music was more clearly rooted in R&B, and Deep Purple released In Rock, an monumental album of their new harder, heavier, and more aggressive and furious sound, in the spring of 1970. Styles among bands varied and could be blues-based, psychedelic-based, or progressive like bands such as T.2. and High Tide. A band may include a keyboard player on Hammond organ or be a power trio. In some cases a fifth member on rhythm guitar was included. Heavy rock music was played in not only the U.K. and the U.S. but bands also appeared in Germany, France, Iceland, Japan, Peru, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and a host of other countries whose artists would have less of an impact but whose albums are still sought after by collectors.

The early 1970’s were the years of progressive rock, roots rock, and the height of the first generation of heavy metal musicians. However, a generation in popular music is usually given five years from emergence to ultimate decline, and heavy metal music was to a large degree doomed to become unfashionable within such a short time. It would face a transformation and a period of underground existence.

A Playlist of Heavy Guitar Rock from 1969 to 1973

High Tide



Iron Claw


Sir Lord Baltimore

Stone Garden

The 31 Flavors





Blue Phantom


Lucifer’s Friend

May Blitz







Leaf Hound


Yesterday’s Children


Sainte Anthony’s Fyre



Glass Sun Band


Blues Creation



Atomic Rooster

Captain Beyond




Uriah Heep

Blue Oyster Cult


Grand Funk Railroad

Blackwater Park

Highway Robbery

Night Sun

Blue Cheer


Deep Purple

The Power of Zeus

Black Sabbath

Iron Maiden

Iron Butterfly





Flower Travelin’ Band

Bulbous Creation


Killing Floor


The Pink Fairies

The Litter



Wicked Lady


The Amboy Dukes


Vanilla Fudge


Hard Stuff

New Lords


Freedom’s Children







Led zeppelin


A Foot in Cold Water



Samuel Prody

Elias Hulk

Alice Cooper

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.

Going Metal – The Early Years of the Heavy Metal Genre

Thinking about it now, looking back through the decades to the early years of heavy metal is like looking at a great mountain range from a distance. We can see and identify the highest and most famous peaks with ease: Mt. Led Zeppelin, Mt. Black Sabbath, and Mt. Deep Purple. And some of the lesser prominent peaks also stand out from this distance: Mt. Uriah Heep, Mt. Grand Funk Railroad, and Mt. Nazareth. We can also see beyond and further back in history Mounts Iron Butterfly, Cream, Blue Cheer, Jimi Hendrix Experience and others. But like any mountain range, there are many lesser peaks, satellite peaks, sub-peaks, and mountains of lower status and height which are not readily visible from a distance.

When I first embraced heavy metal back in my late primary school days (around 1982), I soon became intrigued by the roots of this genre and from the magazines that were available at the time – Creem, Circus, and in Canada, Metallion – I learned about the big name bands that helped create this style of music that combined musical virtuosity (at times) with energy, power, and sonic aggression. LedZeppelinThe Big 3 were of course Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, and for a great many people, the genre was born with Black Sabbath’s early 1970 release of their eponymous debut. Black Sabbath invented heavy metal. To anyone who gave it a bit of thought, however, there were several progenitors who all contributed prior to the mighty riffs of the Black Sabbath title track.

Drummer Bill Bruford notes in his autobiography that no new form of music can suddenly appear on the scene. People need something to which they can reference new developments. (There’s that wonderful scene in Back to the Future where Marty McFly thrills the crowd with a Chuck Berry guitar solo and then leaves them stupefied with an Eddie Van Halen solo.) As Bruford points out, punk rock didn’t abruptly emerge in 1976. It was built on the garage rock music of the 1960’s which in turn was a back-to-grassroots effort to recapture the simple power of the original rock and rollers of the 1950’s.fresh cream Heavy metal experienced the same slow growth, perhaps beginning with some of the guitar rock of the late fifties and finally coming to conception with The Kinks You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night in 1964. The next several years saw this new aggressive, guitar-driven style gestate and develop with the likes of The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jeff Beck’s fuzz tone guitar antics with The Yardbirds, the heavy blues of Cream, the guitar wizardry of Jimi Hendrix, the psychedelic rock of Iron Butterfly, the thunder of Blue Cheer, and so on. By January, 1969, when Led Zeppelin released their debut, a well-paved route to that landmark album had already been laid out and a plethora of bands of varying success existed on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as on the continent.

If heavy metal was born with Black Sabbath’s debut in early 1970, then 1969 was the year the genre achieved consciousness. For this was the year that new bands started up with the desire to record entire albums of primarily fuzz tone guitar rock and not just include such styles as one of the flavours on their vinyl offerings. Though Led Zeppelin led the pack with Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, Dazed and Confused, and How Many More Times, and more tracks on their sophomore album, groups like Grand Funk Railroad, Andromeda, High Tide, and MC5 were hitting the record store shelves with various approaches to frenzied guitar rock, be it amped up blues boogie, garage aggression, or progressive heavy guitar rock. The world was being prepared for this new beast.grand funk

When both Black Sabbath and Deep Purple released their thundering guitar rock (plus organ in Purple’s case with In Rock) albums in 1970, dozens of bands in the U.S. and the U.K. were already in recording studios everywhere laying down their polished material which in many cases had already been in their repertoire for a couple of years. In the U.S. Euclid, Yesterday’s Children, Bloodrock, Sir Lord Baltimore, and others would put out their debuts. Many other bands would soon follow, like Sainte Anthony’s Fyre, Dust and May Blitz. budgieIn the U.K. bands like Budgie, Jerusalem, Iron Claw, T.2., Iron Maiden (an earlier band not related to the famous one), Leaf Hound, Necromandus, and others would set their songs to vinyl over the next couple of years. In fact, by the early 70’s there were bands all over the world who were experimenting with aggressive, fuzz tone guitar rock.

It’s interesting now to think that the proto-metal bands whose names still resonate as major contributors to the creation of the genre are mostly British. Yet the term “heavy metal” in reference to a music style seems to have come from America. Many will point out Steppenwolf’s lyric in Born to Be Wild, “Heavy metal thunder”, which is used in reference to a motorcycle engine. Indeed, Led Zeppelin make a similar reference in the lyrics to their 1975 song, Trampled Underfoot: “Check that heavy metal / Underneath your hood”. Others will cite the title of Iron Butterfly’s debut, Heavy. However, as many web sites report, the first use of heavy metal to refer to a style of music appeared in a review by Barry Gifford in the May 11, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone of a U.S. band named Electric Flag: “This is the new soul music, the synthesis of white blues and heavy metal rock.” (see Wikipedia article on heavy metal). Two years later, Mike Saunders, reviewing Humble Pie’s debut, As Safe as Yesterday Is, for Rolling Stone, wrote: “Here Humble Pie were a noisy, unmelodic, heavy metal-laden shit-rock band, with loud and noisy parts beyond a doubt.” Used in the pejorative here, it is no wonder that Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan would say in his documentary Highway Star that heavy metal is the most unflattering name for a genre of music. Heavy metal was also used to describe the music of the debuts of Grand Funk Railroad, Sir Lord Baltimore (who claim they were the first to have this label ascribed to them), and Dust.

The term heavy metal as a label for loud, aggressive, “heavy” music became quickly accepted in the U.S. and soon the label was being attached to British bands as well, with many American bands citing British acts as their inspiration. The term showed up a few years later in What’s Another Day of Rock and Roll on the debut album of Canada’s Triumph: “We’ve been five years working in a rock and roll band / blasting heavy metal right across the land.” However, after the initial rush to join the parade, many bands began turning towards more conventional rock styles and kept the guitar distortion to a radio-friendly level. Blue Cheer, Grand Funk Railroad, Stray, Nazareth, Deep Purple, and many others moved in varying degrees away from the aggressive, noisy approach of heavy metal. Other bands dissolved and some members left the music scene altogether or turned to other music styles.

rocka rollaBy 1974, when Judas Priest released their debut, Rocka Rolla, many of the old guard had changed their sound or gone away. Here heavy metal entered a chrysalis stage where few bands dared turn up the volume and fuzz. Glam rock bands such as KISS and Sweet were among the new breed of hard rock outfits that drew crowds of fans. What is sometimes labeled heavy metal in the mid-seventies gets blown out the door by the re-intensification of metal in the mid-eighties. The punk rock movement also set a new challenge for heavy metal bands. Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny was the reinvention of heavy metal, according to music journalist, Martin Popoff. Interestingly enough, the new bands to emerge in the late seventies and usher in a new era with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal built their sound on varying combinations of classic heavy metal of the early seventies, progressive rock (most notably Rush and the guitar work of bands like King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes), and punk rock.

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.