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.

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

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. But even by 1966, the elements that would combine in various degrees to create the music that would be called heavy metal were already in place.

Chapter Five: The Four Pillars of Foundation

Rock and roll music was the result of a natural evolutionary process of popular musical styles, and as rock and roll matured, so did it grow and evolve on its own. In the early 1960’s, new styles and new sounds had emerged, first from the United States and then, as rock and roll caught on across the Atlantic, the British began making their contributions. Though heavy metal was still several years away from being recognized in any way as a distinct subgenre of rock, the four most important musical elements present in rock were in place by 1966.

The Blues Just Got Heavier

The British loved the American blues, and one of the most prominent bands to take on the blues classics had lost their guitar player. Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965 and went on to play with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. In the meantime, Jeck Beck joined the Yardbirds and helped the band explore a more aggressive style of blues, blues with an edge and an attitude. By the time Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds in 1966, the band was moving in new directions that meant a lot of their songs were blues-based but bore little resemblance to what they had been recording in 1964.

Then Eric Clapton left John Mayall and teamed up with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce, and together they recorded a blues album that was to be a landmark in the foundation of heavy music. “Fresh Cream”, the debut album by the power trio, featured music that both closely adhered to the classic blues roots and introduced a heavier, more hair-raising rock band sound. In particular, the band’s cover of “Spoonfull” included some very heavy music in certain moments, and the guitar sound and chords for the band’s introduction to Ginger Baker’s drum solo “Toad” were among the most heavy music to date if not the heaviest. The sound was two to three years ahead of its time, and the album became legendary.

Transatlantic Call and Response

As the garage rock scene had gained popularity in the United States, it was natural that British youth would want to try their hands at it. Bands like The Kinks and The Who were already making hits in 1964 and 1965, and it was a style of music that became part of the Mod subculture. The Mods who started out as fashion-conscious young men who listened to jazz in the late 50’s; however by the mid-sixties rock and Mods had become interrelated. Britain produced a number of bands among which some of the most popular and influential were The Action, The Creation, and The Attack. Although their music in 1966 was still entrenched in pleasing pop melodies, the guitar-based music meant that fuzz boxes were a natural complement to the music, and guitarists who were keen to experiment with sounds and the developing harder style of playing could express their ideas through their respective bands’. In particular, The Attack would go on to produce some heavy rock before dissolving with new guitarist John Cann going on to form an even heavier band, Andromeda.

Back across the ocean in the U.S., the British take on rock was inspiring to many Americans, and soon a new breed of bands doing covers of British music as well as their own originals began releasing albums. Two of the biggest bands to emerge were The Amboy Dukes with a young Ted Nugent on lead guitar and The Litter whose 1967 song “Action Woman” would earn them popularity and a place in the classic garage rock period of the 1960’s. Another band most noteworthy was The Misunderstood from Riverside, California. Initially a blues band performing songs in a similar vein to the earliest of The Yardbirds recordings, things changed when they moved to London in 1966 and lived in the heart of swinging London’s burgeoning psychedelic culture. The music took a decided turn towards heavy psychedelic rock with a steel lap guitar being used very effectively for Eastern scales. The six songs they recorded at Fontana in 1966 almost edge into early heavy prog.

Freak beat music as it later became termed, gradually developed in a more energetic and aggressive style, with The Who being the pinnacle of loudness and aggressive performances. As such, garage rock and freak beat music became the progenitors of punk rock.

Progress in the Studio

Up until now, the studio had been a place to record the music that the various artists performed live. In 1965, however, a new American group going by the name of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were busy in the studio experimenting with how music and sounds could be manipulated and combined to create music that would be quite different from what a rock band might typically perform live. Across the Atlantic, The Beatles took inspiration from Zappa and applied this new concept of how the studio could be used for the recording of their album “Rubber Soul”. In a typical fashion of transatlantic trading, The Beatles inspired American Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys who took his surf music band into new territory with “Pet Sounds”. The album not only featured an array of sounds and unconventional instruments but also incorporated elements of jazz, exotica, classical and the avant-garde. It became hailed in Britain at the time as the most progressive pop album ever. Thus, the notion that rock music could grow beyond its roots had now become material. The Beatles responded with “Revolver”, and as such the earliest stirrings of the progressive rock movement had begun.

The use of the studio for creating music and the incorporation of different styles and sounds would play important rolls in the development of heavy metal as rock grew and expanded over the following years. In particular, the new progressive movement encouraged musicians to create an album of carefully crafted and related songs as opposed to putting out an album of three singles and filler tracks. This would be important as heavy guitar-based music led to heavy prog and heavy metal.

The Start of the Trip

The Beatles and Brian Wilson wrote and experimented with music while under the influence of psychedelic drugs. During the period of 1965 and 1966, there was a change in how musicians regarded their abilities and many of them sought to exploit their individual creative talents through the help of so-called mind-expanding drugs. In fact, as South African Ramsey MacKay of Freedom’s Children explained in an interview:

“Something subliminal happened to kids in the ’50s and ’60s that was precursor to the drugs,” he explains. “Drugs was not just about drugs. In the beginning Freedom’s Children took no drugs [and] what we saw on the drugs was what we were aware of anyway…that the world was (and still is) run by squares who relied on fear and authority to stifle any way of seeing the world differently.

“The ’60s drug scene is much more related to people who took drugs in the 19th century, starting with the Romantic Movement in poetry and thinking and moving on to the Symbolists in France – people such as Verlaine, Rimbaud and Bauderlaire,” he continues. “One cannot understand the ’60s without knowing that drugs only played a part in what was naturally coming out of our brains. Drugs made a metaphor of which the reality was already in that generation.”

Certainly musicians who used drugs began creating rock music that was different from anything that had come before. In addition to the effects of drugs, there was a general interest in consciousness expanding. Eastern music and sounds, such as those produced by the sitar, were considered to have a strong influence on opening up the consciousness. The Kinks and The Beatles were among the first to use sitars on their recordings. But the buzz of a guitar played through a fuzz box could also create similar sounds.

Thus with the beginning of psychedelic music and progressive music, the new notion that pop music could be something for really listening to and not just dancing to started to take hold. Musicians experimented with their instruments and bands added instruments not previously associated with rock and roll. By 1966, new bands such as Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company and a young American guitarist named Jimi Hendrix were preparing to shake down the popular music scene with their unique styles of playing.

Heavier blues, more aggressive garage bands, progressive pop music, and the advent of psychedelia in music – these became four crucial elements that would combine in various ways and create the new subgenre of heavy metal.

Separated at Birth? – The Nexus of Prog and Metal

The psychedelic period in rock music history permitted musicians and artists to experiment with the genre in ways greater than their predecessors had ever enjoyed. Rock and Roll music had caught on in rapid steps in the 1950’s and continued its pace into the 1960’s, albeit with a sidestep underground in the U.S. around 1960. But even as the next generation of youth picked up guitars and drumsticks, or practiced on organs, pianos and saxophones, the standard format of a rock song changed little. Songs were still usually two to three minutes long with an almost obligatory verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format. The sound of rock and roll changed but not the general song format.

What the psychedelic movement encouraged was longer instrumental sections and more serious musicianship. It also gave songwriters new lyrical freedom as the usual songs about love and heartbreak or dancing and partying were no longer essential for recording a hit song. The new lyricists wrote about social issues, poems, fantasy, literature, history, war, death, the occult, or simply enigmatic lyrics that the listener was free to interpret in his or her own way. And, although it’s not true for all new artists of the period, LSD certainly played an enormous contributing role in the new found musical expression.

Prior to the advent of psychedelia and rock music (for the “and roll” was not longer suitable to this more serious style of pop), two new musical styles were beginning to take shape. The drive to fuel guitars with distortion or fuzz tone effects and the desire to master and build on electric guitar solo techniques along with a more assertive and aggressive style of singing and playing eventually led to the sub-genre of heavy metal. Meanwhile, other artists saw the studio as a place to experiment with rock and attempt to create something that went beyond expectations of the rather simplistic approach to recording. These were the earliest days of progressive rock.

Freak outThe year 1966 was a pivotal one as psychedelic rock was beginning to emerge. The Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” and The Mothers of Invention album “Freak Out!” are both seen as albums within the rock genre that took giant steps toward initiating the progressive rock movement. On the heavy side, Cream introduced the world to a heavier sounding version of electric blues with their debut “Fresh Cream”. The Yardbirds recorded songs like “Happenings Ten Years’ Time Ago” and “Stroll On”, their rewrite of “Train Kept A Rollin’” for the movie “Blow Up”. And The Who released their first album as well, including their hit, “My Generation” and the growling, bulldozing bass solo, “The Ox”. By the end of the year, The Jimi Hendrix Experience had recorded “Purple Haze” and Jefferson Airplane were working on their sophomore album. Both progressive rock and heavy metal were still a few years away from developing into name-worthy sub-genres of rock but the basic molecules were in place. All they needed was a catalyst.

Or a Big Bang. Between the years of 1967 and ’68, psychedelic rock came into its own, serving as a Big Crunch to several music styles. Rock and roll, folk, country western, classical, and jazz – all of these and more contributed matter and energy to the explosion that would spawn both progressive rock and heavy metal. If one looks at the ProgArchives list of proto-prog bands and the MetalMusicArchives list of proto-metal bands, more than a few bands and artists can be found on both. HeavyIron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Jimi Hendrix all released albums during these two consequential years and their music is built on both the foundations of prog and metal, at least as it was back then. Other bands tended to lean more to one side than the other: Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf being more rock, blues, and heavy psychedelic rock, and Jefferson Airplane and the Doors going more for the experimental take. Then there was Pink Floyd who practically invented space rock with their adventures in electric guitar and organ soundscapes.

Bearing these considerations in mind, it should come as no surprise that the progressive rock album that broke down any remaining barriers did so with a bombastic, distortion overdrive song called “21st Century Schizoid Man” by King Crimson. The band’s debut, “In the Court of the Crimson King” was released in October, 1969 and is often hailed as the first true progressive rock album.kc It features an eclectic amalgamation of heavy psych, jazz, classical instruments, folk, and experimental music. Other bands, however, were also busy developing their music into new territory. The Moody Blues were turning standard pop rock into musical adventures by adding various instruments and experimenting with new recording techniques. Yes were busy expanding their songs by adding snippets from show tunes, Beatles references, church choir-inspired vocals sections, jazz, and anything else they could fit in. Meanwhile, the distortion and aggression types were aiming for a heavier, harder sound, first with Jeff Beck and then with Led Zeppelin at the forefront.

Deep PurpleBy 1970, the monikers “progressive rock” and “heavy metal” had already been applied to bands in their respective sub-genres. But some bands eluded a swift pigeonholing by straddling both sides of the grey area boundary. Deep Purple are always mentioned as one of the progenitors of heavy metal, however, the advanced talents of Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), and Ian Paice (drums), not to mention bass players who had to keep up (Nicky Simper and Roger Glover), and some of the band’s early songs put them in the proto-prog and prog category (their latest album is a rapturous step back to that style). Uriah Heep are found in a similar vein, attempting lengthy compositions that on occasion included an orchestra and choir.

As both styles of music ascended swiftly in popularity, there was precedent for quite a few bands to attempt to embrace both. The Wikipedia entry for progressive metal covers mostly bands like Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory who emerged in the 1980’s. The coverage of earlier bands mentions a few who began releasing albums between 1969 and 1970: High Tide, Lucifer’s Friend, Night Sun, and of course, Uriah Heep. High TideThe approach these bands took was to incorporate distorted guitar sounds and heavy metal playing with other instruments, usually a Hammond organ but in the case of High Tide, a violin, and then create longer songs with extended instrumental sections that often referenced classical music (Baroque or Romantic) and at times leaned towards jazz. Volume and virtuosity, imagination and intensity. These bands were not the only ones bridging the two styles. Necromandus could be seen opening for Yes or Black Sabbath and were once said to be like “Yes plays the hits of Black Sabbath”. T2_-_It%5C'll_All_Work_Out_In_BoomlandT.2. and Jericho (a.k.a. Jericho Jones) were also fully capable of rocking all out with chugging power chords and screaming guitar solos and then switching gears to an acoustic number with classical piano, strings, horns, choir, or whatever suited their taste. Germany’s Eloy began as a hard rock group but by their second album were already deep into prog territory. Brits in Hamburg, Nektar, too crossed heavy rock with progressive thinking.

As the seventies counted out the first few years, bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Budgie as well as many lesser known bands were experimenting with more complex and varied songs. Some heavy rock artists went prog for a few years while other prog artists experimented with heavy rock. King Crimson included bombastic heavy music on their albums and Jethro Tull mixed acoustic rock with heavy electric rock while Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, and even Genesis managed to turn heavy rock into progressive art as they found ways to fit it into their songs when deemed appropriate. Though there may have been two distinct camps of rock sub-genres, both sides couldn’t resist borrowing techniques and ideas.

By 1974 / 75, two groups had emerged who could claim influence from both styles. Judas Priest experienced the early ‘70s as a “progressive heavy blues-based” band, according to founding member, Al Atkins. The first two albums by Priest capture the band in transition, moving from the experimental heavy rock style prevalent at the time toward a new approach to heavy metal. Indeed, music journalist, Martin Popoff, sees Judas Priest’s second album, “Sad Wings of Destiny” as the reinvention point of heavy metal, but the album still features some of the old progressive elements. Sad_wings_of_destiny_coverThe other very important band is Rush, who began as a straightforward blues-based rock band and then quickly metamorphosed into a heavy rock band with a desire to build their music on progressive rock principles.

Progressive metal is usually regarded as a musical style that emerged in the 1980’s and that is probably because many people consider true heavy metal to have emerged in the late seventies or early ‘80s. But the way I see it is that progressive metal is as old as proto-prog and proto-metal. Perhaps proto-progressive metal should be recognized as an apt moniker for the music of those bands of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s who attempted to create music that was both artfully complex and aggressively loud and bombastic.

 

Antecedents of Progressive Metal 1968 to 1976 – A Suggested Playlist

Iron Butterfly – In the Time of Our Lives

Vanilla Fudge – Some Velvet Morning

Deep Purple – Wring that Neck

Andromeda – Turn to Dust

High Tide – The Great Universal Protection Racket

T.2. – In Circles

Uriah Heep – Salisbury

Necromandus – Still Born Beauty

Eloy – Castle in the Air

Nektar – Crying in the Dark

Judas Priest – Epitaph / Island of Domination

Rush – By-Tor and the Snowdog