Monday, 18 August 2008

Thee Claw Presents: A Heavy Metal History Lesson

Take note of the band names and the album titles, your homework is to track them down and give them some of your valuable listening time. Trust us, it will be time well spent.
In 1968, the sound that would become known as heavy metal began to coalesce. That January, the San Francisco band Blue Cheer released a cover of Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues," from their debut album Vincebus Eruptum, that many consider the first true heavy metal recording. The same month, Steppenwolf released its self-titled debut album, including "Born to Be Wild," with its "heavy metal" lyric. In July, another two epochal records came out: The Yardbirds' "Think About It" — B-side of the band's last single — with a performance by guitarist Jimmy Page anticipating the metal sound he would soon make famous; and Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, with its 17-minute-long title track, a prime candidate for first-ever heavy metal album. In August, The Beatles' single version of "Revolution," with its redlined guitar and drum sound, set new standards for distortion in a top-selling context. The Jeff Beck Group, whose leader had preceded Page as The Yardbirds' guitarist, released its debut record that same month: Truth featured some of the "most molten, barbed, downright funny noises of all time," breaking ground for generations of metal ax-slingers. In October, Page's new band, Led Zeppelin, made its live debut. In November, Love Sculpture, with guitarist Dave Edmunds, put out Blues Helping, featuring a pounding, aggressive version of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance." The Beatles' so-called White Album, which also came out that month, included "Helter Skelter," then one of the heaviest-sounding songs ever released by a major band. The Pretty Things' rock opera S.F. Sorrow, released in December, featured "proto heavy metal" songs such as "Old Man Going."

In January 1969, Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut album was released and reached number 10 on the Billboard album chart. In July, Zeppelin and a power trio with a Cream-inspired, but cruder sound, Grand Funk Railroad, played the Atlanta Pop Festival. That same month, another Cream-rooted trio led by Leslie West released Mountain, an album filled with heavy blues-rock guitar and roaring vocals. In August, the group — now itself dubbed Mountain — played an hour-long set at the Woodstock Festival. Grand Funk's debut album, On Time, also came out that month. In the fall, Led Zeppelin II went to number 1 and the album's single "Whole Lotta Love" hit number 4 on the Billboard pop chart. The metal revolution was under way.

Led Zeppelin defined central aspects of the emerging genre, with Page's highly distorted guitar style and singer Robert Plant's dramatic, wailing vocals. Other bands, with a more consistently heavy, "purely" metal sound, would prove equally important in codifying the genre. The 1970 releases by Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath and Paranoid) and Deep Purple (In Rock) were crucial in this regard. Black Sabbath had developed a particularly heavy sound in part due to an industrial accident guitarist Tony Iommi suffered before co-founding the band. Unable to play normally, Iommi had to tune his guitar down for easier fretting and rely on power chords with their relatively simple fingering. Deep Purple had fluctuated between styles in its early years, but by 1969 vocalist Ian Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had led the band toward the developing heavy metal style. In 1970, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple scored major UK chart hits with "Paranoid" and "Black Night," respectively. That same year, three other British bands released debut albums in a heavy metal mode: Uriah Heep with "Very 'eavy... Very 'umble", UFO with "UFO 1" and Black Widow with "Sacrifice". The occult lyrics and imagery employed by Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, and Black Widow would prove particularly influential; Led Zeppelin also began foregrounding such elements with its fourth album, released in 1971. Also Welsh band Budgie released their self titled debut album Budgie in 1971.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the trend-setting group was Grand Funk Railroad, "the most commercially successful American heavy-metal band from 1970 until they disbanded in 1976, [they] established the Seventies success formula: continuous touring." Other bands identified with metal emerged in the U.S., such as Dust (first LP in 1971), Blue Öyster Cult (1972), and KISS (1974). In Germany, The Scorpions debuted with Lonesome Crow in 1972. Blackmore, who had emerged as a virtuoso soloist with Deep Purple's Machine Head (1972), quit the group in 1975 to form Rainbow. These bands also built audiences via constant touring and increasingly elaborate stage shows. As described above, there are arguments about whether these and other early bands truly qualify as "heavy metal" or simply as "hard rock." Those closer to the music's blues roots or placing greater emphasis on melody are now commonly ascribed the latter label. AC/DC, which debuted with High Voltage in 1975, is a prime example. The 1983 Rolling Stone encyclopedia entry begins, "Australian heavy-metal band AC/DC...". Rock historian Clinton Walker writes, "Calling AC/DC a heavy metal band in the seventies was as inaccurate as it is today.... [They] were a rock'n'roll band that just happened to be heavy enough for metal". The issue is not only one of shifting definitions, but also a persistent distinction between musical style and audience identification: Ian Christe describes how the band "became the stepping-stone that led huge numbers of hard rock fans into heavy metal perdition."

In certain cases, there is little debate. After Black Sabbath, the next major example is Britain's Judas Priest, which debuted with Rocka Rolla in 1974. In Christe's description, Black Sabbath's audience was...left to scavenge for sounds with similar impact. By the mid-1970s, heavy metal aesthetic could be spotted, like a mythical beast, in the moody bass and complex dual guitars of Thin Lizzy, in the stagecraft of Alice Cooper, in the sizzling guitar and showy vocals of Queen, and in the thundering medieval questions of Rainbow.... Judas Priest arrived to unify and amplify these diverse highlights from hard rock's sonic palette. For the first time, heavy metal became a true genre unto itself.

Though Judas Priest did not have a top 40 album in the U.S. until 1980, for many it was the definitive post-Sabbath heavy metal band; its twin-guitar attack, featuring rapid tempos and a non-bluesy, more cleanly metallic sound, was a major influence on later acts. While heavy metal was growing in popularity, most critics were not enamored of the music. Objections were raised to metal's adoption of visual spectacle and other trappings of commercial artifice, but the main offense was its perceived musical and lyrical vacuity: reviewing a Black Sabbath album in the early 1970s, leading critic Robert Christgau described it as "dull and decadent...dim-witted, amoral exploitation".


The SKUM said...

Yeah, and then VENOM came along and changed fucking everything hahaha!!!!!!!!!

Patchie said...