JASON B writes ...
I would say Steppenwolf’s “Heavy metal thunder” lyric in Born To Be Wild is more closer to the creative origin of the heavy metal rock genre than anything, and the band borrowed it from the post-WWII Zen motorcycle culture and its clubs like the original Hell’s Angels, not the successive versions of organized crime that parasitically adopt the name up to the present.
“Heavy metal” are motorcycle riders, maybe muscle cars, in pack numbers of thunderous loud effect, of free wheeling, blaze of glory, screw the system, individual freedom seekers. It really has nothing to do with musical composition, arrangement, instruments, musicianship and sound. The New York Dolls and Sex Pistols, both of which staged copycats of the Alice Cooper Band, are more heavy metal than Iron Maiden.
The music industry pigeon holes bands in specific genres and market targets to buying audiences like teens or young adults or older. The good bands always break away from the industry’s typecasting manipulation. Say what you want about The Eagles, that Henley and Frey are ruthless robber barons, The Eagles deliberately broke away from being industry stamped and choked.
Rush, Genesis (the real era), Supertramp, Yes, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, tons and tons, stood their creative ground and wrote and recorded what they wanted.
Led Zeppelin are blues-based rock, not heavy metal and ridiculous to think so. They’re the New Yardbirds until Moon and Entwistle inspired the band name.
Heavy metal, racing along a highway, free as a bird, f*** government, is more descriptive of Rush’s Red Barchetta than ’80s hair/spandex/leather, wall of sound bands whimpering on about wanting to f*** 17 year old girls.
The Alice Cooper Band, back in the ‘60s, way before Black Sabbath and whatever passes for metal, intentionally set out to totally disgust and horrify every middle class parent in the US, all around the same themes of money, sex and death, just to flip the bird in a country that was unraveling.
At the foundation of the metal genre is anger, resentment, rebellion. Not Yngvie Malmsteen peeling off 4,000 notes in 90 seconds or Judas Priest’s Rob Halford driving on stage on a Harley-Davidson and somehow not spearing off into the first two rows of the crowd, like Janick Gers.
Metal is a world outlook attitude. Pete Seeger, legendary folk artist, was more heavy metal on acoustic guitar, without the motorcycle lifestyle, than Metallica.
Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Tiny Tim, Neil Young, in their heyday, are more heavy metal than The Scorpions or Ozzy Osbourne at their raunchiest.
Metal is born to live wild and free, unhindered by the heavy hand of government or anything, and that comes with personal responsibilities and duties. It doesn’t mean zipcode hair with Stratocaster in spandex, every floor pedal effect ever made and 40′ high Marshall stack. It could be a ukulele with a busted string.
PETER S writes ...
There’s a funny quote by Jack Bruce (R.I.P.) of Cream about the invention of heavy metal: “Don’t blame us. Hang that one on Led Zeppelin.”
Drummer and band mate Ginger Baker (R.I.P.) said, “People say Cream gave birth to heavy metal. If that’s the case, we should have had an abortion.”
And I think it was Dave Davies of The Kinks who joked, “Well, when I invented it (heavy metal)...”
The discussion about who invented heavy metal usually arrives at Black Sabbath. The elements that are commonly associated with heavy metal today were employed in part by various bands before Black Sabbath. But Sabbath were not only the first band to consistently write music in that style, they also had an influence on future heavy metal bands that continues to this day. Black Sabbath are also credited for inventing both doom and stoner metal, and with a song like Symptom of the Universe, they had an influence on the development of speed metal.
One other important factor is that even though Black Sabbath didn’t think of themselves as playing heavy metal, they accepted being called The Godfathers of heavy metal.
As for Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple as well, both bands don’t like being known as progenitors of heavy metal. Robert Plant called heavy metal “a boring period” in rock history, referring to the first wave of heavy metal said by some music journalists to have lasted from around late 1969 to 1971. Ian Gillan complained that the term heavy metal is very unglamorous. This is probably because early uses of the term were not used as a rock subgenre but as a derisive description of loud music with fuzz tone guitars. Robert Plant wants Zeppelin to also be remembered for the variety of other styles they played.
As for when heavy metal was actually “invented”, there’s a large disputed grey area that includes what is commonly referred to as “proto-metal”. Songs that fall into this category are ones that use barre chord riffs and usually distorted or fuzz tone guitar, lead guitar “solos”, minor keys and tritones, and serious and often dark lyrical themes (war, death, mental health issues, the ravages of drug abuse, political manipulation of the populace, occultism, religion). Louder drumming and powerful vocals are necessitated due to the volume of the guitars (and sometimes keyboards).
Some early bands based their music largely on the blues while others included classical and even jazz. Typically, “heavy” is the key sound, and there are plenty of heavy songs from the sixties, particularly from late 66 through to 69, with “heaviness” becoming more common as the decade progressed. Blue Cheer’s 1968 debut is also sometimes considered as the first heavy metal album, but that’s mostly because of the sheer volume and continued use of distortion on every track, plus the power of Dickie Peterson’s vocals. In my opinion, the music lacks the finesse of true heavy metal.
The common argument these days is that heavy metal was either born in 1970 with Black Sabbath’s debut and Deep Purple’s In Rock album - the first wave of heavy metal, and was then reinvented with Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976. But some people will argue that everything before 1976 is proto-metal. Older music fans such as me prefer the first wave school of thought. Music magazines in the mid-seventies recognized heavy metal as having begun around 1969/70, with some even saying it goes back to 1966, the year of Cream’s loud and heavy blues debut album.
One interesting point is that in the seventies (ignoring the underground bands that would be part of the new wave in 1979/80), there was heavy metal music but no heavy metal bands. With the exception of Black Sabbath and a few much lesser-known others, most bands said to play heavy metal music also played more straight up rock.
To wrap it up, some people consider Led Zeppelin’s debut to be the birth of heavy metal but these days Zep is regarded as hard rock and Black Sabbath wears the crown. But there were definitely heavy songs prior to Led Zeppelin’s debut. I’ll drop a few below.
Clear Light - Street Singer, 1967
Iron Butterfly - Iron Butterfly Theme, January 1968
The Attack - Strange House, 1968
The Yardbirds - Stroll On, 1966
The Sonics - He’s Waiting, 1966
The Music Machine - The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly, 1967
Vanilla Fudge - Faceless People, 1968 (intense riff from 1:25)
Bitter Creek - Plastic Thunder, 1968
The Stereo Shoestring - On the Road South (Pretty Things cover), 1968