Metal Madness

This week’s “Quick One” will focus on “Heavy Metal” and it’s origin!

It’s widely believed that “Heavy Metal” entered our musical conscious and nomenclature in the 1970’s when from outta nowhere our speakers were rattling with power chords from bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and of course Metallica!

But the genre’s musical introduction is quickly traced back to the 1960’s. When in 1969  Steppenwolf had their first number one with Mars Bonfire’s song “Born to be Wild”.  The second verse reads….”I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder” as the song rips and shreds  for another thee plus minutes.

However, Mars Bonfire didn’t coin the term. “Heavy Metal” first appeared in popular literature. In 1961, William Burroughs introduced the character “Uranian Willy, The Heavy Metal Kid”  from his book “The Soft Machine” The first in a trilogy. Burroughs reprised the term and character in a later book “The Nova Express” with “The Heavy Metal People Of Uranus”

However, the real credit goes to music critic and rock journalist Lester Bangs for appropriating the term as it applies to music. In 1969 Bangs was writing an extended piece for “Creem” magazine and referenced a local band’s sound as “Heavy Metal”…..Ground zero for the term  ironically coined for a genre that hadn’t even happened yet!
Anyone have a different story?

Here’s Steppenwolf…


  1. I guess it’s a little hard for me to wrap my {too much head bangin’] head around classifying ZEP and Steppinwolf as being included in the Heavy Metal world??!! Indeed they are “Hard Rock” as I would define it but we may be splitin’ hairs here. When I first awoke to the term “Heavy Metal” I was seeing and hearing a lot of younger, all dressed in black members singing one song after the other [all quite sounding alike —- {the songs and the bands!!] And of course the lyrics and power chord driving redundant beats were VERY Hedonist! It was dark, dark, dark!! But there definitely WAS A VERTUAL TSUNAMI of these bands coming out all over the place, Many drove to the edges of occult status and demons for effect and AFFECT! IN THE END VERY FEW “HEAVY METAL GROUPS” were really able to pull it off and rise up ABOVE ALL THE TYPICAL REDUNDANT NOISE!! I recognize the bands with staying power had not only “POWER” in their resumes but incredible imaginative song writing and variety!! It is NOT EASY BEING ZEP OR METTALICA!!
    the wood

    • Hey Wood, first, we want to thank you for your detailed and insightful commentary. Second we want to apologize if we seemed to be suggesting that Steppenwolf is a “Heavy Metal” band…….sorry ’bout that….Not our intention! Good catch my old friend…
      However, we do recollect the media using the term “Heavy Metal” to describe Led Zeppelin! In fact Google currently classifies Led Zep as “Classic Metal”….
      Thanx yet again Wood man!

    • Yes, brother! I can recall wearing out the grooves on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack album playing “Born to be Wild” over and over at FULL VOLUME!…..

  2. Never knew some of those facts about Heavy Metal. Thanks for the info Mr. Shoe. and for the song “Born to be Wild” I had many great times with that song especially when I was driving in my MGB down the coast . I would turn up the music , push the pedal to the metal , wind blowing through the hair ….WOW that brings me right back to those times and of course going through Topanga Cyn (drove a little slower..almost went over a cliff one time) Great memories you have brought back. Groovy man and far out.

    • Hey Mr. Is….YES, we always love hearing about universal experiences instigated by music!
      We did the same thing only in a different part of town!
      “Born to be Wild” has got to be in the top 10 of great “Driving” songs!
      Thanx Mr. Is

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