The Songs That Forged Metal: Part 2 - 1979-1989
As metal entered its third decade, these were the songs and bands that shaped it – from AC/DC and Motorhead to Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses
Motörhead Ace Of Spades (1980)
Steppenwolf might have sung about ‘heavy metal thunder’ first, but the song that illustrates it best has gotta be Lemmy’s relentless ode to cards, dice and dancing with the Devil. Gambling may be for fools, but with a soundtrack like this, it’s the way we like it, baby…
AC/DC Back In Black (1980)
With a riff that launched a thousand identi-riffs, the title track of AC/DC’s first record with Brian Johnson at the helm was a terrifying statement of intent. The chord stabs can’t be argued with while Angus wows us with two solos. As a metal anthem it’s oft copied, never bettered.
Misfits Last Caress (1980)
‘I got something to say/I killed your baby today…’ A Dave Vanian-style vocal, a Ramones-style backing track and a handful of very sick lyrics… and horror punk is born. Future members of Metallica and GN’R vow to cover Misfits songs when they grow up…
Venom Black Metal (1982)
Geordie guttersnipes Venom somehow contrived to invent not one but two all-new music genres: death metal and (as heard on this stomach-turning track) black metal. No one had ever heard music like this before. No one ever wanted to again. But inspired by the antics of Cronos and his cronies, hundreds of like-minded bands would soon spew forth.
Saxon Wheels Of Steel (1980)
The Barnsley stormers shook up the NWOBHM with this strident song, one that harked back towards the golden age of Motörhead and AC/DC. It also had a contemporary sound, thanks in part to an in-yer-face production that enhanced its power.
Ozzy Osbourne Crazy Train (1980)
After having been ousted from Black Sabbath, Ozzy’s first solo single proved he was still worthy of his Prince Of Darkness title. Teaming up with guitarist Randy Rhoads, Crazy Train fused a bass line reminiscent of Papa Was A Rolling Stone with one of metal’s greatest guitar solos.
Iron Maiden Number Of The Beast (1982)
The title track of the first Maiden album to feature Bruce Dickinson on vocals set the metal template that the Irons would take to record-breaking levels over the following decades. Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s interlocking six-strings showed the world that twin-guitar bands didn’t have to sound like Thin Lizzy, while Dickinson’s air-raid siren howl and ’Arry’s thunderous bass sealed the deal.
Diamond Head Am I Evil? (1982)
Made internationally popular by Metallica, this song is oddly one of the foundations on which the thrash genre was built. Oddly? Yep, because Diamond Head owed more to Led Zep than to Motörhead. However, Am I Evil? – with its pace, power and dark intent – was to be the blueprint for much that was to happen in the 80s.
Kiss Creatures Of The Night (1982)
If Kiss had somewhat lost their way over the previous few years, this put them right back on track as one of the greatest anthemic bands of all time. Here was a song with a mighty riff and a massive chorus, reinvigorating their appeal to the metal audience – both new and old.
Dio Holy Diver (1983)
After successful spells with Rainbow and Sabbath, Ronnie James Dio strode out on his own, making a formidable statement with the title track of the first Dio album. It encapsulated everything that had made his name – articulate lyrics, a mythically inspired melody, a soaring vocal plus a stirring guitar.
Def Leppard Photograph (1983)
Leppard’s first hit in America – long before they had significant success at home – saw the band transcend their NWOBHM beginnings and morph into stadium-fillers. The epic ‘gang’s all here’ chorus and the guitar sound’s metallic sheen (courtesy of Back In Black producer Mutt Lange) would prove the blueprint for the pop metal explosion of the mid 80s.
Mötley Crüe Shout At The Devil (1983)
While Mötley would go on to make waves with their later, poppier releases, it was the title track from their second album that solidified their status as one of the most metallic-sounding Sunset Strip bands. Shout At The Devil combined a shoutalong chorus and an ominous Satanic lyric (one misunderstood by the mainstram media, of course).
Scorpions Rock You Like A Hurricane (1984)
This is the defining song of the great German band’s lengthy history. It’s a bold, powerhouse march, mixing a potent tune with intense musicianship. It’s one of those songs that helped to give big-hair music such a massive chart-busting boost.
WASP Animal (Fuck Like A Beast) (1984)
There’s no trace of misty-eyed romanticism here as WASP turn the act of making lurve into a base, animalistic affair. Fuck Like A Beast tested the boundaries of metal’s decency and found them wanting. The irony was, however, that when Kerrang! magazine featured Blackie Lawless on its cover, newsagents WH Smith banned the issue because the singer was covered in blood – not because he was promoting use of the F-word.
Ratt Round And Round (1984)
One of the cornerstones of the early days of MTV, not only is Round And Round the most famous track of Ratt’s career, but it also helped to make LA the commercial capital of the hard rock world in the mid 1980s. Deceptively simple, one of the reasons for its stature is the brilliant guitar sound from Warren De Martini – the man who gave hair metal its most cutting-edge riffs.
Killing Joke Eighties (1984)
Killing Joke put the titanic might of Zeppelin and the riff-propelled metal doom of Sabbath through a hyper-cranked punk’n’funk filter to create a roaring apocalyptic holocaust. Latterly, Kurt Cobain translated its signature, grunge-presaging riff into Nirvana’s Come As You Are.
Faith No More We Care A Lot (1985)
When Chuck Mosley pseudo-rapped that his generation did indeed care about ‘disasters, fires, floods and killer bees’ and the ‘NASA shuttle falling in the sea’ over the punchiest slap-bass riff we’d ever heard – cannily punctuated by ‘Big’ Jim Martin’s razor-wire guitar – it was the first indication that funk and metal could cheerfully co-exist.
Aerosmith Walk This Way (1986)
Aerosmith spearheaded the rap-metal revolution by teaming up with Run-DMC to overhaul the ’Smiths’ 1975 song. It was marriage made in heaven with Steven Tyler’s screeched chorus playing perfect foil to the rapped verses, while the guitar riff sounded as great as it always had.
Slayer Angel Of Death (1986)
Slayer scared the mainstream to death with Reign In Blood, and the album’s opening track is terrifying. Marrying contentious lyricism (the tale of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele) to the most deafening soundtrack, the LA thrashers redefined what being a metal band meant. It was faster, meaner and more brutal than anything that had gone before.
Guns N’ Roses Welcome To The Jungle (1986)
Giving the LA metal scene a much-needed shot in the arm came ‘the most dangerous band in the world’. With Axl’s high-pitched wail and Slash’s monster riffs, Welcome To The Jungle turned rock radio on its head. Our new heroes had arrived.
Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction High Priest Of Love (1986)
With such lyrical zingers as ‘You talk too much, button you lip/Just take a trip behind my zip’, Zodiac’s debut EP takes gonzo rock to a new high/low. Zodiac’s super-rock piggery influenced every gleefully low-rent sleave-rock band to follow in its clanking biker boots.
Beastie Boys (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!) (1986)
Slayer’s Kerry King plays guitar while spoiled white frat boys scream about their ‘right’ to smoke and read porn mags. Intended as a parody of the bratty and dumb, it became their anthem instead and paved the way for nu-metal.
The Cult Love Removal Machine (1987)
Okay, so its guitar riff is the Stones’ Start Me Up in all but name, but who cares? Electric’s first single was the moment when Ian Astbury and co transcended their humble goth beginnings and became a stadium-bothering unit.
Anthrax I Am The Law (1987)
Anthrax weren’t the first metal band to immortalise a comic book hero in their lyrics, but this almost funky homage to Judge Dredd was a evolution from their straight thrash origins.
Death Baptized In Blood (1987)
‘The first word in death metal,’ ran the band’s tagline. And it was true. Based around the fevered muse of the late Chuck Schuldiner, this exemplary track brought in a native, stultifyingly humid atmosphere that spliced throbbing bottom end to thrash’s speed, bringing about new realms of lascivious horror.
Whitesnake Still Of The Night (1987)
By 1987 David Coverdale had cannily morphed his British blues band into the hair-metal darlings of MTV. Yes, there were ballads, but there was no denying that the ’Snake had a true metal heart, and John Sykes’ feral riffing on the Zeppelin-esque Still Of The Night is perfect proof.
Queensrÿche Eyes Of A Stranger (1988)
Queensrÿche’s concept album Operation: Mindcrime is the record that’s been the benchmark for prog metal ever since. Its stand-out track, Eyes Of A Stranger combined intelligent lyrics and complex music – including a brilliant twin-guitar line – yet still provided the opportunity for a damn good headbang.
Sisters Of Mercy This Corrosion (1989)
Produced by Jim Steinman with typical pomp, this was alt.rock that didn’t give a rat’s arse about low-key indie-cred – instead This Corrosion was about theatre, spectacle, black leather, mirrored shades and lashings of baby oil. Has kept Scandinavian musicians in work for two decades.
Nine Inch Nails Head Like A Hole (1989)
From Nine Inch Nails’ debut album Pretty Hate Machine, Head Like A Hole’s driving yet nasty rhythm put Trent Reznor’s breathtaking ethos of combining electro and industrial sounds within a slamming metal song into perpective. It introduced a new audience to industrial music, and inspired the likes of Marilyn Manson.