13th of February 1970 – 13th of February 2020 … Some days ago we celebrated the 50-year anniversary of heavy metal, since on the 13th of February 1970 Black Sabbath released their self-titled first album. Black Sabbath are the fathers of heavy metal, and their debut is officially the very first heavy metal album in history. Heavy metal music is now 50 years old, and it’s still going, with so many bands worldwide playing in their own metal style. But was the birth of heavy metal a parthenogenesis? Did Black Sabbath just appear on the scene with their heavy metal songs? No, because there were some other bands who played also loud, heavy music. Bands of the late sixties and the early seventies, who forged the so called proto metal genre. Bands who together with Black Sabbath gave birth to heavy metal. Myth of Rock tried to make a list with the 50 +1 best songs of the proto metal musical movement of the late 60s/early 70s. Of course, there are other proto metal songs too, there are many other obscure early metal bands, however, the following songs are for some reasons the most considerable ones. So, which songs forged heavy metal, apart from the Black Sabbath legendary songs we all know and like? Here is the deal!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
1. Andromeda – “Too Old”
Andromeda is known as John Du Cann’s band, before he joined Atomic Rooster. This English band released only one record in 1969, which is highly sought after by collectors today, a record, which perfectly blends hard rock, psychedelia and early prog. Singer/guitarist Du Cann steals the show, with his fine vocal performance and especially with his impressively heavy guitar playing. Andromeda is defined as a proto metal band, since the power trio chooses to play in a straightforward style, with sharp riffs, long solos and a solid rhythm section. “Too Old” contains all the aforementioned characteristics of Andromeda and it’s the perfect opening track of an amazing album.
2. Atomic Rooster – “Before Tomorrow”
Heavy Hammond rock! That’s the ideal song/album/band for those who crave keyboards in their hard n’ heavy music! Atomic Rooster was an English trio (Crane/Palmer/Graham). A few weeks after its release, guitarist and vocalist John Du Cann joined and Nick Graham left. Du Cann subsequently overdubbed three of the album's tracks for a US release. However, in the event, the album never saw US release and the overdubbed tracks eventually surfaced on a second pressing of the album in the UK. In this six-minute song (1970) all hell breaks loose – we have the manic guitar of Du Cann, the crazy keyboards of Crane and an early metal jam will blow your mind. Atomic Rooster has no boundaries, no rules, no fear – they play heavy and loud and they write history.
3. Bang – “Questions”
One of the best groups of the proto-metal genre, Bang was formed in the early 70s and was promoted by their label, Capitol Records, as the “new Black Sabbath” and the “next big thing”. They were strongly influenced by Sabbath, but had their own personal style, based on the heavy metal patterns and their good sense of melody. Bang released their self-titled debut in 1972, but their real debut was recorded in 1971, was shelved by their label due to commercial reasons and was finally released in 2004 by Lee Dorian’s Rise Above Records (“Death of a Country”). “Questions” (1972) was their only (minor hit) single and a nice taste of Bang’s heavy metal – heavy, crushing guitars, a solid, groovy rhythm section, screaming vocals and a metal attitude, as fas as the composing style is concerned. True forerunners of heavy metal, long lost, much more than a common obscure band.
4. The Beatles – “Helter Skelter”
Music historians agree that The Beatles were pioneers, the first group who played all the pop/rock music styles we know today, heavy rock included. “Helter Skelter”, off the “The White Album” (1968), is among the first heavy rock songs in the history of music. Composed by Paul McCartney, it was his attempt to create a heavy sound, to write a song as loud and dirty as possible, after reading an interview of The Who’s Pete Townsend, where he described that “I Can See For Miles” was the loudest and wildest song The Who had written! With its raucous vocals, heavy guitar and loud drums, the song is a proto-metal milestone, with a key influence in the early development of heavy metal.
5. Bloodrock – “Wicked Truth”
Bloodrock kicked off their career in Texas, in 1963, as The Naturals – Grand Funk Railroad’s manager/producer Terry Knight baptized them in 1969. Knight produced their eponymous debut (1970), the band opened for Grand Funk Railroad on the 1970 tour and their second album was a commercial success. The hard rock/proto-metal sound of the first Bloodrock albums is phenomenal, especially because the band combines the heavy metal riffs and rhythm section with melodic breaks and pre-prog elements. “Wicked Truth” was penned by blues rock guitarist John Nitzinger and includes all the aforementioned characteristics. Bloodrock is also known for one of the most morbid rock songs in history – “D.O.A.”.
6. Blue Cheer – “Doctor Please”
“Vincebus Eruptum” is the world’s first heavy metal album, recorded in 1967 and released in January 1968. Blue Cheer practically invented metal, with their blistering, thunderous heavy blues sound. The Americans took elements from psychedelic rock, acid rock and blues rock, turned up the volume, and blew amps and minds with their furious songs. Primitive and electrified at the same time, fuzzy, stoned and annoyingly loud, Blue Cheer brought destruction and madness with their riffs, solos, screams and orchestrations. “Doctor Please” is just an example of the trouble that Blue Cheer caused. Behold some drug trips which went bad, but gave birth to a whole new experience … metal!
7. Budgie – “Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman”
“One of the earliest heavy metal bands and a seminal influence to many acts of that scene, with fast, heavy rock, being played as early as 1971”, said author Garry Sharpe-Young. This Welsh heavy-riffing outfit started in 1968 and shocked the world with its first releases, which contained long, heavy metal compositions. I think that words can’t describe the greatness and the majesty of Budgie’s riffs, solos and arrangements – the trio (!) from Cardiff showed everybody how heavy metal is composed and performed. Their energy, their ambition, their musicianship remain influential to this day. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal was based on the sound of Budgie, among others, and bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Soundgarden have expressed their gratitude to them.
8. Buffalo – “Shylock”
An obscure band for most of us, but a successful band in Australia, Buffalo was formed in August 1971, released a psych/prog hard rock debut in 1972 and the “Volcanic Rock” album in 1973 – both via the legendary Vertigo label. “Volcanic Rock” was a real heavy metal album, nothing more nothing less! And what an album?! A killer one, without a doubt! “Shylock” is a part of it, and will leave you speechless with its dynamics, its riffs/solos and its atmosphere. Primitive, raw, volcanic, torrential – that’s how heavy metal sounded then, that’s how everything started! “There was nothing subtle about Buffalo's primal, heavyweight sound, but it was delivered with a great deal of conviction ... combining the dense, occult riffing ... with the progressive blues chops ... the band certainly captured the arrogant disposition of the times in a bold and thunderous fashion", Australian musicologist Ian McFarlane wrote.
9. Cactus – “Let Me Swim”
One of the super groups of the early 70s, Cactus was formed, when bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice left Vanilla Fudge and recruited blues guitarist Jim McCarty from Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels and The Buddy Miles Express, and singer Rusty Day from The Amboy Dukes. “Let Me Swim” comes from the eponymous debut album of the band (1970) and it is a hard rockin’ number, where rhythm and blues, blues rock and hard rock are blended masterfully. Apart from the technique and the passion of the players, Cactus has the intention to transform the blues classics to proto-metal thunders and kick out the jams. And they rock big time!
10. Captain Beyond – “Frozen Over”
I am sure that every Deep Purple fan gets excited, when we are talking about Purple’s first vocalist, Rod Evans, and Captain Beyond! Captain Beyond was a progressive/hard rock super group, which was formed in Los Angeles, USA, by Evans, after leaving Purple, former Johnny Winter drummer Bobby Caldwell, former Iron Butterfly guitarist Larry "Rhino" Reinhardt and former Iron Butterfly bassist Lee Dorman. Their 1972 debut album, “Captain Beyond”, via Capricorn Records, was a masterpiece, an obscure classic and nowadays a collector’s item. From this album comes the magnificent song “Frozen Over”, a heavy metal thunder, with mighty, epic vocals, crushing guitars and deafening drums! Yes, that’s heavy metal, no other opinion accepted! Of course, the unique sound of Captain Beyond incorporated also prog elements, and these can be easily heard on “Frozen Over”.
11. Crushed Butler – “Factory Grime”
British act Crushed Butler lies where proto-punk and proto-metal meet. They have been described as, in many ways, Britain's first proto-punk band and as the first punks from the British underground. They existed between 1969 and 1971, auditioned for many labels, but failed to sign a deal. For their 1970 session for EMI, they were only allowed to record their own "Factory Grime" song, which has the aggression, the energy and the attitude of punk rock and heavy metal – the guitars cut like a knife, the crushing drums destroy everything, the vocals are rude and nasty. This heavy shit sounds ugly and crude and it is an influential model of punk rock/hard rock/heavy metal music. Chushed Butler’s outfits were impressive, along with their aggressive, high-octane live performances!
12. Deep Purple – “Speed King”
The beginning of “Speed King” (1970) gives you a right idea of is going to follow; 100% early heavy metal, a song that brought up generations and generations of heavy metal fans. Blackmore’s guitar is distorted, fuzzy and so damn heavy! The rhythm section of Paice/Glover fits right in as the foundation, where one of the holy temples of hard n’ heavy music is built! Jon Lord’s Hammond organ sounds so charmingly mysterious and adventurous and Ian Gillan screams like a demon! We are talking about a song, an album, a band that characterize heavy metal music. Deep Purple is a music icon, whose “In Rock” album stands as a cornerstone of heavy metal! Enough said!
13. Dust – “From a Dry Camel”
Early heavy metal enthusiasts have always praised this American trio and that’s fair, since Dust played guitar-driven, hard rock/heavy metal music and put their touch to what later has been described as metal music. They released two exceptional albums via Kama Sutra Records, “Dust” (1971) and “Hard Attack” (1972) – “From a Dry Camel”, coming from their debut, is a proto-metal attack, a heavy musical strike, an epic, pompous tune, a proto-doom anthem that should not be missed by any metalhead! Dark, alarming and gloomy, “From a Dry Camel” doesn’t show mercy – not even today! Drummer Marc Bell later tasted success as Marky Ramone with The Ramones!
14. The Flower Travellin’ Band - “Satori Part I”
The Flower Travellin’ Band were icons of Japanese rock in the 70s and one of the most remarkable groups of the proto metal genre, which mixed early heavy metal with psychedelic rock and progressive rock. The band’s second album (“Satori”), the first with original songs, was released via Atlantic Records in 1971, was acclaimed by critics, but not a commercial success though and the band dissolved in 1973. “Satori Part I” song and the whole “Satori” album is a stange and beautiful proto metal magnum opus, with alarming guitars, frenzied screams and a psychedelic/progressive/oriental rock approach. The Guardian wrote that the album: “blends edge-of-your-seat psychedelic shamanism with hair-shaking proto-metal rifferama"! This weird, avant garde proto metal feast is impressive!
15. Free – “Walk in my Shadow”
How could a proto-metal tribute exist without a detailed reference to Free?! Characterized as hard rock pioneers, Free took the blues and transformed them to hard n’ heavy music. Paul Kossoff’s crying guitar, Paul Rogers’ incomparable warm and dynamic voice, Kirke/Fraser’s solid rhythm section, everything in the music of Free conquers your mind and heart. That’s early metal, my friends, rough, rude, loud and powerful, without ever losing the melody and the feeling! “Walk in my Shadow” isn’t only delivering the goods, is a sonic attack against the old-fashioned, the conservative, the oppressive – is the nasty music of some boys with guts, balls and electric guitars! Every album of Free is recommended, but “Tons of Sobs” and their eponymous, sophomore album, both released in 1969, are my favorite.
16. Grand Funk Railroad – “Anybody’s Answer”
Grand Funk Railroad, one of America’s greatest hard rock bands, was formed in 1969 as a power trio (Farner/Brewer/Schacher) and released its, produced by Terry Night, debut (“On Time”) in August 1969, via Capitol Records. “On Time” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record in 1970. And that’s understandable, if you listen to the album’s songs, for example “Anybody’s Answer”! “Anybody’s Answer” is a late 60s hard n’ heavy anthem, a dramatic composition which combines hard rock energy and rhythm with melody and feelings. Epic songs like this one gave the artistic patterns, which are used since then in melodic hard rock albums. It’s a song to cry with … relax yourself and let the music do the talking. It’s Grand Funk turn now to take the baton!
17. Gun – “Race with the Devil”
One of the progenitors of heavy metal, British rock band Gun scored a hit with the opening track from their eponymous album (1968). The song was entitled “Race with The Devil” and what we have here is a paradigm of how heavy metal was born. It begins as the soundtrack of a western movie and develops into a heavy metal orgy with its sharp, classic riff and the tremendous guitar solo. It’s theatrical, it’s scary, it’s hot and nasty. It’s 60s heavy metal! The album’s cover was the first by legendary artist Roger Dean. Baker Garvitz Army and Greame Edge Band came out of the ashes of Gun in the 70s.
18. High Tide – “Futulist’s Lament”
The fact that this song was released in 1969 is inconceivable – some months before Sabbath’s debut! What a guitar sound is that?! It’s so heavy, dark and gloomy! The song is contained in High Tide’s first album, “Sea Shanties”, which has been described by today’s critics as a “long forgotten gem”. Musicalwise, Allmusic Guide tells it nicely: “High Tide had the muscularity of a no-nonsense proto-metal band, but they also ventured into prog territory”. This prog/proto metal band was formed in 1969 in England, signed a deal with Liberty Records, which, apart from “Sea Shanties”, released the band’s second album, a masterpiece too. High Tide’s line-up featured violinist Simon House who later became famous with Hawkwind!
19. Randy Holden – “Fruits and Icebergs”
Most music historians say that Randy Holden is the great unknown 60s rock guitar hero and his legendary, extremely rare “Population II” album (1970) is one of the first heavy metal albums of all time, an early example of doom metal. Holden was a member of metal pioneers Blue Cheer, since he substituted guitarist Leigh Stephens, toured with them for a year and participated in the 1969’s “New! Improved” album. He formed his next band with drummer/keyboardist (!) Chris Lockheed, tried to release the “Population II” album but went bankrupt, as he had trouble with the release of the album. According to the Riding Easy Records website, Holden’s lost record, this over-the-top jewel delves into leaden sludge, lumbering doom and epic soaring riffs. A treasure, long forgotten.
20. Hot Chocolate – “Go Go Girl”
Everybody knows Hot Chocolate and their “You Sexy Thing” smash hit (1975)! Yes, we are talking about the soul/disco band, which was so popular during the 1970s and the 1980s. Well, this band released in 1972 the song “Go Go Girl”, as a b-side of the “You'll Always Be A Friend” single. Sure, this number isn’t a proto-metal song, but its riff and groove are very close to what we nowadays call hard n’ heavy music! A riff and a drum beat cannot make a band a heavy metal one, but the attitude and, most of all, the musical idea can be influential and stand alone as an inspiration to others! What is more, we must take into account that in the early 70s, it was a trend for pop bands to cover hard rock songs or even experiment (a little!) with hard rock. So, everyone who is making a proto metal tribute should not skip this song of the soul/disco stars, Hot Chocolate!
21. Iron Butterfly – “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida”
Psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly belongs to the pioneers of heavy metal, since with “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida”, off their same-titled second album (1968), they shaped some of metal’s characteristics – epic guitar riffs, glorious guitar solos, mysterious organ melodies, breathtaking drum solos and a dramatic progression that led to an electric triumph. The 17-minute magnum opus of Iron Butterfly, which made the band famous all over the world as a three-minute single, was originally titled “In The Garden of Eden”, but, during rehearsals, songwriter Doug Ingle, drunk on red wine, slurred the words and soon the mondegreen became the title. Check also that the particular album features guitar player Erik Brann, who was 17 years-old, when “In-a-Gadda-da-Vida” was recorded. This proto-metal suite was covered later by Slayer.
22. Iron Claw – “Skullcrusher”
When it comes to proto metal, it’s not possible to forget Iron Claw. With such a band name and such song titles, well, it would be unlikely to skip this Scottish group, which was formed in 1969, but never had the chance to release their recordings via a record label. However, Iron Claw’s recordings, from 1970 to 1974, were released in 2009 via Rockadrome Records, a CD release which was relatively successful and led to a reunion of the band in 2010! This 2009 compilation made available all the fine works of this proto metal band, brilliant works of early metal, strongly influenced by Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. “Skullcrusher” is going to melt you down – this raw metal material proves that heavy metal was born in the late 60s and the early 70s!
23. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – “Foxy Lady”
Featured in The Jimi Hendrix Experience first album, “Are You Experienced”, this song (1967) shows clearly why Jimi Hendrix was such an influential guitar player. Jimi Hendrix initiated a new guitar playing style – electrified and distorted, he was the first guitarist with such a heavy sound and simply built heavy rock/hard rock and heavy metal. It is said that “Foxy Lady” (or “Foxey Lady” in the US release) was inspired by Heather Taylor, who later married Roger Daltrey (Who), or by Lithofayne "Faye" Pridgon, Hendrix’s girlfriend in the mid-60s.
24. Josefus – “I Need a Woman”
Houston, Texas, offered us this proto-metal band, which has been described as one of the first models for the blunt sound of hard rock and heavy metal, a lost pioneer of heavy metal, according to Classic Rock magazine. The band’s hard rocking blues was perfected on their sophomore album, “Dead Man”, which was recorded in March 1970 and is a proof that metal music began in the late 60s/early 70s. “I Need a Woman” (1970) demonstrates the heavy sound of that era and shows how heavy, nasty and ugly the blues can be! Taste Josefus and I am sure you will dig their proto-metal approach!
25. JPT Scare Band – “Sleeping Sickness”
Jeff Littrell, Terry Swope, Paul Grigsby. The initials of the members’ first names plus their “scary” sound, and we have the name JPT Scare Band – a band, which released its first album in the early 1990s, although it was formed in the early 1970s and made numerous recordings on a reel to reel tape deck in a basement. The acid rock trio is cited among the lost pioneers of heavy metal and the album “Past is Prologue” among the best proto-metal albums. And that’s true, since JPT Scare Band has the riffs, the solos, the vocal melodies, and especially, the craftsmanship, which put them in rock’s heavy side. There were even heavier bands in the early 70s, nevertheless, JPT Scare Band will shock you with their attitude – they widen their songs, they push their performances to the limit, they love the excess-is-best ethos. Surely, such compositions were scary for any audience in the early 70s!
26. The Kinks – “You Really Got Me”
The Kinks came up with the first ever metal riff. Heavy and loud, this straightforward and catchy guitar phrase turned the world of popular music upside down. The Ray Davies-penned song features also a shockingly aggressive guitar solo by Ray’s brother, Dave. “You Really Got Me” (1964) was the third single of The Kinks, it was included in the band’s eponymous debut and soon became an international hit. The raw guitar sound of the song was achieved by a slice Dave Davies made in the speaker cone of his Elpico amplifier.
27. Leaf Hound – “Stray”
From the ashes of Black Cat Bones two bands were formed, Free (by guitarist Paul Kossoff and drummer Simon Kirke) and Leaf Hound. Leaf Hound released the “Growers of Mushroom” album in 1971 by Decca Records, and has been referred as one of the first heavy metal groups in history, a major influence on the stoner rock movement. This debut, which reportedly took only eleven hours to record in Mayfair's Spot Studios, has become a collector’s item today. A real shocker, this song gathers all the characteristics of heavy metal: the powerful riffs, the impressive guitar solos, the tight rhythm section, the mad vocals. I am sure you will be amazed by this hell of an album, its energy, its dynamics, its passion!
28. Led Zeppelin – “Communication Breakdown”
Influenced by the blues, folk rock and the emerging heavy rock scene, Led Zeppelin were among the ancestors of heavy metal music. With their homonymous debut album, recorded in September/October 1968 and released on 12 January 1969 in the United States, rock came closer to the heavy metal sound. Built around a Jimmy Page riff, based on a monstrous rhythm section and the raving vocals of Robert Plant, “Communication Breakdown” is a real rocker, a two-and-a-half minute immediate ravenous pre-metal bang with an incredible guitar solo, totally ahead of its time. It was Zeppelin, with Sabbath and Purple who forged metal. Why Zeppelin? Just listen to this track!
29. Lucifer’s Friend – “Ride the Sky”
Lucifer’s Friend had everything they needed to be heavy metal’s biggest stars – they had the name, they had the voice, they had the inspiration. Instead, they are just known as one of Germany’s popular 70s hard rock/heavy metal acts, which influenced many metal musicians. It is the first band of John Lawton, who later replaced David Byron in Uriah Heep, and their debut album is a masterpiece indeed, as it merges hard rock/heavy metal with prog/kraut rock in a very interesting way. “Ride The Sky” (1970) stands out as a proto doom, proto power metal hymn, with its riff, its melodic hooks, its high-pitched vocals, its tight rhythm section. In my opinion, you can find some euro power metal traces here!
30. May Blitz – “Smoking the Day Away”
“May Blitz” album is a cult classic, an obscure collectible, released via the legendary Vertigo label in 1970. May Blitz was an English-Canadian power trio, which blended perfectly psychedelic rock, progressive rock and hard rock. “Smoking the Day Away”, among the best songs of this release, is a surpassing piece of music, whose ventures will take you on a wonderful trip. Psych/prog rock with a heavy edge, an epic composition which grows and twists, flies up and down, and is only a small dose of what you may hear on this album. Due to lack of commercial success, the trio disbanded in late 1971, but we all know now what legacy they left behind.
31. Mountain – “Mississippi Queen”
When we are talking about early metal of the 70s, we are obliged to mention Felix Pappalardi (bass, vocals) and Leslie West (guitar, vocals) of Mountain! Pappalardi was a leading personality in the 70s hard n’ heavy New York scene, a songwriter and record producer, who became closely attached to Cream, writing, arranging and producing for their second album “Disraeli Gears”. Leslie West was one of the first guitar heroes in hard rock history. Mountain, formed by Pappalardi/West in 1969, is cited as an early hard n’ heavy act, whose first two albums are proto-metal essentials. “Mississippi Queen” (1970), a classic hit of 70s hard rock, is a fine example of Mountain’s mastery, of the genius of Pappalardi/West, these two real maestros, who opened the road for heavy metal.
32. The Move – “Brontosaurus”
If you run back to Roy Wood’s discography, you will understand that Wood was a multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist musician, who played almost in every possible style. Let’s examine The Move’s “Brontosaurus” (1970), written, sung and produced by Wood, for example: it’s heavy, loud, electric and noisy – Wood plays proto metal, combined with Brum beat and rock n’ roll/rockabilly! Influenced by the heavy rock trend of the time, but also determined to compose heavier staff after the release of the “Curly” single, Wood wrote a … dinosaur rock song, with aggressive riffs, growling vocals and Bev Bevan’s noisy drums. This song was the first Move recording made after former Idle Race frontman Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra) had joined, and he contributed guitar and piano.
33. The Novas – “The Crusher”
This is the first song in history with brutal vocals. A garage rock band from Minneapolis, USA (not to be mistaken with the band of the same name from Dallas, Texas), The Novas performed in the mid 60s and wrote this song about professional wrestler Reginald Lisowski (aka Crusher Lisowski) in 1964. Lead singer/songwriter Bob Nolan tried to imitate The Crusher’s yell, so we have here the forerunner of death metal! The Cramps covered the song in their “Psychedelic Jungle” album.
34. The Open Mind – “Magic Potion”
A remarkable English hard psychedelic rock band, active in the late 60s, with only one album in its discography, The Open Mind released the “Magic Potion” single in 1969. Not included in their sole album, the song has a protometal sound, with crunchy guitars and heavy double-bass drums. Apart from this kind of influence, “Magic Potion” was a great influence for space rock and proto-punk bands, since it is reminiscent of bands like Hawkwind and The Stooges! A true hard rockin’ space/psychedelic rock hymn, with marvelous guitar work and a strong vocal performance.
35. Pentagram – “Forever My Queen”
American band Pentagram is a heavy metal unit, which started its career in 1971. Prolific in the underground scene of the 1970s, producing many demos and rehearsal tapes, Pentagram didn’t release a full-length album until reforming in the early 1980s with an almost completely new lineup. Led by vocalist Bobby Liebling, Pentargam belongs to the fathers of heavy metal, as we know it today, one of the first bands, who played doom metal. I am sure most heavy metal maniacs are aware of the importance and the quality of this band – if you don’t know Pentagram though, I strictly recommend you to explore the recordings of Pentagram, starting from the collection entitled “First Daze Here”. Doom or be doomed!
36. Power of Zeus – “It Couldn’t Be Me”
Formed in 1968, in Detroit, USA, this quartet was characterized as a psychedelic rock band, however, that’s not a right description for Power of Zeus. Of course, there is a psychedelic element in their music, however, this American band walks in the lane of hard rock/early metal. They released only one album, “The Gospel According to Zeus” (1970), a flop back then, but a collector’s item today, and one of the most beautiful gems of 70s underground proto-metal. “It Couldn’t Be Me” will enthuse you with its precious work on the guitars and the keyboards, with its loud drums and the catchy vocal melodies. A trivial info: the band’s first name was Gangrene, but Motown subsidiary Rare Earth, which signed the band, requested a name change!
37. The Pretty Things – “Defecting Grey”
This legendary English band succeeded as a rhythm and blues act, however, they experimented along the way with psychedelia and heavy rock – “S. F. Sorrow” album was a psychedelic rock masterpiece, one of the first concept rock albums/a rock opera predating The Who’s “Tommy”. Some months before this psychedelic gem, The Pretty Things released the “Defecting Grey” single (1967), which can be described as a hallucinatory epic, an adventurous trip where the psychedelic parts meet the heavy rock passages.
38. Ronno – “Powers of Darkness”
Ronno was a short-lived project, led by guitar legend Mick Ronson that output just one single. Ronson became famous as David Bowie’s guitarist. During Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” sessions, Ronson, together with Tony Visconti, Woody Woodmansey and Benny Marshall, signed to Vertigo Records. The single "4th Hour of My Sleep" was released in January 1971 and the B-side was a Ronson/Marshall composition called "Powers of Darkness". It’s a pity that a Ronno album was never completed. However, the proto metal experts praise the “Powers of Darkness” song as one of the first heavy metal blueprints. It has all the heavy metal elements – the awesome guitars, the pounding drums, the clever refrain and the dark lyrics! A treasure from the past!
39. Sir Lord Baltimore – “Master Heartache”
Sir Lord Baltimore’s debut album, “Kingdom Come”, is one of the first heavy metal albums in the history of music. And when we say heavy metal, we mean 100% heavy metal. Sir Lord Baltimore was formed in Brooklyn, New York, in 1968 by drumming lead singer John Garner, was mentored by manager Mike Appel (later manager of Bruce Springsteen) and many have cited the 1971 review of “Kingdom Come” by Mike Saunders, in Creem magazine, as containing the first documented use of the term "heavy metal" to refer to a style of music. The power trio impressed everyone with their music – listen to “Master Heartache” (1970) and its fast-paced metal music, with alarming, killer riffs, ultra-heavy and strong rhythm section, towering vocals (a maniac Jimi Hendrix) and an astonishing production with overdubbed guitars and bass! That’s heavy metal paranoia!
40. Steppenwolf – “Born to be Wild”
A Canadian-American rock band, Steppenwolf are the ones who baptized heavy metal! There is a reference to the “heavy metal thunder” in the lyrics, a reference which changed everything in the history of music. “Born to be Wild” is one of the most popular classic rock tunes, a song familiar to everybody, a heavy metal hymn, dedicated to motorcycles, bikers and the wild lifestyle – it couldn’t get more heavy metal than that! This “roaring anthem of turbo-charged riff rock” (that’s how All Music Guide describes the song) was initially a ballad written by Canadian musician Mars Bonfire (a member of The Sparrows, who later evolved to Steppenwolf) and was included in Steppenwolf’s 1968 debut album.
41. Sweet – “Man From Mecca”
It’s true that everybody knows the hit “Love is like Oxygen”. It’s also true that almost everybody believes Sweet was just another glam rock band of the 70s, and that’s not fair, because a great number of Sweet songs sounds heavy and features great, hard rock guitar work. Take “Man from Mecca” for example. It begins with a powerful dual guitar riff that many contemporary metal bands would envy! With a heavy rhythm section and a production which focuses on the guitars and the drums, this song is a proto metal hit, a real surprise for everyone who rejects Sweet as a bubblegum pop/rock band. “Man From Mecca” was released as the b-side of the “Little Willy” single of the band, in 1972.
42. Taste – Blister on the Moon
Hey, that’s metal, metal of the late 60s, my friend! Indeed, legendary Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher started his career with Taste, a band, which should be mentioned here, because Taste offered us a couple pretty heavy albums. “Blister on the Moon” is a ferocious metal shocker, a proto metal song, which will make you play air guitar and bang your head! Gallagher’s guitar is incredible, the drums weigh tons and the perfect arrangement will enthuse you. “Blister on the Moon” was the first song of Taste’s debut album, released in 1969 via Polydor – after their second album (“On the Boards” - 1970), Gallagher left the band to successfully pursue a solo career. If you are a fan of Gallagher, you have to explore the works of Taste – here you will find some metal roots!
43. Tear Gas – “Woman For Sale”
This super heavy track comes from the eponymous, sophomore album of Tear Gas (on Regal Zonophone Records), a Scottish psych/prog heavy rock band, which never managed to get a fair response from fans/critics. “Woman for Sale” will impress everyone with its bombastic groove, its sharp riffs and solos, its smart arrangement. It’s protometal, it’s a new music era of demonic riffs and screams, it’s the birth of heavy metal, and Tear Gas is proud to play louder, heavier, wilder than ever before. In spite of the lackluster feedback, they were known for their live shows – Tear Gas commented: “We were a really loud band. In fact we used to open with Jethro Tull’s ‘Love Story’, which started very softly and the crowd would drift towards the front. Then we’d turn the volume up and blow everyone out of the hall”. In August Tear Gas became the Sensational Alex Harvey Band – eventually they found success that way.
44. Ten Years After – “I Woke Up This Morning”
This is the last track of “Ssssh”, the third album of Ten Years After, released in 1969 by Deram/Chrysalis. It was composed by the band’s mainman, Alvin Lee, who was a true guitar hero. That can be experienced as soon as you listen to “I Woke Up This Morning”, which sounds so damn heavy. Of course it belongs to the blues rock genre, nevertheless, Alvin Lee’s guitar playing is so innovative and proved to be a big influence for all hard rock/heavy metal guitarists. This wild, crazy, reckless approach of the guitar had many followers and contributed to the hard rock/heavy metal guitar sound. Yes, Alvin Lee and his group were among the constructors of the heavy rock building.
45. Toad – “They Say I Am Mad”
Toad was a Swiss hard rockin’ blues band, which was formed by ex-Brainticket members in Basel. Their eponymous debut album is a damn heavy album, which should not be missed by all the early metal maniacs. “Toad” and “Tomorrow” albums were produced by the one and only Martin Birch (!) and are iconic blueprints of the dirty, bluesy hard n’ heavy sound. Toad were a popular live act because of their ferocity, musicianship and stage antics, strongly influenced by Hendrix. “They Say I am Mad” (1971) is a continuation of Hendrix’s style, louder and heavier. Check it if you want to see how hard n’ heavy music started back then.
46. Trapeze – “Medusa”
Trapeze had been the band of Glenn Hughes, before he joined Deep Purple, and Dave Holland, before he joined Judas Priest. Very different from the psychedelic rock eponymous debut of the same year, “Medusa” (1970) is a perfect proto-metal record, which all the fans of 70s heavy metal should own. Well, the performances sound perfect, the arrangements build a pattern, which has been used by numerous metal bands and the guitar work calls you for endless head-banging! Hughes’ vocals are incredible, so soulful and powerful, and they are only the top of an awesome pyramid of early heavy metal. Generally, this band has been described by critics as one of the most underappreciated of the 70s. So, don’t you think it’s time to search for this hidden masterpiece?!
47. The Turtles – “Buzzsaw”
I love The Turtles and their 1967 hit “Happy Together” is a pop classic. You may wonder what they are doing in this list! “Buzzsaw” (1968) was included in their “The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands” concept album, where The Turtles mock a music competition and pretend to be a series of different groups. This is the heavy rhythm and blues/rock band/song of the competition, performed by a band called The Fabulous Dawgs, and indeed, the American band offers us a hell of a tune, where the ultra heavy riff is accompanied by the characteristic sound of the Hammond. This song came out of nowhere, nevertheless, it shows the progress of the R&B genre.
48. Uriah Heep – “Gypsy”
If you search for the roots of heavy metal, you will surely come to the conclusion that Uriah Heep is one of these roots. Uriah Heep is one of the first heavy metal bands and their debut album is a milestone of 70s heavy metal. “Gypsy” (1970) is a hymn, a great pomp rock tune, a song which shows the lyric and epic, more artistic, more progressive side of metal, with its outstanding opening riffs, the majestic vocal melodies, the fantastic performance of David Byron, the singular keyboards of Ken Hensley. That’s how heavy metal started, with bands like Uriah Heep, who destroyed everything on their way. Very adventurous, very spectacular, very heavy.
49. Valhalla – “Hard Times”
With a stylistic combination of blues rock, psychedelia, heavy rock and symphonic prog rock, Valhalla started their career in the late 60s, in New York, but managed to release only one album, the eponymous masterpiece. Imagine an ultra-heavy blues version of Deep Purple, Cream, Procol Harum and ELP, and you are close to the album’s proto-metal sound! “Hard Times” (1969) is a great track off this debut, a composition where the first role belongs to the heavy, fuzzy electric guitar – however, you will be impressed by the psychedelic keyboards, the blunt drum breaks and the bluesy and dirty vocals. It’s a pity this band didn’t manage to continue with its music amalgam …
50. Vanilla Fudge – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
Composed by the team of Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland/Brian Holland, originally performed by The Supremes in 1966, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was recorded and released again in 1967 by the psychedelic rock band Vanilla Fudge. Appice/Bogert/Martell/Stein took this funky/R & B pop hit and transformed it into a slow, long heavy rock anthem, which, although based on a pop melody, shines as a mesmerizing and dramatic gem. The distorted guitars, the hypnotizing Hammond phrases, the loud drums and the agonizing vocal performance are the elements of this heavy blues masterpiece, where psychedelia turns to paranoia. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” was a part of the first Vanilla Fudge album, which is cited also a proto prog record.
51. The Yardbirds – Heart Full of Soul
A list of proto metal music is imperfect without The Yardbirds! Rock and metal music began with bands like The Yardbirds, which made a blues start and later evolved their music into psychedelic rock and proto hard rock/metal. Three guitar legends started their career with the Yardbirds - Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck. Released in summer of 1965, it features Jeff Beck and made it to the top ten in UK/US. The fantastic guitar work (riffs and solos) and the theatrical arrangement of the song are ahead of their time. “Heart Full of Soul” is not just a popular hit, but a true heavy rock classic, ingenious, impressive and so influential.