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A Beginner's Guide To Metal #4 - Heavy Metal Forefathers

Updated on December 29, 2013

In The Beginning

It was brought to my attention recently that my first article "A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal" may still be a little confusing for someone who had never actually listened to heavy metal or had an idea of what to expect if they were to listen to it. Keeping that in mind, I decided to put together a list of those who served as the bedrock of what would become metal to help ease those of you into the early heavy metal artists as well as give a fitting tribute to those without whom we would not be able to enjoy the music we now do. Many of these albums came out after Black Sabbath and Budgie officially started heavy metal, but as a genre it didn't really take off until the late 70s and they were hardly the only bands serving to influence the glorious madness that was to come.

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The Beatles - The White Album

I can already hear people saying "what do The Beatles have to do with heavy metal?" The fact of the matter is, The Beatles influence extends to virtually all genres of music, and any member of the early heavy metal bands will tell you they first started rocking out to The Beatles. Ozzy Osborne got into music because of his love for them, one of Lemmy's first concerts was a Beatles show, their influence is all over metal. Really I could've put any of their albums on here, but this is the one with "Helter Skelter", a song that many metal bands have covered, so I felt it would fit the best.

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The Who - Tommy

So many controversial topics tackled in the first ever rock opera that would become staples of heavy metal song writing. Stabs at authority and organized religion, drug abuse, psychosis, severe trauma, murder, all things just par for the course in heavy metal now and it should be noted that they are one of Anthrax's Scott Ian's favorite bands as well. Also, Pete Townshend is a god. That is all.

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#8

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MC5 - Kick Out The Jams

The opening line of the title track says it all: "Kick out the jams motherf**ker"! In 1969, you can just imagine the uproar that caused. Usually, and rightly, sighted as one of the progenitors of punk, I think a rebellious attitude like that fits in perfectly with what heavy metal is.

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AC/DC - Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Dangerously close to already being in heavy metal territory, but just close enough to the other side of the cusp that I thought it should be included. AC/DC's influence on how heavy metal would come to develop is undeniable and this album offers a sly, sneering, badass example of just why that is.

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#6

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Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic

The classic blues based rock that defined 70s hard rock fused with a speed and energy rarely found at that time, Aerosmith had a huge impact on heavy metal (they were the band that inspired James Hetfield), and nowhere can their influence be heard more than on this album (it was between this and "Rocks", but I think this one has better riffs).

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#5

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Blue Oyster Cult - Agents of Fortune

Hauntingly catchy riffs and spooky lyrics talking about death and the devil, evoking mild occult imagery and openly denouncing the summer of love, they may not have been as heavy musically as the bands to come, but their songwriting was as dark and heavy as just about anything on the horizon.

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#4

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced; Cream - Disraeli Gears

Another choice I honestly could not decide between, but really they are very similar. Both were quintessential elements of the psychedelic rock scene of the late 60s and both gave us two of the most revered guitarists in history. You show me any rock or metal guitarist who says they were not directly influenced by Jimi Hendrix and I will show you someone who is most likely a compulsive liar. The solos may not have been the fastest or most intricate compared to what we have now, but no one did it with more soul than Jimi (plus the dude would set his guitars on fire, seriously how metal is that?). Eric Clapton had already achieved some success with the Yardbirds, but it was with Cream that he truly showed us what he was capable of, giving us amazing riffs and solos that are still classics (fun fact: "Sunshine of Your Love" is one of three songs you can play that will instantly get you kicked out of any guitar store, the other two being "Smoke on the Water" and "Iron Man").

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#3

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Alice Cooper - Love it to Death

Kiss, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Lordi, Slipknot, Mushroom Head, The Misfits, and Gwar. What do all of these bands have in common? None of them would have been possible without Alice Cooper. Theater and shock rock both came into being when Alice was unleashed upon the world, happily assuming the role of Rock n' Roll's villain. Songs filled with scary images, youthful angst and bluesy tight musicianship, and a stage show featuring multiple decapitations among other things, there is simply no way I could properly cover all of the ways heavy metal as we know it simply would not be here without Alice.

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Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet

Although once again the music may not sound the same, there is one other essential ingredient to heavy metal: attitude. And the Stones had it in spades. The original Rock n' Roll rebels and described as the band that wanted to burn your house down, The Rolling Stones stirred up more controversy in a few years than seemingly any band that had come before them, leaving a proverbial trail of burning rubble in their wake. And on this album, one of the symbolic hallmarks of heavy metal, the devil himself, was mentioned more openly and in more detail than he had ever been before. The heavy metal attitude is present all throughout this album.

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Steppenwolf - Steppenwolf

Featuring the distorted bluesy riffs that would encompass early heavy metal musicianship, the song "Born To Be Wild" which many consider to be the first heavy metal song ever written, and a lyric in said song that effectively named the genre, I feel completely justified in saying that Steppenwolf was the definitive forefather of heavy metal. In my mind, when you put out an album that encompasses a basic blueprint of how to make loud fast music and provide a new name for said music, you've pretty earned that title.

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And So It Begins

If you like any of these works, chances are you should give metal a try. Here are some other bands and albums I felt were too close to being full on metal to include, but would still give an insight into the transition between the hard rock of the early to mid 70s and the heavy metal movement of the late 70s.


UFO - Strangers in the Night


The Scorpions - Taken by Force


Rush - Rush


Van Halen - Van Halen


Kiss - Destroyer

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    • smcgavin1 profile image
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      Sean McGavin 4 years ago from Bowling Green, Ohio

      I agree they very much are, but a lot of their stuff already has a very metal sound to it, plus I included them on another list already.

    • cryptid profile image

      cryptid 4 years ago from Earth

      Awesome! I grimaced when I saw the Beatles mentioned, but after pondering it I think you're right. How 'bout Led Zeppelin? I think of them as one of the biggest forces in driving not only some of the sounds in early metal, but also the lyrical imagery and musical innovation.