The origin of heavy metal is a very fuzzy thing, but most historians and fans can agree that Black Sabbath’s eponymous 1970 debut was the first true metal album.
Its thunderous drums, sinister riffs and downright evil lyrics left little to be debated, but what we at Guitar World wanted to know was this: What was the heaviest song before Black Sabbath?
We ranked these songs based on a variety of factors: distortion/fuzz, speed, darkness, volume and shock value. Most importantly, however, the song had to have been released before 1970. It would have been easy to list the first two Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix albums and call it a day, but we dug deep to find some hidden heavy gems from the era of peace and love.
We'll be revealing 10 new songs each week. Here's last week's batch of songs 50 to 41. Enjoy!
40: The Kinks, "You Really Got Me" (1964)
Some musicos consider this song the father—or at least the spastic uncle—of heavy metal. It doesn’t hurt its cred that it was covered by Van Halen a few decades back and was recently recorded by Ray Davies with Metallica for Davies’ See My Friends album.
39: Dragonfly, “Blue Monday” (1968)
Dragonfly represented Croatia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2007 in Helsinki, Finland, playing this very track almost 40 years after it was first recorded.
38: Captain Beefheart, “Diddy Wah Diddy” (1966)
The Good Captain first tasted success when he joined the Magic Band in 1965 and recorded this blazing cover of Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Diddy."
37: Bunker Hill, “The Girl Can’t Dance” (1963)
It’s always guitar players that are given credit with first making use of distortion, but it’s clear that Bunker Hill was pushing the levels to the max on this roaring cut from the early Sixties, backed by none other than Link Wray & The Raymen.
36: Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Fortunate Son” (1969)
On its musical merits alone, this song may not have made the list at all, but was there anything heavier than John Fogerty’s voice in the late Sixties?
35: Humble Pie, "Desperation" (1969)
A review for Humble Pie’s 1969 effort As Safe as Yesterday Is features one of the first recorded uses of the term “heavy metal” to describe a piece of music.
34: The Beatles, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” (1969)
John Lennon’s rarely heard lead guitar shines in this bluesy rocker from Abbey Road. The “heavy” part kicks in at the 4:37 mark, then builds and builds into something a twisted disc jockey would play as the pillars of the earth are tumbling down around him. Also, this song might have inadvertently started doom metal.
33: Arzachel, "Leg" (1969)
Uriel were a band formed in 1968 who then changed their name to Egg, then broke up, re-united and released their only album under the name Arzachel in 1969. Why their Wikipedia entry insists on calling them Uriel, we may never know.
32: Ten Years After, "Bad Scene" (1969)
After playing a heavy blend of blues-rock in the Sixties, Ten Years After gained a significant amount of success in the early Seventies, thanks to a more radio-friendly sound. We can find no record of whether or not they cut their hair and started wearing eye-liner.
31: Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love" (1969)
What more can be said about track one, side one, of Led Zeppelin II? Maybe one more thing: Download the Small Faces’ “You Need Loving” from the Small Faces album (the Decca version) and head to the 3:35 mark. Sound familiar? The Small Faces version came first (of course).
The Full List
The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath: #50-41
The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath: #40-31
The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath: #30-21
The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath: #20-11
The 50 Heaviest Songs Before Black Sabbath: #10-1