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 heavy metal album.
Its thunderous drums, sinister riffs and downright evil lyrics left little to be debated. But what we wanted to know was this: What was the heaviest song before Black Sabbath?
We ranked the the following songs based on a variety of factors: distortion/fuzz, playing speed, "darkness," volume, shock value and, most importantly, the song had to have been released before mid-February 1970, when Black Sabbath was unleashed unto the universe.
And sure, it would've been easy to list all the songs on the first two Led Zeppelin albums and call it a day, but we wanted to go deeper than that. We dug deep to find some hidden gems from the era of peace and love.
NOTE: We will be presenting these songs in installments. Check out the first list of 10 below; we'll post the next 10 songs later this week! Until then, enjoy!
50. The Troggs, "Wild Thing" (1966)
This bit of caveman rock, written by Chip Taylor (actor Jon Voight’s brother), is the only song on this list to feature an ocarina solo.
49. The Yardbirds, “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” (1966)
Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page teamed up on this elaborate, psychodramatic masterpiece to contribute slashing rhythm parts, zig-zagging lead lines and a witty imitation of a police car’s siren.
48. The Who, "My Generation" (1965)
Studio version not heavy enough for you? There’s always the explosive — literally — Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour version from 1967. Pete Townshend’s ears are still smarting from it.
47. Coven, "Pact with Lucifer" (1969)
Jinx Dawson was Doro before there was a Doro. Coven makes the list for their occult themes and evil-sounding song titles like “Pact With Lucifer,” “Choke, Thirst, Die” and “Dignitaries of Hell,” but ultimately the music just wasn’t that heavy.
46. The Guess Who, “American Woman” (1970)
After luring in listeners with a sweet acoustic blues intro, Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman & Co. hit the stompboxes and showed the world what Led Zeppelin would’ve sounded like if they were Canadian. This one came out in January 1970 — mere weeks before Black Sabbath would redefine heavy.
45. Pink Floyd, "Interstellar Overdrive" (1967)
The song that launched a thousand space-rock bands.
44. The Count Five, "Psychotic Reaction" (1966)
The Count Five’s only hit single was this blatantly Yardbirds-inspired gem from 1966. The band, who were all between the ages of 17 and 19, split up a year later to pursue college degrees. Remember, kids, there’s nothing heavier than an education!
43. The Wailers, “Out of Our Tree” (1966)
A fun, fuzzed-out offering from the Tacoma-based Wailers, one of the first American garage rock bands.
42. Sam Gopal, "Season of the Witch" (1969)
Sam Gopal was the first percussionist to bring tabla drums back from India and incorporate them into rock music. However, his 1969 album, Escalator, was a landmark in rock music for another reason: It featured, on vocals and guitar, a young Ian Kilmister. You might know him better as “Lemmy.”
41. Cream, "Sunshine of Your Love" (1967)
This song was written by Cream bassist Jack Bruce in a burst of inspiration after watching a Jimi Hendrix concert. Hendrix would cover the song a year later, adding some burning guitar licks in place of the lyrics.