Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Head To Head
Log In
Unsung Forum »
Is/Are Zeppelin Really That Good? Maybe Sabbath...
Log In to post a reply

64 messages
Topic View: Flat | Threaded
588 posts

Re: Is/Are Zeppelin Really That Good? Maybe Sabbath...
Dec 21, 2007, 12:17
From today's Guardian.....

The unlikely fathers of heavy metal

Joe Queenan goes in search of the progenitors of heavy metal and is surprised to find that neither Black Sabbath nor Norse gods seem to have been involved

Who invented heavy metal? This is a question that has been the subject of intense debate for more than three decades, though admittedly the answer to the question is only of interest to fans of the heavy metal genre. It is like the debate over whether the same person wrote both The Iliad and The Odyssey, and whether the enigmatic poet we refer to as Homer even knew how to write. (He was blind, after all, and Braille didn't exist in 1200 BC Mycenaean society.) These are all worthy questions, but most people don't particularly care one way or the other, as most people are not metal-heads and have not thought about the topless towers of Ilium since high school.

Metal-heads, who are much more numerous and buy many more records than the public realises, do care about this question. One theory holds that the term "heavy metal" was first applied to Led Zeppelin, even though Zeppelin is rarely thought of as a metal band despite all that hammer-of-the-gods stuff. However, this theory will not hold water, as the term (coined by the writer William S. Burroughs) was earlier used to describe Humble Pie and appears in the 1968 Steppenwolf song Born to be Wild. Led Zeppelin did not exist in 1968.
A more popular theory is that heavy metal begins with Black Sabbath, because the band was loud, murky, cultivated a cheerfully satanic aura, and used the tritone, the sound widely associated with Satan. Yet in their fascinating, authoritative, and oddly affectionate documentary Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scott McFadyen suggest that the genre may have begun in 1968, when the San Francisco band Blue Cheer released the single Summertime Blues. The song attained its highest position on the Billboard charts (No 11) the day before President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election. And while there is no smoking gun linking Blue Cheer with LBJ's action, his abdication paved the way for Richard Nixon's election, a disaster leading directly to the US defeat in Vietnam and James Taylor's first two albums.
If Blue Cheer are the fathers of heavy metal, this would fix the birth of the genre two years before the release of Black Sabbath's first album, and suggest that the genre first saw the light of day not in gritty Birmingham but in spacey, trendy, prissy San Francisco, which no one has ever thought of as a heavy-metal town. In the interests of full disclosure, Sam Dunn is the son of a woman my wife went to school with in Stroud and is a very nice fellow indeed. In the interests of even fuller disclosure, I saw Blue Cheer live, and if heavy metal started with Blue Cheer, heavy metal had pretty humble beginnings. Whatever their long-term contribution to the evolution of the metal genre, Blue Cheer sucked.
Summertime Blues, as performed by Blue Cheer on their first album, was a remake of a rockabilly classic recorded by Eddie Cochran 10 years earlier. Cochran, a native of Minnesota, the same state that produced Bob Dylan, wrote the song with his manager Jerry Capeheart, who was born the year the Great Depression began. The song was a major hit stateside, and continues to be played to this day. The hand-clapping is provided by Cochran's fiancee Sharon Sheeley, a gifted songwriter who was in the car with Cochran and singer Gene Vincent when they crashed into a pole in Chippenham in April 1960. Cochran died in Bath the next day. Bath is home to an American Indian museum; Sitting Bull, the most famous American Indian, met Queen Victoria in London in the 1880s while touring in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He grew up in Minnesota.
Cochran's guitar was impounded by the local gendarmes; according to one popular legend, a police cadet named Dave Dee learned to play guitar by practicing on it until the instrument was finally returned to the rock star's family. Dee went on to become the lead singer in Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, one of those chart-busting British bands no one ever heard of in the United States, and certainly not in Minnesota.
Whatever their contribution to heavy metal, Blue Cheer, the very definition of one-hit wonders, were never taken seriously in the United States. The band's name was inspired by a congenial hallucinogen named after a popular laundry detergent. Vincibus Eruptum, the band's first album, was colloquially referred to as Vince's Bus is Busted. The album title may have been a veiled reference to the Roman general Varus's stunning defeat at the hands of the Germans in 9 AD, though probably not. No one quite knew what to make of Summertime Blues when it was released, as the band could not play and the lead singer could not sing. This may have paved the way for grunge bands whose lead singers often depended more on a husky, manly, throaty assertiveness than on authentic singing ability.
Unlike such disparate ensembles as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream and Jefferson Airplane and the Doors, who were changing the face of popular music at the time, Blue Cheer was mostly thought of as the latest in a long series of contrived West Coast jokes. On the famous TV program American Bandstand, a poll of Los Angeles hoofers affirmed that Blue Cheer would soon be bigger than the Beatles. This did not come to pass. In the long run, it would make a whole lot more sense for metal heads to assert that heavy metal is descended from Link Wray or the Kinks or even Iron Butterfly. If you're already mired in a genre that the general public refuses to take seriously, claiming to be descended from Blue Cheer is like claiming to be descended from a mongoose. Take a page from ancient history and claim to be descended from somebody classy, like a survivor of the siege of Troy or feisty twins raised by an accommodating she-wolf. Claim that metal is a personal gift from Thor.
Topic Outline:

Unsung Forum Index