Editor’s note: Ever since the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' debut single "Love Me Do") we've been on a half-century celebration cycle in which we are scheduled to relive every Beatles innovation, every release of the Beatles' landmark career in real time, right until the inevitable 50th anniversary of their breakup in 2020. But what other long-forgotten anniversaries are being overshadowed by the Fab Four (Again?) To answer that question, we present another installment in this series: "The 50th Anniversary of Something Else."
One thing you can say about John Lennon — he never let the truth get in the way of a good pull quote. Consider his assertion that Yoko was on a par with Paul McCartney as a collaborator. Or that he didn’t touch a guitar all five years he was a bread-baking house-husband. Or that anything The Beatles did The Stones did three months later (actually, it was six months later).
But he reserved his biggest whopper for the 1980 Playboy interview where he called “Ticket to Ride” (the Beatles’ eighth single and a number one hit 50 years ago last week) “one of the earliest heavy-metal records.” Some would afford that honor to “Iron Butterfly Theme” or “Born To Be Wild, “ since it is the first lyrical mention of “heavy metal thunder.”
But no, here the coolest Beatle showed the same lack of understanding about the form as the 1989 Grammy nominating committee who awarded Best Heavy Metal Performance to Jethro Tull.
It made us wonder what the actual first heavy metal record could have been, and you’ll be surprised to find out that many of the possible nominees came out before “Ticket to Ride,” while others were on the chart at the same time and are also celebrating a 50th anniversary!
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“The House of the Rising Sun” – The Animals (1964)
Try to imagine future heavy covers of folk ballads like Nazareth’s clawing at the Everly Brothers’ “ Love Hurts,” the Move’s injection of heaviosity into Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing on My Mind,”Alice Cooper’s unrecognizable reworking of Judy Collins’ “Hello Hurray,” and Led Zeppelin’s translation of the traditional “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You” without paying homage to the Animals who got there first. Although the guitars are mostly arpeggiating with organist Alan Price, Eric Burdon and the band all seem to be colluding to drive the recording engineer’s needle into the red with each verse. Just as a note, bassist Chas Chandler brought his early heavy metal smarts to manage and produce the Jimi Hendrix Experience and later Slade. In 1969, Detroit band Frijid Pink added fuzz guitars and wah wah pedals to make “House” the more predictable heavy metal hit it always was.
“Tobacco Road” – The Nashville Teens (1964)
The Nashville Teens were neither Nashvillians or even teens — discuss! Whoever they were they should be commended for turning in this slab of sludge, which sounds even heaver than The Blues Magoos’ acid-infused 1967 cover version. Like “House of the Rising Sun,” this British rock reworking of a folk song was also produced by Mickie Most to his precise headbanging specifications. It’s as if the Teens were truants who happened to stumble on a demolition site and just went nutso with the wrecking ball. Ok, gets those impure thoughts of Miley Cyrus out of your mind. I know. Too soon.
“Wooly Bully” - Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (1965)
This novelty number actually followed “Ticket to Ride” into the top five and stalled at number 2. Most people associate its minimalism and “1-2-3 –quatro” count in with garage-punk but the whole notion of turning into a creature with two big horns and a wooly jaw sounds like something future leviathan Glenn Danzig might dream up. And Sam the Sham’s hysterical screams on Hattie and Mattie’s account anticipate the pterodactyl singing style of Axl Rose and Robert Plant.
“Mr. Baker the Undertaker” - Ray Stevens (1965)
The fuzz bass opening on this novelty number is heavier than just about every cut mentioned here. Not to mention offering macabre lyrics like “He has a coffin for every size.” It must’ve touched a nerve since it didn’t dent the Top 100 50 years ago this week despite Billboard Singles Reviews predicting it would top Steven’s last hit “Ahab the Arab.”
“Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” - The Who (1965)
“The Ox” - The Who (1965)
The Who’s second single replicated the sound of a pop art plane crash years before Pete Townshend thought of going there lyrically with “Glow Girl,” not released until 1974. Yet it is “The Ox,” the “Wipe Out” on steroids closing cut off the Who’s My Generation album released later in the year that just makes an unrelenting noise for three minutes and was probably responsible for a few concerned memos from Decca Records executives only used to screeching coming off of Brenda Lee records.
“Evil Hearted You”- The Yardbirds (1965)
“Still I’m Sad” -The Yardbirds (1965)
Possibly the first-ever double-sided heavy metal single. The a-side features several time changes and stuttering rhythm guitar that would soon be familiar metal touchstones, while “Still I’m Sad" has Gregorian chanting and Keith Relf singing through what sounds like his ashthma inhaler. What’s more metal than that?
“I’m Henry the VII, I Am” – Herman’s Hermits (1965)
If “Ticket to Ride” can be heavy metal, why not a song that can’t spell Henry right? Even the possible presence of session players Jimmy Page and Richie Blackmore on this summer of ’65 charttopper might not qualify this as a heavy metal forerunner but Peter Noone’s fascination for living like royals could be an early indicator of Ronnie James Dio’s later fascination with castles and beheadings.
“Rain” – The Beatles (1966)
True, “Ticket to Ride” had louder drums and bass than any Beatles record ever issued before but this Beatle B-side went way heavier and thicker. And because they played the track fast in the key of A and slowed it down to the key of G, Paul McCartney inadvertently invented the heavy metal mainstay- the drop D- tuning.
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“Paint It Back” – The Rolling Stones (1966)
With the sitar appearing on a Stones record six months after “Norwegian Wood,” Mick and the boys would seem right on schedule as far as being Fab copyists go. But their morose subject matter here was entirely their own and would embody a hopeless and bleak world-view only Black Sabbath would share four years later.
“I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” – The Electric Prunes (1967)
Only if you discounted the previous track. Everything the Stones did, the Prunes did six months later, and only this one time because they are a one-hit wonder. Sure it’s a dumber rewrite of “Paint It Black,” but it fits the early heavy metal APB a whole lot more than the Stones’ former number one. Admit it, when you first heard Sir Mick sing “I see a red door and I want it painted black,” he kinda sounded like an interior decorator.