Who wrote the first speed metal song?
Accept’s Wolf Hoffman believes it was Accept with the song “Fast As A Shark”. It came out in 1982, on their “Restless and Wild” album.
But wait a second didn’t Judas Priest release “Exciter” in 1978 on “Stained Class”. Also would the double bass drumming at the start of that song be considered an early precursor to the double bass drumming styles made famous by thrash music. However, in the Metal Evolution Thrash documentary, Lars Ulrich and Dave Lombardo comment that Motorhead’s “Overkill” was the first song that they heard that had that double bass drumming style that they liked. However the “Overkill” album came out in 1979. Maybe “Overkill” was the first song they heard, but it wasn’t the first song to feature double bass drumming.
Maybe the first speed metal song was Judas Priest’s “Let Us Prey” from the “Sin After Sin” album released in 1977. What about “Symptom Of The Universe” from Black Sabbath released in 1975 on the “Sabotage” album. It’s all down-picking and fast for that era. Maybe it came from a band that is not really a metal band. What about Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy” that came out in 1974 on the “Sheer Heart Attack” album. Metallica did a pretty good job covering that song for the “Black” album b-sides. It sounds heavy, frantic and fast.
You see when people talk about a speed metal song the definition of what is a speed metal song is different between them. For me an uptempo and frantic song is a speed metal song. To others it could be my definition with the addition of operatic vocals. To others it would the previous definitions with the addition of technical playing.
Just say if you take out the metal and insert the rock. Would your answer be any different if the question was who wrote the first speed rock song?
I think Deep Purple and even Led Zeppelin would come into the mix right now. Hell, I would even go as far as to add Yes and Al Di Meola to that list.
The reason why I am stating the above is that I have an issue with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal romanticism and how the story is told that it single-handedly influenced the musicians who would kick off the thrash movement. It’s a determinism viewpoint. Not for a second do I believe that the NWOBHM movement was the sole influence.
The Metal Evolution doco on thrash has some revisionist history based on which bands/people are on top of the heap at this point in time. In other words, popular. This is what Sam Dunn said in the doco about it;
“When people think of thrash they generally think of the Bay area but that’s not where it started. I’ve come to L.A. to meet with Brian Slagel head of Metal Blade Records to find out how he and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich helped kick-start thrash metal in this city.”
You see metal was a cultural movement. It was the answer or outlet for lack of a better word to a lot of conservative governments and the rising gap between the middle class and the poor. Brain Slagel and Lars Ulrich were people in the movement like many others.
If you want to get into what kick started Metallica and thrash in the city then look no further than Ron Mc Govney (Metallica’s original bassist). We all know that the Metal Massacre compilation organised by Slagel was pivotal (as it was for Slayer on Metal Massacre III) however what kick started Metallica was all the investment that came from McGovney.
Without Ron McGovney; Lars Ulrich, James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine would not have had a rehearsal space, nor a vehicle to transport the band to San Francisco nor the funds to make the trip.
If Ron McGovney was not in the band, Metallica would never have secured that opening spot for the Saxon L.A shows. That spot was secured because Ron McGovney had glam contacts due to his photography work with Motley Crue and Ratt. It was those glam contacts that gave him the Whiskey contact.
So while Hetflied and Mustaine wrote the songs and Lars was the business brains, all of that would have counted for nothing if no one was investing in them. While Metallica was based in L.A that investment came from Ron McGovney.
Once Ron McGovney was out, the next investment came from Jon Zazula who heard the “No Life Til Leather” demo. Jon Z and his wife Marsha would mortgage their house to form a record label and get that first Metallica album out the door. But how did that infamous demo ever get recorded by Metallica.
A punk label called High Velocity put up the money for Metallica to record an E.P.
Metallica went into an 8 track studio and recorded “Hit The Lights”, “Mechanix”, “Phantom Lord”, “Jump In The Fire”, “Motorbreath”, “Seek And Destroy” and “Metal Militia”. After hearing the tapes, the label realised that Metallica was not a punk band and they declined. Metallica took the tapes and the “No Life Til Leather” demo was born. It was Ron McGovney then that coughed up the $600 for the BAM ad to promote the demo.
Tape trading also played an important part in kick starting the thrash movement. Remember that whole “Home Taping Is Killing Music” campaign from the early Eighties. Does the below quote sound all to familiar today;
“With the rise in cassette recorder popularity, the BPI feared that the ability of private citizens to record music from the radio onto cassettes would cause a decline in record sales.”
You see the recording industry always went nuclear on any new technology. Then after years of lobbying and whinging they would realise that could make money from that technology and then they would remain silent.
To prove my point does anyone hear the major labels whinging about Spotify or streaming services?
In the end, the Thrash Metal movement was more than just the NWOBHM bands and the influence those bands had on U.S musicians. For any movement to flourish, society in general had to be in a state to accept it. There are reasons why metal took off in certain cities first and not others.