by Eduardo Rivadavia Via Loudwire
1970: what a year!
Black Sabbath‘s arrival formally ushered in the age of heavy metal, by crystallizing a sound and philosophy that was being simultaneously espoused by countless bands, in slightly different ways, spread to virtually all corners of the planet.
Now, half a century later, more is known about heavy metal’s ‘other’ pioneers of that period, beyond Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Here, then, we’re looking back at 1970’s Best Heavy Metal Songs You Didn’t Know About. Scroll through the gallery below and follow this list on Spotify.
Uriah Heep, “Bird of Prey”
London’s Uriah Heep borrowed their moniker from a character in the Charles Dickens’ novel ‘David Copperfield,’ then named their 1970s debut, ‘Very ‘eavy, Very ‘umble’ (released in America as simply ‘Uriah Heep’) after their sycophantic namesake’s claims of “‘umbleness.” Literary origins and easy puns aside, Heep’s first album is one of 1970’s crucial heavy metal cornerstones (the U.S. pressing’s terrifying cover art is virtually without peer), with a sound that split the difference between Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, thanks to David Byron’s operatic voice, Mick Box’s brutish guitar, and Ken Hensley’s omnipresent Hammond organ. It was Hensley, in fact, who led the band, following a formative stint in proto-metal favorites Toe Fat (don’t laugh) with drummer Lee Kerslake (bassist Paul Newton completed the quintet), and arguably no song better captures Heep’s formidable powers than the dramatic “Bird of Prey.”
Atomic Rooster, “Death Walks Behind You”
England’s Atomic Rooster helped to define heavy metal’s funereal attitude and gothic lyrics with “Death Walks Behind You,” the deliciously morbid opening track from their sophomore album of the same name. Formed in late 1969, by erstwhile Crazy World of Arthur Brown members, keyboardist Vincent Crane and drummer Carl Palmer, the Rooster released an eponymous debut in February of 1970, before losing Carl to progressive rock titans Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Into the breach stepped drummer Paul Hammond and, most importantly, former Andromeda vocalist and guitarist John Du Cann, whose foreboding baritone proved an ideal foil for Crane’s keyboard excesses. Unfortunately, Crane’s struggles with mental illness made him difficult to work with, quickly destabilizing this powerful lineup, and ultimately derailing Atomic Rooster’s career, long before Crane’s death in 1989, at age 45.
Cactus, “Let Me Swim”
This may seem like an outrageous statement, but Cactus was built, from the ground up, to challenge Led Zeppelin, starting with one of the late ‘60s most famous rhythm sections, bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, previously of the Vanilla Fudge. After trying, but failing, to form a super-group with none other than Jeff Beck (three years later, they’d finally make it work), Bogert and Appice linked up with Detroit Wheels guitarist Jim McCarty and former Amboy Dukes vocalist Rusty Day in Cactus, immediately arming America for combat against hard rock’s new British invasion. Like Zeppelin, Cactus were committed to playing the blues, as loud and hard as humanly possible, and so their eponymous debut (see its classic, phallic, prickly cover photo) combines traditional covers like “Parchman Farm” with engaging group originals, headlined by the furious “Let Me Swim.”
Sir Lord Baltimore, “Pumped Up”
Until the Internet began unearthing long-buried musical treasures for all to see (assuming they were curious enough to look), Brooklyn, New York’s Sir Lord Baltimore was perhaps the greatest early American metal band most people had never heard of. But then, their rags-to-riches-and-back-to-rags-in-a-flash story reads like a rock and roll cliché. Sometime in late 1969, John Garner (vocals, drums), Louis Dambra (guitar) and Gary Justin (bass), all of whom had met in high school, were taken under the wing of enterprising manager Mike Appel (who later launched Bruce Springsteen’s career), signed to Mercury Records, and recorded with Jimi Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer, resulting in 1970’s long-forgotten classic, ‘Kingdom Come.’ Every one of its ten songs is a keeper, but the frantic “Pumped Up” probably captures the group’s untamed, youthful enthusiasm at its wildest and most distorted.
To most hard rock and metal fans, Glenn Hughes is well known as the bassist and co-lead singer extraordinaire with Deep Purple’s Mk. III lineup, plus numerous, subsequent, if often transitory stints with other artists, including Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, etc. But everyone has to start somewhere, and in Hughes’ case that came via the underrated Trapeze, which formed in the West Midlands town of Cannock, just north of Black Sabbath’s birthplace, Birmingham, before migrating down to London Town. Pared down from psychedelia-afflicted quintet to lean and mean power trio ahead of their sophomore LP, ‘Medusa,’ Hughes, guitarist Mel Galley (later of Whitesnake) and drummer Dave Holland (later of Judas Priest) produced an incredibly accomplished, forward-thinking racket. Several songs here would qualify for our select list of 1970’s Best Heavy Metal Songs You Possibly Haven’t Heard, but we’ll settle on the title track’s tour de force.
Grand Funk Railroad, “Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother”
For a fleeting period in the early ‘70s, Grand Funk Railroad was one of America’s biggest rock bands, having established a strong and organic connection with tens of thousands of blue collar kids who flocked to regional festivals (all the rage after Woodstock) and were easily converted by the trio’s bluesy, soulful, no-frills heavy rock. Mark Farner (vocals/guitar) and Don Brewer (drums/vocals) had cut their teeth with garage rockers Terry Knight and the Pack in the late ‘60s, after which Knight became their manager and Mel Schacher (bass) was recruited to complete the power trio. Two albums were quickly jammed into 1969, but with 1970’s ‘Closer to Home,’ Grand Funk took things to another level, brushing against the Top 20 with the title track and delivering one of early metal’s wickedest riffs on “Sin’s a Good Man’s Brother,” later covered by Monster Magnet, George Lynch, and many more.
Bloodrock, “Melvin Laid an Egg”
On the other side of Grand Funk’s mega-successful coin lay Fort Worth, Texas’ luckless Bloodrock — also managed by Terry Knight, also signed to Capitol Records, but nowhere near as fortunate when it came to record sales and fan adulation. But any serious heavy metal historian will tell you that this quintet (later a sextet) flew the flag for the nascent musical genre as proudly and convincingly as any of their contemporaries, beginning with this eclectic, progressive self-titled debut (three more semi-essential LPs followed), which climaxed with the crushingly-riffed, amusingly-named “Melvin Laid an Egg.” And Bloodrock were heavy metal pioneers in another way, by including a backmasked message on this debut that said “Anyone who is stupid enough to play this record backwards deserves what he is about to hear,” followed by an excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem, “Jabberwocky.”
Power of Zeus, “It Couldn’t Be Me”
Detroit, Michigan’s Power of Zeus was the first (and only?) heavy rock group signed by Rare Earth Records – the rock and roll wing of mighty Motown, which had done so much to put the Motor City on popular music’s map throughout the 1960s. By the dawn of the ‘70s, Berry Gordy’s company was ready to expand, and its A&R department certainly wasn’t deaf to heavy metal’s reverberating rise across the globe, so they zeroed in on local contenders Gangrene, on the condition they find a new name, and so Power of Zeus was born. The group’s sole album, ‘The Gospel According to Zeus,’ marked them as successors to the organ-laced psychedelia of Iron Butterfly and The Doors, complete with acid fueled excursions like “The Death Trip” and “The Sorcerer of Isis,” but also capable of committing hard-hitting head-bangers like the ruthless “It Couldn’t Be Me.”
Horse, “To Greet the Sun”
Horse was a short-lived London quartet, whose entire musical legacy was, until the recent release of an expanded reissue courtesy of Rise Above, contained in this somber-looking self-titled debut/swansong. Like Osbourne, Iommi, Butler and Ward, Horse vocalist Adrian Hawkins, guitarist Rod Roach, bassist Colin Standring and drummer Ric Parnell were young malcontents, living on the wrong side of the Summer of Love, and so their music was painted, not in colorful psychedelia, but dusky monochromes. To wit, this album’s opening number, “The Sacrifice,” dives headlong into satanic rituals (culminating in a blood-curdling “I LOVE YOUR BLOOD!”), “Freedom Rider” tries to raise up Jimi Hendrix from the grave, but “To Greet the Sun” may be the heaviest of the bunch, thanks to its sinister, ragged, acid rock riffs. All in all, Horse showed a lot of promise, but unfortunately fell apart not long after this release.
Warpig, “Melody with Balls”
If they achieved nothing else during their exceedingly brief, unsuccessful, and poorly documented career, Warpig at least managed to succinctly and effectively describe what heavy metal sounded like with their bruising number, “Melody with Balls.” Indeed, though this quartet from (the wrong) Woodstock, in Ontario, Canada, was blessed with neither much subtlety nor sophistication, they showed an innate appreciation for heavy music’s creative possibilities on this raw but daring eponymous debut, which was released on a tiny independent label, late in 1970, then introduced to a new generation of metal-heads, decades later, by Relapse Records. There’s even some debate as to whether Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore may have “borrowed” a few ideas from driving efforts like “Flaggit” and “Rock Star” (“Highway Star,” anyone?), yet no one but Ritchie will probably ever know for sure, and he ain’t talking.
Lucifer’s Friend, “Ride the Sky”
Lucifer’s Friend was just about the most metal band name around in 1970. Formed in Hamburg, Germany, initially as Asterix, the group also benefited from the remarkable voice — and language skills — provided by their British-born singer, John Lawton, who would later do a tour of duty with Uriah Heep. However, back in November of 1970, when Lucifer’s Friend’s eponymous debut was unleashed, its creepy-peculiar cover art alone would have been worth the price of admission, if its explosive first cut, “Ride the Sky,” hadn’t paid even greater dividends. Yes, the song’s key melody, which comes blaring through like the trumpeting of mastodons, sounds suspiciously similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” but Peter Hesslein’s razor-sharp guitars are not to be trifled with, and the overall aesthetic clearly influenced the Scorpions’ ‘70s albums.