Written By: Eduardo Rivadavia Via Loudwire
Few people realize this but 1971 was one of the most prolific and exciting years in heavy metal’s first half-century of existence.
In 1970, the secret combination of sounds leading to metal’s creation had been unlocked by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and a smattering of additional pioneers. 1971 blew the proverbial doors wide open, as hundreds of bands around the world eagerly experimented with the new style, blending it with their own.
So as you’ll see in our second list of underrated and/or forgotten heavy metal songs, the only common, mandatory requirements were that the music be loud, powerful and heavy; nothing else was out of bounds among 1971’s Best Heavy Metal Songs You Possibly Haven’t Heard.
Follow this list on Spotify.
Budgie, “Homicidal Suicidal”
Following in the wake of Black Sabbath’s totally unlikely and unexpected success, their producer, Rodger Bain, was enabled in equally unlikely and unexpected ways to find exciting young talent he might be able to groom into heavy metal’s next breakout stars. So he set his sights on Budgie: a hitherto unknown power trio from Cardiff, Wales featuring vocalist/bassist Burke Shelley, guitarist Tony Bourge, and drummer Ray Phillips. Like Sabbath, the blues-rooted Budgie could sound heavy as the dickens, but they would also prove artfully idiosyncratic, blending metal with progressive rock with perhaps their most distinctive trait: a sense of humor. But much of that finesse would come later. On their 1971 debut, Budgie were more preoccupied with hammering monstrous riffs into submission, which is essentially the M.O. behind the album’s most hypnotic and foreboding track, “Homicidal Suicidal.”
Leaf Hound, “Drowned My Life in Fear”
The original stoner rock band, Leaf Hound clung together just long enough to produce a lonely long-player, yet 1971’s multi-tasking/drugging ‘Growers of Mushroom’ is the stuff that cult followings are made of. And, despite their lyrical penchant for chemical downers, there was almost nothing mellow about these guys, musically speaking, as Peter French’s coyote howl and lead guitarist Mick Halls’ brutish riffs and acid-drenched solos whipped their band mates (rhythm guitarist Derek Brooks, bassist Stuart Brooks and drummer Keith George-Young) into a frantic trance on protean headbangers like “Freelance Fiend,” “Stray” and the title track. But the record’s high point (ahem!) was the insanely sinister “Drowned My Life in Fear,” which went toe-to-toe with any of the era’s proto-metal, and safeguarded Leaf Hound’s reputation well beyond their breakup, even before this album’s official release.
Flower Travellin’ Band, “Satori, Pt. 1”
If you’re one of those people who thinks Japanese heavy metal starts with Loudness in the 1980s, or – bless your heart – late ‘70s hard rockers Bow Wow, prepare to meet the true godfathers of J-Metal in the misleadingly named Flower Travellin’ Band. Formed in the late ‘60s, the quartet absorbed and then regurgitated Western sounds (covering Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and others) on 1970’s ‘Anywhere,’ before coming into their own on the following year’s masterful ‘Satori,’ which contained five original songs, named simply “Satori, Parts I-V.” The first of these, in particular, has become a paragon of exotic heaviness, thanks to the astonishing guitar work of the great Hideki Ishima, Jun Kozuki’s wicked bass lines, Jogi “George” Wada’s tribal percussion, and Joe Yamanaka’s wild-eyed Tarzan yowl. In sum: if you care to savor the full breadth of heavy metal history, this album is an essential purchase.
Groundhogs, “Cherry Red”
With their unassuming, blue-collar, celebrity-shirking ethos, England’s Groundhogs have long been darlings of the underground, in the eyes of dedicated proto-metal collectors. Led by vocalist/guitarist Tony McPhee (a dedicated student of blues masters like John Lee Hooker and Champion Jack Dupree), the power trio completed by bassist Peter Cruikshank and drummer Ken Pustelnik reached its maximum popularity during the early ‘70s. Side one of 1971’s fan favorite ‘Split’ LP featured four-part suite. And, on side two, the Groundhogs blasted out their all-time signature number in “Cherry Red,” which captured a falsetto crooning McPhee and his troupe in storming, jamming form, allegedly cutting the song in a single take – no overdubs!
Boomerang, “Juke It”
When bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice quit heavy psych pioneers Vanilla Fudge to form Cactus in 1970, vocalist/organist Mark Stein was left holding the keys (get it?); so, with a little prodding from his managers, he eventually decided to bounce back with the aptly named Boomerang (get it, again?). First, Stein surrounded himself with fresh blood in bassist Jo Casmir, drummer James Galluzi, and teenaged guitar prodigy Richard Ramirez, then Boomerang’s eponymous debut followed in 1971 – simultaneously borrowing from and inspiring Deep Purple with hard-hitting fare like “The Peddler,” “Cynthia Fever” and the organ-driven, dual-vocal-ed “Mockingbird,” which bore an almost freaky resemblance to Tommy Bolin’s and Glenn Hughes’ funky Purple Mk. IV. But the album’s strongest cut is also its first, “Juke It,” with its forceful start-stops and Stein’s soulful wail.
Hard Stuff, “No Witch at All”
After falling out with Atomic Rooster’s volatile keyboardist and leader, Vincent Crane, vocalist/guitarist John Du Cann and drummer Paul Hammond formed the aptly-named Hard Stuff with former Quatermass vocalist/bassist John Gustafson. Their ‘71 debut, ‘Bulletproof,’ was released on Deep Purple’s Purple Records and delivered quality heavy rock, as powerful as it was versatile. Lead vocals and songwriting duties were evenly shared by Du Cann and Gustafson, who crafted album highpoint “No Witch at All.” Hard Stuff proceeded to hit the road supporting both Purple and Uriah Heep, but a near-fatal car crash curtailed their career momentum, and they broke up following 1973’s sophomore ‘Bolex Dementia.’ Gustafson later played with Roxy Music and the Ian Gillan Band, while Du Cann briefly toured with Thin Lizzy and later scored a few minor solo hits before reforming Atomic Rooster with Hammond and Crane.
May Blitz, “For Madmen Only”
A London-based power trio modeled, like many groups of the day, on the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, May Blitz was one of the first signings to legendary Vertigo Records (the others were Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep), and their 1970 debut included one of the original stoner rock anthems, “Smoking the Day Away.” But lukewarm sales meant that the pressure was weighing upon vocalist/guitarist James Black, bassist Reid Hudson (both Canadian citizens) and drummer Tony Newman (ex-Jeff Beck Group) when they started to record their sophomore outing, ‘The Second of May,’ as evidenced on the LP’s urgent, breathless first cut “For Madmen Only.” Give it just one listen and you’ll realize that no guitar riff had any business sounding this heavy and distorted in 1971, prompting far-flung theories about how they got their sound, ranging from time travel to epic drug intake.
Bang, “Lions, Christians”
Power trio Bang’s brief but meteoric career is a stark reminder that, sometimes, serendipity matters just as much as talent in rock ‘n’ roll. Frank Ferrara (vocals/bass) and Frankie Glicken (guitar/vocals) were barely out of high school when they formed Bang with drummer and lyricist Tony Diorio, traded their native Philadelphia for Florida, and promptly talked themselves on to a festival stage, opening for The Faces and Deep Purple. Not long after, Bang were scooped up by Capitol Records, which was flush with cash and confidence from Grand Fun Railroad’s successful heavy rock example, and instructed the Bang boys to write and deliver their first album in a few weeks. No pressure. The resulting self-titled platter was, at once, down-to-earth, from a production standpoint, and adventurous, in terms of eclectic songwriting, but it also yielded a trio of memorable, no-frills riff-bangers in “Come with Me,” “Questions,” and the interestingly named “Lions, Christians.”
Toad, “Cottonwood Hill”
Toad, based out of Basel, Switzerland, was spawned out of a creative schism within the jazz-and-psych-infused Krautrock band Brainticket, and arrived ready to unleash a far less pretentious brand of power blues on their self-titled debut of 1971. Ah, but the real star of this show was Italian-born lead guitarist Vittorio ‘Vic’ Vergeat, whose heavy-handed riffs, Hendrixian lead heroics, and ripping distortion helped distinguish Toad from the competition, fueling savage, ahead-of-their-time numbers like “Stay,” “They Say I’m Mad,” “A Life that ain’t Worth Living” and perhaps the group’s most revered cut, eight-minute epic “Cottonwood Hill.” Also noteworthy: Toad’s debut gave the heavy music world one of its earliest sightings of future production legend, Martin Birch, who was still learning his chops as an engineer at this time, but would soon leave his mark with Deep Purple, Wishbone Ash, and Iron Maiden.
Steel, “Road Runner”
The simply named Steel was comprised of five capable session musicians – Carl Sims (vocals), Steve Busfield (guitar), Duane Hutchings (keyboards), Roland Robinson (bass/vocals), and Jerry Norris (drums/vocals) – and existed just long enough to record this self-titled LP in ’71. But their fleeting union was all it took for Steel to leave a thundering slab of organ-laced heavy rock (reminiscent of Mountain, Boomerang, and Power of Zeus) for future generations of musical archaeologists to unearth. What’s more, masterfully crafted head-bashers like “Eye to Eye,” “Merry Go Round” and the particularly ballsy “Road Runner” backed up all of their studio-manufactured attitude and amplification with strong choruses, well-heeled arrangements (all evidence of the musicians’ session ace pedigree), and a natural affinity for soul music.
Pink Fairies, “Do It”
England’s Pink Fairies – who were initially comprised of vocalist/guitarist Paul Rudolph, bassist Duncan Sanderson and, not one, but two drummers: Russell Hunter and the ubiquitous Twink — were less of a band than a gang of musical miscreants. Anarcho-yippies who’d evolved out of the tellingly-named ‘60s garage/psych ensemble The Deviants, the Fairies put more energy into promoting free love, free drugs, and free concerts than promoting their own career’s well-being. In keeping, their membership would always be fluid, all three of their LPs were inconsistent, freewheeling affairs, and yet each yielded at least one, spectacular performance. In the case of 1971’s ‘Never Never Land,’ said highlight took the shape of an empowering proto-punk nugget named “Do It” (later covered by Rollins Band, among others), which persistently goaded listeners to get their s**t together and make things happen. Pretty much the opposite of, errr… the Pink Fairies themselves, ironically.