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Old 09-17-2009, 12:55 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Lightbulb History of Heavy Metal Thread

The plan here is to explore each stage of the development of heavy metal, on a year-by-year basis.

To get things started, we need to identify what it is that makes the Heavy Metal sound/style, and that is different things to different people.

It makes sense to me to have Heavy Metal defined as the music produced by the NWoBHM bands of the late 1970s. Although the acronym stands for "New Wave of British Heavy Metal", there was no clear "Old Wave" - that is, most bands, with very, very few exceptions, that played "metal" before the NWoBHM are also widely described as "Hard Rock", "Heavy Rock" or even "Progressive Rock", and the music is decidedly different.

With that definition, we have some boundaries by which we can identify traits in earlier music as being a precursor to metal, and formulate the history more successfully than the often ludicrous attempts you read elsewhere!

How often have I read that the term "Heavy Metal" is derived from some old book title (as if to try to lend it some sort of literary creedence!) and that it "originated in bands of the 1960s, such as The Kinks", or in the lyrics of some song or other.

Sorry, but this won't do - I mean to explore the 1960s and before in order to find out where the roots are, look at hard rock bands other than the usual suspects (Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Purple, Zep and Sabbath) and really get intimate with the musical development.

In order to keep things as interesting and readable as possible, I'll put this analysis into the next post.
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Old 09-17-2009, 01:27 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Defining Characteristics

So, firstly, the defining characteristics of the music;

Iron Maiden are cited over and over again as the spearleaders of the NWoBHM, but it's also widely acknowledged that Judas Priest and Black Sabbath are key innovators in the genre. Yes, there are lots of other bands who made important contributions (Motorhead, etc) - but this is about getting a definition, not making a boring laundry list. More bands can be added to the mix if these three don't produce a useful and working definition of the music.


Black Sabbath are the earliest of these 3, so let's pick 3 tracks that typify their sound and style;








Yeah, there are loads more Sabbath tracks I could have used - but there are some important bits and pieces here;

This is NOT the blues. Despite the proliferation of pentatonic scales in the solos, the music is not rooted in I-IV-V progressions. This is only a clue - plenty of bands had moved away from blues-based rock and roll by 1970.

Natable Characteristics

1. The music is riff based - the riffs are even more prominent than the vocal melodies.

2. These riffs are almost entirely played with a very distorted guitar tone that is given high importance in the mix. The type of distortion goes way beyond mere "fuzz", this is the peculiar high gain sound produced by valve amps - notably Marshalls that Hendrix was very keen on.

3. The intros, verses and choruses seem like preludes to the guitar solos.


So far we've desribed "Hard Rock" - so what are the REAL differences?

1. The riffs are styled to sound as "dark" and aggressive as possible. This is something fairly new, compared to "standard" hard rock.

Much of this is due to the incorporation of the tritone, or diabolus in musica - again, not new, as Hendrix did this, as did Gustav Holst in Classical music, decades before, and composers before him - it's simply that this interval occurs so frequently in Sabbath's music that it is a defining feature of it.

2. The lyrics are dark and nihilistic, with references to "underground", "(oc)cult" and even anti-social activities, apparent agonised pleas for help and other material clearly intended to be emotionally disturbing.

3. The album art work is also part of the package - and here the words "dark" and "disturbing" and everything else ties in with the whole image that the bands' music portrays.

4. The music, as in Classical Sonata Form, depends on a climax point towards which the whole piece builds.

In the case of simple songs, such as "Paranoid", this is not the case - the guitar solo becomes a simple interlude or bridge, as is the case with other rock/pop songs (which "Paranoid" indisputably is).

In "Black Sabbath", however, there are several "climax points" (don't be confused by my use of the term "Sonata Form" - people always think that this is about developing themes, although themes do not always develop, especially in early sonatas. The main feature of the old form to me is the climax and resolution brought about in the development and recapitulation sections - and this we see in the track "Black Sabbath".

Tension is continually built and torn down - not by the predictable technique of ever-increasing aggression, but by the more experimental technique of pulling the "exciting" distorted guitar sound right back for the vocal sections, then unleashing it at the moment the vocal sections end, only to strip everything back again for the next vocal section, unleash, strip down and rebuild towards the faster instrumental section, which builds towards the climatic ending.

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Old 09-17-2009, 01:55 AM   #3 (permalink)
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The plan here is to explore each stage of the development of heavy metal, on a year-by-year basis.

To get things started, we need to identify what it is that makes the Heavy Metal sound/style, and that is different things to different people.

It makes sense to me to have Heavy Metal defined as the music produced by the NWoBHM bands of the late 1970s. Although the acronym stands for "New Wave of British Heavy Metal", there was no clear "Old Wave" - that is, most bands, with very, very few exceptions, that played "metal" before the NWoBHM are also widely described as "Hard Rock", "Heavy Rock" or even "Progressive Rock", and the music is decidedly different.

With that definition, we have some boundaries by which we can identify traits in earlier music as being a precursor to metal, and formulate the history more successfully than the often ludicrous attempts you read elsewhere!

How often have I read that the term "Heavy Metal" is derived from some old book title (as if to try to lend it some sort of literary creedence!) and that it "originated in bands of the 1960s, such as The Kinks", or in the lyrics of some song or other.

Sorry, but this won't do - I mean to explore the 1960s and before in order to find out where the roots are, look at hard rock bands other than the usual suspects (Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Purple, Zep and Sabbath) and really get intimate with the musical development.

In order to keep things as interesting and readable as possible, I'll put this analysis into the next post.
The NWOBHM certainly brought Heavy Metal to the masses and turned it into a true genre and for that reason I think Judas Priest were probably the most important group prior to that movement and one of the first. Not only did they develop a true heavy metal music sound but also the leather and chains/studs look that would become essential to that movement, the group also displayed at times a quiet sound as oppossed to their jaw breaking heaviness, thus showing the variation of the HM sound. I think Stained Class to be one of their best. I think the movement really starts here with them, but of course there were other groups such as the Scorpions who were doing similiar stuff just as well and running parallel to them.

Going back further though, then look no further than Black Sabbath, if Judas Priest was the father then Black Sabbath the grand-father. Black Sabbath introduced the riffs that most groups still play variations of, the impending doom of HM and they were precursors of speed metal and also doom metal that many thrash groups would incorporate into their sound after slowing down. They also introduced the satanic imagery and of course like Judas Priest they were from an impoverished area of Birmingham.

Not necessarily going back further but there were a whole host of other groups that as you said above who displayed a heaviness in their sound such as Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, Vanilla Fudge etc but I just think these groups just played loud and future HM bands would have just taken influence from these groups.

Groups like Led and Purple were distinctly hard rock but it is here the problems start especially with Purple. I always regard Purple as hard rock but when frontman Blackmore formed Rainbow, is this hard rock or HM because early Rainbow dislplayed the swords and sorcery and fantasy imagery that is associated with HM, also Dio has always been regarded as a classic HM Vocalist but then again his background is distinctly blues (just listen to his stuff with ELF) Then groups like Blue Oyster Cult displayed what has been described as a proto metal sound in the 70`s.

Running parallell to the NWOBHM were their American counterparts, first Kiss and then Van Halen, groups that had the imagery (glam as opposed to the British model) and the riffs fom Van Halen BUT they were distinctly tame compared to their British counterparts and had a commercial sound to their music before 80`s commerialism arrived.

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Old 09-17-2009, 05:58 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Thanks for the additional info. You're right, there is the issue that many bands are in a grey are, in that they played heavy metal, although not as a general rule, and also that there are many different styles of metal, including the hybrids you point out.

Image is certainly something I left out - and this is a crucial part of the genre (as opposed to the music), although I did mention the album covers.

The sole point of going back before Sabbath is to trace the roots more accurately than other studies have done. I think the roots lie before the Kinks - indeed, the Kinks are not even related to Sabbath except via the riff, and the fact that Van Halen covered them. Does this mean that Metal is rooted in Holst, since "Am I Evil" by Diamond Head is rooted in "Mars, Bringer of War" from The Planets suite?

Possibly - and I have already noted a potential Classical root in Sabbath's formal approaches - but I really want to limit the exploration into Rock music.

Sabbath themselves use something similar in "Children of the Grave" - hence my link to the vid, which shows a faster, less doomy side of Sabbath that was left largely untapped until "Heaven and Hell".

Before Sabbath, there was a band called "Spooky Tooth", who played riffs very similar to those Sabbath played, and were undoubtedly the bands' main influence. Spooky Tooth also wrote "Better By You, Better Than Me", (in)famously included on "Stained Class", which brought Priest a huge amount of publicity, even though it was, on the whole, very unwelcome and unpleasant. Spooky Tooth can't have been alone in playing that style - hence I really want to dig into the harder rock music of the late 1960s - but I also want to find out where that came from.

Your point about Priest is also noted - but note also that the self-titled Sabbath song has this quiet/loud structure, and that the Sabs were also prone to even quieter and far heavier moments (as in "Children of the Grave", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and many more).

As I've noted in another thread, Priest's heavy sound and style has definite precedents in the music of groups like The Scorpions, UFO, The Sweet and Queen - showing the close links between Metal, Glam and Prog.

I want to trace the coming together - as well as the growing apart - of the roots, so we can show how groups as diverse as Bon Jovi and Slayer are essentially playing the same music. If, indeed, they are.

First I want to get at the defining characteristics that link all metal bands, by the simple process of examining the music of the bands that defined the genre, and getting a series of traits - or failing that, a combination of traits that uniquely identify the music and get away from silly, flowery descriptions such as the ones on Wikipedia which are mostly untrue, and almost entirely linked heresay rather than thoroughly researched (since Original Research is banned from Wikipedia articles!).

I've crippled myself for time again... back later! Thanks again for the useful points. It's contributions like this which are going to make this thread a success!
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Old 09-17-2009, 07:13 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Thanks for the additional info. You're right, there is the issue that many bands are in a grey are, in that they played heavy metal, although not as a general rule, and also that there are many different styles of metal, including the hybrids you point out.

Image is certainly something I left out - and this is a crucial part of the genre (as opposed to the music), although I did mention the album covers.

The sole point of going back before Sabbath is to trace the roots more accurately than other studies have done. I think the roots lie before the Kinks - indeed, the Kinks are not even related to Sabbath except via the riff, and the fact that Van Halen covered them. Does this mean that Metal is rooted in Holst, since "Am I Evil" by Diamond Head is rooted in "Mars, Bringer of War" from The Planets suite?

Possibly - and I have already noted a potential Classical root in Sabbath's formal approaches - but I really want to limit the exploration into Rock music.

Sabbath themselves use something similar in "Children of the Grave" - hence my link to the vid, which shows a faster, less doomy side of Sabbath that was left largely untapped until "Heaven and Hell".

Before Sabbath, there was a band called "Spooky Tooth", who played riffs very similar to those Sabbath played, and were undoubtedly the bands' main influence. Spooky Tooth also wrote "Better By You, Better Than Me", (in)famously included on "Stained Class", which brought Priest a huge amount of publicity, even though it was, on the whole, very unwelcome and unpleasant. Spooky Tooth can't have been alone in playing that style - hence I really want to dig into the harder rock music of the late 1960s - but I also want to find out where that came from.

Your point about Priest is also noted - but note also that the self-titled Sabbath song has this quiet/loud structure, and that the Sabs were also prone to even quieter and far heavier moments (as in "Children of the Grave", "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" and many more).

As I've noted in another thread, Priest's heavy sound and style has definite precedents in the music of groups like The Scorpions, UFO, The Sweet and Queen - showing the close links between Metal, Glam and Prog.

I want to trace the coming together - as well as the growing apart - of the roots, so we can show how groups as diverse as Bon Jovi and Slayer are essentially playing the same music. If, indeed, they are.

First I want to get at the defining characteristics that link all metal bands, by the simple process of examining the music of the bands that defined the genre, and getting a series of traits - or failing that, a combination of traits that uniquely identify the music and get away from silly, flowery descriptions such as the ones on Wikipedia which are mostly untrue, and almost entirely linked heresay rather than thoroughly researched (since Original Research is banned from Wikipedia articles!).

I've crippled myself for time again... back later! Thanks again for the useful points. It's contributions like this which are going to make this thread a success!
Just the other day I was thinking about the cover songs that certain bands do, most notably metal Bands. For example, I was listening to "Your Arms, My Hearse" by Opeth and on it (My extended version) were two covers, one by Celtic Frost and the other By Iron Maiden, which to be fair are the type of covers you`d expect them to do. If you look at Slayer or Metallica and their covers stuff, often it includes punk bands again obvious choices and all stuff that would`ve have influenced them, but a lot of the time, metal groups do covers which seemingly are quite surprising! Van Halen in their early days were a good example of this, the Kinks cover was a good choice and they did it well, because the original song had the riffs ready made for a HR or HM outfit. But how do you account for their version of Dancing in the Street my Marvin ***e, not exactly material for a HM outfit! I think the US metal groups certainly had a pop sensibility that their British counterparts at that time didn`t. Saying that though, Judas Priest did a cover of the Joan Baez song "Diamonds & Rust"!!! in their early days.

As for the quiet moments, yes you`re correct as Sabbath did them to startling effect especially on "Master of Reality" Probably their best album.

I think anybody can go back and look at groups like Spooky Tooth and Budgie etc and like Sabbath they were playing a brand of HM/HR that was largely undefined in its era, and it was only years later that their music would receive its correct label. The reason people say that metal started with Sabbath, is that they were quite simply one of the biggest bands in the world and nearly all current metal outfits would`ve grown up listening to them, whereas other groups like Spooky Tooth and Budgie were far less known and largely forgotten by all, except of course for the hardcore enthusiast. It`s kind of like saying Britpop (Oasis, Blur etc) began with the Beatles and the Kinks etc. But any enthusiast could go back further, therefore some kind of line has to be drawn.

I think to say HM started with Sabbath and that Judas Priest were the first proper HM band to be fairly correct, from the viewpoint that there has to be some kind of defined starting line. Metallica and some of the other thrash bands of the time were credited with creating thrash, but anybody can go back further and point to Motorhead or Venom, point being there has to be some kind of starting position otherwise you can keep going back.

The comparison between Bon Jovi and Slayer is very valid. Bon Jovi like most of the glam metal/rock groups of that era had largely based themselves on Aerosmith (distinctly hard rock) and picked up metal riffs thanks to Van Halen and trashy glamour thanks to the New York Dolls and they along with Guns n Roses, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Motley Crue etc constantly crossed the HM/HR line from time to time (Def Leppard you could say were from HM roots whereas Guns n Roses distinctly HR roots) but in general the same type of music fan that liked one would probably like the other.

Slayer on the other hand, were largely a reaction to the trashy west coast metal 80's scene and helped HM restore its agressiveness and masculinity if you like, and they were certainly a world away from Bon Jovi, their influences would have been Sabbath, Priest, Maiden and any other logical groups but they also would`ve have largely been influenced by punk as well, and this in some respects is the link between them and groups like Bon Jovi. Slayer and groups like them took the masculine parts, the agression and the hardcore whereas Bon Jovi and groups like them, took the feminine parts, the glamour etc.
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Old 09-17-2009, 08:26 AM   #6 (permalink)
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But any enthusiast could go back further, therefore some kind of line has to be drawn.

I think to say HM started with Sabbath and that Judas Priest were the first proper HM band to be fairly correct, from the viewpoint that there has to be some kind of defined starting line. Metallica and some of the other thrash bands of the time were credited with creating thrash, but anybody can go back further and point to Motorhead or Venom, point being there has to be some kind of starting position otherwise you can keep going back.
This is the point really - there are accepted lines, and I'm not disputing them, just using them as the base to explore; The thing with Spooky Tooth is that they were not a minor band - they released several albums and worked with a Classical composer (Pierre Henry) who was pretty influential in pop music himself.

Anyone could go back, and plenty have in the many histories that are dotted about on the Internet and a very few books - but none are specific, except by mentioning particular bands, like The Who and The Kinks, Blue Cheer and so on - but with little real exploration, and little credit to the bands that really paved the way.

Anyone could say that Venom played thrash first, yadda yadda, although it's clear to me that they didn't. You cannot keep going back - someone played 16th note "tremolo" riffs first (probably Brian May of Queen), like someone played with both hands on the neck of the guitar first (the latter was Steve Hackett of Genesis, not Eddie Van Halen, as many like to think! Even Les Paul only played one-handed hammer-on licks, IIRC).


The stuff that happened in the 1980s is reasonably well documented, but again, the histories depend on people who were "there", and "there" was different places for different people, so it tends to be a jumble, with everyone claiming to be an authority but not really being able to describe the music except in exaggerated terms which are and often inaccurate as a result of the exaggerations.

There are loads of loose ends in there to tie together - if you want to accept established histories, then fine. It's possible that all that will happen here is that we'll confirm everything in them - but I doubt it!

There's no point in regurgitating other people's scanty histories - I'm looking to create something with some meat in it and uncover maybe controversial stuff.

Like possibly "Spooky Tooth were the true creators of Heavy Metal" or something along those lines.
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Old 09-17-2009, 09:12 AM   #7 (permalink)
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This is the point really - there are accepted lines, and I'm not disputing them, just using them as the base to explore; The thing with Spooky Tooth is that they were not a minor band - they released several albums and worked with a Classical composer (Pierre Henry) who was pretty influential in pop music himself.

Anyone could go back, and plenty have in the many histories that are dotted about on the Internet and a very few books - but none are specific, except by mentioning particular bands, like The Who and The Kinks, Blue Cheer and so on - but with little real exploration, and little credit to the bands that really paved the way.

Anyone could say that Venom played thrash first, yadda yadda, although it's clear to me that they didn't. You cannot keep going back - someone played 16th note "tremolo" riffs first (probably Brian May of Queen), like someone played with both hands on the neck of the guitar first (the latter was Steve Hackett of Genesis, not Eddie Van Halen, as many like to think! Even Les Paul only played one-handed hammer-on licks, IIRC).


The stuff that happened in the 1980s is reasonably well documented, but again, the histories depend on people who were "there", and "there" was different places for different people, so it tends to be a jumble, with everyone claiming to be an authority but not really being able to describe the music except in exaggerated terms which are and often inaccurate as a result of the exaggerations.

There are loads of loose ends in there to tie together - if you want to accept established histories, then fine. It's possible that all that will happen here is that we'll confirm everything in them - but I doubt it!

There's no point in regurgitating other people's scanty histories - I'm looking to create something with some meat in it and uncover maybe controversial stuff.

Like possibly "Spooky Tooth were the true creators of Heavy Metal" or something along those lines.
I think anybody can challenge the accepted lines of thought and there is always going to be sufficient proof and examples to do so. The accepted lines are there as a guideline only and if somebody wants to say that Spooky Tooth, were the first real HM band with sufficient evidence then its a valid opinion, but people will still constantly dispute that. I think as far as genres go, HM does well in that it has so many sub genres that are constantly being created but of course people will always argue about what fits into which sub-genre, a good example of this is progressive metal (on another thread here) in which there is a wide debate as well. As said above, HM does well with its sub-genres compared to the bands that are usually dumped say into the alternative rock genre, where most of the time half the bands don`t sound very much like each other at all.

I`ve got a metal genealogy where the metal sub-genres are issued like a family tree, since then I`ve really got into metal, as before this it really wasn`t my scene as it were. I disagreed with many of the groups included in each sub-genre on this genealogy back then. Now after several years of listening to metal, I still equally disagree with this family tree, point being its all so subjective.

To be honest with you my knowledge of Spooky Tooth is limited and will now make a point of listening to more of their stuff, but a quick look on wikipedia has them as Progressive rock primarily with not too much mention of HM!!!
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Old 09-17-2009, 03:52 PM   #8 (permalink)
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A lot of focus has been placed on Spooky Tooth. I think a decent case has been made for their influence on Sabbath, but being a major influence on Priest is much more problematic. First of all, Spooky Tooth had no influence on the speed and dexterity that Priest played at. You have to look at two other sources...blues rock bands that pushed the envelope of musicianship and speed, as well as rock based prog. bands with exceptional musicianship who also experimented with recording and jazz techniques . Both had the desire to be very loud.




Finally, if influence is based on hommages made by younger bands to their elders, I'd point out Megadeth's remake of Jeff Beck's 1969 classic "I Ain't Superstitious".

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Old 09-17-2009, 04:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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The NWoBHM certainly brought Heavy Metal to the masses and turned it into a true genre and for that reason I think Judas Priest were probably the most important group of that movement and one of the first.
I've never really thought of them as a part of it to be honest, while all of the NWOBHM stuff was going on they'd basically buggered off to the U.S. to crack that market. Plus they had like a 5 album head start on all the other bands of that era.
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Old 09-18-2009, 05:45 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Spooky Tooth are fairly clearly a strong root of metal, it doesn't matter how they're classified on Wikipedia - as I noted above, there are many borderline cases and overlaps in all types of music.

Wikipedia is notoriously awful when it comes to its music definitions generally, as it frowns heavily on Original Research, and the links are mostly to fansites who present opinions which are far removed from fact.

This thread is intended as an exploration for amusement, research (and possibly education), not as a direct challenge to the status quo (sic).


Spooky Tooth's second album "Spooky Two" is particularly interesting to me as proto heavy metal. It's not a Prog Rock album at all, it's blues based rock that, for the time, is very heavy, features high voices, and musical aspects that can be heard not only in Black Sabbath, but also other bands of the time, such as Blue Oyster Cult (who formed in 1967, while the Spookies, as a band, formed and toured years earlier), and probably Uriah Heep.

To have influenced those three giants should not go overlooked, IMHO.

This post concentrates on the album "Spooky Two", but their earlier work provides even stronger evidence that this band not only influenced the most influential bands of early/proto metal, but coined the term "Heavy Metal" in the first place. More on that later;


Spooky Two opens with "Waiting For the Wind", a heavy organ drenched riff fest, that has clearly made a break from the blues, and plays about a bit with the structure.

The heavy drum opening is the first unusual feature - remind you a little of Zep?

When the organ kicks in, there are hints of Uriah Heep (Heep were another important proto-metal band... don't believe what you read, and don't get misled by the Roger Dean Covers, Heep were never a Prog Rock act!) and possibly early Yes, with that fat rolling bass sound (again, Yes, in their early days, were a heavy sounding pop group, not Prog like King Crimson!).

Mike Harrison's vocals are very similar to the popular blues rock style singers of the time; Stevie Winwood, Steve Marriot and later Paul Rodgers or even Joe ****er, and the lyrics are decidedly "down", but notably different from the blues;

Lonely is the night
Now that darkness has fallin'
Nothing seems right
And the world is callin'





"Feelin' Bad" is the next track, apparently continuing the "down" theme, but in fact is an uplifting gospel/blues song, strongly reminiscent of The Small Faces, with some proggy and psyche vibes, and "I've Got Enough Heartaches" is another uplifting blues based song, rich in harmony that is quite obviously not even vaguely related to metal.

However, "Evil Woman" (didn't Sabbath record a song with the same name?) is contender for first Metal song, with its long, snaking riffs and ridiculously high voices. that remind me of some of Rob Halford's worst moments. The main riff is suspiciously similar to "Sweet Leaf";




"Lost In My Dream" evokes Prog and Space rock - and I've definitely heard the riff in Blue Oyster Cult's "Before the Kiss, A Redcap" from their debut album.






"That Was Only Yesterday" is another blues number with an uplifting backing, but "Better By You, Better Than Me" is legendary - the main thing that's "wrong" with it is that it lacks the heaviness of "Evil Woman" or "Waitin' For The Wind".

The album is wrapped up with "Hangman, Hang My Shell Upon a Tree", continuing the darker edge of the Spookies music.





No, it's not a pure proto metal album at all, but one or two songs are clear roots and direct influences. I see these as seeds, given their straight tie-ins.

It's not like Van Halen covering "Dancing in the Streets", or Deep Purple adapting "Bombay Calling" by It's a Beautiful Day to create "Child in Time" - Spooky Tooth demonstrably wrote heavy music that other bands probably carried with them in their subconscious rather than making a direct rip-off, and created entire albums or carreers from the offshoots of a single track.

These are the kind of "seeds" I'm looking for, not superficial passing resemblances, incidental covers or hearsay, but stuff we can listen to and acknowledge as part of the growth of metal.

The Spookies history with Heavy Metal goes back further than this album too - most sources cite it as having been released in 1969, but I think that's the US import. The UK edition (or at least, mine!) has 1968 on the label. But there's even better stuff than this in their back catalogue, if you're not already aware of it...
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