Megadeth's David Ellefson - The 10 Records That Changed My Life

Dave Ellefson
Dave Ellefson (Image credit: Marc Broussely \/ Getty Images)

With all of the standout guitarists that have been featured in Megadeth over the years, you need a bassist you can always count on to lay down rock solid rhythms alongside the drums. For most of Megadeth’s existence — except for an eight year gasp in the noughties — David Ellefson has been their man on the bass, a man with a wide range of influences. Below, Dave shares ten of those albums.

Bachman-Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile (1974)

This record is 100% responsible for me being a professional bass player! Up until I heard this record - via 8-track tape from a hired hand while riding in our John Deere tractor on the farm where I grew up in Minnesota during the fall harvest of 1974 - the only rock music I really knew was from Motown, Neil Diamond, and the Beatles. 

The cover of Not Fragile looked heavy, it opened with a bass riff on the title track, the guitars were heavy, the songs stuck in my head all day long, and the band photo inside the 12” vinyl made me want to be a rock star. From first listen at age ten, it was “game on!”

Kiss - Destroyer (1976)

I heard Shout It Out Loud on the school bus radio at age eleven, and it just drew me in. I couldn’t believe the twin guitar harmonies on this song, as well as the rowdy and gruff vocals. Then, I saw the band’s image and my desire for being a rock star bass player went to a whole other level. 

The Gibson guitar endorsement from Kiss inspired me to get my first bass from a local newspaper classified ad, and suddenly, I was playing in bands and on the path to making the dream of rock stardom come alive. Their performance on The Paul Lynde Halloween Special that year confirmed I was not long for life on the farm in Minnesota!

Boston - Boston (1976)

In the 1970’s, there was a mail order record outlet called the Columbia Record Club. They offered you 13 records for one penny, but you were then under obligation to purchase one record per month for the next year at an exorbitantly high price. I didn’t care, I needed records delivered to the farm, so I bought in. 

My first purchase was Boston. From the needle drop of More Than A Feeling it was like a brand new sonic fantasy in recorded music. I was absolutely note-perfect without any production flaws whatsoever. Even the guitar pick scrapes sounded like Star Trek… I was floored! My dad had a farm hand who was a drummer, and he set his drums up at our house and would play along with this album for practice. From him, and this album, I actually learned how to play the drums!

Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)

Coming from a small farming town, we had a local store on main street that sold records and tapes, stereos, and even some guitars and amplifiers. That store was my go-to shop to discover new albums. One day, I walked in and this album was on the shelf and I bought it immediately just because the cover was rad. 

It had four rock stars on it and like Kiss a few years prior, I didn’t just want great music, I wanted rock stars jumping out of my stereo speakers making me feel like I was at a full-on rock concert. 

Well, this album was exactly just that! Raw, wild, and heavy, I studied every note and read every interview this band did after I heard this album. They were the epitome of California cool and everything I now wanted a band to be. They were the new blueprint for rock’n’roll, and laid the framework for me to eventually move to Los Angeles to start a career in rock’n’roll just a few years later.

Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks….Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)

This was my first foray into punk rock, and I was totally blown away by the raw and unpretentious production, the funny yet heavy songs, and just as much, the legend of its members. 

By now, I was also playing guitar and I could learn the Steve Jones riffs, and even some of the simple Chuck Berry-type solos. It taught me that simple can be effective and that attitude in rock’n’roll is everything.

The Ramones - Rocket To Russia (1977)

I would always read about the Ramones in rock magazines as a kid, and I finally got the 8-track version of this album that I would listen to all night long on constant repeat. Punk rock was clearly weaving a fabric of my teenage life and these guys were the epitome of simple and gutsy - with no rock star appeal. 

Their look intrigued me with New York music and moved me away from the glitter of the 70’s, and into the more street cred music that would be my calling just a few years later in California with thrash metal.

Rush - All the World’s A Stage (1976)

Live albums were all the rave when I was a teenager. In fact, they were often the album that brought forth huge commercial appeal because the formula was for an artist to do three studio albums, and then put out a live album. So, they often contained some of the best “cult classic” material just before their big commercial mainstream success was heard on the radio. 

This album made me feel like I was in the front row. It just felt live, like there was a stage in my living room. Musically, Neil Peart was the most progressive drummer I had ever heard in my life. I couldn’t even fathom that Geddy Lee could sing and play bass like that and Alex Lifeson was a flat out rock god. 

Like so many live albums, the triple gate-fold cover kept me deep in trance looking at the photos (especially the stage covered with carpet!) and reading the credits while all four sides blasted through my speakers. A stand out track for sure is By-Tor and The Snow Dog.

The Cars - Candy-O (1979)

As much as I loved hard rock and punk, the skinny tie new wave movement was just an extension of both genres. New wave was all over late night TV music shows like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, The Midnight Special and other cool shows from New York and LA. The band that got my interest was The Cars, and Candy-O was the record that did it. 

They were dark, mysterious, had clean and dirty guitars, wrote great songs, and Elliot Easton’s lead guitar playing is still some of my favourite to this day. His short, explosive lead solos were like a song within a song, and taught me that if you’re gonna say something with your guitar, make it worth saying. He and Neil Giraldo (from Pat Benatar’s band) were the best in class for that type of dynamic and memorable guitar playing.

AC/DC - If You Want Blood…You Got It (1978)

I bought a lot of albums just because the cover artwork looked cool, and this was definitely one of those albums! Seeing Angus stabbing a guitar in his chest (and the back cover showing him lying dead on his face with the guitar neck sticking out of his back) was so over the top I knew the band must be amazing! I took the album home, and right from the opening of Riff Raff I was hooked. 

Like the Ramones, AC/DC were simple and direct. Jeans and t-shirts had clearly replaced the glitz and costumes of KISS, and I had a new set of marching orders on the “cool factor” of rock n’ roll from these Aussies.

Judas Priest - Unleashed In The East (1979)

Yet another album cover that screamed “buy me!” Every band member on the cover of this album made me want to go straight home and rehearse with my band so we could be just like them. Like Kiss a few years before, Judas Priest were from another planet, and I wanted to be just like them. 

It was the first proper heavy metal record I had heard to date and it was so heavy it actually scared me. Exciter’s double bass was redefining. The guitar opening and lyrics of Sinner were violent and Victim of Changes was like a musical opus of darkness and evil. I loved it! Everything I heard before it was mere hard rock and paled in comparison.

Greg Prato

Contributing writer at Classic Rock magazine since 2004. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has interviewed some of his favourite rock artists: Black Sabbath, Rush, Kiss, The Police, Devo, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Soundgarden, Meat Puppets, Blind Melon, Primus, King’s X… heck, even William Shatner! He is also the author of quite a few books, including Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder And An Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon And Blind Melon, and MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video, among others.