“I got phone calls from my friends saying, ‘What the f*ck is up with that sh*t?!’” Listen to the Slayer cover of Born To Be Wild that Slayer really don’t like

Slayer in 2002
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Metal and fast cars. They go together, right?

That certainly seemed to be the thinking behind the 2002 release of NASCAR On Fox: Crank It Up: an obscure but remarkable album that saw a bunch of rock and metal titans performing (mostly) covers about automobiles and locomoting at high velocities. There was Type O Negative playing Deep Purple’s Highway Star, Hed PE doing Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix and Southern rock jam band Gov’t Mule’s own Drivin’ Rain, featuring guest appearances from Metallica’s James Hetfield and Les Claypool of Primus.

There were also contributions from Machine Head, Rob Zombie, Slipknot and more, but even in the midst of this multi-vehicle rock/racing pile-up, the most startling was Slayer’s take on Steppenwolf’s biker rebel anthem Born To Be Wild.

This wasn’t the first time the thrash legends had taken on a hard-rockin’ proto-metal classic. In 1987, the Californians’ shortened version of Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida appeared on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, earning the band some radio play and their first Gold record – as well as the ire of their own guitarist, Kerry King.

“[Producer Rick] Rubin picked that song, and a week prior going into the studio, I was real unhappy,” King told Revolver. “And today, it’s the bane of my existence. I hate that fucking song, but it got on the radio, and that opened the door when [1988 album] South Of Heaven came out.”

Fellow six-stringer Jeff Hanneman was even more scathing about the Steppenwolf cover 15 years later. He said: “Kerry fucking hates [In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida], but I hate that Born To Be Wild cover we did even more. It came out on some compilation for some TV show we were doing. I’d rather listen to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida than that song. I can’t believe we did that.”

Hanneman also told Metal Hammer that he got grief from his mates after the song aired on US TV.

“We were asked to be on a compilation, and we couldn’t think of a song. Time was winding down, so we just did it,” he said. “After it aired on TV, I got phone calls from my friends saying, ‘What the fuck is up with that shit?!’ I’m like, ‘Shut up. It was just a last-minute thing. I didn’t have time to think it through, all right?’”

The cover (which was drummer Dave Lombardo’s first recording with the band as he returned after a decade-long absence) does seem to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Unlike Slayer’s version of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, in which they lean at least partially into the rock grooves, Born To Be Wild throws out chuggy thrash riffs and a staccato Tom Araya vocal like a jagged metal peg being forced into a round hole. Some fans have embraced the whole gonzo mismatch of it all, while others are firmly with King and Hanneman.

The Crank It Up album would not be Slayer’s last involvement with NASCAR. In 2019, driver JJ Yeley announced that he would race in a Slayer-sponsored car, promoting their then-ongoing farewell tour, with fans voting for Raining Blood to be his intro music.

“NASCAR racing and Slayer have a lot in common. Both are extremely fast, intense and aggressive,” King said at the time.

Unfortunately, the sponsorship was dropped at the last minute. The band issued a statement reading: “Today, reportedly due to reactionary concerns from other long-time participating sponsors, Slayer has been pulled as the primary sponsor. After nearly 40 years, Slayer apparently remains as terrifying to some as ever.”

Perhaps, based on the ongoing disagreement around that Born To Be Wild interpretation, these are two parties that really should remain separate…

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer