The 67 songs that forged modern heavy metal

Lettering: Heavy Metal, 1964 - 1999
(Image credit: Future)

Heavy metal. It started with Eddie Cochran, but it didn’t really exist until NWOBHM. Hot Chocolate made one of the early metal classics. Def Leppard stretched the genre to breaking point – and made millions doing so. Grunge didn’t kill metal – it saved it. The Sisters Of Mercy were a key influence on metal’s future. 

That’s right: it’s the story of metal in the 20th century, unlikely as it might be, song by song. 


The Novas - The Crusher (1964)
This relentless slab of garage surf rock from 1964 is an ode to 50s American wrestling legend Crusher Lisowski. Vocalist Bob Nolan puts in such an OTT performance that it literally pre-dates death metal vocalists such as Tom G. Warrior of Celtic Frost by some 20-plus years.

The Kinks - You Really Got Me (1964)
Up to this point had there been a rock riff so direct and in your face as You Really Got Me? Well, maybe there was, but it’s hard to think of one.

Pretty Things - Defecting Grey (1967)
Former R&B legends’ first real attempt at being experimental is a mind-bending formula of head-trips and exploding distorted guitar riffs.

The Turtles - Buzzsaw (1968)
Hard to imagine that the band who had an earlier worldwide smash hit with Happy Together were also responsible for this ultra-groovy, heavy fuzz monster of a tune.

Blue Cheer - Summertime Blues (1968)
Considered by many to be the first heavy metal record, their debut album Vincebus Eruptum blew minds and battered senses with an incendiary overload of crashing drums and blistering feedback. This earthquake-inducing re-working of the Eddie Cochran classic simply cannot be ignored in the history of the heavier side of rock music.

The Open Mind - Magic Potion (1969)
The Open Mind were one of the very first bands to inject blasting double-bass drums into a hard-rocking, early metal style. Their seriously rare self-titled 1968 album is slightly more whimsical and dreamy than this hard-edged UK psych 45.

High Tide - Futilist’s Lament (1969)
Punishing raw guitar and swirling effects make the stomach curdle and the head spin on this ultra-heavy dark-psych masterpiece.

Crushed Butler - Factory Grime (1970)
Coming across like a UK Blue Cheer formed on a council estate, Factory Grime is a gloriously gritty pre-punk grinder of a tune.

Sir Lord Baltimore - Master Heartache (1970)
Drummer/vocalist John Garner wasn’t messing around; he sounds seriously damaged by affairs of the heart on this rip-roaring, guitar-freaking killer.

Budgie - Guts (1971)
The bludgeoning low-end bass of Burke Shelley combined with the slow, Sabbathy groove of Guts makes this song a must-inclusion in the collection of any heavy hairy freak.

Ronno - Powers Of Darkness (1971)
Obscure B-side from this short-lived band, which featured (no surprises for guessing) none other than Bowie right-hand-man Mick Ronson on guitar. Black magic and Satan feature pretty highly in the lyrical department and the main riff is seriously infectious.

Tear Gas - Woman For Sale (1971)
Future Sensational Alex Harvey Band members riff hard on this track from their second and final full-length album.

Hot Chocolate - Go-Go Girl (1972)
Another surprise artist to be associated with the word ‘heavy’, but this 1972 B-side is exactly that. Maybe it was the success of Deep Purple that inspired a trend among more commercial pop bands to want to make heavier tracks. Maybe it was really what they wanted to do but the record companies just didn’t give them the freedom to express this side of themselves, thus merely ‘allowing them’ a few fewer commercial B-sides here and there?

Bang - Lions & Christians (1972)
America’s answer to early Sabbath take no prisoners with the first track from their debut album.

Sweet - Man From Mecca (1972)
The A-side (Little Willy) to this one of many lesser-known heavy tracks from British glam rockers Sweet couldn’t be more of a contradiction.

Pentagram - Forever My Queen (1973)
One of the most underrated hard rock bands of all time have finally achieved a cult status and recognition around the world in more recent years. They should have been massive but were cursed from day one. Both Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley wanted to buy their songs during the peak of mid-70s Kiss success.

Buffalo - Shylock (1973)
Aussie heavies Buffalo go for the throat here. Lead by the gritty vocals of Dave Tice, they also featured future Rose Tattoo star Peter Wells.

Black Sabbath - Symptom Of The Universe (1975)
Perhaps the only true masters of early heavy metal. Here on this track from their their sixth album, Sabotage, they sum it all up in one immense-sounding song.

The Ripper - Judas Priest (1976)
You’re in for a shock. The future of metal was changing and this band were going to be at the forefront of it. Rob Halford’s vocals would influence a future generation of screamers.