That time Pat Boone went metal and the Christian community got really mad

Pat Boone
(Image credit: Ron Wolfson/Getty Images)

Back in 1997, mild-mannered crooner Pat Boone – best known for hits like Love Letters In The Sand, The Wang Dang Taffy-Apple Tango and When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano – released an album of heavy metal songs.

In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy wasn't actually a heavy metal album, but it did feature a tracklist comprised of out-and-out rock classics, from the Alice Cooper song that gave the album its title to Metallica's Enter Sandman, Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train and Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven

The album came about after Boone and his band decided they needed to do something a bit different, and were drawn to the heavy metal racks in a record shop near they were working. But first, Boone had to vet the songs, to make sure that the lyrics wouldn't compromise his squeaky-clean image. 

“People wondered why I was looking at albums by Scorpions and Motorhead and actually buying them,” he told Fox News. “I thought Smoke on the Water had to be about drugs. But it wasn’t. I thought The Wind Cries Mary by Jimi Hendrix had to be about marijuana. But it wasn’t. It was about an affair he had with a girl he still loved named Mary. It was a tribute to Mary, not marijuana.

"Stairway to Heaven, I thought Jimmy Page was into witchcraft. And I guess he was. And these strange, opaque lyrics, maybe they were about drugs. But I couldn’t find one reference to anything in the lyrics."

Boone continued, "Enter Sandman by Metallica is about a father putting his son to bed and trying to scare him in the time-honoured tradition of telling him the boogeyman was going to get him if he didn’t stay in bed. It’s a very harmless story with a very ominous sound."

Conscience duly assuaged, Boone recorded the songs at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, with Ronnie James Dio adding backing vocals to a cover of Holy Diver, and Ritchie Blackmore soloing on a bossa nova version of Smoke On The Water. The album came out, Boone was booked to appear at the American Music Awards, and this is where it all got a little biblical.

Boone showed up at the awards shirtless, in leather vest and pants, covered in fake tattoos. Sunglasses, rings galore, and a studded leather dog collar. Show producer Dick Clark had suggested that Boone and Alice Cooper switch their images for the night, and while Cooper got cold feet, Boone went for it. 

"I know the history of heavy metal" announced Cooper, onstage to present Metallica with the Best Heavy Metal Band award, before adding, "But now I'd like to introduce you to the future of heavy metal... Pat Boone."

It's all perfectly harmless fun, but it riled the Christian TV company Trinity Broadcasting Network, who pulled the plug on Boone’s weekly Gospel America show after receiving thousands of complaints, and urged their viewers to pray for the singer. 

The ban was short-lived (all that praying must have worked), for when Trinity polled their viewers a month later, they voted overwhelmingly for Boone's return. 

"To whatever extent somebody was wounded, I am very sorry," Boone said on Praise, the network's flagship programme. "That was never my intention."

He went on: "Little did I dream that the media and a lot of Christians would take it seriously. I was really stunned that Christians, evidently by the thousands, having known me for 35 to 40 years, would think that overnight I just radically changed my orientation and all my priorities.

"Just because I wore some leather pants and fake tattoos and non-piercing earrings doesn't mean that I'm a fundamentally different person."

Lessons learned, life returned to normal. And when the compilation album The Osbourne Family Album was released five years later, Boone's version of Crazy Train was included, alongside dialogue from The Osbournes reality TV show in which Jack Osbourne talked about what a good neighbour Boone was.  

Boone's career as a heavy metal icon may have been short-lived, but In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy created a template for others to follow, including fellow crooner and Christian Paul Anka, who released Rock Swings in 2005. The album featured covers of rock standards like Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life, Van Halen’s Jump, Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.