The History of Heavy Metal Period 1 [1950 – 1969]
May 4th 2012 Ziad Miscellaneous

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  • Period 1 [1950 – 1969]

The world today is such a wicked place
Fighting going on between the human race
People got to work just to earn their bread
While people just across the sea
Are counting their dead
– Black Sabbath – ” Wicked World” (1970) 

Black Sabbath

It was the 1950s and Rock music was mainly focused around happy young love and surfing on the beach, before it was overthrown by those who were left behind and decided to retaliate, and focused on “unorthodox” and rebellious themes. The outcome of this rejection was Rock music, pioneered by a band called Blue Cheer who, by taking the traditions of Blues along with the use of distortion, created music that came to be known as Blues Rock. Folk traditions were also main influences and sources for a range of electric blues bands from Cream to Jimi Hendrix to ZZ Top, who’s emergence was greatly aided by Blue Cheer, and inspired later Rock genres which followed, including proto-punk rock like the Kings and the Who.

King Crimson’s extreme acts later influenced the emergence of Progressive Rock in the late 60’s, but which truly flowered during the early middle 70’s. Progressive Rock was driven by a band mentioned in any history of popular music, the Beatles. Along with Camel, Genesis, and Yes, these bands that mixed both classical and jazz influences with Rock music, ensuing longer song structures, many of which were narrative or neo-operatic, and used distortion and dissonance in artful ways.

Bands which grew from the “Garage Rock” traditions fashioned themselves into Punk Rock forms, which gave growth to the Psychedelic bands such as the 13thFloor Elevators and semi-punkers like Love and The Trees. But these bands were inspired by the first dark Rock band, the Doors. While other Rock bands focused on love or peace, the Doors brought a Nietzsche-inspired psychedelia to Rock music, and were the beginning of the neo-Romanticism which later translated into Metal, as well as many of the more inspired moments of Progressive and Punk Rock.

The Doors’ vocalist, Jim Morrison

It all started in 1969, the loud music started to take shape, the blues artists and prog rock influenced and contributed to the rise of hard rock bands such as Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, and early form of Metal with Black Sabbath, a previously electric blues band called EARTH before getting inspired by Jethro Tull and developing a new guitar sound driven by horror movies soundtracks. These three bands got their distorted power-chord based music from King Crimson.

While most bands were concerned with mixing the traditional with the created, Black Sabbath was mixing the created with the created – that is extreme distortion combining progressive rock with electric blues, and created something that differed from its predecessors in several ways.

They used distorted power chords, and storytelling-like song structures, but relied on simple riffs. Black Sabbath was looking for a new angle in Rock music and sought to express the experience of horror and truth, not good and evil, attacking the political shifts that happened by 1960 and shocking the world with their political lyrics and dark imagry making them an immediate hit band in radios and in record stores.

Deep Purple

Finally, the 1970s Heavy Metal remedy was established with a dash of King Crimson’s weirdness at the time, the dark, haunting sound of Black Sabbath, the guitar mastery of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the physical thunder and foolish inanity of Blue Cheer. Heavy Metal – which was a term borrowed from William Burroughs’ 1962 novel “The Soft Machine”- was seen somewhere between progressive rock and psychedelic music but it was already starting to form its own unique characteristic.

Early hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple had “talent” and harmonically complex compositions which put them in approximately the same group as bands such as King Crimson and Camel, rulers of the Progressive Rock era.

Led Zeppelin

Hard Rock bands didn’t tend to be as “bizarre” or drift as far from the usually accepted song format, as their audience was less art-school and more blue collar. However, the influence occurred, and through Prog Rock was absorbed quite a bit of Jazz and classical theory as well (an influence also came from Roma guitar player Django Reinhardt, who like Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was limited in motion to only two fingers on his fretboard hand).

Stay tuned for Period 2 [1970-1981]

Inspired by mock Him productions “History of Heavy Metal” 1988-2004

You can check the first article in this series here: “The History of Heavy Metal | Introduction

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  • Joe

    its good stuff zix…
    u might want to check out Metal Evolution, it’s a documentary of 11 episodes that previously ran on VH1… it’s produced by Sam Dunn (Prod: Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey – 2005 and Prod: Global Metal 2008 and Co-Prod: Iron Maiden: Flight 666)
    anyyyhooo… keep it rockin’

  • Ziad Bardawil

    Thank you Joe, So many things to write, so little time, but the next parts will be much more condensed as they will be the main focus of this study. All that you have mentioned were a great influence, and i keep watching them from time to time! i may add as well that the nihilistic society studies on music were a great influence as well! \m/

  • Patrick