October 31, 2007
It's Halloween, and to celebrate I thought I'd Google "Halloween metal," just to see what results the phrase would conjure up. I entered the words in quotation marks to try and limit the number of results. Among the 85,900 links returned were sites that featured metal Halloween decorations, such as www.mysimon.com; YouTube videos of "This Is Halloween," from the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas;"; and many links to heavy-metal-music-related content.
Then my mind took a detour (as it often does), and I began wondering how the term heavy metal became the label for a type of music. In case you're interested, keep reading.
Fingers flying, I typed origin of term heavy metal (no quotation marks) in the Google search box. That all-knowing source Wikipedia appeared high in the results list of more than 2 million entries. According to Wikipedia, "the origin of the term heavy metal in a musical context is uncertain. The phrase has been used for centuries in chemistry and metallurgy. An early use of the term in modern popular culture was by countercultural writer William S. Burroughs. His 1962 novel The Soft Machine includes a character known as 'Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid.' Burroughs's next novel, Nova Express (1964), develops the theme, using heavy metal as a metaphor for addictive drugs.
"Metal historian, Ian Christe describes what the components of the term mean in hippiespeak: 'heavy is roughly synonymous with potent or profound, and metal designates a certain type of mood, grinding and weighted as with metal.' The word heavy in this sense was a basic element of beatnik and later countercultural slang, and references to heavy music—typically slower, more amplified variations of standard pop fare—were already common by the mid-1960s. Iron Butterfly's debut album, released in early 1968, was titled Heavy. The first recorded use of heavy metal in a song lyric is in Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild," also released that year: 'I like smoke and lightning/Heavy metal thunder/Racin' with the wind/And the feelin' that I'm under.' A late, and disputed, claim about the source of the term was made by Chas Chandler, former manager of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In a 1995 interview on the PBS program Rock and Roll, he asserted that heavy metal 'was a term originated in a New York Times article reviewing a Jimi Hendrix performance,' in which the author likened the event to 'listening to heavy metal falling from the sky.' A source for Chandler's claim has never been found.
"The first documented use of the term to describe a musical style is in a May 1971 Creem review by Mike Saunders of Sir Lord Baltimore's Kingdom Come: 'Sir Lord Baltimore seems to have down pat most all the best heavy metal tricks in the book.' Creem critic Lester Bangs is credited with popularizing the term via his early 1970s essays on bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Heavy metal may have initially been used as a jibe by a number of music critics, but it was quickly adopted by fans of the style."
There are fans, and then there are fans. The blog "A Shroud of Thoughts" post "A History of Heavy Metal Part One: The Beginning," written by a self-proclaimed metalhead, might be good reading if you're a metalhead, or want to see inside one.
Metalheads also might be interested in the Top Ten Metal Songs for Halloween list from Hard Rock Hideout. As for me, I'm going to watch "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," with music by The Vince Guaraldi Sextet. Far from heavy metal and much less likely to give me a headache.