As I’m no stranger to “best of” lists (having assembled quite a few over the years for quite a few different outlets I write for), I finally came to a realization – the time is now right for me to start making my own lists and issue them as Kindle-only books. So, I present to you the first entry in what I plan to be an ongoing series (for how long, who knows?), entitled Greg Prato Presents…The 100 Greatest Songs of Heavy Metal.
The set-up is simple. We start at the bottom and work our way to the top of the heap – with little old me offering my two cents as to why the tune is worthy, a quote from either the artist or a renowned name, a recommendation of three additional first-rate tracks by the artist, and then, a link to listen to the tune.
Below are 5 excerpts from the book, which double as the top-5 metal songs about…men and women!
Rush: “Working Man”
Shortly after the arrival of drummer Neil Peart in 1974, Rush found their niche – prog metal. But when the trio’s original time keeper, John Rutsey, was still a member, Rush was much more Zeppelin-esque – as evidenced by this heavy duty rocker. And while the band was never bashful of offering up extended compositions (“2112,” anyone?), not many were elongated primarily via jamming – which was what makes “Working Man” work, man.
“‘Working Man’ was written in the early 1970s when we were 17 years old. Influenced by our love for Cream, it became one of our longer jam songs and an opportunity to stretch out and exhaust our teenage fingers. Working kids, indeed!” —Alex Lifeson
Dig Deeper: “Finding My Way,” “What You’re Doing,” “Best I Can”
King’s X: “Dogman”
Any number of King’s X tunes could have made the cut on this list, but the heaviest – and certainly most hard-hitting – was this album-opening title track from their fifth studio offering, Dogman. Up this point, King’s X studio albums did not authentically replicate the expansive sonics of their live shows. But this flagrant flub was finally fixed when the trio united with producer Brendan O’Brien – and this tune hits you like a ton of bricks from the get-go.
“I remember Ty said he set out to write the baddest riff he could ever write in his life…and he did.” —Doug Pinnick
“Lyrically I’m not exactly sure [what it’s about lyrically] – it’s kind of disjointed artistically on purpose. And trying to express that feeling of not standing on solid ground – although that’s a bad way to put it. The thing is I write lyrics because I don’t know how to explain what I’m feeling. The lyrics say it best on that song. I don’t really know how to add to them.” —Ty Tabor
Dig Deeper: “Over My Head,” “Out of the Silent Planet,” “It’s Love”
Rainbow: “Man on the Silver Mountain”
(Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, 1975)
Whereas most would be content being in a band that had obtained an immense amount of commercial success and milking it for all it was worth, Ritchie Blackmore was a rare exception – it was all about pursuing music that was to his liking and/or vision. And that was the situation he found himself in towards the end of his first go-round with Deep Purple – where he was pondering the question (to quote the Clash), “Should I stay or should I go?” Go he did, and promptly formed Rainbow. With a then-unknown Ronnie James Dio behind the mic – the man in black unveiled one of his best-ever riffs in the form of “Man on the Silver Mountain” (which was surprisingly funky…”surprisingly” because that was supposedly one of the reasons why he exited Purple – too much funk/not enough rock).
“I remember the day when I first heard Ronnie James Dio’s voice on the radio, for ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ – which was for me, the beginning of Rainbow. I was trying to put a band together with a friend of mine. Me and the drummer were sitting in our car listening to the radio, and all of a sudden, ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ came on the radio. It was like, “Oh my God…who is this guy?” —Craig Goldy
Dig Deeper: “Catch the Rainbow,” “Self Portrait,” “Lady of the Lake”
Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Foxey Lady”
(Are You Experienced, 1967)
In addition to instantly reinventing the electric guitar’s role in rock, Jimi Hendrix also proved to be a major heavy metal architect – especially with the classic tune “Foxey Lady.” While the Kinks and the Who helped introduce distortion to rock guitar, it was not until Hendrix came along that it was tamed and used to great effect – look no further than the opening squeal of “Foxey Lady,” which leads right into the almighty riff (and let’s not forget the splendid solo, buster!).
“I loved that Stevie Ray Vaughan was able to figure out a lot of the things that Jimi did – sound-wise. Like, at the beginning of ‘Foxey Lady,’ that feedback. That ‘scratching string sound’ that you hear before the feedback comes in…I wasn’t exactly sure how Jimi Hendrix did that. But then, I saw Stevie Ray do it – and all he was doing was just rubbing the string against the neck, and shaking it while he was not picking it with his right hand. And that’s how he got the sound. And there are other sounds and other ways that he got that Jimi Hendrix-type thing going. A lot of times, he would fit simple octave minor chords into the solos – the way Jimi Hendrix would.” —Kirk Hammett
Dig Deeper: “Purple Haze,” “Voodoo Child,” “Manic Depression”
Mountain: “Mississippi Queen”
Want to hear one of the heaviest rock guitar tones ever captured on tape? Then look no further than the best-known tune from proto-metallists Mountain, “Mississippi Queen.” Featuring Leslie West on vocals and six-string, the larger than life guitarist was also a master of riffs and expressive solos (in addition to possessing an underrated, soulful singing/shouting style) – which is on display throughout this barely over two and a half minute track.
“He used a Les Paul Junior [from 1956], but what was interesting about Leslie was not so much about the guitar – it was his amplifier. Leslie was getting ready to go on tour, and he had an endorsement deal with Sunn amplifiers. And Sunn – by accident – sent him a PA head and speakers. And he had to go out and play, so he was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing to do?’ So, what he did was he was able to use the PA head to overdrive the speakers. He just shoved all the channels up as loud as they could go and played through them. And it created this beautiful, natural distortion.” —Brad Tolinski
Dig Deeper: “Never In My Life,” “Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin),” “Silver Paper”
And as a special bonus…here’s an excerpt from another entry in the Greg Prato Presents series, The 100 Greatest Songs of Punk Rock, which also manages to fit into the “men/women” theme of this list:
Bikini Kill: “Rebel Girl”
While Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is often credited as the song that introduced grunge to the masses, the same could be said (although admittedly on a smaller scale) concerning Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” and the pro-feminist riot grrrl movement. Undeniably, the tune does bear a bit of a resemblance to the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” and with good reason – none other than Joan Jett co-produced the single.
“The most memorable [Bikini Kill release] was the one we did with Joan Jett and Kenny Laguna [the 1993 single, ‘New Radio”https://www.allmusic.com/”Rebel Girl’]. We borrowed some band’s drums – Soundgarden or one of those bands. We did it in Seattle – we did almost all our records in Seattle – with Stuart Hallerman and John Goodmanson. I think we did it in one or two days – probably one day. For us, that was a total luxury. Because usually, we would do all the vocals for the whole album in one day – so there would only be three songs in a day. [It] was really exciting for us – we felt like we were huge rock stars, lounging around the studio. I remember smoking pot near the end of it and goofing around with Joan.” —Kathleen Hanna
Dig Deeper: “New Radio,” “Carnival,” “Double Dare Ya”
Greg Prato is a longtime AllMusic contributor. The 100 Greatest Songs of Heavy Metal is the first release in his Kindle-only Greg Prato Presents series (with the second entry being The 100 Greatest Songs of Punk Rock).