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Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986)


You don’t typically see the words “perfection” and “watershed” used to describe thrash metal albums. Yet never have those two words been so appropriate.

The year was 1986, and Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” and Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar-fronted debut “5150” dominated radio. Big-haired glam metal was the rage on LA’s Sunset Strip, with clubs like Whisky a Go Go and The Roxy doing their part to encourage musicians more interested in how to apply their Aqua Net than challenging the listener or themselves. It was for these reasons that Metallica abandoned LA three years previous to settle in San Francisco and cultivate their own vastly different art. 

Most people – especially radio and MTV – didn’t really care about Metallica. Although they had 2 full-length albums under their belt and were enjoying success abroad, Metallica were a virtual unknown in the US. Given the prevailing scene, that wasn’t surprising: there was nothing pretty about them. Their music & lyrics were as ugly and aggressive as their “we don’t give a shit” look. For me, that was exactly why I loved Metallica (and still do), and at the time I felt like I was a member of a cool “in” club.

But that was about to change.

I still remember the day I brought “Master of Puppets” home and put my needle in Side A’s groove. I got chills as I sat on my bed listening to the acoustic guitars that introduced “Battery”, anxious to hear what was coming. Suddenly, James Hetfield’s galloping rhythm guitar threw the song into overdrive, and a hugely influential contribution to my musical youth slammed firmly into place.

The album is a masterpiece from front to back. There is no filler. Every song epic. Every lyric so powerful that Hetfield didn’t have to sing them live – the crowd did it for him. Guitar riffs like those in “Battery”, “Master of Puppets”, “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Leper Messiah”, and “Damage Inc.” made budding metalhead guitarists want to stop playing power chords and learn to speed pick. (Did I just name-drop almost the entire album? Yes. Because it’s that. Fucking. Good.)

I judge musical greatness by the influence that an artist or album has on future artists. Indeed, the release of “Master of Puppets” was the tipping point for thrash metal; a “Nevermind”-like wrecking ball that broke down the wall of obscurity that was keeping the scene underground. It peaked at #30 on Billboard without a single or music video, a seemingly unimaginable feat in an era where MTV-fueled exposure seemed essential for success, and one that gave bands like Anthrax, Slayer, and the like hope. It is an album that made one critic recently write, “Some have called ‘Master of Puppets’ the best heavy metal album ever recorded; if it isn’t, it certainly comes close.” Fuckin’ A.

Metallica have often sited Ozzy Osbourne as partially responsible for helping launch them into the forefront. Ozzy was a fan and he knew the band was hot, so he invited them to be the opening act on his “Ultimate Sin” tour. You can imagine my elation when I found out it was coming to my hometown, and I still remember how the crowd went from utter confusion to rabid appreciation in one blistering 45-minute set. And in retrospect, I am humbled to know that I got to see them perform with the late Cliff Burton.


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The Beatles – Rock-n-Roll Music

For my debut guest column at the wonderful “I <3 Rock-n-Roll”, what could be better than than this? It’s an album that I obsessed over as a child, it’s arguably the greatest rock-n-roll band of all time, and it’s a band that Ray can’t stand. 🙂

It would be silly to attempt to sum up the size and scale of influence that The Beatles have had on rock-n-roll and the art of music in general. For me, my first exposure to the music of The Beatles was through a cartoon. When I was a kid in the 70s, a Pittsburgh-based public access TV station began re-airing the Beatles cartoon series. Each 30-minute episode was divided into two 15-minute cartoons, with each cartoon’s plot revolving around a Beatles song. I tuned in religiously, and I loved every single song.

This infatuation, of course, led me to harangue my mother until she bought me some Beatles albums. Of all the albums that I wish I had cared for and saved as a child, “Rock-n-Roll Music” is the one my heart aches for the most. A double album released in 1976, it is a 28-track compilation of both original material and (perhaps more importantly) cover songs. The Beatles cut their teeth as performers in British and German clubs playing amphetamine-fueled originals as well as interpretations of their idols’ music, and “Rock-n-Roll Music” attempts to showcase that era.

With almost half of the songs being Larry Williams, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins covers, this album highlights the influence that America’s rock, rockabilly, and R&B pioneers had on The Beatles. Songs like “Long Tall Sally”, “Roll Over Beethoven”, “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” and “Slow Down” are classics in their own right, and here they are executed with that unmistakable early Beatles sound. The rest of the album is a collection of some of the best Beatles-penned rockers, including “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Drive My Car”, “Revolution”, “Helter Skelter”, and possibly my favorite Beatles song, “Taxman”.

But the music was only half of what I loved about this album; the other was the physical product itself. The jacket was shiny silver – different than any other record that I owned at the time – with a portrait of the band on the front. Being a double album, it opened to a larger picture inside and a detailed listing of the songs. Ironically enough, the album’s artwork is dominated by 50’s-era imagery (neon, a jukebox, Marilyn Monroe, etc) even though The Beatles didn’t form until 1960 (perhaps in homage to their influences?).

If you can appreciate the scene in “Almost Famous” where the main character leafs through his big sister’s albums with fascination, then you can appreciate my love of this album and what it represents to me. It was a cornerstone of my musical youth and, even though the copy I owned is long sold at a garage sale, I still think about the countless hours I spent listening to it. In fact, writing this review inspired me to finally purchase another copy via eBay. Even at that, it won’t be that same.

Thanks Ray – glad to be here.

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