Re: Origin of the term "Heavy Metal" music (multiple posts)
Thu, 21 Aug 1997 16:23:33 -0400

From: <>

steppenwolf's "born to be wild" included the line "heavy metal thunder." some
point to this as an origing for the term as applied to that genre of "music"

marty blan

From: Browne Donald <>

Dear Sixties People:
I want to thank all correspondents who tried to point me in the right
direction in my quest to identify who coined the term "Heavy Metal"
[when applied to the musical genre that began in the late sixties].
The following are extracts from those who helped in the quest:

"Joe Williams" wrote on 12 August 1997:
"William Burroughs is the author of the wild classic, THE NOVA
EXPRESS [1964], from which the term 'heavy metal' is derived. ..."
Don Browne comments:
It is surprising how many articles and authors attribute the Burroughs'
characters "The Heavy Metal Kid" and "Heavy Metal People of Uranus"
to the novel NAKED LUNCH [1962].

"Mark Bunster" wrote on 13 August 1997:
"You might do a search on the band Blue Cheer; they have often been
noted to me as the "first heavy metal band," primarily for their feedback
drenched version of Eddie Cochrane's Summertime Blues."
Don Browne comments:
According to Robert Walser, author of RUNNING WITH THE DEVIL,
rock historians usually begin the "heavy metal" genre with mid-1960's
groups like [the original] Yardbirds, Cream, Jeff Beck Group, and
Jimi Hendrix. The definition of "heavy metal" being "......heavy drums
and bass, virtuosic distorted guitar, and a powerful vocal style that
used screams and growls as signs of transgression and transcendence"

"Michael Bibby" wrote on 13 August 1997:
"You might take a look at Robert Walser's excellent cultural study of
metal, _Running with the Devil_ (Wesleyan UP, 1993), which I believe
presents a genealogy of the term."
Don Browne comments:
And the best genealogy that I have read to date. Walser's final
conclusion as to who coined the phrase: Lester Bangs did it!

"Unidentified Student" wrote on 13 August 1997:
"No music historian I, but I always had the impression that "heavy metal"
came from the fact of the hyper-powered super amplified electric steel
(hence "metal") guitars used in the post-Hendrix era. However, I never
associate "heavy metal" with Hendrix or late sixties, early seventies music
of any kind. I, and an overwhelming number of undergraduates polled in a
wholly unscientific survey, associate heavy metal with groups like Van
Halen, White Snake, Anthrax, Megadeth, Deaf Jam, etc.
There are at least two "historys" of the genre, probably now out of print.
What have they said?"
Don Browne comments:
This is a good example of generational differences. According to my
research, there ARE two distinct "heavy metal" periods. The first is the
so-called early heavy metal period, 1964-1977 [Yardbirds, Cream, Jeff
Beck Group, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf, Iron
Butterfly] culminated by "the only three bands that mattered" [Led
Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple][RUNNING......p. 10].
The second heavy metal period, 1978-1990+[Van Halen, White Snake
Anthrax, Megadeth, Deaf Jam, and others] and the first have one thing
in common. Both have been anchored by the SAME SONG:
"You Really Got Me" by The Kinks [1964] and Van Halen [1978].
Today's generation will identify the Van Halen version as the theme
running over the recent Nissan TV commercials.

"David Ohle" wrote on 14 August 1997:
"The Burroughs origin is most likely; moreover he probably adopted it
when he was working with "heavy metal" poisons as an exterminator."

"Rachel Barrett Martin" wrote on 15 August 1997:
"...a grad student...whose dissertation deals extensively with Jimi...might
be a resource for additional double-checking."

The majority of the clues to who coined the phrase "heavy metal" points
to [primarily] Lester Bangs and [secondarily] Dave Marsh.
What is maddening is that Greil Marcus, the editor of the posthumous
writings of Lester Bangs, contained in the novel, PSYCHOTIC REACTIONS
AND CARBURETOR DUNG, has ignored or omitted the music reviews
in which Bang's first used the expression!
Thanks to all who contributed to this quest.
Don Browne