This post is sure to bore the hell out of 95% of my readers. Feel free to go on to the next post, please. As my readers know, I am a huge fan of music. I’m also a fan of virtually every type of music, or at least a portion of it. I’m even learning to like country a little bit more. I drive people mad when riding in my car because I could go from James Taylor to Rage Against the Machine to Miles Davis in the course of a half hour. And yes, I even like heavy metal, or at least I like really good heavy metal. So when VH1 did a countdown of the 40 greatest metal songs, I tuned in.
For the most part, I thought the list was pretty good. It was relatively free of the mostly horrid big hair quasi-metal bands of the mid to late 80s. There were a couple of exceptions, like I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister, but I’ll even give them Quiet Riot’s Metal Health. There was no Poison, Warrant, Winger, Cindarella and the various other clones of one another that infested the top 20 for years. That relative absence wins some points from me. But there were still some choices I didn’t like and a few songs they definitely should not have left off the list.
The first song that didn’t belong was Slipknot’s Wait and Bleed, a forgettable song by a band we’ll never hear from again (thankfully), at #36. Likewise Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People (#28) and Korn’s Freak on a Leash (#23). And putting System of a Down’s Toxicity at #14? Not even in the ballpark (though I may be biased on that one – SOAD is an incredibly talented group of musicians, but the lead singer’s voice hits my spine like nails on a blackboard. For some reason, he feels the need at some point in almost every song to inexplicably slide his voice up an entire octave, stopping to butcher every note along the way).
Even in cases where they got the bands right, i thought a couple times they picked the wrong songs. I was happy to see Skid Row on the list, for example. They got a bad rap as a hair band after having a couple ballad hits early on, but that was a band that could rage with the best of em. VH1 put Slave to the Grind on the list at #18, but Monkey Business would have been a better choice. I was also thrilled to see Rage Against the Machine, one of my all time favorite bands, on the list. But they definitely chose the wrong song (Bulls on Parade at #15); there were several other better choices, from Freedom to Killing in the Name Of to Fistful of Steel.
Likewise, Metallica undoubtedly deserves to have at least 2 songs on the list, as they did. But the two were Enter Sandman and Master of Puppets. I would have left the latter in and replaced the former with their most interesting song, One, from And Justice for All. Not only one of their most brilliant songs (just listen to Lars Ulrich’s amazing double bass work in the middle), it was also easily among the dozen or so greatest videos of all time, with footage from the movie Johnny Got His Gun interspersed throughout.
Pantera also made the list twice, for Cowboys from Hell and Walk, but how could they leave off their seminal track, Cemetary Gates? It’s one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in heavy metal and the drumming behind it is tremendous as well. The time and tempo changes alone should put that song on any list like this. And putting Paradise City by Guns and Roses on the list was a real stretch. Welcome to the Jungle has to go on any list of great metal songs, but Paradise City doesn’t belong. If they wanted a second Guns song they should have gone with Mr. Brownstone.
I’d say the same thing about Motley Crue. They belong on the list, but for Livewire? You could pick any number of their songs that should go on the list before that one. Dio is on the list for Rainbow in the Dark, which was his most popular song but certainly not his best. The Last in Line is a much more interesting song. The drum part alone should get that song on the list. I think I also would have found a place for Godsmack’s Alive somewhere on the list.
I was happy to see Iron Maiden on the list twice, and I think they got the songs right (Run to the Hills and The Number of the Beast). But they could easily have had a couple more songs in there, like Flight of Icarus, Can I Play With Madness or the amazing Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a tour de force song that sets Coleridge’s epic poem to music brilliantly. Iron Maiden may be the most talented band in all of heavy metal. Steve Harris is an exceptional bass player, as the intricate triplet bass line of Run to the Hills or the transcendent The Clairvoyant show. The drumming has been top notch from the start with Clive Burrr and then Nicko McBrain. The two and sometimes three guitarist attack meshes perfectly. And Bruce Dickinson (no, not the one who has a fever for more cowbell) has the ultimate metal voice, like an air raid siren let loose.
Also missing from the list was Queensryche. I would definitely have replaced one of the above songs wth something from Operation Mindcrime, either I Don’t Believe in Love or Eyes of a Stranger. Their most popular songs may have been softer stuff, but this is undoubtedly among the greatest metal bands of all time and Operation Mindcrime is a groundbreaking, monumental album in the history of rock (and if you ever get a chance to see them live, you’ll be blown away – Geoff Tate actually does sound that good live, which surprised me enormously when I saw them; that’s not a voice I ever imagined could maintain that level of perfection in a live setting, but he’s the real deal).
The list also got the #1 song correct. When I first started watching it I thought, if Iron Man by Black Sabbath isn’t #1, they’ve lost their minds. But it was, and rightly so. That’s the song that gave birth to heavy metal and it holds up perfectly almost 35 years later. It may be the perfect metal song – dark, foreboding, thunderous drums and bass, wailing vocals, and all based around the perfect guitar riff. So there you go, for the 3 people who read this page that could possibly care, those are my views on the 40 greatest metal songs.