Last night I listened to one of my favorite records of the last 31 years.
Metallica’s 1987 EP Garage Days Re-Revisited.
25 minutes of raw energetic metal/punk covers by the most successful metal band in the world.
I was alone in the house. I turned off the lights, put my phone away, and listened on headphones with complete focus and concentration.
I was transported back in time to my high school days when music was the main focus of my life. Music gave me optimism and happiness. In 1987 I was a disc jockey on my high school radio station, KRVM 91.9 FM. I had my own weekly radio show, and job title of News Director. I started learning drums in 1986 and fell in love with Lars Ulrich’s style of thrash metal drumming. I was taking drum lessons, discovering all kinds of new music, and sharing music with listeners on the radio. I loved deciphering the lyrics and memorizing them. If the lyrics weren’t printed in the sleeve you just had to figure them out for yourself. No internet existed yet. Sometimes fan magazines would print the lyrics, but otherwise it was just a fun challenge.
I lived in Eugene, Oregon and the only real radio show playing metal music was Al Scott’s show on KZEL FM called Midnight Metal. The program went from midnight until about 1am. I would tune in regularly and listen on headphones so my parents wouldn’t know I was still awake on a school night. I learned of so many new metal acts through this show. The first time I heard “Damage, Incorporated” by Metallica was on this show. I was laying on my bedroom carpet in the dark and my eyes opened wide when the song kicked in. I had never heard a song like that before. I listened like a devoted cult acolyte, taking notes of the band names so I could go get their albums later. This is how I was turned on to lesser known bands like Savatage, Yngwie Malmsteen, Icon, Helloween, Testament, Hallow’s Eve and local bands like Mysstress and Wild Dogs. Then of course he would play the staples by Judas Priest, Dio, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motley Crue, and Metallica. I loved this show, and I even fashioned my weekly radio show on KRVM after Midnight Metal.
The way I listen to music now is different. There’s less awe in it. Since I am great deal older, and in a band of my own, I may be a bit more jaded. I hate a lot of new music and cannot fathom how certain unnamed acts are so popular. I’ve seen thousands of concerts and listened to thousands of bands. I’ve been backstage, on the tour busses, and onstage countless times. I book all the shows and tours for all the bands I have been in. So I listen to songs for compatibility with my band and others on the bill. I’m listening for recording quality and song quality. And if the singer is pleasant to listen to. I have spent a lot of time in recording studios where you listen with excruciating detail for anything that needs to be fixed. A muffled guitar string, a bungled drum fill, somebody playing too fast or too slow, an out of tune note, a flat or sharp pitch from the singer, an accidental rim hit or stick click, snare rattles, musicians not locked in with each other, etc. I’m pretty good at identifying levels of reverb, delay, and drum gates. Flange, chorus, auto-tune, 808 drum machines, triggers, etc. I’m going to stop right now because I’m actually boring myself with this tech jibber jabber.
But you see the difference. Now I listen to music more analytically and usually with an agenda and a very critical ear. In my teen years I listened just for the joy of it, how it inspired me, and where it took my imagination. I thought everybody in a band was part of a small revered group of very trained and experienced musicians. Experts in their field. I thought they floated above the clouds and sprinkled their talent down upon us. Turns out they are just like all of us with their own problems, idiosyncrasies, and faults.
I remember buying this record on vinyl when is was called “The 5.98 EP.” Later when it was released on CD it was re-titled, “The 9.98 CD.” This was a great way for Metallica to ensure that record stores wouldn’t up charge you on your purchase. They even went so far as to add a sticker that said, “If they try to charge more, STEAL IT!” Of course the first thing you would do when you got home was to record the album onto cassette tape. This way you could bring it with you in your Sony Walkman. You would always have to get the total time of the album so you could buy the appropriate length blank tape. The best homemade double album cassette tape I ever made was Metallica’s 1984 album Ride The Lightning on side A, and their 1986 follow-up Master of Puppets on side B. Those are their best two albums for me, so this combo was unbeatable and defined metal perfection. I swear I played that tape in my Chevy Impala thousands of times until it wore out and I upgraded to a CD player.
Remember that 1987 was a hard time for Metallica. Even though they had just put out two huge albums and were on their way to becoming the biggest metal act in history. They were on top of the world. Then they had a terrible tour bus accident and their bass player, Cliff Burton, was killed. This tragedy was felt deeply by all of their fans. And they were faced with the idea of ending the band like Led Zeppelin did when drummer John Bonham died. Or continuing on with a new pass player while still honoring Cliff’s memory and contribution to the band.
So they auditioned many bassists and found Jason Newstead from Flotsam and Jetsam. They didn’t do the expected action of recording a new album of originals. Instead they decided to record this lo-fi EP of them rocking out in drummer Lars’ soundproofed garage playing punk and metal covers that influenced them. The world’s first introduction to their new bass player would be on NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) cover songs from the 70’s and 80’s. A bold move.
I will be honest, as a young 16-year-old rocker I actually didn’t know of some of these bands. I had listened to Diamond Head and The Misfits, maybe Killing Joke, but had no idea who Holocaust or Budgie were. This recording is so much fun because it’s raw and full of energy. New band members can totally revitalize a stagnant band, trust me on that. They left in all the amp buzzes, drums sticks clattering on the floor, mis-starts, verbal directions picked up by the overhead drum mic, guitar feedback, etc. All the things that you would fix or mute on a polished album recording. And it doesn’t feel faked. It sounds like 4 friends in a room bashing out some of their favorite songs for fun, not profit or fame.
It’s fun to think about what songs you would choose if you were in this scenario. If I was in some hugely famous band that decided to record an EP of covers that greatly influenced us, what bands would I choose? What songs would be super fun to play even if no one was there to listen to you? What songs would you play just for you? Some bands that would make my list are Siouxsie and the Banshees, Savatage, The Cure, early Judas Priest, and The Pretenders. This is quite a different list from the bands that I actually have performed covers by. That list includes Rush, Living Colour, Led Zeppelin, and Queensryche.
Here’s my take on each song:
HELPLESS by Diamond Head
High energy drumming from Lars, tasty double bass drumming, and exact matching of the snare and hi-hat when James Hetfield sings “Cannot squeeze the life from me!”
Ripping guitar solos from Kirk Hammett. What a great opening song.
I can see the stars, but I can’t see what’s going on
Every night alone I sing my song just for fun
Only time will tell if I’ll make it myself someday
This stage is mine, music is my destiny
THE SMALL HOURS by Holocaust
Creepy Lovecraftian sludge. Possibly the grittiest grimiest guitar riff on the album. When I play air-guitar along with it I have to make the grimace.
Do not take for granted, powers out there
Don’t step into the demon’s lair
Time is an illusion, rising from time
Steep is the mountain which we climb
THE WAIT by Killing Joke
Another high-powered rocker. Great riffs and vocal effects. Thundering drums and catchy chorus.
After wakening, silence grows
The screams subside, distortion shows
Mutant thoughts, of bad mouthed news
It’s just another birth, of distorted views
CRASH COURSE IN BRAIN SURGERY by Budgie
Awesome bass line intro to the chunky main riff. A solid song that could actually be a Metallica song if you didn’t know better.
Raven black is on my track
He shows me how to neutralize the knife
Show to me in surgery
The art of fighting words to conquer life, conquer life
LAST CARESS/GREEN HELL by Danzig
Two really fast and short Danzig songs. Boy did I love these shockingly inappropriate lyrics as an angsty teenager who loved horror novels.
I got something to say, I killed your baby today and it
Doesn’t matter much to me, as long as it’s dead.
Ooh lovely dead, just waiting for your breath
Cold sweet death, one last caress
Then the short outro is a purposeful out of tune mangling of the Iron Maiden song “Run to the Hills.”
What a high potency collection of frenetic but tight musicianship. This songs made me go out and research the originals, which probably was part of the band’s intent. Of course I compared the originals to these new versions and find Metallica’s versions to be superior. Listening to these songs reminds me what I love about Metallica, and metal, and music in general. In part, it’s the sheer joy of sharing music that you love. It’s the inspiration it gives you to go out and start your own band. It’s where the lyrics and sounds take you in your mind during the song.
A year later I would see them in concert for the first time at the Monsters of Rock tour in 1988. The bands were Kingdom Come, Metallica, Dokken, The Scorpions, and Van Halen. Guess which band I was the most blown away by? My undying love for live music probably started at this show as well. I went on to see Metallica in concert at least a dozen more times. They put on such a great show, and I still love them to this day.
I should carve out some time every week to put the world away in a box while I listen to records that shaped me as a teenager. Music is honestly better than any drug.
I was just 16 years old. The world was still in front of me. My greatest accomplishments and adventures hadn’t happened yet. And music was my passion that fueled me.
Thank you, Metallica.