“I’m not the next Madonna, I’m the next Iron Maiden” – Lady Gaga*
As much as mainstream radio tweekers love to malign Heavy Metal, many of their stars not-so-secretly want to play Hard ball. And many eventually do. Countless musicians across the decades have been drawn to ply their skills in the Hard Rock and Metal realms, even if it’s not their usual place. Pop, Funk, Rock, Hip-Hop, R&B, Classical, even Country – – artists of all genres are Metal curious.
Cynically, I think that some of their Metal ventures are done with derision and/or mockery, the players indulging in the tired myth that Heavy Music is just simplistic, easy bullshit, that it’s fish-in-a-barrel to appease the Heavy-minded audience with cranked guitars and booming drums – – that it’s just a laugh. Sometimes, these wanks will even cosplay in leather and strut around, smirking and striking poses that would embarrass even the Riverbottom Nightmare Band.
Most often, though, I think that creative musical artists have genuine appreciation for Metal, and their muse compels them to dabble. The power and the grandeur of Metal enables epic storytelling and a kind of emotional release that other genres just can’t accommodate. Some statements can only be made through Heavy Metal.
It’s not hard to distinguish the legitimate from the false. The fakers should be greased up and tossed into a Behemoth moshpit, but for the true artistes, I say let them be adventurous and follow their inspirations. Even when – – especially when – – they lead to the tools and apparatuses of Metal. Genuine love from talented outsiders can in no way diminish the truth of Metal. Neither can the disdain of poseurs, for that matter.
I love this story from Erin Davis, daughter of Jazz Elder God and unfriendly person, Miles Davis:
“I remember once, I was watching the old Headbangers Ball on MTV, and Slayer came on, and I was like, Oh my god, dad’s going to hate this. He was looking at it, and he goes, ‘Huh. That drummer is really laying it down, isn’t he?’ Then he just walked off.”**
Maybe this didn’t lead to a Fusion trumpet cover of “War Ensemble,” but you have to love Miles showing Dave Lombardo some respect.
What follows is an incomplete list of notable forays into Hard Rock and Heavy Metal from bands/performers/producers that aren’t typically given this classification, in no particular order (this list really just scratches the surface). Many of these songs are good to great; quite a few are terrible at best, calculated and artificial at worst. I’ll keep my personal likes and dislikes to myself. Discuss among yourselves. I don’t create this list to argue about bands’ genre tags, but to call out the times when other artists have wandered into the playground that we love and know so well. They’re not all from Metal-curious Pop/Rock/R&B/Rap/Jazz stars, by the way. See the Classical pieces too. Some of these guys were Heshers decades before Earth even existed.***
A few disclaimers and ground rules:
- Note that this list doesn’t include Punk, Industrial, and other Crossover artists like Fugazi, Suicidal Tendencies, nine inch nails, Henry Rollins, etc. Music can be loud, abrasive, and/or aggressive without being Metal.
- We’ve also skipped noisy Pop Rock, such as Twenty One Pilots, Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance, etc. It’s high-volume and sometimes screamy, but not Metal.
- No Led Zeppelin. They’re unquestionably Hard Rock, and – – whether they like it or not – – part of Heavy Metal’s founding class (see the October 2021 Metal Legacy article).
- Finally: no boomers doing Metal covers – – either seriously or as a lark, because fuck Pat Boone.****
Please feel free to chime in with your own examples of artists across other genres experimenting with creating Hard Rock and Metal sounds of their own.
One final disclaimer for the fuckers who love to argue and complain: I’m not asserting that any of the following are in the same category as “Mouth For War.” Most of these are NOT Metal at all, they just have some strong Hard Rock/Metal elements, and are from artists of other genres.
- Cream (Classic Rock) – Sunshine of My Love, Politician
- The Police (Rock) – Synchronicity II
- Pat Benatar (Rock) – Promises in the Dark, Invincible, Shadows of the Night
- Foreigner (Rock) – Jukebox Hero
- Night Ranger (Rock) – Don’t Tell Me You Love Me
- The Beatles (Classic Rock) – I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Helter Skelter
- Kool and the Gang (Funk) – Jungle Boogie
- Mahavishnu Orchestra (Jazz, Fusion) – Birds of Fire, Visions of the Emerald Beyond
- Dave Matthews Band (Jam, Rock) – Rhyme and Reason, The Last Stop
- Meat Loaf (Rock) – Bat Out of Hell
- Journey (Rock) – Separate Ways, Chain Reaction
- Pearl Jam (Rock, Grunge) – Animal, Not For You
- Living Colour (Rock) – Type, Cult of Personality
- Tin Machine (Rock, David Bowie) – Under the God
- Jethro Tull (Classic Rock)***** – Aqualung, Locomotive Breath
- King Crimson (Prog Rock) – 21st Century Schizoid Man
- Muse (Modern Rock) – Knights of Sydonia, Hysteria, Our Time is Running Out, Butterflies and Hurricanes, The Small Print
- Mountain (Classic Rock) – Mississippi Queen
- Prince (Pop, R&B, Funk, Rock) – Let’s Go Crazy
- The Prodigy (Techno) – Breathe
- Blue Oyster Cult (Classic Rock) – Godzilla, Veteran of the Psychic Wars, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
- Edgar Winter Group (Classic Rock) – Frankenstein
- Hum (Shoegaze) – Mrs. Lazarus, Stars, The Summoning
- Red Hot Chili Peppers (Alternative) – Warped
- Dave Navarro (Alternative) – Everything
- Swervedriver (Shoegaze) – Sci-Flyer
- En Vogue (R&B) – Free Your Mind
- Billy Squier (Classic Rock) – The Stroke
- Michael Jackson (R&B, Pop) – Beat It
- Janet Jackson (R&B, Pop) – Black Cat
- Foo Fighters (Rock, Pop) – Monkeywrench, Weenie Beenie, Pretender, This is a Call, I’ll Stick Around, the entire Dream Widow project. . .
- Z (Prog Rock, Experimental, Dweezil and Ahmed Zappa) – Leviathan, Rubberband
- Jennifer Batten (Jazz, Rock, Instrumental Guitar) – Flight of the Bumblebee, Giant Steps
- Radiohead (Alternative) – Paranoid Android
- Styx (Classic Rock) – Heavy Metal Poisoning
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (Alternative) – Tupelo
- Run-DMC (Rap) – Rock Box, King of Rock
- Public Enemy (Rap) – She Watch Channel Zero?!
- Heart (Classic Rock, Pop) – If Looks Could Kill, Barracuda, Never
- Fishbone (Funk, Ska, Rock) – Servitude, Sunless Saturday
- Puff Daddy (Rap, Pop) – It’s All About the Benjamins (remix)
- Paula Cole (Rock, Pop) – Mississippi
- Jimi Hendrix (Classic Rock) – Ain’t No Telling, Spanish Castle Magic, Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
- Pink Floyd (Classic Rock) – One of These Days, Obscured By Clouds, Sheep, Dogs of War
- Beastie Boys (Rap, Pop) – No Sleep Til Brooklyn
- DJ Shadow (Techno, DJ) – The Number Song
- U2 (Classic Rock, Alternative) – Bullet the Blue Sky
- Steppenwolf (Classic Rock) – Born to Be Wild
- Iron Butterfly (Classic Rock) – In A Gadda Da Vida
- Gustav Holst (Classical) – Mars, The Bringer of War
- Nicolo Paganini (Classical) – Caprice 35
- John Williams (Classical) – The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)
- Edvard Grieg (Classical) – Hall of the Mountain King
- ZZ Top (Classic Rock) – La Grange, Sharp Dressed Man, Gimme All Your Lovin’
- Eric Johnson (Instrumental Guitar, Jazz) – Cliffs of Dover
- Jane’s Addiction (Alternative, Rock) – The Mountain Song, Three Days, Stop
Jack Mangan is best known in the Metal world as the co-host of the popular Metal Hall of Fame and MetalAsylum.net livestreams with Rich Catino. He’s also the lead author/project runner for the “Am I Evil?” graphic novel and a journalist with MetalAsylum.net and the official Metal Hall of Fame. In an adjacent life, he was a podcast pioneer, with numerous appearances on Technorama, Dragon Page, Escape Pod/Pseudopod, and many others, including his own productions: Jack Mangan’s Deadpan, and the Podcast novel, “Spherical Tomi.” Friend him on Facebook if you can find him, but be warned: he’s not great about checking Facebook Messenger.
***Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi initially called their band Earth, before changing the name to Black Sabbath.
****Note to Pat Boone fans: Be mad at Jack, don’t be mad at anyone else at the Hall. But here’s my apology, and one more thing. . .
*****Grammys be damned.