The Wife and I have been playing Brutal Legend recently. Both of us are really enjoying the game. Both Ro and Jessica are unfamiliar with the musical genre of heavy metal, but they’re learning. 

Jessica asked me, "What makes metal different from rock ‘n’ roll?"

I explained, "Rock is a generally positive music. It’s written in major chords. Rock ‘n’ roll has three subject matters: getting wasted, getting laid and rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why Joan Jett’s cover of ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all time."

I further explained, "But heavy metal is not happy or positive. It’s dark. It’s written in minor chords. It’s about sadness and death and despair… but in the same way the Norse wrote about those things: with a kind of acceptance and reverence and even celebratory joy."

Jessica nodded. But I don’t think she really understood. And so, with that in mind, here are my six favorite heavy metal songs. In no particular order other than they are my six favorites. I’m not saying these are the best metal songs; they’re just my favorites.

I picked six different artists and tried to keep the list to "classic" metal. Bringing up things like thrash metal and black metal and all the other stuff is like throwing someone into the deep end. We’ll start with metal’s roots and then, if the waters are kind, maybe we’ll go a little deeper.

 
 

Led Zeppelin – When the Levee Breaks

Zeppelin was, arguably, the first metal band. At least, they created a style that others tried to emulate. That style was "heavy metal." And this is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs. Why? Well, most bands have a "lead guitar" and a "lead singer." But you could accurately say that Zeppelin, especially in this song, had a "lead drummer." Just the first ten seconds of When the Levee Breaks illustrates that perfectly.

 
 

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

In a time when most bands were singing the praises of flower power, along came Black Sabbath. The opening chords of their first album were the diabolus in musica: the devi’s chord. A chord change that sounds so fucking evil, the Catholic Church made it a crime to play it. Turn the lights off and listen to this one alone in the dark. It scared the crap out of me the first time I heard it.
 
This is my favorite (non-Dio) Sabbath song. Just a mindtrip that these guys could actually get on TV (let alone the radio).
 

Iron Maiden – The Trooper
This was a rough one for me. I’m a huge Iron Maiden fan. But I have to admit, there’s really something to The Trooper that makes it the iconic Maiden tune.
 
Like I said above, rock ‘n’ roll is about happy things. The Trooper is about the Charge of the Light Brigade. At the end, the narrator dies a painful, lonely death. And the way Maiden tells the story, you are right there with him, singing at the top of your lungs.
 
Glory. Glory. Glory. 

Judas Priest – Hell Bent for Leather

 
Another tough choice. I knew I had to include Priest in the list but choosing my favorite was hard. I went with this one because I think it perfectly encapsulates everything I love about Priest. The hot licks, the relentless pace and Rob Halford’s banshee voice singing about his secret life right under our noses.
 
Damn, Halford rules. But he isn’t my favorite metal singer. I’m saving that one for last.

Motorhead – Ace of Spades

Lemmy is a significant character in Brutal Legend. And I just love him anyway. And this is the first Motorhead song I ever heard. I was in love immediately.

 
I remember when someone in high school wanted me to hear this new band called "Metallica." That someone told me, "They’re amazing!" I listened to one song and said, "No thanks. I’ll stick to Motorhead." Of course, they never even heard of Motorhead.
 
And I’ve stuck by ’em ever since.

Rainbow – Kill the King
I said I saved the best for last. What I meant by that was this: Rainbow is my favorite metal band. The Ronnie James Dio incarnation of Rainbow, that is. To me, Ronnie was the greatest voice in metal. (It breaks my heart that he’s not in the game.) He always needed a guitarist who was just as talented as he was to make it all work. He needed Blackmore and he needed Iommi. With those two, he wrote some of my favorite metal songs.

Here’s one of them.

Those are my six. Of course, there are others. I’m sure we’ll see more in replies.

Throw up the horns, boys.

Six Favorite Metal Songs