Heavy Metal Origin

I understand the origin of the term Rock and Roll(Cecil discussed this once) and I can follow where Jazz or Blues got their names, but where the heck did they come up from Heavy Metal? Does it reference Mercury as a cure for Syphilis and if so, what’s the connection?


“Born to be Wild” -

(Something like) Thunderbolts and lightning / heavy metal thunder

I heard this got adopted by a rock writer, and the rest as they say…

Led Zepellin is my guess.

Off the top of my head, I believe the term had several origins.

1 was the Steppenwolf line referenced above.

Another was from some Burroughs (Bill not Ed) novel where a gang was called the heavy metal boys. This was picked up by rockers.

Another is that the term aptly describes the heavy mettalic sound of the music.

I personally vouch for none of these, but throw them out somewhere between speculation and vague recollection.

“Born to be Wild” -
(Something like) Thunderbolts and lightning / heavy metal thunder

I heard this got adopted by a rock writer, and the rest as they say…

Yeah thats it.
One of the best ones I heard.
I think the actual line is ‘I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder,’

Another source attributed to a Blue Oyster Cult song. I think it’s Me109 or something, in which they refer to dropping bombs, of heavy metal fruit.

And then of course after the fact, when the term itself began to spread like wildfire, and then was co-opted by ‘the suits’ to make a million dollars by calling the next big thing something easily identifiable, that you can buy,

Well, then, let’s not even begin to get into ‘heavy’.

I really don’t know the origins of the popularity of the term. Before there was “heavy metal”, there were bands that aspired to be heavy/light, to float with beautiful lyrical sound while pounding down emphatically and slicing riffs off a guitar stem and howling free with joy/rage/freedom.

In the beginning was Iron Butterfly. Led Zeppelin continued the heavy/light imagery and unlike Iron Butterfly had more than one song to sing. Aside from group names, the trend towards wanting to be good at mean drivin’ sounds with an edge and at the same time capable of making sounds prettier than a sunset (and sneaking up on you to do it half the time) was supported by many bands.

By the time Heavy Metal had replaced “hard rock” as the description of the hardest sound out there, it had gotten a lot greyer, gloomier, and less inclined to have delicate moments.

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Just a WAG, but aren’t heavy metals (elements with large numbers of neutrons) used in nuclear explosives? Since most of these bands were known for raw volume (and many also had a thing for apocalyptic imagery), perhaps this allusion played a part.

Webster’s Collegiate, 10th Edition, gives 1974 as the earliest use of “heavy metal” in the musical sense, but gives no citation.

“The dawn of a new era is felt and not measured.” Walter Lord

IIRC, it was Todd Rundgren who first used the term. He was classifying rock into two groups, “lightweight” and “heavy metal”. I’ll see if I can find a cite; seems to me it was in Rolling Stone.

Your brain-in-a-jar,

Imbibo, ergo sum.

Sounds about right. The probable sources were a few years earlier:

Steppenwolf’s first album, with “Born to be Wild” was released in 1968. The song was permanently engraved on pop conciousness almost immediately (“Easy Rider” was released in 1969, which featured BTBW and “The Pusher”).

William S. Burroughs used the phrase in “Nova Express”, published in 1964. I can’t recall it from “Naked Lunch”, published in 1959, but it’s been a LONG time since I read either.

Of course, if it stems from the use in chemistry or medicine, chemists and doctors have been talking about “heavy metals” and “heavy metal poisoning” for many more years than that.

Grr… A question right up my alley, and here I go being late on the draw…

To answer the question, nobody knows for sure exactly where the term came from, but the leading theories point to the Heavy Metal Boys of the Burroughs novel and the “heavy metal thunder” expounded upon in “Born To be Wild,” as said earlier.

The first band to be called the term was Iron Butterfly, though it became a genre as we know it when Led Zeppelin came along.

Next time a metal question comes up, somebody please alert me?!? :smiley:

Yer pal,


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The Blue Oyster Cult song in question is “Me 262”, the first successful turbojet aircraft, and the “heavy metal fruit” in question is indeed the bombload dropped by aforementioned fighter-bomber.

The album was Secret Treaties, which came out a few years after Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”.