For those about to rock: A retrospective on the evolution of hard rock- Part 1

My first exposure to headbanging was while watching the film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It was a comedy film about a dimwitted animal lover solving crimes. It was a Jim Carey movie, it was the 90’s, it was a comedy movie. I thought the scene where he goes into a rock club and the guy was “headbanging” to the rock music was obviously a joke, nobody actually did that, right? Little did I know it wasn’t a joke, it was a very popular thing.

Soon afterwards I would continue my exposure into the metal scene. I watched the pair of time traveling metal-heads Bill N Ted on their various quests. This was around the time I started to really question why on earth anyone would listen to this hard rock music. I wasn’t even sure what constituted hard rock to begin with. Not to mention I wasn’t even completely accurate on what people were calling rock music. My dad was an old time rock n roll fan and he would always correct me saying this band or that bands was not rock n roll, they were hard rock or heavy metal or something else. My dad wasn’t exactly an authority on rock music either, he just was sort of glued to his childhood favorites and dismissed the music of the youth. I wasn’t quite so dismissive, however I was more into dance music, electronic music, hip-Hop, disco, funk, and pop music. I was having a hard time determining not only what was hard rock, but what was the appeal.

Doing my research it appears rock n roll has it’s roots in soul music, bar music and blues. None of these were genres I was a particular fan of in my early days so I had to dig a little deeper. The earliest example I could find of a mainstream song that was the beginning of the hard rock sound was Helter Skelter by the world-renown Beatles. Having listen to this song a number of times during my research I can almost hear the start of what would become, what I considered, heavy metal, yet it still sounded really primitive to me. I didn’t spend a lot of time chasing down all of the obscure references, I stuck to the mainstream stuff like Born to Be Wild, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Dude Looks Like A Lady, and Smoke on the Water. None of these were too hard but they were often cited as the early examples of the scene.

As someone who has thoroughly studied the roots of techno, house and rap music, I can attest that different fans while share different tales of what lead from one sound to the next. The branching path of genres and sub-genres in rock music is just as complicated as the branching genres of the dance scene. To this day I can’t get people to tell the difference between Techno and House, whereas to me they are as different as night and day.

My earliest attempt’s at this included me creating a playlist of songs that one could follow from the old time rock n roll to modern day hard rock. Depending on what the end goal is determines which sub-genres or paths you cut off from the main path. For example, punk rock also has it’s origins in a lot of the same bands that metal does, yet punk eventually lead to alternative, grunge rock and ska, sub-genres I have more experience with than true metal. That didn’t stop me on my journey to find the path of least resistance.

I started with The Beatles.

Helter Skelter is such a different sound from anything I had heard by them up to that point. I don’t mean to sound as if I was around for it, I mean in the timeline. I do listen to Beatles but I was more into their early pop stuff not so much their later stuff.

When I originally did my digging I downloaded the various songs from iTunes and created a playlist when I did that I tried to see if the dots connected in a manner that made sense. I noticed there were a few missing links.

Admittedly I am missing a few sounds from some of the bands I know are often cited, yet I have no samples of their music to go off. Call me whatever name you wish, I have, to this day, never sat down and listened to a Led Zeppelin song, not one. If I have heard one of their songs, in passing I imagine or perhaps in a movie or TV commercial, I wouldn’t recognize it unless it was pointed out to me. So why am I writing this if I can’t call up the sounds of one of the bands often regarded as the fathers of metal? Sometimes you have to make do with what is available to you, also this is my journey so I wanted to discover this my own way. That being said, I have listened to bands that were described as inspired by or similar to Zeppelin so I can say that I am at least vague familiar with the sound they are attributed to.

Judas Priest

In my search I didn’t want to start entirely at the roots, I wanted to see how Beatles, Elvis Presley, Chuck Barry, Buddy Holly and others could morph into AC DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, etc. I did pick up Alice Cooper’s School’s Out which I also cited as one of the bridge sounds, but Judas Priest was the first record I picked up that had a very prot-metal sound. In later years their music evolved more into the sound I always attributed as hard rock or heavy metal, depending on who you ask. I often used the term interchangeably with the understanding metal was the harder stuff. Now that I have done some more digging I discovered it’s even more complex than that. I placed Judas Priest at the earliest point of Heavy Metal on the timeline.

KISS

Specifically Destroyer and Alive but I dug through their entire catalog, first through their various compilations, beginning with Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits, and working my way back. KISS doesn’t have the hardest of sounds, they are more hard rock or even edgy rock n roll than metal, but they have the attitude and the look of what would become the signature metal theme, the dark medieval fantasy tones, some would describe as satanic but let’s not split hairs. Anyways they had the theatrics for sure but their sound was admittedly soft in comparison to what would follow. Still they are at the early point as well. They are also cited as a starting point for punk rock, but I won’t follow that path here.

Deep Purple

This is another one I place under the category of proto-metal. They have a very hard sound in some songs, but a very 70’s blue rock vibe. I did listen to more than one song, but the one that really matters is Smoke on the Water. This is another point where you can really start to hear a new sound emerging from the underbelly of American counter-culture.

Black Sabbath

Once you get into “the other Alice Cooper,” Ozzy Osborne and his ilk, things really start to get serious. By all rights you could make a case Sabbath and Ozzy are about as close to what would become Metal as it gets. If you follow them through the 70’s and into the 80’s, even after all the shake ups and restructuring, their sound is very much in line with what I would classify as heavy metal and hard rock at the very least.

Iron Maiden

This is the point where Metal begins to emerge as it’s own thing. By the time this band hits the scene it’s fully developed. It would be really hard to argue Iron Maiden isn’t heavy metal, and from what I have heard this is the goods through and through.

Now I could have spent more time on proto-metal bands like The Who, The Kinks, Zeppelin, or any number of others. As I did my digging though, I realized that while there are individual songs or even portions of entire albums that are recognized as having elements of what would become metal, they were still entirely different sounds in their own right. You could make a case that without the sounds of the Jackson 5, Hip-Hop wouldn’t be what it is today, but you could be hard pressed to make a case for Michael and the Gang being rap.

AC-DC

This is one of those transition bands you could argue is really just “hard rock” and that would be fine by me. Without getting into sub-genres I classify rock into the following top-level categories: rock n roll, rock, hard rock, metal, grunge, punk, ska, and alternative rock. For the most part there is a TON of overlap, I still try to avoid splitting hairs over what sound equals what genre. AC-DC is one of those bands I could firmly place under rock n roll, rock, or hard rock, but I would be hard pressed to call them full on metal and they certainly aren’t punk or ska. At least not as I understand them to be.

You will notice as I go through this series I don’t often stray from the general consensus, at least not up front. However as I discover more to this story I fully intend to give credit where due. As I looked into this it took on a life of it’s own. Consider this entry number one in a series where I take a deeper look at the origins of this music genre that I have found an affinity for, yet continues to boggle my mind and elude my sense of true understanding. Until next time keep on head banging friends.

 

Delve into the mind of THE RAT… if you dare.

When I was in the first grade I started signing my school papers with my initials, R.A.T., partly because I had bad hand writing, that is a story for another day, so I was trying to save time but also partly because, well back then I was pretty lazy, and partly because once I discovered my initials spelled out a word I thought it was fun. It didn’t stay fun forever as time went on I became stuck with the name, The Rat, which I currently wish would die out. But who is The Rat? Read on to find out more.

It started in 1997. Up to that point¬† had pretty much stopped signing my name as such and forgot about that silly initial thing. At least until one day, when I was in the 9th grade, I turned in a paper with just my initials, just because I wrote it in a hurry and added my name last second. It was for my science class,¬† didn’t get long well with my science teacher anyways so I figured screw it. Well some of the jackals in my class thought it was funny, and being mostly Spanish speaking they began calling me “la rata” or “the rat” in Spanish.

But it goes just a little deeper than that. Not the name but the underlying “persona” that I would invent as a form of identity shield. When I was much younger I had gotten used to being picked up and bullied in school. As such I developed a dislike for, well, everyone. So I went out of my way to discourage other kids from associating with me because I just wanted to be left alone. During my early days I discovered I had a very strong fascination with the Nightmare on Elm Street movie franchise. I suppose much of this could be tied to my being a kid in the 80’s, which at that time Freddy Krueger pretty much dominated the media scene, from MTV to everything inbetween. In 1996 I heard a song on the radio by a fairly new band called Marylin Manson. At first I was drawn to the music, the song that played on the radio all the time was “The Beautiful People,” to this day one of my favorite’s in the heavy metal genre. Although I learned later Manson wasn’t exactly true heavy metal, I still liked his music. It was dark, thematic and reminded me a lot of those Freddy films I had become so obsessed with. During my high school years I day-dreamed of forming my own shock rock metal band, even going so far as wanting to mimic the long hair, make up and stylish clothing that went along with it. But well I didn’t have it in me to put on that public mask that bands like Manson, Kiss, Twisted Sister, and others, wore. Instead I took a different approach.

I had always been divided between my love of the dark, loud, and angry metal music, with the violent, aggressive, and severely more angry gangsta rap music. My attraction to both forms of music was still a part of that persona, if I was seen listening to loud, offensive, and very violent music I figured it would be a good buffer to keep people away. For the most part, it worked. Decent people noticed quickly that a guy listening to “Natural Born Killers” by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from the Murder was the Case soundtrack as loud as my speakers could play it, well that was a guy to avoid. I also wore a very angry expression on my face and became used to wearing torn, dirty and very rugged clothing to further cement the persona of not just an out cast, but a dark soul to be feared and avoided. I started to take the persona, or the act, onto the internet off and on. Partly because I was still trying to remain tough and distant but also because I hated confrontation. The problem is, this doesn’t work online, in real life you get the whole picture, the image, the scruffiness and you understand what I was going for. But online I just came off as a jerk, a troll even by most definitions.

After many years of justifying this dual personality/persona, it wasn’t just inspired by rock bands like Manson, it was further justified by the poster child for the image I was going for, the infamous Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, aka, Slim Shady. His dual persona image in his music fit what I was trying to do perfectly. I wanted to be seen as clean cut and respectable by those who took the time to get to know me, but feared and seen as a pretty mean dude by those I wished to keep my distance from. I had trouble taking this online and I also, eventually, had trouble separating the two in real life as well. Eventually I decided to take it a step further.

The Rat wasn’t getting the point across. So I changed my music persona name to DJ Serial Killa, taken from a Snoop Dogg song from his debut album, Doggystyle. Now as a kid thanks to the graphic, almost pornographic cartoon in the album art, it didn’t take long for me to figure out what “doggystyle” was referring to. Needless to say I figured if the good guy, or rapper, was The Rat, then the DJ, or the mysterious one pulling the puppet strings, had to be worse, thus I took on the name DJ Serial Killa. Of course I also adopted the phrase, or motto, that as a DJ I justified the name as I “murdered the competition, and there was a whole lot of competition.

I will admit as a rapper, I suck. I can, when I put my mind to it, write good poems, and by extension song lyrics. However I never applied this to my rapping, partly because I honestly never took it that seriously, partly because I kind of was “too white” deep down and there was also the matter of my voice, I hated how it sounded so I never put my full honest attention into my rapping. That being said I will freely say, and I can back this up with examples, my DJ’ing ability was pretty good. I didn’t do much of the Jazzy Jeff/Beastie Boys spinning vinyl records, but I could DJ, or disc jockey a party like no body’s business. This I developed through my years of not just making endless supplies of mix tapes, yes literal cassette tapes, but also mix cd’s, and evnetually playlists. I became skilled at telling which songs fit together in a set, or mood, and which songs blended together smoothly. And I can also show examples of music I mixed myself, using a variety of methods ranging from playing samples and keyboards using my own instrumentals, to the famous hip-hop production technique of mixing loops and samples. Still my DJ or production ability was far better than my rapping thus the DJ name had to have a much strong pull to it.

So what is the point? Just sharing a little bit of why I used to let people call me “THE RAT” and why, especially in recent years, I have shifted away from using that name. I am not ashamed of who I am, look I produced 6 underground records, some I put in stores some I only shared with friends, show me your musical works and I will say okay you can talk to me about names, until then, I can say I did something with my life I wanted to do, not everyone can say that. Lately I have been contemplating making a new musical production, or starting up a new venture online. Whatever I end up doing it will always be for the same purpose, sharing my ideas with people who might be interested for one reason or another.

Will I ever go back to being “THE RAT”? No I don’t think so. I know one thing is for sure, I might never get my chance to play in a shock rock metal band, at least I did get a chance to record an almost gangsta rap but not really gangsta rap, hip-hop record. And there is something to be said of a person doing what they want in life and not being bothered by what other people think. I never got to be as “goth” as I wanted, but I did push the boundaries of what I could get away with as much as possible. Looking back, yes I did take some things to far, something I have to live with to this day. I guess that is part of life, we all have skeletons in our closet, I just think if you dig too deep you might not like what you find. And that is okay, because honestly Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins, he made us into a new creation so while The Rat is no more and DJ Serial Killa was always just bad idea for a name, the reality is all the dark and not very Christian things I was either witness to or an accessory to, are all in the past. Going forward life has improved tremendously and I believe things will only ever get better.