Louder than God
Did Blue Cheer discover a heavier form of rock n' roll in 1968?
In 1968, a band from San Francisco might have just started a genre of music that today, millions of people around the world love—heavy metal!
Blue Cheer have been often cited as being the originators of proto-metal or heavymetal. Hailing from San Francisco, where peace and love was roaming the city and beyond, Blue Cheer were as far removed from hippies and flowers and heavier than most of the psychedelic bands that were playing on the radio. They were making crazy loud music at the same time The Beatles were releasing "All You Need Is Love."
Vincebus Eruptum, recorded in 1967 and released a few months later, was a powerful debut which was a blues driven psychedelic document, but it was so loud and distorted that most people hated their sound and attitude immediately. Of course, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath further added to that fire and refined the look and sound of metal, but Blue Cheer took the initial ingredients: Marshall stacks, blues, loudness, and hippie hatred, and mixed it altogether in a blender. What came out of that mix was a primordial green ooze that stunk—it has influenced countless musicians beyond measure.
As groups like Led Zeppelin and The Stooges were also producing sounds louder than what The Mamas and the Papas were dishing out, Blue Cheer were the first to record very thunderous music by December, 1967.
During the period between 1968-69, Earth, who would eventually evolve into Sabbath, were playing bluesy and powerful hard rock but were changing into a band with a concept, producing music with drop D tones and scaring people.
As subjective as this topic is, many people usually fall into two camps: Heavy metal's birthday was Black Sabbath's debut (1970) or Blue Cheer invented the genre in 1968. I guess this is a question that can't be answered fully, but it is pretty amazing how an early band like Blue Cheer had the gusto and balls to follow their loud chaotic vision amongst the flower power orgy that was San Francisco. The sound of a sledge hammer coming down on a field of flowers, patchouli, and folk music; that is the future sound of music: heavy, brooding, dynamic, and above all—dangerous. The powerful, visceral sound of heavy metal is something many people can relate to and is a sound thats' origins are still unclear.
There were many bands that had a stake in influencing the origins of early metal: Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Cream, Ten Year's After, Uriah Heep, Stooges, MC5, Sir Lord Baltimore, Pink Faires, Deep Purple, Jerusalem, The Doors, Coven, UFO, Mountain, Dust, Bang, LedZeppelin, Badfinger, Budgie, The Who, IronButterfly, Wishbone Ash, CaptainBeyond, Hendrix, Pentagram—and on and on...
You get the picture.
I like the metaphor of comparing the emerging sounds of metal to a thunderstorm;
A fluffy cloud is wavering in a bright blue sky—in perfect harmony; peace is in the air. All of a sudden a thunderbolt flashes through the cloud, causing a rain storm that carries it many miles away. Now, the cloud is still there, but its color has changed to a grayish white tone with a dark sky behind it.
The period between 1967-1971 saw an immense change in music becoming heavier, and like a thunderbolt through a peaceful cloud, things can change in an instant.
Blue Cheer's assault was witnessed in the late 60s by Jim Morrison and Eric Clapton during their live performances. Morrison had once acknowledged that "They are the single most powerful band I have ever seen." Fast forward to 2019—Blue Cheer's seminal debut still has the ability to shock, inspire, offend, and cause music historians to wonder: Did heavy metal actually begin 50 years ago?