Each week on ‘Throwback Thursday’ we dust off a crucial but underrated album, without which heavy metal’s evolution would have turned out quite differently.
To kick off this series, we need not look beyond the LP most frequently cited as the very first, true heavy metal album: Blue Cheer’s earth-shattering Vincebus Eruptum.
Band name: Blue Cheer
Origins: San Francisco, CA, USA
Album title: Vincebus Eruptum
Year of release: January 1968
Why its so damn important?
Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum is the only album that can reasonably challenge Black Sabbath's debut as the true birth of heavy metal. No other music released during that timeframe comes even close to testing humanity's tolerable thresholds of volume and distortion with such reckless abandon and nihilistic intent. Blue Cheer was composed of Dickie Peterson (vocals, bass), Leigh Stephens (guitar) and Paul Whaley (drums): three, natty-haired, acid-fried kids (their name was derived from a popular brand of LSD, naturally) whose negative attitude and permanent scowls (disdainful smirks, if you got lucky) embodied the absolute antithesis of San Francisco's summer of love.
So what does it sound like, exactly?
As a result, rough and raucous band originals like "Doctor Please," "Out of Focus" and "Second Time Around" seemed less preoccupied with luring fans with catchy hooks than they were with gleefully testing the fuzz-driven feedback attainable via the era's available amplification technology. Which is why intentionally corrupted covers of popular blues staples like B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" and Mose Allison's "Parchment Farm" – not to mention Eddie Cochran's rockabilly classic, "Summertime Blues," arguably illustrated Blue Cheer's de-evolutionary musical genius even more effectively.
In other words…
This is why Blue Cheer, like harbingers of the post-Altamont hippie apocalypse (their manager was a member of the Hells Angels, named simply "Gut"), used Vincebus Eruptum to plow down psychedelia's flowering fields and reveal the blasted landscape of broken dreams hidden just beneath the surface, for all to see.
Key Song: "Summertime Blues"
What better song to exemplify the savage beating Blue Cheer applied to rock and roll than this ruthless deconstruction of a golden oldie? The song literally rides into the band’s rehearsal space as sleek as a GTO, and back out again beaten by sledgehammers into a shape roughly resembling the mushroom cloud that would haunt the remainder of the Cold War years and inspire so much timeless heavy metal – along with Blue Cheer.
As the saying goes, Blue Cheer's deafening performances were capable of "turning the air into cottage cheese" and the Lizard King himself, Jim Morrison, called them "the most powerful band I've ever seen"; but perhaps variety/talk show host Steve Allen put it best when he introduced the band thus to his TV audience: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Blue Cheer. Run for your lives!" That, my friends, is heavy metal.
Buy Blue Cheer's Vincebus Eruptum on Amazon for less than $6