Before the genre term was even coined, these pioneers were already pushing the volume dials to eleven.
The sound we now define as "heavy" was much different in the 60's. The musical landscape on the whole was quite lo-fi compared to today's standards, probably not least because of early sound equipment and a lack of volume capabilities. These advancements in production and engineering didn't come along until later.
This list will include those heavy hitters that were released before 1970 however (often cited as the year heavy metal was born), and will feature some of the heaviest proto-metal songs that still sound loud as hell in 2016. Batten down the hatches and brace yourself for a trip down musical memory lane – a trip that defies the traditional genre conventions of its time.
10. The Kinks – You Really Got Me
Some songs retain their brilliance even after decades of being played to death. One such track is the super slick and effortlessly free-wheeling jam "You Really Got Me" by The Kinks.
Originally composed on a piano in the early stages of 1964, the band decided to inject some roaring, sonic qualities into the track thanks to the ingenuity of lead guitarist Dave Davies. His idea of slicing the speaker on his amplifier helped to give the riffs a buzzing distortion – a sound technique that would become a core component of heavy metal throughout the 70's.
Over half a century on and "You Really Got Me" is still one of the coolest songs ever recorded.
9. MC5 – Kick Out The Jams
Ever feel like you were born in the wrong generation? Tell this to these musical trailblazers, a group that were so ahead of their time that their sound wouldn't be fully realized until almost ten years after their groundbreaking debut album was released.
This messy track from 1969 is often cited as being proto-punk, but there's no doubting its influence on heavy metal too. From its mean, slinky riff refrain to its blazing guitar solo, "Kick Out The Jams" drops huge sonic bombs throughout its frantic duration.
Right out of the gates, this Michigan five-piece delivered a first offering that was powerfully unstoppable and wonderfully chaotic for its time.
8. Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues
Few bands were as forward thinking as three-piece psych rock outfit Blue Cheer. The group's first album release Vincebus Eruptum was one of the heaviest records of its time, further popularized by a revitalization of an Eddie Cochran track entitled "Summertime Blues".
The rumbling force that powers "Summertime Blues" was different for the time, with a joint double pronged attack driving it. They achieve this through a thudding drumbeat and an interlocking bass boom, leaving the rest of the legwork down to a killer riff and some catchy vocal melodies.
Blue Cheer spruced up an old rock & roll relic, put their own edgy interpretation onto it, and provided an inkling into the heavy metal sound that would soon come to fruition just two years later.
7. King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man
Prog-rock outfit King Crimson had uncanny musicianship for their time, which goes without saying. But what is also true about the eccentric sound wizards is their groundbreaking foreshadowing of the metal genre, forever encapsulated on their style-hopping masterpiece "21st Century Schizoid Man".
King Crimson's influence on prog-metal acts such as Opeth and Dream Theater is there for all to see on this Goliath slab of genre fusion. With every instrument going full pelt, the gargantuan sound that the group summon here is almost overpowering. Improvisation was the key to unlocking their unparalleled musical vault – injecting a toxic mixture of jazz, prog, metal and classical styles into their chaotic song structures.
"21st Century Schizoid Man" is still to this day monumental in every sense of the word.
6. Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love
Few songs are as instantly recognizable as "Sunshine Of Your Love" by blues-rock pioneers Cream. From the 60's classic Disraeli Gears, bands for the first time saw a glimmer of the dark side on this bass creeper.
The menacing quality of the song is synonymous with the darker aspects of metal, helping to showcase not just the technical prowess of the band, but their savvy when it comes to providing creepy atmospherics in their music as well.
"Sunshine Of Your Love" is an inherent link between blues rock and the heavy sound trappings of Led Zeppelin – a feat that no other band can realistically lay claim to.
5. The Beatles – Helter Skelter
When Paul McCartney said he wanted to make a song that was loud and dirty prior to the release of The White Album, he wasn't kidding. He took it a step further in creating one the rawest sounds know to man.
Often cited as the first heavy metal song (and with quite good reason too), "Helter Skelter" is seriously hard-hitting with its droning guitar tone and pounding drum workout. Released in 1968, this uncompromising powerhouse went completely against the grain in terms of what was expected of the fab four.
While some of its fire might sound a tad tame by today's standards, this scintillating cut was far ahead of the rest of the crop when it came to gut-wrenching, musical punches.
4. Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Like your metal of the epic variety? You don't want to miss there forerunners of the genre then.
While their full album release of the same name was strong, the majority of it gets swamped by the sensational title track "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". Though the song may be overblown to a certain extent, the quality contained within is every bit equal to the bombastic dramatics. Section breaks, seamless transitions, instrumental variety, memorable hooks – all qualities of a song that manages to peak interests even towards the end of its grueling length.
This elongated, 18-minute long, beast of a track proved that Iron Butterfly were definitively one of the premier proto-metal bands of their time.
3. Led Zeppelin – Dazed And Confused
Some might say Led Zeppelin have got heavier tracks in their arsenal, but mood-wise, the bewitching stunner "Dazed And Confused" is the one of the heaviest of the lot.
It's a tense affair, made extremely harrowing through the use of Robert Plant's powerful vocal performance, deeply decrepit bass notes and a thunderous percussive section. The woozy main riff captures the song's subject matter perfectly, giving guitarist Jimmy Page the artistic license to make his guitar squeal by using a violin bow.
"Dazed And Confused" is an absolute menace from start to finish, largely thanks to an unnerving mood and stellar instrumentation right across the board.
2. The Pretty Things – Old Man Going
The similarities between psych-rock outfit The Pretty Things along with the sound made by fellow mind benders The Beatles is uncanny. One of the several comparisons between the two is heard on both bands' heavy metal excursions. And while "Helter Skelter" may be the first metal song, they only beat this lot by just one month…
If you consider the authentic metal sound to be loud and dark then this is the quintessential track. Right off the bat, the cryptic vocal delivery and the electrified riffs are straight out of the Black Sabbath rule book. Accompany this with morbid lyricism and a frantic tempo, and you have one of the most underappreciated early metal songs in history.
Forget "Helter Skelter" – "Old Man Going" is closer to the original metal sound than anything else you will hear before the genre's formation.
1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
It's incredible what can happen when improvisation transpires in music. With guitar legend Jimi Hendrix, him and his band adapted an already great song (Voodoo Chile) and turned it into a wah-pedal, free for all that became a blueprint for the sonic force that could manifest itself in hard/heavy music.
The burning intensity on this one is nothing short of dazzling. From the smoke drenched aura that envelops it to the expression seeping riffage that underpins it, the band handles each musical note with supreme ease.
Talk about tearing it up. With "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" Hendrix tears it up and burns the remains on what has to be the heaviest song released before heavy metal was a thing.