The Beatles Invented Heavy Metal. Here’s Proof


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The Beatles may not be the first band you think of when someone utters the words “heavy metal.” Indeed, they won a lot of admirers who were not necessarily rock ‘n’ roll fans with their advanced melodies, keen harmonic sense, and arrangements that owed a debt to classical music. You can even play them for your kids without worry that they will be converted to Satanism.

At the same time, the Beatles were about nothing so much as pushing boundaries, and in the later years of their career, they crafted some songs that can only be described as dark, doom-filled, and noisy, everything heavy metal bands would pick up and run with in the 1970s. Here’s our list of Beatles songs that may not strictly qualify as heavy metal but whose influence on the genre is undeniable.

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‘Helter Skelter’

This cut from the band’s self-titled 1968 record known to fans as “The White Album” was a real shock to people who only knew the Beatles from “Penny Lane.” While it’s certainly not as heavy as Metallica or Slayer, almost nothing else out there at the time sounded like this. It taught legions of imitators that you could do a lot with two chords, a plodding tempo, and a drummer who played so hard that he had blisters on his fingers by the time it was over.

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‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’

This song closes side one of 1969’s “Abbey Road,” the final studio album the band would record. Roughly half of it is a kind of restrained, brooding funk song, but much of its running time is rightly dedicated to a repeating riff that’s easily the heaviest thing the band ever recorded, and it is dark. It’s very easy to imagine the members of Led Zeppelin or even Black Sabbath hearing this song and taking furious notes.

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‘Revolution 1’

Another track from 1968’s The Beatles, “Revolution” was the subject of three different versions. There was the uptempo one that was released as a single, there was the most frequently skipped track on The Beatles, the sound collage known as “Revolution 9,” and “Revolution 1,” which was slow, sludgy, and pointed the way towards the epic doom sounds of the heavy metal bands that would emerge in just a couple of years.

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‘Come Together’

There may be heavier songs in the Beatles’ arsenal than “Come Together” from “Abbey Road.” Still, with its pounding chorus and heavy, grinding guitar, it was undoubtedly an obvious precursor to hard rock. As if to demonstrate this, Aerosmith covered the song for their appearance in the terrible 1978 movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which stars the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton in an unconscionable waste of two hours that was probably only good for ticket buyers who were there for the free air conditioning.

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‘Day Tripper’

Driven by a tricky and aggressive guitar riff and relentless rhythm, “Day Tripper” was an excellent example of the band pushing beyond the boundaries of energetic rock music and into something more hard-charging. Plenty of heavy metal bands agreed, as demonstrated by the fact that such undeniable headbangers as Whitesnake, Motörhead, and Type O Negative covered it.

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‘I Feel Fine’

“I Feel Fine” is pretty firmly a guitar-pop song, but we’re including it here for one very good reason. It starts with a few seconds of a guitar feeding back, a sound that had never appeared on a commercially released recording. A couple of years later, Jimi Hendrix turned feedback into an art form, and it started showing up on records across the heavy metal spectrum, to say nothing of the punk rock spectrum. It may have only been a quick moment at the beginning of a song, but it unleashed an avalanche of imitators.

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‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’

The title track to the landmark album of the same name resides very comfortably in hard rock territory, as it’s based on a heavy guitar riff, piercing lead work from George Harrison, and an aggressive vocal delivery from Sir Paul McCartney that can best be described as “yelling.” Jimi Hendrix was so impressed by it that he added the song to his band’s repertoire the day after the record’s release, pushing it even further into psychedelic acid-rock territory.

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‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’

Another track from 1968’s The Beatles, “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” covers a lot of stylistic territory in under three minutes. What makes it an early example of heavy metal is its middle section, in which John Lennon sings, “I need a fix ‘cause I’m going down” over a dark and bluesy riff that he sings along with. If you’ve heard Ozzy Osbourne sing an identical vocal line over the riff to Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” you may consider “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” as its close kin.

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‘Yer Blues’

Yes, it’s 1968’s The Beatles, yet again, but there’s no denying this record’s influence on the hard rock and heavy metal hordes who would follow in its footsteps. Like “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” it’s based around a bending, bluesy guitar riff that John Lennon sings over. If you’re having a crappy day that seems utterly irredeemable, this song will not improve it so much as offer confirmation your day is, indeed, going very badly.

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‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is one of the greatest songs in the entire Beatles catalog. FACT. It’s not just because of its instantly memorable vocals and lyrics, either. It’s based on a mournful, descending riff that was stolen by countless bands, and that riff has been a venue for numerous guitarists, such as Eric Clapton and Prince, to show off their own guitar chops. Prince, in particular, famously played the absolute crap out of it at a 2004 concert in Harrison’s honor.

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