Released: 2003, ECW Press
Publishing juggernaut Martin Popoff unleashes his fifth book and several more are enroute! The title says it all and it is an excellent addition to the small but growing field of metal-related literature. The simple but effective cover is shot of a saw-blade (with a clever twist on an almost mandatory metal image) is on this 486-page paperback. Nice print, easy to read font and a few photos scattered here and there make it easy on the eyes.
Martin polled 18,000 metal fans on the topic in question and by using some whiz-bang software, he came out with a list that is the best of it’s sort ever produced. This method is FAR superior to other ‘Best of’ lists out there. Most of them are the annual ‘made-up’ lists concocted by writers of mainstream rock magazines. It seems that facing a looming deadline, totally bereft of ideas and orders from management to push the latest mainstream crap, these hacks sit around all night getting drunk and reminiscing about some personal favorites, which ends up become another definitive (and ultimately useless) Top (fill in the blank) list of all time.
(On a side note: I think Chuck Eddy, the author of that ‘other’ list book is the worst offender. It seems that when writing his book, he stayed up for 72 hours straight, presumably under the massive influence of copious amounts of moonshine, mountains of impure narcotics, a looming 8:00 am deadline. Spurred on by his rabid and apoplectic editor, who was foaming at the mouth brandishing a flaming chainsaw he was desperate, doomed and running on empty. In a moment of wild-eyed, manic inspiration he probably went to the record section of his local public library, picked out 500 random records and somehow concluded that if you have a guitar in your band you are automatically qualified as metal! He made his deadline and the world has been worse off since.)
Martin on the other hand did a good job in compiling g this data. On the point of statistical validity there can be no doubt, the sample size is large enough to determine accurately what songs have stood the test of time in the minds of fans of all ages from around the world. Having said that, realizing there are over 400,000 songs to choose from (in the history of metal from 1970-2000 or so) and only 4500 made the master list of first round submissions. You do the math…1%. Yep. And then to cut it down to 500 must have been a headache. This adds credence to the fact that these songs really are the best of the best…the elite metal songs of all time. But it also saddens me that there are, being generous, another quarter of a million songs (sounds bigger when you say ‘quarter of a million’ rather than just 250,000) that with the right timing, exposure, label push, or twist of fate could have been on the list of initial submissions. There is a lot of great metal music out there folks! Go find it!
The format is simple, a list from 1-500 based on points tabulated. Each song has a comment from Martin and a corresponding quote from the artist involved in that song or band. The anecdotal stories are amusing and fun to read. In the past some people have unfairly criticized Martin’s writing, forgetting that reviews and general comments are opinion, not fact. However, people will not be able to argue with the list because he didn’t make it up, the fans did. He just compiled the data so to speak and presented it in an attractive format.
Some of those attractive extras are the neat appendices with various methods of organizing the list by band, by country, one-hit wonders, and many other witty and insightful observations about the list and how it was compiled. He also provided some preliminary conclusions one could draw from the data. As for the actual numbers we get: 18,000 voters choose 4500 songs and the Top 500 are drawn from 286 albums by 129 bands. Again, a tiny fraction of all the available material and I weep bitter tears of sorrow for the hundreds of bands I love that never made the final cut.
In terms of content I’m not going to spoil it by listing the Top 10 in this review. You will have to buy the book and find out for yourself. I will give you a few teasers though, here are some rankings as picked by the fans.
050) Metallica-Seek and Destroy
100) Ratt-Round and Round
150) Iron Maiden-Where Eagles Dare
200) Testament-Practice What You Preach
250) Mercyful Fate-Satan’s Fall
300) Twisted Sister-I Wanna Rock
350) Thin Lizzy-Cowboy Song
450) Halford-Silent Screams
499) Monster Magnet-Power Trip
I was very pleased to see that there is a strong flavour towards real meat and potatoes (or true) metal. This book and list could be charted on a classic bell-curve. Most of less popular sub-genres, (Death Metal, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Progressive Metal, Guitar Heroes) got relegated to the fringes, a few entries by mostly the ‘big’ name bands in those areas. The favourite songs by the main bands made the bulk of the list and at times almost every song from certain albums made the list!
Martin commented that the list could be very temporal, meaning that over time many of the older bands will fall from grace and be replaced by currently young bands who will, in their own time, be producing their own time-tested fan favourites. In Appendix Seven on p. 485, he says, “,,,the farther we get away from the 70’s, the less people even think bands and rekkids (sic) from that ancient era qualify as heavy metal…” On a related point, in his comments about Slipknot Martin says, “Slipknot is one of those cyclical forces of nature that causes aged hard rock fans to throw in the towel and admit the gulf between their definition of heavy and what is plainly heavier, and more pertinently, to admit that this new ass-itch of a sound is designed for a generation that they, from this epiphany forward, are not allowed to comprehend”. His comments in this regard were astute, and even though I disagree. I think I’m in the minority of fans who think that metal is NOT just a young persons game and that metal, after 30 years, has been adequately defined and will hopefully resist further corporate attempts to redefine it. The advantage of all this navel gazing is that in ten years time when he does “Top 500 Revisited, 2013” It will be great fun to compare the lists.
Unfortunately there are many big organizations; mostly American Record labels, TV stations, and magazines, who are practicing an ugly sort of historical revisionism, trying to redefine metal to sell new product to impressionable youth. Perhaps it is inevitable that commercial interests will successfully redefine metal. However as it stands in 2003 the definition of what metal is still quite strong. After countless discussions with young fans who insist bands like Ratt, Dokken and Motley Crue are NOT metal and bands like Korn are, I was getting worried that the revisionists were winning the war.
Consequently, I was delighted to see very little grunge in the book at all. I took personal delight to see that a band like Manowar placed significantly higher than bands like, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Tool, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine and Nirvana. This list is an authoritative slap in the face of those people who constantly tried to define grunge as metal, or suggest it was somehow superior to metal.
Accordingly, I was doubly ecstatic to see that bands like Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Quiet Riot, and so on made the list while all these supposedly huge & popular mallcore (so-called ‘metal’) bands like Kittie, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Mudvayne did not. This list is also a fist in the face (An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove as it were) of the losers who are trying, unsuccessfully to re-write the past and this data serves a valuable lesson to the kids who are swallowing the lie. In my mind, this list is the definitive study so far as it goes a long way to demonstrating that metal cannot be, and is not, just defined by some vague definition of the term ‘heavy’. For example, is Slipknot heavier than Poison? Of course, only a fool would dispute that. But Poison as a metal band has far more credibility, longevity and influence (and I would argue heart and passion) than a noisy, one-trick pony that is already collapsing on itself having taken their narrow definition of ‘heavy’ to it’s extreme. Some will say that my comments are subjective but the fact remains that objectively more people think that Poison (and Ratt, and AC/DC, and Motley Crue, and Y&T, and Quiet Riot, and Cinderella, and Queen, and Twisted Sister and Whitesnake and another dozen so-called ‘glam’ bands) wrote a better metal song than Slipknot.
In conclusion, I had a great time reading this book, I devoured it. I started with glancing, merely glancing at the Top 10 to confirm or refute my suspicions/predictions. Then came an in- depth reading of the intro, appendixes and so on. Then a quick scan of ten personal favorites and then I read the book backwards. Yep. I started at 500 and did the count-down. A pain in the ass to keep flipping pages back and forth but the pay-off was worth it. I must admit there were several times when I fully disagreed with Martin’s opinions on various songs and that was half the fun! Martin was often professional enough to admit when he was in a minority opinion on personal preference for a band. His comments on Iron Maiden’s –Fear Of The Dark (Position #101) were hilarious!
The Top 500 book is now available in fine book-stores. I recommend a visit to Martin’s recently updated web-site at http://www.martinpoppoff.com.
It is interesting to see all the upcoming project metal fans have to look forward to. I can’t wait for The TOP 500 Albums Of All Time, coming soon! It will permanently wash the foul after-taste of Chuck Eddy’s, Stairway to Hell out of the mouths of metallions everywhere.