Popoff, Martin-Riff Raff:The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs Of The 70’s (Book Review)

Spread the metal:

Author: Martin Popoff
Title: Riff Raff-The Top 250 Heavy Metal Songs of The 70’s
Publisher: PowerChord Press
Year: 2018
Reviewed: Feb 2019
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer:  JP

Long time readers of my book reviews will know that I’m a big fan of the writing of Martin Popoff.   I’ve probably reviewed about 50 of his books for this site.  I’m especially excited about this new series that was just released.

Back in 2003 Popoff conducted a massive on-line poll and tabulated the results into two excellent books, THE TOP 500 METAL SONGS OF ALL TIME and THE TOP 500 METAL ALBUMS OF ALL TIME.   I’ve reviewed both of them for this site if you care to go read or re-read those reviews.

Now 15 years later he is revisiting the concept but with a modern twist.  Instead, he is going to break the books down into three books, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and with any luck maybe one for the 00’s.  In addition, he has reconducted the poll to see what has stood the test of time and what songs are getting lost in the sands of time. Lastly he has streamlined the numbers down to 250 songs per decade but for a net gain over the first poll of 250 songs spread across 1970-2000.         (3 x 250 = 750 songs vs. 500 songs in the first poll)   The results are in and the first book in the series has been published, THE TOP 250 HEAVY METAL SONGS OF THE ‘70’s.

I have a strong personal interest in this topic and type of study/poll so this review will be really long but for the sake of not boring people who have little to no interest in Metal stats or Metal nerd trivia, I’ve divided this review into two parts; the main review and a bonus section of statistical analysis.

THE TOP 250 SONGS OF THE ‘70’s is one his now very familair, self-published books on PowerChord Press.  This nice paperback has a nice cover tie-in to the first series for some good continuity.   The poll results are listed backwards from 250 down to #1.  Hr also includes a fairly long and very useful introduction explaining the reasoning behind revisiting the concept.  There are some useful appendices as well.  Each entry has a write up with Popoff’s personal observations as well as a quote pulled from his extensive archives of interviews with all these old rocking cats.  Many of them have very cool rare photos of the single for the song, also culled from his extensive vinyl library.

There is no real reason why one could take exception with the results…the people have spoken. It was not Popoff picking the ranking, but the people, so we get some interesting little quirks that surprised even him. Some songs I thought might make the cut didn’t and other songs were ranked much higher than I had anticipated as well.  I was surprised, for example,  that people ranked the song,  ‘Ride The Sky’ by Lucifer’s Friend (at postion #101) higher than most material by Alice Cooper.  Who knew?  I will however make a few general observations.

Arguably half of this stuff, maybe two-thirds is not considered Metal by today’s standards. However, that is part of the point, at one time this stuff was ‘heavy’ or ‘heavy by accident’ as Popoff says in a couple of places. Keep in mind heaviness is considered as a sonic measure from the late 60’s to December 31st, 1979. So you are going to see some pioneering songs by Beatles and Kinks (you know the ones) that tie directly into the evolution of what is Metal.  For further advanced reading on this occasionally contentious topic, please refer to Popoff’s  2015 book,  WHO INVENTED HEAVY METAL?

If I was the author, I might have been a bit more judicious in my criteria for what is Metal and dropped a bunch of bands (Sex Pistols, Ramones, etc) in the hopes that maybe, just maybe a bunch of bands that were just starting in the late 70’s (Accept, Krokus, Quiet Riot, Saxon, Thor) might make the cut, thereby increasing the ‘weight’ of the metal content of the entire book considerably.  However, maybe no one voted for any of those early Metal bands so we will never know, but I can’t help think that maybe a few people voted for a song like, for example ‘Lady Lou’ from Accept’s 1979, self-titled, debut as compared to some of the punk or really ancient prog stuff, like a sixth or seventh Blue Oyster cult song. It was nice to see some old faves like Legs Diamond, Riot make the cut!

What struck me to an enormous degree is that how many of these songs, that would be considered classic rock today, were later covered by Metal bands.   There must have been several hundred ‘Metalized’ cover versions over the years.  I mean, forget the dozen Power Metal cover versions of Rainbows ‘Kill The King’ recorded since the year 2000, I’m talking about covers like Savatage doing Free’s, ‘Wishing Well’, White Lion doing Golden Earrings, ‘Radar Love’, Raven doing Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild’ and W.A.S.P. doing Mountain’s, ‘Mississippi Queen’. There are dozens more examples if you know your history. That would have been cool if, for each entry, Popoff had included a little sub-list of Metal bands that had covered these songs.   This trend of newer (post 1980) Metal bands covering these songs shows the true direct influence of these 70’s bands on the evolution of Metal. This acts sort of a direct contradiction to younger listeners who arbitrarily dismiss these bands as ‘old’ or ‘Not Metal’.

I had so much fun reading and analyzing this book.  It is a highly recommended read, a time-warp back to the early heady, heavy days of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Young readers will learn a ton about the roots and old buggers like me will be filled with nostalgia.    This is limited and selling fast so start the series off grab yours today.  Watch for the 80’s and 90’s later in 2019.

For those of you statistically inclined, please feel free to enjoy the following more in-dept analysis of the results.

Bonus stats section and misc. observations.

-Number of bands represented in poll: 64

-Number of nations represented: 6

-American: 29 (45%)

-UK: 28 (44%)

-Canadian: 3

-Dutch: 2

-German: 1

-Australian: 1


Total number of albums released from the late 60’s to 1979 by the 64 bands in pool:  375  (Note: So generously rounded up, we can estimate there were about 500 ‘Hard Rock & Metal’ albums released in the first decade of the genres existence.)

-Number of bands with only 1 song in the poll: 31 out of 64 bands

(Note: 48% of the bands only had 1 song make the cut)

-Number of bands with only 2 songs in the poll:  5 out of 64 (10 songs)

(Note:  56% of the total number of bands poll consisted of 209 songs (84% of the songs) from 28 out 64 bands.  To restate it in simpler terms: 84% of the songs in the poll came from a couple dozen bands.

This demonstrates how few ‘pure’ Metal bands existed in the 70’s and how they came to dominate the poll, despite many other bands with random ‘heavy-by-accident’ songs.


Bands with most songs in the results: 

Black Sabbath with 26, Judas Priest came second with 17.  No surprises there!

Many veteran Gold and even Platinum bands from the 60’s to 1979 with deep catalogues only had one song considered ‘heavy’ enough to make the cut and most of those songs are…A) classic rock radio staples and B) covered later by Metal bands, post 1980.

The Kinks-18 albums: 1 song in poll

Golden Earring-14 albums: 1 song in poll

Beatles-12 albums: 1 song in poll

Jethro Tull-12 albums: 1 song in poll

Grand Funk-11 albums: 1 song in poll

Steppenwolf-9 albums: 1 song in poll

Foghat-9 albums: 1 song in poll

By way of comparison, some young hungry dogs (at the time) snapping at the heels of the veterans…

Van Halen- 2 albums: 6 songs in poll

Montrose- 4 albums: 5 songs in poll

Motorhead-4 albums: 5 songs in poll

Rainbow-4 albums: 8 songs in poll

Missing in action…

Somewhat surprised to see (semi) heavy hitters, Blue Cheer, Cactus, Mahogany Rush, Runaways, Styx, Triumph, and Y&T with zero representation.

Not surprised (but disappointed!) to see early/obscure Metal bands like Bow Wow (Japan), Gravestone (Germany), Heavy Load (Sweden), Mass (Germany), Rose Tattoo (Australia), Samson (England), TKO (America), Trust (France) not make the cut. …as well as the aforementioned bigger bands, Accept, Krokus, Quiet Riot, Saxon and Thor.