The 15 Best Metallica Covers
Since forming in 1981, Metallica have worn their influences on their sleeve. Indeed, their early show setlists were populated by their British metal heroes Blitzkrieg, Diamond Head, Savage and Sweet Savage – their first show featured no less than seven covers and two original compositions. Over the course of their career, the band have recorded myriad covers for single B-sides, The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited, the Garage Inc. compilation and limited edition EPs.
It got us thinking, what are their most memorable tributes? And is it possible to pick just one Diamond Head cover without getting a headache?
Iron Maiden – Remember Tomorrow
This Maiden song – taken from their 1980 self-titled debut – was recorded by Metallica especially for Kerrang!’s cover-mounted tribute album Maiden Heaven in 2008. Recorded by Greg Fidelman at the tail-end of their Death Magnetic sessions, the band add their own crunching intro to this Steve Harris and Paul Di’Anno composition. “Iron Maiden are 10 per cent cooler than every other band,” Lars tells K!. “We played Remember Tomorrow as it was basically the blueprint for songs like Fade To Black and Welcome Home (Sanitarium), and some of the more epic ballad-y type of songs that Metallica had done later. We had so much fun with this!”
The recording was dusted off eight years later as a bonus track for their three-disc version of Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. Lars actually witnessed what was to be Paul’s final show with Maiden in Copenhagen on September 10, 1981.
Queen – Stone Cold Crazy
Metallica contributed this Queen banger to a 1990 compilation album Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary. The song, originally taken from their 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack, showed a heavier side to the British band. Metallica’s version, however, added even more crunch and changes the original lyrics for a more violent perspective. Freddie Mercury sings about shooting people with a ‘rubber Tommy water gun’, while James Hetfield’s shooter is ‘fully-loaded’. And there’s a couple of ‘fuck’s added for good measure. The song later appeared on the B-side of their Enter Sandman single the following year, and scooped a GRAMMY for Best Metal Performance. At The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1991, a guitar-free Hetfield joined Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and the surviving members of Queen for the song in front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium, as well as TV and radio audiences in 76 countries around the world. Probably not the sort of thing to consider when you’re about to sing with your heroes.
Budgie – Breadfan
Metallica were long-time fans of this Cardiff trio and covered two of the their songs: Crash Course In Brain Surgery (released on The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited in 1987) and Breadfan (the original appeared on Budgie’s 1973 album Never Turn Your Back On A Friend). The latter appeared as a B-side on their 1988 Harvester Of Sorrow 12-inch single and the Eye Of The Beholder seven-inch, which enjoyed a U.S.-only release the same year. “Budgie wrote great songs, abstract songs about life [but] Breadfan is about nonsense,” drummer Ray Phillips told the BBC. “[Frontman] Burke [Shelley] wanted to write a song about nonsense.” According to setlist.fm, Metallica have performed the song 331 times, the most recent being at Target Center, Minneapolis on September 4, 2018. The creepy ‘Mommy, where’s fluffy?’ line was supposed to be at the start of their Diamond Head cover The Prince, but ended up on this song. What a world.
Misfits – Last Caress/Green Hell
Just a few weeks ago, Kirk Hammett told K! that Last Caress is one of his favourite covers to perform live. “It’s just one of those songs, man,” he said. “It’s just so quick and to the point.” Thanks to Cliff Burton – who’d play Misfits cassettes while on tour – Metallica introduced the New Jersey horror punks to the wider world in the mid ’80s, when he sported a Crimson Ghost tattoo on his arm; Hetfield can also be seen wearing a Misfits T-shirt on the back of the Master Of Puppets album. It wasn’t until the band introduced Jason Newsted by way of the The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited in 1987, that they would record and release this Misfits medley. Last Caress was taken from the 1980 Beware EP, while the thunderous Green Hell can be found on the 1983 album Earth A.D. This medley also features the intro from Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills, albeit purposefully out of tune. Last Caress has remained a staple of their live set for the last three decades. setlist.fm estimates the song has been performed live a staggering 818 times. They could probably play it in their sleep, if such a challenge existed.
Diamond Head – Am I Evil?
Metallica are hugely indebted to this Stourbridge metal band. During their early shows, the band’s repertoire included four of Diamond Head’s songs from their 1980 debut Lightning To The Nations: The Prince, Am I Evil?, Helpless and Sucking My Love. Lars Ulrich spent the summer of 1981 in England and struck up a friendship with singer and guitarist, Sean Harris and Brian Tatler. This faithful cover was included as a B-side on the 1984 single Creeping Death, and latterly as part of the band’s 1998 compilation, Garage, Inc. Like Last Caress, this NWOBHM classic has been performed hundreds of times.
Blitzkrieg – Blitzkrieg
The B-side to this Leicester metal band’s 1981 debut single Buried Alive was covered by Metallica at their very first show on March 14, 1982, at Radio City in Anaheim, California, appearing second on the setlist after Hit The Lites (sic). The song later also appeared alongside Am I Evil? on the B-side to Creeping Death. “1st ever gig,” wrote Lars after the show. “Very nervous. Only band. Dave [Mustaine] broke a string on the first song. Played 50-50!!! Went down pretty good.”
Killing Joke – The Wait
A highlight from The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited, this Killing Joke cover was debuted at Metallica’s legendary 100 Club show in August 1987, a warm-up for their Monsters Of Rock appearance at Castle Donington. The song – taken from their 1980’s eponymous album – is stripped of its post-punk angst and layered with aggressive thrash riffs.
Anti-Nowhere League – So What?
With themes of bestiality, sexual diseases, fellating elderly gentlemen and visits to England’s southeastern coastal towns, this song originally appeared on the Anti-Nowhere League’s 1981 debut single Streets Of London. “The obscene publication squad came down on us, they seized all records from our offices and from our distributors,” remembers frontman Animal.
Metallica’s cover appeared on the The Unforgiven single in 1991 and the label went to great lengths to warn their fans of the obnoxious delights that lay in store.
“Track two side two of this record contains some of the ruder everyday English expressions,” reads a sticker on the 12-inch. “If this is likely to offend, then move swiftly on… and buy some earplugs next time you walk out of the front door.”
It also appeared on the cassette single of Sad But True, where a further sticker informs the listened which colourful words appear in the song: fucking (2), sucked (3), pox (1), cunt (4), piss (1), prat (1), cock (2), scabs (1), fucked (5), jacked (1), spewed (1) and crabs (1).
Very NSFW, in other words.
Bob Seger – Turn The Page
Bob Seger’s song Turn The Page is an emotionally raw look at the life of a touring musician and featured on his 1973 album Back In ’72. Lars Ulrich heard the song while driving through San Francisco and remarked that it had “James Hetfield all over it”.
“I fucking hate Bob Seger, but that song is great,” James Hetfield told Guitar World. “Okay, I don’t really hate him, but he was one of the guys I’d hear on the radio all the time polluting my ears with [whines] ‘Get your old records off the shelf…’ That really annoyed me. But being on tour as long as we have, I’ve got to say that one song sums up the whole road experience really, really well.”
Metallica’s version is heavier than Seger’s, and is accompanied by a gritty video directed by Jonas ‘Lords Of Chaos’ Åkerlund, featuring adult actress Ginger Lynn who plays a stripper and sex worker. It was the first single from Garage Inc. and spent 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Tuesday’s Gone
This ballad, taken from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd, was first performed during Metallica’s set at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit in 1997. It was performed a second time a couple of month’s later during their Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You unplugged session for San Jose radio station KSJO. The performance – which found its way onto Garage Inc. – features Skynyrd’s Gary Rossington, Corrosion Of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan, Blue Traveler’s John Popper, Primus’ Les Claypool, Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and former Faith No More guitarist Jim Martin. “I always loved that one,” James told Metallica’s fan club magazine So What!. “It’s a movin’ on song. You’re splitting, you’re leaving your woman at home. You’re off doing your own thing. It really fits the road.”
Ramones – 53rd & 3rd
Metallica recorded six Ramones covers during the St. Anger sessions. We’re A Happy Family, Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue, Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World, Commando and Cretin Hop appeared as B-sides on the various formats of the title track, which was released as a single in 2003. The sixth song, 53rd & 3rd, featured on the all-star compilation We’re A Happy Family: A Tribute To Ramones, alongside the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, and Green Day. The song, written by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, recounts the story of a young male prostitute in a salubrious part of Manhattan, described by the New York times as “the Loop, where young male hustlers hang out out and older men cruise to buy sexual favours”. This song features Lars sharing vocal duties with James. If the band ever decide to release all six tracks as a standalone release called The Memory Ramones, we’d be quite happy for them to use the title in return for a case of Enter Night.
Rainbow – Ronnie Rising Medley
“Throughout the years we’ve made no secret of our deep love and admiration for Ronnie James Dio,” wrote Metallica in a post explaining their involvement with the Dio tribute album, Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life. “Whether it was with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell or Dio, his powerful voice was instantly recognisable and his music inspired and influenced the four of us tremendously. When we were asked to be a part of a tribute album for Ronnie, of course we immediately said, ‘Fuck yeah!’ Choosing a song to record, however, was a much harder decision… so we did four!”
Dubbed the Ronnie Rising Medley, this thumping tribute to the late vocalist features A Light In The Black, Tarot Woman, Stargazer from Rainbow’s 1976 release, Rising, and Kill The King from their 1978 release, Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll.
While the band have not performed this tribute live, it’s something that Kirk hopes to visit in the future. “I think that’d be fucking incredible to do that live sometime because I’m a big Dio fan, I’m a big Rainbow fan,” Kirk tells Kerrang!. “To be able to play that stuff live sometime would be pretty cool.”
Black Sabbath – Sabbra Cadabra
“I discovered Black Sabbath by digging through my older brother’s record collection,” James Hetfield told Guitar World in 1992. “Their album covers really drew me in. I immediately thought, ‘I gotta put this on.’ And when I did, I couldn’t believe it. It was like, ‘Whoa! Heavy as shit.’ Sabbath was everything that the ’60s weren’t. Their music was so cool because it was completely anti-hippie. I hated The Beatles, Jethro Tull, Love and all that other happy shit.”
The band paid tribute to the fathers of heavy metal with a cover of Sabbra Cadabra (and part of A National Acrobat placed in the mid-section), taken from their 1973 album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Both Lars and James inducted Black Sabbath into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006. “If there was no Black Sabbath, there’d be no Metallica,” Lars told the audience. “I hereby not only acknowledge but scream from every fucking rooftop that Black Sabbath is and always will be synonymous with heavy metal.”
Motörhead – Overkill
Like any band worth their salt, Metallica love Motörhead. Only just recently, James Hetfield posted an Instagram video of him driving and yelling along to Ace Of Spades. During the 1995 Load sessions, the band recorded Overkill, Damage Case, Stone Dead Forever and Too Late Too Late as a gift for Lemmy. The tracks were later released across Hero Of The Day single’s international formats and a limited edition EP titled MotörheadACHE. The recordings, as the kids say, slap.
Now read these:
In their almost-40-year career, you’d have thought that Metallica have faced – and emphatically answered – every question that’s been asked of them. Well, that’s until we got you lot involved…
Not that listening to these essential albums will help you define ‘post-rock’ any better…