This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #217: Master of Puppets by Metallica
When Metallica first broke onto the Heavy Metal music scene, they were known as a “speed metal” or ‘thrash metal” band. They played fast and loud and they were adored by their fans, of which there were legion. For their first few albums, Metallica consisted of Lars Ulrich (drums), James Hetfield (Guitar and lead vocals), Kirk Hammett (Guitar) and Cliff Burton (Bass guitar). In their younger days as a band, Metallica had quite a reputation for drinking….to the point that they jokingly referred to themselves as “Alcoholica”. They played hard. They partied hard. However, there comes a time in the life of many substance abusers when the novelty of “getting hammered” every night started to lose its appeal. It was in this light that the guys in Metallica wrote the song, “Master of Puppets”, which was the title track from their album of the same name.
The song, “Master of Puppets” is really about the seductive nature of substance abuse. It details the heady, early days of getting high or drunk because it feels good or it is fun or both. But then, before you even realize it, the addiction begins taking hold of you and you are no longer in control of when you seek your high. The substance you are abusing becomes your master and your life becomes a never-ending quest to serve.
As so often happens when a new album is released by a band, Metallica set out on a world tour to support their music. It was one late Fall night, after the successful completion of a show in Copenhagen, Denmark, that life changed forever for the guys in the band. Driving on their tour bus, en route to Sweden, there was an accident. The bus crashed. In the act of crashing, Bassist Cliff Burton was thrown through a window and was crushed underneath the bus as it rolled over. He was only 24 years old.
However, like AC/DC, when singer Bon Scott passed away, the remaining members of Metallica decided that the best way to honour Burton’s memory was to re-group and soldier on. So, they hired a new bassist named Jason Newsted and set out again on tour. With Newsted on board, Metallica went through a transition that saw them fire Newsted a few albums later (hiring Robert Trujillo to replace him), switching away from their thrash metal roots and becoming more rock-oriented (with the “Black” album) and then, finally but, not surprisingly, James Hetfield admitting that he needed help and checking himself into an addiction rehabilitation centre.
The funny thing about this journey we call, Life, is that as brash and wild and invincible one might feel in youth, Life has its own way of teaching you the lessons you are destined to learn. Metallica are regarded today with the respect accorded to those deemed elder statesmen. Whether James Hetfield is able to stay on the road to sobriety is a question that he will have to answer one day at a time but, for now, he has emerged clean and sober and respected by those who know how deep his addiction ran. But, however it turns out, whenever they play “Master of Puppets” on stage….and they still are touring to sold-out arenas around the world….they are reminded of what once was and, by necessity, what had to change.
But, for now, let’s turn back the clock to just after Cliff Burton’s death, to a time when Jason Newsted was still cutting his teeth with the band. In this video, the other members of the band are trying to give Newsted a bit of a showcase, letting him start the song alone. He does well. “Master of Puppets” is generally regarded as being one of the top heavy metal/trash metal songs of all-time. If you are the type who adores “The Headbanger’s Ball” then, this video is for you! Strap in! Buckle up! Here is a young, Metallica with “Master of Puppets”. #RIPCliffBurton.
The link to the video for the song, “Master of Puppets” by Metallica, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Metallica, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.