The classic Metallica song that ripped off Lynyrd Skynyrd

As the 1980s ended, metal began to experience a significant transformation. With Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield forming the core of Metallica, the Bay Area scene was slowly beginning to develop a counterweight to acts like Diamond Head and Saxon once the new wave of British heavy metal began to hit both sides of the Atlantic. One of the band’s early hits was from the Southern rock genre, despite the fact that they may have begun by producing letter-perfect thrash metal.

However, Metallica was never a snob when discussing their preferred musical genres. Hetfield would put bands like Van Halen and Aerosmith on the same level as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest when discussing his favorite songs, showing an equal interest in classic rock and heavy metal.

The most influential Metallica member in broadening their horizons was bassist Cliff Burton. Burton was more drawn to sophisticated music than the typical heavy metal that was popular then. This included anything from Kate Bush and The Police to King Crimson and anything in between.

However, the band’s practice of fusing disparate riffs together began to come together on the song “The Four Horsemen” even before they had a solid lineup. Dave Mustaine, the original guitarist, had been experimenting with a bluesy shuffle rhythm called “The Mechanix,” which served as the basis for the song’s structure. Hetfield contributed lyrics about the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Mustaine decided it would be humorous to add in some southern rock at one of the band’s practices by interjecting Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” between takes. Ulrich believed that Mustaine’s metallic rendition of the riff would fit in nicely with the song because he had never heard it before.

Mustaine tells Sirius XM that the Skynyrd riff was once intended as a joke, “We get to rehearsal, and Lars says, ‘We have to slow this song down, man’. So I played the ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ riff, and he said, ‘Fuck, man, that’s brilliant’. So that’s the difference between ‘The Four Horsemen’ and ‘The Mechanix’. The bastardised version of Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

Ulrich hadn’t heard the song, but Hetfield already had a strong ancestry from the Southern rock legends. The vocalist and Burton had a great affection for the band’s music because they had grown up listening to country music, especially on songs like “Freebird” and “Tuesday’s Gone,” the latter of which they would cover on their album Garage Inc. However, the song had undergone a major transformation by the time Mustaine left the band.

Metallica recycled Mustaine’s riffs despite his request that his former bandmates not use them; “The Four Horsemen” became a seminal hit on their debut album Kill Em All. The song lacks something without the signature “Sweet Home Alabama” riff, even if Mustaine recorded his version of it with his new band Megadeth as “The Mechanix.”

The song is slowed down to a medium pace, and Kirk Hammett can show off his bluesy guitar flourishes during this peaceful interval between sections of the song. Even though Skynyrd hasn’t filed a lawsuit yet, that breakdown would serve as a sneak peek for future episodic songs like “Master of Puppets” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium).”




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