The 1980s was a prime decade for heavy metal music. From Metallica to Black Sabbath, and many others in between, bands were firing on all cylinders.
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The decade gave the genre some of its biggest hits, including Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and “Back in Black” by AC/DC, along with the debut of Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne as a solo act. Below, we look at eight of the top metal songs from the ’80s.
1. “Master of Puppets” by Metallica
This thrash metal jam will have the listener’s ear hooked from the very beginning. From the opening guitar riff composed by drummer Lars Ulrich, the song is electrifying from start to finish. “‘Master of
Puppets'” deals pretty much with drugs,” Metallica member James Hetfield explains in an archived interview with Thrasher Magazine about the song he co-wrote with bandmates Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Cliff Burton. “How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you’re taking and doing it’s drugs controlling you.”
The song is one of Metallica’s most recognizable songs and charted around the world. After it was featured in an episode of the wildly popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, “Master” had a resurgence on the charts, including reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart and the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.
2. “Back in Black” by AC/DC
AC/DC welcomed the 1980s with one of their biggest songs. “Back in Black” is instantly identifiable by its opening guitar riff and Brian Johnson’s searing vocals. Johnson joined the band after the previous lead singer Bon Scott died in 1980. The song was written by band members Johnson, Angus Young and Malcom Young in Scott’s honor with such lyrics as I’ve been looking at the sky / ‘Cause it’s gettin’ me high / Forget the hearse ’cause I never die / I got nine lives. “Back in Black” served as the title track of their blockbuster 1980 album that’s become one of the best-selling albums of all time with more than 50 million copies sold.
3. “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses
“Welcome to the Jungle” is one of the songs synonymous with Guns N’ Roses. With an opening guitar riff and the sound of sirens that call the listener’s attention, “Jungle” doesn’t let up for four minutes and 30 seconds, the song is defined by Slash’s innovative guitar riffs and lead singer Axl Rose’s complex vocal runs.
In his book Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N’ Roses, author Stephen Davis writes that the origins of the lyrics stem from Rose’s trip to New York City when he encountered a man on the street who shouted at him, “Do you know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby, you’re gonna die!” which later became the song’s signature lyrics. Reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Jungle” is arguably one of the best metal songs of all time.
4. “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne
Ozzy Osbourne came out of the gates strong with his debut solo single, “Crazy Train,” in 1980. Osbourne kicked off the new decade as a solo artist following his tenure as the lead singer of Black Sabbath throughout the 1970s. Trademarked with his sinister laugh and a slithering guitar solo, the heavy metal god made a grand introduction with “Crazy Train,” which landed inside the Top 10 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and has been certified four times platinum in the U.S. for sales north of four million copies.
5. “Heaven and Hell” by Black Sabbath
Not long after frontman Ozzy Osbourne departed Black Sabbath, the band set the rock and heavy metal world on fire with one of their career-defining songs, “Heaven and Hell.” Despite not being released as an official single, “Heaven and Hell” stood out to fans, its seven-minute runtime often being stretched to nearly 13 minutes during Black Sabbath’s live shows. With a melody composed by guitarist Tommy Iommi, the lyrics were written by Ronnie James Dio, who replaced Osbourne.
“I’ve always felt to be somewhat of a spokesman for kids – for people who may be lonely, looked down upon, because they like the wrong kind of music – and, more importantly, the kids who play in bands,” Dio explained in 1987 on BBC Radio 1. “So I made the statement that I always wanted to make, which is, The world is full of kings and queens / Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams / It’s heaven and hell. And that all means beware of people who try to blind your eyes with promises.”
6. “Can I Play With Madness” by Iron Maiden
This imaginative song by Iron Maiden is one of their most famous. The lyrics written by bandmates Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith and Steve Harris find a young man longing for the sense to wonder if I’m free as he encounters a prophet with a crystal ball and asks an important question: “Can I play with madness?” From its thrashing melody to the adventurous lyrics, “Madness” is one of the best metal songs to come out of the ’80s.
7. “Jump” by Van Halen
In 1983, Van Halen offered up one of their most unique songs that became their biggest success with “Jump.” Opening with its signature synth riff, the pop-friendly tune served as a deviation in sound from the hard rock band. Reaching No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock chart, “Jump” is also included on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”
8. “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister
Though known as a trailblazing heavy metal band, Twisted Sister appealed to mainstream audiences with their 1984 single, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The catchy song written by frontman Dee Snider that rebukes authority still honors their metal roots. This signature hit peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking their only Top 40 hit on the all-genre chart.
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