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Popoff’s Decision: A Review of “Who Invented Heavy Metal?” by Martin Popoff

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Who invented heavy metal?

Martin Popoff – in his new book, Who Invented Heavy Metal? (Power Chord Press) – is all set to convince you that while there may be many “correct” answers to this question, his case for the THE CORRECT ANSWER is the most compelling and thoroughly supported.

Acknowledged: Popoff’s book is not meant to end nor will it end this raging debate among metalheads. But once you’ve read his book, you’ll certainly be able to riff a little longer and more decisively with your own argument, no matter YOUR CORRECT ANSWER.

That’s because you’ve probably never thought that the Battle of Jericho and the ancient Turks, Greeks, and Romans had anything to do with metal. And Popoff’s “timeline” approach allows you literally to see (the book includes a plethora of reproductions of posters, show flyers, album covers, and the like) the development of heaviness in music from before the birth of Jesus to 1970, when heavy metal music was invented, and 1971, when it was canonized.

Popoff’s general claim is that all the elements of metal have existed in some form or another throughout the entire course of human history. But, he argues, the actual inventor of the genre would have to be the band that deliberately pulled all these particular elements together in an album, from beginning to end.

Noted: “Inventor” doesn’t mean “quintessential” and/or “best.” This is a separate debate.

As Popoff writes, said inventor would have “the dependability and assurance of album-length heaviness, but…also…a marriage of heavy music with other very intentional visual, graphic and literary messaging toward this new kind of music being ‘invented’.”

With these criteria, Popoff throws his own contenders into the ring, citing 1967-1969 as the years when the first potential heavy-weight champs came forth: Blue Cheer, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Yardbirds, Vanilla Fudge, Cream, The Who, The Stooges, Led Zeppelin, MC5, Golden Earring, and High Tide.

Spoiler Alert: Popoff recommends that to avoid disqualification from the match, bands need to shed the blues poundage and never, ever pick up an acoustic guitar (eh hem, Led Zeppelin).

In 1970 and 1971, even more bands faced the early contenders in the ring with heavy albums, but not all of them have Popoff’s one-two punch combo of album-length heaviness and very intentional visual, graphic, and literary messaging: Atomic Rooster’s Death Walks Behind You; Lucifer’s Friend’s self-titled debut; Uriah Heep’s Very ’Easy Very ’Humble, Salisbury, and Look at Yourself; Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut, Paranoid, and Master of Reality; Deep Purple’s In Rock and Fireball; and Alice Cooper’s Love It to Death and Killer.

One thing Popoff NEVER does throughout Who Invented Heavy Metal? is obscure his opinions about which bands absolutely do NOT make the cut and his strategy of convincing you of his ultimate decision. And, generally, you can predict his winner in the ultimate matchup. But this does NOT mean he fails to build your anticipation, like the hype surrounding the so-called “Fight of the Century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

You’d bet your money on Mayweather, no doubt, but with Popoff’s book, you can be assured the battle of the bands he stages is worth all the hype, too.