Music History

Ongoing History Daily: Why is metal called “metal?”

One of the heaviest and most extreme forms of guitar-based music is metal. That’s the perfect name for it. But who came up with that? It’s rather murky that even scholars have struggled with. In 2013, Deena Weinstein, a professor of sociology at DePaul University, wrote a paper called Just So Stories: How Heavy Metal Got Its Name—A Cautionary Tale. She dug through all sorts of sources in an attempt to find the etymological answer.

Did it have to do with the heavy metals found in the periodic table? No. Then she landed upon writer and poet William S. Burroughs. In the early 60s, he wrote a piece called Uranian Willy the Heavy Metal Kid,” which was interesting but had nothing to do with music. There’s also the phrase “heavy metal thunder” in the Steppenwolf song “Born to be Wild,” but that references to motorcycles. That didn’t really work, either.

So how did “heavy metal” become associated with music? That’s next time.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “Ongoing History Daily: Why is metal called “metal?”

  • My guess is that Judas Priest, and their British Steel album might be an influence.


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