Since the band’s formation in the early 1980s, Metallica has become one of the best selling music groups of all time. What was the band’s first song?
Metallica’s first song was “Hit the Lights”, recorded in 1982 for inclusion on the “Metal Massacre I” compilation record. The song was later re-recorded and included as the lead track from their 1983 debut album, “Kill ‘Em All”.
For more on Metallica’s formation and their early music, read on.
Lars, who was born in Denmark, was the son of a tennis player, Torben Ulrich. Torben was a passionate lover of music and exposed Lars to a diverse selection of genres at an early age. Lars discovered heavy metal, which was becoming increasingly popular in the US after being imported from Europe.
James Hetfield and Hugh Tanner, both members of a heavy metal band, Leather Charm, answered the advertisement and began playing music with Ulrich in his garage. When Ulrich heard that Metal Blade Records would be releasing a compilation album, “Metal Massacre”, he asked company founder Brian Slagel permission to record a song for it.
Slagel said yes and Ulrich asked Hetfield to become the new group’s vocalist and rhythm guitarist. The nameless band was formed in October 1981.
Ulrich’s friend Ron Quintana was looking to start a metal fan magazine and was torn between the names MetalMania and Metallica. Quintana asked for Ulrich’s advice and, wanting to use Metallica himself, Lars told his friend to use MetalMania.
Still requiring a lead guitarist, Ulrich posted another advertisement, which was answered by Dave Mustaine. Mustaine, an exceptional rhythm guitarist, was ultimately chosen because Ulrich and Hetfield were impressed by his expensive equipment.
Hit the Lights
The band recorded their song for “Metal Massacre” in early 1982. The song, “Hit the Lights”, featured Hetfield on both bass and rhythm guitar, Ulrich on drums, and Lloyd Grant on second guitar.
Shortly after its recording, the band recruited bassist Ron McGovney, another member of Hetfield’s former band, Leather Charm. McGovney played on the band’s early demos and played a year of gigs.
McGovney felt that he was largely included in the band to provide money and transport and not given the same respect as the other members, frequently clashing with Ulrich and Mustaine.
“Metal Massacre I” released on June 14, 1982, and the band was incorrectly listed as “Mettallica” on the initial copies. Regardless of the error, which was rectified on later pressings, “Hit the Lights” enjoyed positive word of mouth and raised the profile of the newly formed band.
Towards the end of 1982, Ulrich and Hetfield attended a gig featuring the band Trauma. They were highly impressed by the band’s bassist, Cliff Burton, and invited him to join Metallica and replace McGovney.
The all-star lineup of Hetfield, Mustaine, Burton and Ulrich did not survive the recording of their debut album, “Metal Up Your Ass”. While the band was recording the album, the other members decided to remove Mustaine from the band before a recording session, largely motivated by his heavy drug and alcohol abuse.
On the same day, Kirk Hammett, from the band Exodus, became Metallica’s new lead guitarist, a position he has held ever since. The band’s distributors refused to release an album called “Metal Up Your Ass” and it was renamed to “Kill ‘Em All”, with “Hit the Lights” as its lead track.
Mustaine, who had written much of the album’s guitar sections, was furious at hearing them played by Hammett when it was released. He formed his own highly successful band with David Ellefson, Megadeath, shortly after being fired from Metallica.