Long before the Big 4 concerts, their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the release of the multiplatinum Black Album, Metallica were an up-and-coming thrash metal outfit on the path to big, big things.
On Sept. 27, 1986, that journey took Metallica to the roads of Europe, where the band was on a late-summer trek riding overnight in a tour bus from Sweden to Denmark. Tragically, the bus flipped over in unseasonably chilly weather, killing bassist Cliff Burton, the man many considered the heart and soul of Metallica. The other three members were shaken up but survived.
Burton played bass without a pick, as he had agile fingers. His musical mind seemed telepathically linked with that of drummer Lars Ulrich, creating one of the most legendary metal rhythm sections of all time. Burton also played an integral part in writing the first three Metallica albums, with his soaring bass solos often leading the charge.
We remember Cliff Burton with our picks for the Top 10 songs from his time in Metallica.
"Damage, Inc."From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
This closing track from Master of Puppets was one of the last songs written by all four members of Metallica while Burton was still alive. "It's just the same four idiots, trying to stay in tune and stay in time," Ulrich says in the Cliff 'Em All clip featured here. Sadly, one of those four guys is no longer with us.
"Creeping Death"From: 'Ride the Lightning' (1984)
"Creeping Death" is classic Metallica thrash, although the tempo is slowed down from the breakneck pace of Kill 'Em All. It's also one of the songs Metallica have performed most often live, with a mid-section chant-a-long that brings out loud cries "Die! Die! Die!" from the crowd. Burton named this tune after watching the flick The Ten Commandments, which starred Charlton Heston as Moses.
"Welcome Home (Sanitarium)"From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
The last Metallica single to feature Burton, "Sanitarium" has been covered countless times, by everybody from fellow Big 4 act Anthrax to metal vets Machine Head to nu-metallers Limp Bizkit to string duo Apocalyptica. Primus, meanwhile, have been known to play the intro to "Sanitarium" in concert. In fact, Primus bassist-singer Les Claypool tried out for Metallica after Burton's death; James Hetfield has remarked that Claypool didn’t get the gig because he was "too good."
"Ride the Lightning"From: 'Ride the Lightning' (1984)
A song that lives up to its name with breakneck rhythms and live-wire guitar jolts, "Ride the Lightning" is often noted for its lyrical content, which follows the story of an innocent man given the death penalty after being falsely convicted. As Hetfield once said, "I believe in capital punishment, but it was more about the idea of being strapped in the electric chair even though you didn’t commit the crime."
"Seek & Destroy"From: 'Kill 'Em All' (1983)
A constant on many Metallica encore setlists to this day, "Seek & Destroy" features call-and-response vocals that never fail to rile up the crowd: Hetfield shouts, "Searching," and the audience shouts back, "Seek & Destroy!" Burton didn’t have a hand in writing "S & D," but his thick rumble holds down the fort, leaving plenty of room for Hetfield and Kirk Hammett to shred the night away.
"Fade to Black"From: 'Ride the Lightning' (1984)
"Fade to Black" is widely considered Metallica's first ballad. "Bands like Exodus and Slayer don't do ballads, but they've stuck themselves in that position we never wanted to do," Hetfield once told Guitar Player magazine. "Limiting yourself to please your audience is bullshit." Metallica were playing "‘Fade" when Hetfield was engulfed in pyrotechnics during their ’92 stadium tour with Guns N’ Roses.
"(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth"From: 'Kill 'Em All' (1983)
The only Metallica track solely attributed to Burton, "Pulling Teeth" is basically a four-minute-long bass solo. Burton played it when Hetfield and Ulrich first saw him performing with his former band, Trauma. "We heard this wild solo going on and thought, 'I don't see any guitar player up there,'” recalled Hetfield. “We were both counting the strings and I finally turned to Lars and said, 'Dude, that's a bass!'”
"Master of Puppets"From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
Widely considered Metallica’s magnum opus and often cited as Burton's favorite song, Hetfield told Thrasher: ""Master of Puppets" deals pretty much with drugs. How things get switched around, instead of you controlling what you're taking and doing it's drugs controlling you." The tune remains a staple at Metallica shows and is always a crowd favorite.
"For Whom the Bell Tolls"From: 'Ride the Lightning' (1984)
Watching Burton play the scorching lead that kicks off "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is like getting an instant lesson on his virtuosic playing style. What sounds like a descending guitar lick is actually Burton tearing it up with a wah-wah pedal on the bass, his left hand halfway up the neck and right one flailing faster than a banshee. Later, he holds down the rhythmic low-end and bangs his head in perfect synchronicity. Simply amazing!
"Orion"From: 'Master of Puppets' (1986)
Played at Burton's funeral, "Orion" is the only instrumental track on Master of Puppets and is a song Metallica have rarely performed in its entirety since his death. It opens with Burton's atmospheric wah-wah strains, moves into some mid-tempo thrashing and features two bass solos often confused as guitar solos. The bass-driven interlude in the middle is one of the most haunting musical passages Metallica have ever put to tape.