I do not advocate irresponsibility when driving of any kind. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t do some stuff that involved deep levels of stupidity especially in my teen and early ’20’s years. I recall for example my parents allowing me and my younger brother to borrow their ’74 Impala to drive over to the university orientation where I attended school, and because I was so impressed with my own intelligence, like all teen age and early ’20’s guys can tend to be, on the way home we decided on a rare open stretch of I-40 to see what this USS Impala would do, with a 454 dual overhead, whatever that was. I punched it, and that old battleship flew! We only did it for a few seconds, and about 5 gallons of gas, but that old girl went down the road like a bat out of Indianapolis! What we were missing was a radio besides a weak AM radio, which I commented on in one of my earlier articles. Or better yet, a cassette or one of those vile 8 track players that were the technological curse of audiophiles for a good 10 to 15 years.
The next thing now is picking ten great rock and some metal tunes that were not just exercises in showing off musical chops but got the blood flowing, started a million illegal drag races (“I’ve got the pink slip, Daddy” to quote The Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe”, a real drag racing activity where the racers actually put their registrations on their dash boards before a race and stood to lose that hot rod if they lost the race. So fasten your seat belts, or go inside and listen on the headphones to some tunes that will jump start your battery.
Dick Dale was the surf guitarist extraordinaire in the early ’60’s, but his reverb heavy low end Strat was perfect for very fast picking for its day that usually featured Middle East motifs, something that was new but would influence almost all the great bands later, especially Led Zeppelin who used that style to great effect. “Misirlou” was a real barn burner, and Dick Dale made tons of great surf instrumental music. “Misirlou” would re-appear in Pulp Fiction and enjoy another run of popularity.
9) Communication Breakdown
Led Zeppelin never rocked harder than on their self titled debut, and this song practically slammed you to the wall with its chop chop rhythm guitar and Jimmy Page’s wild lead break. Robert Plant gives an impressive vocal performance as well on this super fast classic rock song.
8) Highway Star
For me, this Deep Purple classic that first appeared on Machine Head is by far the best on the fantastic live album Made In Japan. Deep Purple had other fast songs like “Burn”, “Speed King” and “Space Truckin'”, again at its best on the same live album. “Highway Star” however, can be argued as one of the templates for what we would call thrash metal that would surface about ten years later.
7) Children Of The Grave
Black Sabbath with speed? Most of the time not really, but this song from the greatest Sabbath album of all time, Master of Reality features a furious swing tempo and brilliant tom-tom work from Bill Ward with Ozzy Osbourne singing about the possible end of the world by nuclear holocaust. The downstrokes of Tony Iommi’s guitar give the song its fast pace, a bit unusual because it isn’t in a standard 4/4 beat.
The first of two Judas Priest entries, this classic comes from the equally great Stained Class, the album most Judas Priest fans including myself that gives the band their signature sound. Guitarists KK Downing and Glenn Tipton lock in fast and heavy, and their interplay is astonishing. This was done when players couldn’t just have computers clean up their mess. Which makes the precision at this speed more impressive.
5) Rapid Fire
Again, Judas Priest takes the thrash template and creates probably my favorite Judas Priest song of all time from the great British Steel album. No band has ever surpassed the sheer power and attack of this song, nor its furious guitar trade offs. Somebody had to get there first, and proclaim it was how it was done, and Judas Priest very nearly single handedly made all thrash bands and death metal bands possible. There are many such fantastic songs like it in their volume of work, but something about the overall vibe just makes it incomparable to me.
4) Jealous Again
Black Flag No, metal was not the only home of the speedy tunes. Black Flag, the legendary punk/hardcore band could get the song moving in a hurry, and sometimes the punk ferocity even it it wasn’t clinically perfect (it wasn’t) you could still beat your brains out listening to this blur of ultra hardcore.
Metallica’s first album “Kill ‘Em All” wasn’t the stuff of true thrash genius that subsequent albums would be, but in the same token, their attitude more than made up for a little bit of rough edges. After Cliff Burton’s (RIP) solo a fast snare tapping and chord bashing signals the start of one of metal’s fastest thrash anthems. It also shows James Hetfield’s extraordinary downstroke picking and the tune is as infectious as it is fast.
2) Angel Of Death
Slayer! This really ought to be the fastest album of the fastest. Now there are bands that are quicker, but in its day this album, at a mere 28 minutes before new releases added a couple additional tunes to bring the running time up to 32 minutes, after an acceptable but not very well produced Hell Awaits Slayer somehow became a real menace, and even other bands in competition with them including Metallica could do nothing but admire the unbelievable speed and force of this album.
1) Orange Blossom Special
Danny Gatton version Surprised you, didn’t I? Thought it would be just more metal, but fact is after a certain point in metal, even as much as I love it, you’re not really doing anything special by pushing your BPM’s (beats per minute) as fast as you can, and the skeptic in me knows there is enough computer stuff out there creating beats that are physically impossible. But Danny Gatton, who was one of the greatest all around guitarists of all time in any style, and in my book only second to Chet Atkins as my all time favorite, could and did it all, but would tragically suffer from depression and had an aversion to touring outside his Maryland/DC/Chesapeake region, so locals touted his genius while most of the country didn’t know him until Guitar Player magazine ran him on its cover and at least brought his name to guitar players.
Danny, on most live nights did his version of the old bluegrass chestnut “Orange Blossom Special.” He had in fact won every guitar playing contest as a teenager and when he played this song, the band couldn’t keep up with his jaw dropping dexterity. On his superb album Portrait he closes said album with a few live cuts that simply have to be heard. Starting with Charlie Christian’s “Seven Come Eleven,” then “Linus And Lucy” aka “The Peanuts Theme,” he segues into “Orange Blossom Special” and volunteer fire departments anywhere near the stereo playing this are put on high alert. It is unbelievable. So sadly though, Gatton’s depression would get the best of him and he committed suicide in late 1994. Guitarists the world over lament to this day his loss and can only speculate what he was capable of in the future.
10 Super Fast Classic Rock Songs Putting The Pedal To The Metal article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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