Metallica's Cliff Burton: His Most Radical Riffs

Cliff Burton of Metallica
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Metallica's earliest works would be much less without Cliff Burton. The late bassist's work over the course of three studio albums – Kill ‘Em All (1983), Ride the Lightning (1984), and Master of Puppets (1986) – was enough to secure him a spot in the top 10 of Rolling Stone’s 2011 reader poll of the Greatest Bassists of All Time and earn him posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

READ MORE: Metallica's James Hetfield: His Heaviest Vocal Performances

To commemorate Burton’s all-too-short career, we’ve put together a list of 10 tracks which serve as an apt summary of just how amazing a musician he was. Give these kick-ass tracks s a listen and then weep for all the heavy metal that might’ve been...

10. “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” (1986): Based on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this song gives voice to the thoughts of a patient who’s been placed in a mental institution despite the fact that he’s not crazy. (Sure, that’s what they all say...)

READ MORE: March 1986: Metallica Releases "Master of Puppets"

9. “The Four Horsemen” (1983): Adapted from a Dave Mustaine song called “The Mechanix,” which reportedly had lyrics about having sex at a gas station, the new lyrics about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were added by James Hetfield, as were the bridge and the guitar solo.

8. “The Call of Ktulu” (1984): Inspired – as most horror fans probably know – by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the name of the evil entity Cthulhu was tweaked because the band thought it would easier for people to pronounce. (Riiiiiiight...) The song features one of Dave Mustaine’s last co-writing credits in Metallica history.

READ MORE: July 1984: Metallica Releases "Ride the Lightning"

7. “Fade to Black” (1984): Still a staple of Metallica’s sets to this day, this track was a major step forward for the band. “It was pretty much our first ballad, so we knew it would freak people out,” admitted James Hetfield in a 1991 interview with Guitar World. “Recording that song, I learned how frustrating acoustic guitar can be. You could hear every squeak, so I had to be careful. I wrote the song at a friend's house in New Jersey. I was pretty depressed at the time because our gear had just been stolen, and we had been thrown out of our manager's house for breaking shit and drinking his liquor cabinet dry. It's a suicide song, and we got a lot of flak for it, as if kids were killing themselves because of the song. But we also got hundreds of letters from kids telling us how they related to the song and that it made them feel better.”

6. “Damage, Inc.” (1986): When discussing Master of Puppets during the height of the PMRC phenomenon, the band sarcastically announced, “The only track you probably won't want to play is 'Damage, Inc.' due to multiple use of the infamous 'F' word,” assuring those of more delicate dispositions, “Otherwise, there aren't any 'shits', 'fucks', 'pisses', 'cunts', 'motherfuckers', or 'cocksuckers' anywhere on this record.” So there.

5. “Creeping Death” (1984): Written from the perspective of the Angel of Death, this song was the only song officially released as a single from Ride the Lightning, although both “Fade to Black” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls” did get released as promo singles. A portion of the song had been written by Kirk Hammett while he was still a member of Exodus, but it didn’t come together as a full song until he joined Metallica.

4. “Seek & Destroy” (1983): A track which was – per Lars Ulrich – “greatly inspired” by the Diamond Head song “Dead Reckoning,,” it’s said to be about having the urge to kill but not actually acting on that urge. Why, Metallica, how very law-abiding of you...

3. “Orion” (1986): A multipart instrumental, this track definitely serves as another strong spotlight for Burton’s bass-playing abilities, and the song’s middle section was arranged by Burton himself.

2. “(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth” (1983): A bass solo that originated when Burton was still in his high school band, Agents of Misfortune, it’s a true spotlight of his distinctive method of playing and – believe it or don’t – it was performed in one take.

1. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1984): One might easily argue that there are other songs featuring Burton that might be more classic, but in the long run, this is the greatest combination of Metallica song and Burton performance, hence its placement in the top spot. Does it hold up? Well, in 2019, 35 years after its initial release, it climbed to No. 19 on the U.S. alternative chart, so...we’re gonna say “hell, yeah, it does.”

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