Sunday, November 07, 2010

Budgie: The Second Metal Band?

Anyone who knows anything about metal knows that Black Sabbath was the first band in the genre. (Deep Purple doesn't count, since they didn't start to sound like metal until 1972's Machine Head.) Most metalheads will say Judas Priest was the second true metal band, releasing their debut in 1974.

But I stated that Budgie was the second band in the genre when I defined the term heavy metal. They release four albums from 1971-1974. If those albums are metal, then I was right. If they're not, then I was wrong. Let's consider the question.

When I defined metal, I laid down two criteria to be considered a metal band: First, the music must have its roots in the Sabbath sound, and second, the music must sound like metal. But for music from the first half of the 70's, the first criterion can be ignored, of course, since the genre was just developing at the time.

Budgie (1971)

Budgie The band's first album was released in 1971, and it opens up with "Guts". The song has an extremely metal-sounding main riff, bluesy guitar solos, and a prominent bassline to make it heavy. Sounds like Sabbath to me. The only problem with the song, and the album as a whole, is the production. The bass is turned up really high, which makes it cool and heavy sounding, but the guitar is turned down too quiet, making it harder to discern the fact that this is a metal sound. "The Author", "All Night Petrol", and "Homicidal Suicidal" are other obvious metal tracks with some riffs that echo through the history of the genre. They veer a little more into rock territory on "Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman" and "Rape of the Locks", as well as the two short acoustic tracks, but all in all this album is predominantly metal. The Verdict: Certainly, this could be considered the first metal album released by anyone other than Sabbath, but at this point it's still debatable. "The Author" is the standout, and I give the album 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Squawk (1972)

Squawk On their sophomore release, Budgie seemed to be having a bit of an identity crisis. Much of the album sounds more Zepp than Sabbath (see "Rocking Man" or album standout "Drugstore Woman"), and "Rolling Home Again" sounds more like the Beatles. Still, "Hot as a Docker's Armpit" is metal, and closer "Stranded" ends on a metallic note. Also, the 8 minute "Young Is a World" is an early model for bands like Dream Theater. The Verdict: Squawk leans more toward hard rock than metal, but it happens to have some good songs. I give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Never Turn Your Back on a Friend (1973)

Never Turn Your Back on a Friend With their third album, Budgie seemed to be solidifying their identity as a metal band, and more specifically, a progressive metal band. Never Turn Your Back on a Friend includes the famous "Breadfan", which introduced subsequent generations to Budgie when Metallica covered the song (originally in 1988). That song is clearly a metal track, though the character of it is different (i.e. more progressive) in Budgie's version. Other obvious metal songs include "In the Grip of a Tyrefitter's Hand" and the metallized cover of the famous blues song "Baby, Please Don't Go". "You're the Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk" (almost 9 minutes in length) is highly progressive, and weaves back and forth between rock and metal, but if you have any doubts about it skip forward to about 5:30 to hear a very heavy riff. The two short acoustic tracks are much better than their previous such efforts, and closer "Parents", while not particularly metal, is an extremely progressive affair. The Verdict: This album is the highlight of Budgie's catalog, and their first inarguably metal album. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

In for the Kill (1974)

In for the Kill Finally, we have In for the Kill. First, I thought it's worth mentioning that the album cover and title are metal as hell, unlike their earlier progressive rock-flavored themes. This album contains Budgie's other song made famous by Metallica, "Crash Course in Brain Surgery" (which was originally released as a single in 1971). It's obviously metal, and so is the title track. Two more tracks are obvious metal, the progressive "Zoom Club" and the very Sabbath-like "Hammer and Tongs". That's 4 out of 7, with another borderline metal entry, the heavy blues-rock of "Running from My Soul". "Wondering What Everyone Knows" is the obligatory mellow psychedelic rock cut. The only questionable element is the closing track (psychedelic progressive rock). With these two songs coming at the end of the album, it seems to start off as clearly a metal album, but then peter off toward the end. The Verdict: On balance this qualifies as metal, since it's definitely more than half. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.


Budgie's 1971 debut is a metal album, despite a rock-flavored production. This makes them the second metal band, and a very much underappreciated one at that. Blue Öyster Cult didn't even hit the scene until the following year, with a questionably metal debut.

Budgie dabbled in rock from time to time, including much of their sophomore effort, but their third and fourth albums (released in 1973 and 1974) are clearly metal.

If you have any interest in the roots of metal, Never Turn Your Back on a Friend is essential listening.


  1. And here I read this whole thing and was getting ready to ask your thoughts about BOC's standing as an early metal band, just to have it addressed in the second-to-last sentence.

  2. That information really did belong at the beginning of the post, but, well, them's the breaks. Sorry. :)

    One thing I forgot to mention is that Budgie is also arguably the first metal band to have a mascot of sorts, in the form of the bird-man, but it's hard to tell whether it's intended to be the same character from album cover to album cover. This trend would be followed, by Iced Earth, Riot, Megadeth, and of course Iron Maiden, among others.

  3. the main theme of the article seems to be that budgie came after black sabbath, but after speaking to ray phillips the original drummer and from burke shelley's interviews budgie played their own style of music from their formation in 1967 with tracks such as rape of the locks being played live from 1967 which is at least the same time that sabbath were formed and a full year before led zeppelin appeared as the new yardbirds.

  4. I'd be interested to know whether they got really heavy before Sabbath did (considering "Rape of the Locks" is more on the rock end of the spectrum). There's also the question of how you define it: Is it by first metal album released, or by being the first band to start playing metal?

  5. good point kelly, but ray has often said that they have played the type of music on the albums since they got together ( he lives about two miles from me.} burke also stated in an interview recently broadcast by the bbc that he has never been a black sabbath fan despite having close connections with them such as sharing the same producer and recording at rockfield during the same period. being a committed christian he couldnt go along with the satanic image. both bands played similar types of music but black sabbath hit on a strong image and gained fame through notoriety.

  6. i forgot to mention that tony bourge played a gibson sg, and like the rest of the band his influences were the rolling stones, the beatles and the kinks, and he had a reputation as a gifted player of heavy riffs which were eventually picked up on by judas priest who supported them in the early days. iron maiden also covered their songs as did metallica and van halen, so although budgie were a heavy rock group they played a lot of stuff that future artists recognised as metal from an era before metal was recognised.

  7. from what ray has told me, they had the same basic sound all along, even when they were called six ton budgie. they used to play the local theatres and i saw them several times between 1968 and 1970. they did not yet have a record deal and were signed up and produced by rodger bain who was also working with sabbath at rockfield studios. they were not influenced by sabbath particularly, although they probably pinched a few things off each other. most of this was going on before jimmy page put the new yardbirds together as a band in 1968 which as you know he renamed them led zeppelin.

  8. hi, kelly, i have posted several comments over the last few days but they don't seem to be getting to you. i am very pleased that you recognised budgie's contribution to metal and rock music. i have a personal interest because budgie are from south wales where i live, and when ray phillips left the band he moved to tredegar which is the town where i live, and bought a house a few doors away from me. in the late seventies he began forming the band tredegar with tony bourge, and i would regularly meet them when tony would stay at ray's place to put material together. a few years ago i bumped into ray having lost contact over the years, and as a result, my nephew who is a sound engineer began working with ray occasionally at his recording studio in tredegar. as a result i have spoken to ray about the early days of budgie, and am willing to help with any information i can give

  9. Thanks for all your comments. The reason they took so long to show up is I haven't been on the Internet the past few days (that's a pretty big aberration for me to go more than a day without it).

    I've been a big fan of Budgie's early work, and some of their later work, since I first discovered it nearly a decade ago (I'm 28, which I'm discovering is a very weird age where I'm not yet old, but I don't get what all the "kids" are into these days). I discovered it by way of Metallica covers. I've also been a student of the history of metal in my efforts to become better educated on the subject, and it is my contention that Budgie is the second metal band. I would define that as being the second band to release an album that is primarily heavy metal, and by my discussion above I reached the conclusion that it is Budgie.

    I can definitely understand your wish to get recognition for an influential band from your own home. Sadly for me, there really aren't any from Nebraska (Xenomorph is the only decent metal band from around here; 311 is embarrassingly the most well-known group from the state in any genre). I hope that someone who reads this will get at least one Budgie album because of it.

    I never did understand why people thought Black Sabbath were evil or Satanist or whatever. They wore right-side-up crosses and their lyrics are often downright Christian (see "Supernaut" for example).

  10. thanks for your reply kelly,just one thing i'd like to explain that sabbath were never satanists, but merely used the satanic image as a stage persona, and burke was stating that he would have been uncomfortable doing that.

  11. i don't know if you can obtain a copy somehow, but bbc 4s documentary heavy metal britania charts the beginnings of metal in the heavy industrial midlands of the uk, where psychedelia didn't fit in well with the steel and iron works, and young people wanted something gritty and hard sounding. also,on youtube there are some videos of tredegar (the band) with ray phillips and tony bourge performing budgie songs such as parents, breadfan and napoleon bonapart 1 and 2 one to watch is hard times which shows the only ray phillips drum solo on film as far as i know. rare film of the two of them which i am sure you will enjoy.

  12. Thanks! I'll have to keep my eyes open.