Five of Metallica's Best Bass Songs for Cliff Burton 50th Birthday

cliff-burton.PNG
Jens Eriksson via Wikimedia Commons
A Burton memorial in Ljungby, Sweden
If you clicked on this, you probably already know the story: It was 1986, and Metallica released their third album, Master of Puppets to wild acclaim. They took their Damage, Inc. tour on a massive swing through Europe, only to have the excursion interrupted by a bus crash in Sweden. Everyone escaped the turned-over tour bus except for their bass player, 24-year old Cliff Burton, a classically trained metalhead with long hair, denim jacket, and a Misfits tattoo. He was crushed by the bus and died Sept. 27, 1986.

Though the remaining band members picked up Jason Newsted as a replacement by the end of the year and would go on to sell a zillion records, fans still readily point to the Burton era as the band's musical heyday (though Lulu doesn't make the distinction particularly hard to make). Today would have been Burton's 50th birthday -- in memory of the man behind the mustache, here are five of his best contributions to Metallica's early catalog.

1. The Call of Ktulu


While not as complex as "Orion," "Ktulu" is a great early Metallica song that hints at the spectacular arrangements the band had in store for Master of Puppets. The song title comes from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, a favorite author of Burton's. The song's haunting atmosphere owes almost everything to Burton's swirling wah pedal flourishes.

2. For Whom the Bell Tolls

It took me forever to realize the opening guitar riff of this song off of Ride The Lightning was actually Burton on his distorted bass. This is one of the six Ride songs Burton got a writing cred for, and while the score is pretty simple, the bass part in their live shows is a blast.

Here's a live version purportedly from Burton's last show, in Stockholm on Sept. 29, 1986. I can't tell for sure, however, and whomever posted the video for some reason included a picture of Jason Newsted on bass. Either way, a great track.

3. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)

One of the only bass solos to ever deserve a spot on an album, and rightfully so. It feels almost too obvious to include this on the list, but this performance a great version of the song, even if it does cut off the first 35 seconds of the album version.

4. Orion

The third instrumental on the list, but it's Burton's masterpiece -- it's got two bass solos, complex harmonies and a bridge so cool lyrics are just unnecessary. The song played at Burton's funeral.

5. The Four Horsemen

While "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)" is his only writing credit on the album, Burton famously inspired Kill Em All's album title after record execs balked at the band's original proposal, Metal Up Your Ass. It's got vicious backing vocals on the bridge of "The Four Horsemen" that Newsted could never match. Here's a live version from 1985, back when Metallica's headbanging didn't seem quite as forced and Lars' double-bass wasn't stupid.

R.I.P., Cliff.

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