Listening to the soundtrack from 1981’s Heavy Metal: The Movie from my desk while drumming with two Bic pens just doesn’t do it justice. And that’s not to diminish my in-office rock credentials; I’m going off, even using the plastic container of thumbtacks as a deeper bass drum to give the performance some much-needed low end — my coworkers are probably loving it.
But in all honesty, I need to take the rest of the day off, rent a pickup truck with huge tires and lots of those badass extra bars on the front and back, and go off-roading through a mud pit with Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal” title track blaring from the windows. Or, you know, ride a giant bird-dinosaur through the universe while defeating dastardly villains and saving the world from imminent demise.
When you look at Heavy Metal: The Movie in retrospect, it’s impossible to imagine something even remotely close to it being released today. It’s overtly sexist, brash, and chaotic. But it encapsulates a time when people (read: studio executives) apparently thought that was alright, the kind of over-the-top bizarro fantasy world that was home to freaky period pieces like Spaceballs, Howard the Duck, Weird Science, and more.
But it’s hard to argue there’s a more perfectly crafted soundtrack than Heavy Metal. It’s found a home in the proverbial Soundtrack Hall of Fame, where the score of a film can often outlive the appeal of the very movie it accompanies. But in this case, both the music that drives the film and the animated cult classic itself have both stood the test of time, thanks in large part to a diehard fan base and a plethora of pop culture plugs throughout the years to spark the curiosity of younger generations previously unaware of Taarna’s quest for vengeance.
From melodic diamonds in the rough like “Blue Lamp” by Stevie Nicks, “Queen Bee” by Grand Funk Railroad, and Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” to headbanger hallmarks like Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, and Nazareth, this album has something for every kind of classic rock fan — plus, a DEVO song.
While soundtracks have, with a few exceptions, fallen by the wayside in the streaming era, this one is synonymous with the film it represents. Each song immediately takes you out of the doldrums of real life and places you right smack dab in the middle of Heavy Metal’s fantasy world. That’s probably why the film, the magazine, the subsequent video games, etc. resonate with so many. Heavy Metal is an escape; a break from the limits of realism and sanity, a peek into a vast, wild world built on pure thrill.
While teenage dudes gravitated toward Heavy Metal for its heavy dose of cartoon porn set to their favorite hard rock songs, the film’s true mission statement matures with the viewer over time. Heavy Metal showed us that with remarkable determination and bravery, you can accomplish things previously thought to be impossible — whether you’re a bunch of Canadian artists and comedians jumping through hoops and over endless red tape to get this insane movie made, or Taarna trying to extinguish the evil Loc-Nar against all odds.
Heavy Metal is an escape; a break from the limits of realism and sanity, a peek into a vast, wild world built on pure thrill.
The kind of creative freedom this magazine and film displayed for the world inspired generations of young weirdos who would grow up to craft counter-culture phenomenons of their own. And they show their appreciation. References and tributes to Heavy Metal are sprinkled heavily throughout the past few decades of music, movies, and television, demonstrating just how far people are willing to push the envelope to grab the attention of their viewer, especially in an era where that attention is harder and harder to come by.
South Park, which one could argue may not even exist without the advent of adult-themed animation that Heavy Metal brought, dedicated an entire episode as a tribute to the classic film during their twelfth season. The third episode, aptly titled “Major Boobage,” followed oft-deceased protagonist Kenny on a psychedelic-fueled trip to a fantasy world patterned after Heavy Metal’s dystopian future. The episode looked like a mashup of South Park’s signature animation and the timeless style of the original film, creating this new unique thing that still felt oh so familiar for viewers of all ages. The episode even featured three songs from the original Heavy Metal soundtrack: “Heavy Metal (Takin’ a Ride)” by Don Felder, “Heavy Metal” by Sammy Hagar, and “Radar Rider” by Riggs.
Countless other TV shows and movies have tipped their cap to the influential powerhouse that was Heavy Metal, with movie posters or copies of the magazine used as props in Clerks, Tenacious D: Pick of Destiny, Stepbrothers, and so many more.
Even titans of industry and visionary inventors are among the throngs of sci-fi fanatics that adore the adolescent appeal of the Heavy Metal franchise. Elon Musk launched his own personal Tesla roadster into space in February 2018 while testing another one of his creations, the Falcon Heavy rocket by SpaceX. The stunt was meant to show the rocket’s payload capabilities and ultimately brought the first production model car into space, where it will orbit Mars indefinitely.
The Tesla was mounted with cameras and viewers of the live stream were treated to Musk’s elaborate tribute to Heavy Metal, where a mannequin dressed as an astronaut “drove” the roadster through space, mimicking the opening scene of the film. We should have seen it coming, though, as Musk’s tweets leading up to the rocket’s launch were dropping subtle hints ahead of time.
Fairly heavy metal, but extremely strong
— Elon Tusk (@elonmusk) December 9, 2018
Though it’s been nearly 40 years since Heavy Metal first graced the silver screen — actually, grace might be the wrong word — newfound fans are still discovering it for the first time every day, thanks to the adoration of the masses who still love it just as much as they did in 1981. Whether you discovered it by scrolling through Journey’s discography or Eugene Levy’s IMDB page, we salute the scores of dedicated fans for keeping this iconic brand and imagery alive to this day.