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‘Hit the Lights’ – Story Behind the Song

Hit the Lights
Chuck Armstrong

Opening with a thrashy mish-mash of distortion and ear-piercing drums, Metallica’s ‘Hit the Lights‘ is four minutes and seventeen seconds of non-stop metal. As the first track to 1983’s ‘Kill ‘Em All,’ ‘Hit the Lights’ sets the stage for what fans can expect from the album as a whole.

Aside from opening the band’s debut album, this song has a very meaningful place in the history of Metallica. It was the first tune ever released by ‘Tallica, making its first appearance on Metal Blade Records’ compilation, ‘Metal Massacre.’ On a record that included bands like Ratt, Malice and Avatar, ‘Hit the Lights’ rounded out the compilation as the 10th and final track. Even before ‘Metal Massacre,’ though, ‘Hit the Lights’ was a special song to James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich as it was the first song the two co-founders worked on together. Reportedly, Hetfield brought ideas to Metallica’s jam sessions that he first had with his previous band Leather Charm, and with the help of Ulrich they created ‘Hit the Lights.’ The opening line from the song, “No life ’til leather,” was also the name of the band’s first official demo.

There were two official pressings of ‘Metal Massacre’ released. The first pressing misspelled the band’s name as Mettallica and featured Lloyd Grand and Dave Mustaine playing with Hetfield and Ulrich. On the second pressing, Grant left, Mustaine remained and bassist Ron McGovney joined the crew.

On the ‘Kill ‘Em All’ version of ‘Hit the Lights,’ Metallica’s original thrash sound is abundant. From Hetfield’s signature lyrics and vocals to Ulrich and bassist Cliff Burton‘s speedy rhythm section, not to mention Kirk Hammett‘s face-melting soloing, ‘Hit the Lights’ is Metallica’s oldest song, yet it has stood the test of time and proves that the band can rock hard, even 30 years later.

To date, ‘Hit the Lights’ has been played over 170 times live, first being played by Metallica on March 14, 1982 in Anaheim, Calif.

Watch Metallica Perform ‘Hit the Lights’ – Gothenburg, Sweden – July 3, 2011

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Next: Read All About Metallica's 'Kill 'Em All'

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