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Music

The classic heavy metal song inspired by Patti Smith

Patti Smith needs no real introduction. She’s an artist of exceptional pedigree, and over the course of her long and illustrious career, Smith has consistently proven that she is one of the most exciting creatives out there.

Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is one of the most candid works released in music, and her judicial examination of her relationship with her late lover and friend, Robert Mapplethorpe, is an emotionally affecting experience. Delving into the complicated mind of Patti Smith that we all respect so greatly, the book is the most candid account she’s ever given of herself.   

It’s a testament to Patti Smith’s work that she’s influenced everybody from Amy Winehouse to Kate Bush and R.E.M. One band that Smith also had an impact on, which may come as something of a shock, is thrash metal legends, Megadeth. It transpires that Smith directly influenced their classic 1986 track ‘Peace Sells’ from that year’s Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying?.

Of the track’s provenance, Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine told Gibson in 2021: “‘Peace Sells’ lyrics were actually written with a very fat felt pen on the wall in the rehearsal studios in Vernon, California. I had been living there because we were all homeless, and I was living at the rehearsal building, which was dreadful.”

He continued: “There was no fridge, no food, no nothing, no showers, and one day there was a magazine on the coffee table in the front room, and it was Reader’s Digest, and it had a story from Patti Smith – Patti Smith’s cool, right?”.

The vital importance of Patti Smith

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It was a line in the article that really caught Mustaine’s eye, and it would give him one of his best-beloved tracks and the title of one of the band’s most iconic records. He recalled: “So, she was talking about how ‘peace sells, but nobody’s buying it,’ and I went, ‘Wow, that’s a really cool statement. Peace Sells, but nobody’s buying…’ And then I changed it to ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?'”.

Luckily for Mustaine, through reading that article, Patti Smith would help to get Megadeth’s career going, an indication of just how widespread and effective her influence is. When you listen to the track now, when he howls ‘Can you put a price on peace?’, you realise that it is just classic Patti Smith, making it an interesting and surreal listening experience.

In 2017, Mustaine told Rolling Stone: “I knew when I wrote that song that I was onto something. Because prior to that song, everything was just shred-festing and just playing really fast, aggressive stuff. But as soon as ‘Peace Sells’ came out, it was like, ‘Wow this is really a song-song,’ something that, unbeknownst to myself, would stand the test of time, something that would be my friend forever. Never had I gotten that feeling from our previous songs. I never thought, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be playing this song every night for the rest of your life'”.

It’s genuinely mindblowing to heed that Patti Smith had a career-defining effect on Megadeth. However, this is music, and this is Patti Smith we’re talking about. Her list of disciples is one of the most colourful in music, reflective of just how brilliant her work is. 

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