James Hetfield, lead singer and guitarist of legendary American metal band Metallica, has a penchant for many things: old school hot rods, San Francisco Giants baseball, straight edge tattoos, and beekeeping among the sillier ones. But at the end of the day, Hetfield is just a red-blooded American who likes to kick back and listen to some Lynyrd Skynyrd.
His love for the Florida southern rock outfit is well documented. Hetfield has claimed that ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was the first piece of music he ever bought. Metallica even covered ‘Tuesday’s Gone’ on their 1998 Garage, Inc. Ep. When speaking with Rolling Stone, Hetfield even made the bold claim that ‘Free Bird’ was the greatest song of all time.
“Nothing tops this workingman’s ballad,” Hetfield told the magazine. “‘Free Bird’ fit my life for the first 20 years on the road — not really getting too attached to stuff, living life for the moment and moving on.”
Hetfield clearly positions himself among the workingmen that the song appeals to. Perhaps the softer acoustic piano balladry of the first four minutes aren’t quite in line with the hard-hitting metal styles of Metallica, but it’s not hard to detect an influence that the twin-guitar finale might have had on Hetfield and his own guitar playing.
The ‘Enter Sandman’ singer actually gave an entire top ten during the interview, and the list varies from obvious choices to completely left-field favourites. It’s not hard to see, for instance, how songs like Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ or Black Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’ had a lasting influence on Hetfield, but less clear is how songs like The Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, or Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’, informed the gruff animalistic growl that Hetfield has perfected over the years. Hetfield also gives a shout out to Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in an unexpected bit of ’90s synergy.