Artists can always find inspiration for songs in the strangest places. These flurries of imagination can come out of absolutely nowhere, but provide the perfect tonic to get writers out of creative trappings. This ingredient can be a piece of film, a conversation or just something you’ve witnessed happen on a bus whilst having your guard down that’s caught your eye and made you reach for your notepad.
Metallica is a band that has never been short of ideas for too long and, with the firepower of James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo in their ranks, songs usually arrive on time and with gusto. All four of the band chip into the creative process, although the lyrics are Hetfield’s, he doesn’t rule the band with an iron fist. When somebody else in the group has an idea, they are encouraged to speak up. This democracy has served Metallica finely over the decades and is a key to their longevity.
Just a year after Hammett joined the group in 1983, he would play a pivotal role in creating their album, Ride The Lightning. Hammett was accepted into the Metallica family and quickly made their gamble on him worth the risk. The band were left in a predicament by Mustaine’s departure due to substance abuse, but they knew Hammett could fix their woes and phoned him on the very same afternoon.
At this point, Hammett was just a 20-year-old kid that had never even left California but, with determination, he scrambled together enough cash to get him the next flight to New York for his audition, which he passed with flying colours. James Hetfield later recalled: “The first song we played was ‘Seek and Destroy’, and Kirk pulled off this solo, and it was like…things are going to be alright!”
In a blog-post, Hammett revealed how Stephen King’s book, The Stand, provided Metallica with that much-needed shot of inspiration that was the ammunition they needed for their next album. “One huge thing about my personal connection with Stephen King occurred when I was reading a chapter in The Stand,” Hammett recalled. “The chapter had a guy in prison who was waiting to ‘Ride The Lightning’, and I just thought ‘oh my God, what a cool collection of adjectives and nouns that is!’
“I told James, he thought the same, and the rest is Metallica history! Pick up a copy of The Stand if you’re obsessive enough and find the chapter about a guy on death row where King actually writes the words,” he added. It formed the basis for one of Metallica’s most beloved tunes — ‘Ride the Lightning’.
Hammett continued: “Over the years I’ve been aware that Stephen King is a fan of Metallica, he was a fan club member I know. In the late ’80s, we spoke about something to do with his band The Rock Bottom Remainders, and as a token of my appreciation I ended up giving him a piece of art, a Famous Monsters cover painting. That’s about as much as I know of him, although I wish we knew each other better because I think we’re two peas in a pod except he writes words and I write music.”
Whilst The Rock Bottom Remainders never set the world of music alight, as band member Dave Barry once perfectly said, “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels.” It’s fair to say that even though the Remainders aren’t going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame anytime soon, King’s impact on the world of music is insurmountable as this Metallica classic proves. King’s influence has touched every part of the fabric of culture, and he is undoubtedly one of the most crucial figures in the modern world.