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Jens Eriksson via Wikimedia Commons
A Burton memorial in Ljungby, Sweden

​If you clicked on this, you probably already know the story: It was 1986, and Metallica released their third album, Master of Puppets to wild acclaim. They took their Damage, Inc. tour on a massive swing through Europe, only to have the excursion interrupted by a bus crash in Sweden. Everyone escaped the turned-over tour bus except for their bass player, 24-year old Cliff Burton, a classically trained metalhead with long hair, denim jacket, and a Misfits tattoo. He was crushed by the bus and died Sept. 27, 1986. Read more here: http://bit.ly/V8Zb6n

The first thing people should know about Cliff Burton is that he played bass without a pick. That may seem like a ridiculous thing to point out, but it’s kind of like driving a truck without a steering wheel. Burton had agile, road-hardened fingers, and his musical mind seemed telepathically linked to drummer Lars Ulrich’s, creating perhaps the greatest metal rhythm section of all time. Burton played an integral part in writing the first three Metallica albums, with his soaring bass solos often leading the charge. (source: loudwire.com) 

Here are five of his best contributions to Metallica’s early catalog.

While not as complex as “Orion,” “Ktulu” is a great early Metallica song that hints at the spectacular arrangements the band had in store for Master of Puppets. The song title comes from a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, a favorite author of Burton’s. The song’s haunting atmosphere owes almost everything to Burton’s swirling wah pedal flourishes.
2. For Whom the Bell Tolls
It took me forever to realize the opening guitar riff of this song off of Ride The Lightning was actually Burton on his distorted bass. This is one of the six Ride songs Burton got a writing cred for, and while the score is pretty simple, the bass part in their live shows is a blast.Here’s a live version purportedly from Burton’s last show, in Stockholm on Sept. 29, 1986. I can’t tell for sure, however, and whomever posted the video for some reason included a picture of Jason Newsted on bass. Either way, a great track.
3. Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)
One of the only bass solos to ever deserve a spot on an album, and rightfully so. It feels almost too obvious to include this on the list, but this performance a great version of the song, even if it does cut off the first 35 seconds of the album version.
4. Orion
The third instrumental on the list, but it’s Burton’s masterpiece — it’s got two bass solos, complex harmonies and a bridge so cool lyrics are just unnecessary. The song played at Burton’s funeral.
5. The Four Horsemen
While “Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)” is his only writing credit on the album, Burton famously inspired Kill Em All‘s album title after record execs balked at the band’s original proposal, Metal Up Your Ass. It’s got vicious backing vocals on the bridge of “The Four Horsemen” that Newsted could never match. Here’s a live version from 1985, back when Metallica’s headbanging didn’t seem quite as forced and Lars’ double-bass wasn’t stupid.R.I.P., Cliff.

 

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