It’s hard to think of someone, even tangentially familiar with metal, that hasn’t listened to “Enter Sandman” at least once. The song has transcended the boundaries of rock music to arguably become the biggest metal song of all time. It’s an anthem that has welcomed countless fans into the world of heavy metal and inspired generations of musicians. But what if Hetfield hadn’t been pushed to give it his all?
During a new Masterclass interview James Hetfield recently admitted that he initially thought their mega-hit “Enter Sandman” wasn’t all that great. In a YouTube short released as part of the Masterclass, Hetfield revealed the doubts he had about the song during its early stages. He recalled how drummer Lars Ulrich and producer Bob Rock challenged him to go back and work on it: “I think Lars Ulrich and Bob Rock said, “Go back. I challenge you to go back and work on it. And I did.”
One crucial change that emerged from this collaborative effort was the addition of the famous “catchphrase” line, “We’re off to never, neverland.” Hetfield‘s musings on the lyrics, which touch on the universal experience of nightmares, resonate with all of us. “What happens in our sleep? Why do we have nightmares?’ – a lot of people could identify with that. Everyone has nightmares. What do you do with them? Why do they show up?” he adds.
Obviously, the story behind this iconic song doesn’t end there. Last April, during a Metallica appearance on The Howard Stern Show, the band revealed that the song’s genesis involved guitarist Kirk Hammett‘s riff, which was later tweaked by Ulrich. Ulrich‘s suggestion to repeat the first half of the riff three times before transitioning to the ending chords added the distinctive structure that we all recognize today.
“There’s a thing that we do with riffs where sometimes we’ll structure it where there will be a repeating pattern for three times and then an answering part [a tail]. And, basically, he was just morphing it into a workable form,” Hammett shared.
This behind-the-scenes insight into Metallica’s creative process at the time reminds us of the fine line between underachieving and attaining timeless significance, and also emphasizes the importance of teamwork in the writing process.
So, the next time you hear the iconic opening notes of “Enter Sandman,” remember that this anthem nearly slipped through the cracks!
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