Despite decades of inductions, it’s not getting any easier to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A case can be made for each act nominated for inclusion this year, inclusing hard-rocking hitmakers Steppenwolf, who had a huge impact in a short time. Here’s our list of five reasons why the band was born to be in the Hall of Fame.
By combining heavy doses of blues, rock and soul, Steppenwolf became one of the first hard rock bands upon the release of their 1968 debut LP. The Canadian-American group was also responsible for the first mention of “heavy metal” in a rock song, with the lyric “I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder” in “Born to Be Wild.” Songwriter (and former member) Dennis Edmonton was describing motorcycles, but Steppenwolf’s hard-charging sonic assault matched the words perfectly.
“Born to Be Wild” is bigger than a famous rock song. Once it was chosen to soundtrack the opening credits of Easy Rider, the song turned into an anthem – for the late ’60s counterculture, for freewheeling bikers, for anyone who wanted to break away from the day to day. With its buzzsaw guitars and chugging rhythm, “Born to Be Wild” signifies an iconic moment in pop culture and continues to resonate with those ready to tear up the highway with their choppers.
Steppenwolf weren’t merely creating hugely influential hard rock in the late ’60s, the band was also scoring huge hits with this music. As frontman Jon Kay developed as a songwriter, he struck a balance between harder, even psychedelic, sounds and pop sensibilities. As a result, Steppenwolf followed “Born to Be Wild” with additional Top 10 smashes such as “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Rock Me.” The albums sold well too, earning the band a few gold records.
The band wasn’t all motorcycles and magic carpets. Some Steppenwolf songs also contained social criticism, whether in the form of Hoyt Axton’s anti-drug tune “The Pusher,” or Kay’s own political work. With 1969’s Monster, the frontman took aim at then-President Richard Nixon as well as the Vietnam conflict, combining heavy music with tough subject matter.
It’s an incredible feat to record a song that might be as well-known almost 50 years later as it was when it was first released. Not only has “Born to Be Wild” been enshrined as one of the best songs in rock, but “Magic Carpet Ride” remains its own brand of classic – a touchstone of psychedelic rock and an influence on new generations of musicians from rockers to rappers, some of whom are already in the Rock Hall.