Metallica and the historical relevance of their 1985 Day On The Green performance
29 May 2020
On 31 August 1985, thousands of Metal fans filled the old Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA. They were there for the first night of the annual Day On The Green festival.
With The Scorpions and Ratt as the two top billed bands, the fans certainly were ready for a night of Metal.
Words: Brandon Oberkrieser
What they were perhaps not ready for was a young, up-coming, hometown Metal band named Metallica.
On this night Metallica would have not only the most memorable performance of the day, but a performance that would become historic enough to be remembered 35 years later.
Day On The Green is now a legendary event. It was created by Bill Graham, an influential promotor who made a home for himself in the Bay Area of California.
After playing a role as promoter for the historic Fillmore and Winterland Ballrooms and hosting early shows by bands such as The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin, Graham moved on to develop large, stadium sized concerts.
Day On The Green helped establish the concept of the modern day music festival; a stadium sized show featuring several acts which over multiple days. The event which started in 1973 has featured both established and new artists over the years.
Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin all played the festival at one point or another.
The festival under Bill Graham ended in 1991, following his tragic death in a helicopter crash. Coincidentally, the 1991 Day On The Green would be the year Metallica would return to headline the festival for the first time.
While the history of Day On The Green and Bill Graham himself makes both their 1985 and 1991 appearances stand out as landmark performances, it is still often the former which gets the most recognition from Metallica fans.
This is partly because of the limited footage that exists.
As Metallica grew in popularity, so did the amount of available footage. There were more interested media outlets and of course more fans at shows, which means more bootlegs and photos. This is especially true in 1991, as following the massive success of their self titled fifth album aka ‘The Black Album’, Metallica had officially been crowned The Kings Of Heavy Metal and were household names.
In 1985 however, they were a band still working their way up the hierarchy of Heavy Metal and music in general.
A percentage of this show had pro-shot video which was featured on MTV and given the limited media and fan bootleg coverage, this makes the MTV coverage from Day On The Green 1985 even more rare. Having this footage, provides us fans with a visual time capsule of a young, hungry Metallica that we do not get to see that often.
Especially those of us who were not born then or were too young to experience it first hand.
Furthermore, having the pro shot footage appear on MTV, gave the band one of its first tastes of mainstream media.
Add to that the fact that this is one of their first stadium shows, all of a sudden the band were playing in front of a much larger audience than they were used to in 1985.
This was also an exciting time in their history that appeals to many Metallica fans. The band were on tour at this time, promoting their first major label release in the United States, their critically acclaimed sophomore album ‘Ride The Lightning’. Metallica were also simultaneously in the writing process for the next album that many fans and critics would agree is their creative masterpiece, ‘Master Of Puppets’.
In fact, at their headline show that followed the Day On The Green, the band would play the track ‘Disposable Heroes’ for the first time.
For these reasons, this performance acts as a representation of a band taking the next step in their popularity and who were beginning their ascent towards their self proclaimed mission of “world domination”.
Perhaps the biggest reason this is such an historic show however, comes down to a single member; their late bassist Cliff Burton.
On my Metallica podcast, Metallicast, we did an episode about Day On The Green 1985 and this was the point we kept coming back to during our discussion. A lot of the footage that exists is from the side of the stage where Cliff is performing.
While most likely by fate or coincidence, rather than by design, this provides us fans close up shots of Cliff performing some of his most iconic parts.
When the pro shot footage begins during the song ‘Creeping Death’, Cliff stands at the forefront in what has become an iconic picture of him; wearing his denim jacket, black Misfits t-shirt, and bell bottoms jeans. He is standing with one foot up on the PA speakers, his mane of hair covering his face as he head bangs, his left hand flying up and down the neck of his bass and his right hand finger plucking the strings.
During the guitar solo of ‘Ride The Lightning’, the camera pans away from lead guitarist Kirk Hammett and pans up on Cliff. Again a mane of hair is covering his face as he headbangs and his fingers are beating his bass as if the two of them are in a fight with each other.
The most memorable Cliff Burton moment comes after these two songs however.
In a moment that is forever captured on Cliff Em’ All, the long form tribute video Metallica released following his death in 1986, he plays a short but blistering bass solo that leads straight into arguably his most iconic bass line; the intro of ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’.
It is true that Metallica performing at Day On The Green 1985 is a time capsule moment. It captures both an up and coming band that would go on a handful of years later to become the biggest Heavy Metal band in the world.
It also captures a unique and rare look at one of the most iconic bass players in the history of Heavy Metal Music.
While Cliff Burton passed away many years ago now, it is performances such as this one which help his legacy not only to live on, but to grow in time and be passed from generation to generation of Heavy Metal Music fans.
The Ecstasy of Gold (Ennio Morricone song)
Ride the Lightning
For Whom the Bell Tolls (with mini bass solo)
The Four Horsemen
Fade to Black
Seek & Destroy
Am I Evil? (Diamond Head cover) (Half)
Metallicast is a Metallica fan podcast hosted by Brandon, a lifelong Metallica fan, graduate of Berklee College Of Music and a current music educator in New York City.
With episodes ranging from topics such as Master Of Puppets to MTV Icon: Metallica, Metallicast has gained a legion of listeners called the Metallicast Militia.
Guests have included fellow fans, Metallica collectors, music journalists and artists influenced by the band.
Follow @MetallicastPod on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.