7 Unexpected Musical Influences of Hard Rock + Heavy Metal Icons

How R.E.M., Pink Floyd, and the Grateful Dead impacted Metallica, NIN, Black Flag + more.

Be it in the form of unlikely duets (Elton John and Axl Rose at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert), off-the-wall songwriting collaborations (Kiss and Lou Reed on Music From “The Elder”), or even political activism (Frank Zappa, Dee Snider, and John Denver vs. the PMRC), rock-and-roll has always made for some strange bedfellows.

Some genuinely jolting surprises can arise, too, when a performer who’s known for a very specific type of music reveals that he’s been shaped by artists from a markedly different genre.

That holds true in country (Garth Brooks is a lifelong Kiss Army member), it holds true in hip-hop (Lil Wayne says Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” changed his life), and it’s absolutely the case in hard rock and heavy metal, as well.

What follows are examples of seven loud, fast, and dark musical giants who have credited seemingly unrelated or even oppositional acts with helping to shine a light on the paths they’ve taken to creative success.

Truly, it takes all kinds.

7. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails

Unexpected Influence: Pink Floyd

As industrial rock’s premiere superstar, it’s expected that Nine Inch Nails mastermind could only have come of age obsessed with severe electronic noise pioneers on the order of Throbbing Gristle, Suicide, and Whitehouse or, at the very least, hardcore punk and metal bands.

Alas, no, it was Pink Floyd in general and the Wall most specifically that detonated the spark that mushroomed into NIN’s pitch-black, not-always-pretty hate machine.

During a conversation in 2000 between Reznor and his idol, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, the leather-clad dance nihilist said: “ I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania… when The Wall came out, it was a turning point for me. I was in high school at the time, and I remember that music had always been my friend— a companion, the brother I didn't have, or whatever. I came from a broken home. I was alone a lot as a child. And when The Wall came out, that record seemed very personal to me, even though I was in a completely different lifestyle, place and situation than Roger would have been in at that time. I'd never heard music that had that sort of naked, honest emotion. I had that sense of, ‘Wow, I'm not the only person who feels this way.’”

6. Greg Ginn of Black Flag

Unexpected Influence: The Grateful Dead

Loudmouth punk rockers—especially those who just dress the part and don’t actually make their own music—have long bloviated about how much they hate hippies, hippie culture, and hippie music. The pinnacle of each of those three categories, of course, is jam band supreme, The Grateful Dead.

As a result, then, the biggest blowhards in Black Flag t-shirts tend to mouth off about despising the Grateful Dead, despite the fact that the single man most responsible for their graphic outerwear, Black Flag founder and guitarist Greg Ginn, has always been and out-and-proud Deadhead.

“My favorite band was always and still is the Grateful Dead,” Ginn reiterated in 2013, “and they always had that [improvisational] element to their set and I really liked that. There’s an element to their sets where it goes off the anchor and just gets into sound more than a groove or a riff.”

Ginn’s tie-dyed devotion rubbed off, as well, on former Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, who in 1990, with his side project Wartime, covered the Grateful Dead nugget, “Franklin’s Tower.

5. Chino Moreno of Deftones

Unexpected Influence: Depeche Mode

For a cabal of foofy wimps that, in their 1980s prime, utterly embodied foppish Euro-synth whininess beyond all other effete contenders (and there were many), it definitely seems weird that, in the 21st century, extreme metal bands seem to be in a rush to see who can come off as the biggest Depeche Mode maniac.

Among the onslaught of raging headbangers to cover songs by these new-wave panty-bunchers are Marilyn Manson (“Personal Jesus”), Ghost (“Waiting for the Night”), Lacuna Coil (“Enjoy the Silence”), In Flames (“Everything Counts”), Rammstein (“Stripped”), Monster Magnet (“Black Celebration”), Vader (“I Feel You”), Atrocity (“People Are People”), Pain (“Behind the Wheel”)… the list goes on and on. Even Sammy Hagar does “Personal Jesus”! Sammy Hagar!

The tradition reportedly hails back to Axl Rose, but he always did seem a terribly hyper-sensitive soul, didn’t he?

Deftones frontman Chino Moreno exudes Depeche Mode dedication above and beyond his peers, though. Not only do the Deftones cover DM’s “To Have and to Hold,” Moreno sports a tattoo of the flower on the group’s Violator album cover, and he told Rolling Stone theirs was the first concert he ever attended.

“I fought my way to the front to be against the barricade,” Moreno said. “I have a feeling it's what launched me into wanting to make music, just by seeing the energy. It was just something else, one of my fondest and greatest memories of coming of age.”

4. Dee Snider of Twisted Sister

Unexpected Influence: Paul Revere and the Raiders

When asked to name the rock artists that most influenced him when he was growing up, Twisted Sister front-dervish Dee Snider always rattles off this list in chronological order: “Beatles, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, Judas Priest, and AC/DC.”

One of those things might seem like it doesn’t belong with the rest, but don’t be so quick to judge Mr. Revere and his Raider associates.

Emerging from the same primordial Pacific Northwest musical pool that would subsequently spawn Jimi Hendrix and the grunge movement, Paul Revere and the Raiders embodied 1960s proto-punk garage rock at its scrappiest, grittiest, and most combustive.

The Raiders’ succession of boot-stomping hits include “Kicks,” “Just Like Me,” “Action,” “Hungry,” and an absolutely killer “Louie Louie.”

Even the fact that they dressed like American Revolutionary War soldiers—to fight off the Beatles, Stones, and other assault fronts of “the British Invasion”—radiates pre-metal confrontational nerve. The power of performing in costume, obviously, also did not go unnoticed by Twisted Sister.

On October 5, 2014, Dee Snider posted some final respect to his hero by Tweeting: “Just found out music legend Paul Revere of Paul Revere and the Raiders died. He was a big inspiration and I’m glad I go to tell him.”

3. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Unexpected Influence: Metal Church

For all of Nirvana kingpin Kurt Cobain’s outspoken commitment to punk rock, the band’s music is ultimately also, as Ozzy Osbourne once described it, “a heavy metal version of the Beatles.”

Aside from Nirvana’s covering Kiss early on (“C’Mon and Love Me”), Kurt also profoundly dug the hard-and-heavy sounds of his fellow Seattleites in Metal Church. He even shared Aberdeen, Washington hometown roots with the group, as well as other future musical extremists.

As Spin reported in 1994: “Aberdeen was home to not only Nirvana but the Melvins, Matt Lukin from Mudhoney, some people from Metal Church, and a preacher who once took Ozzy’s place for six weeks on a Sab tour. Some people say what became known as the ‘Seattle sound’ originated in remote places like Aberdeen, where even would-be punk rockers grew up listening to Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin because Black Flag records never made it that far.”

Cobain cleverly tipped his hat to Metal Church by signing his first name “Kurdt,” a knowing nod to Church laeder Kurdt Vanderhoof.

2. Paul Stanley of Kiss

Unexpected Influence: Big Star

There’s no denying the power pop that pounds at the heart of Kiss’s heavy metal mayhem. The band members themselves have always been proud to taunt their hook-heavy prowess and to breathe a little grateful fire in the direction of those from whom they’ve learned.

Gene Simmons, for example, frequently describes Kiss’s music as “the Beatles on steroids.” The group’s early-1970s creation also came about during a windfall of wondrous hit-makers that alchemized irresistible bubblegum tunes with the full sound and fury of metal.

Among such artists were Sweet, the Raspberries, and sometimes even (believe it or not) the Osmonds. Plus, although they never actually topped the charts or scored any noteworthy radio play, there was also Alex Chilton and Chris Bell’s brilliant but perpetually underrated Big Star.

Paul Stanley did his part to boost Big Star’s overall appreciation in a 2014 Rolling Stone interview. “We’ve always been about verses, choruses, and bridges,” the Star Child said. “It’s called a hook for a reason, because it grabs you. And that’s my mentality. Give me the Raspberries. Gibe me Small Faces. Give me Big Star!”

1. Cliff Burton of Metallica

Unexpected Influence: R.E.M.

It’s well known among headbangers that original Metallica bassist Cliff Burton alerted his bandmates to New Jersey horror punks the Misfits, and thereby forever changed the futures and the fortunes of both groups. He was also a Thin Lizzy fanatic, and the multi-guitar attacks of those Irish hard rockers clearly impacted Burton’s sensibilities.

However separated metal and punk may have been during Metallica’s early-1980s beginnings, the Misfits still represent far less a leap than the other two musical influences Burton brought to the nascent thrash masters: college rockers R.E.M.

In his 2009 biography To Live Is to Die: The Life and Death of Metallica’s Cliff Burton, author Martin Popoff writes: “Cliff was responsible for a lot of the musicality of the band. “His heroes were R.E.M. and Thin Lizzy, specifically for the harmonies—vocal for the former, guitar for the latter.

Before he died so tragically in a 1986 tour bus accident, the ever-mysterious Cliff didn’t really elaborate so much on his fandom. In one of his last interviews, Burton simply states, “There’s a Southern band called R.E.M. I like a lot… strangely enough.”

That guy could always say so much with so little.