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Remembering Metallica's "Garage Days"

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I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.

"The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited" cover

"The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited" cover

Metallica - "The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited"

(Elektra Records, 1987)

5 Tracks / Run Time: 24:48

When Metallica released The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited in August of 1987, drummer Lars Ulrich called it "a fun thing... something stupid to tide the kids over till our next album." More than three decades later, however, this humble, cheaply recorded five-track mini-LP of obscure cover tunes has become a bona fide cult classic and is considered a pivotal release in Metallica's history.

The $5.98 EP (aka The $9.98 CD, if you preferred the compact disc format) was Metallica's first studio recording with then-new bassist Jason Newsted, who'd joined the band in late 1986 after the tragic death of Cliff Burton. The band was due to spend the Summer of '87 touring the Euro festival circuit, and their European record label suggested that they release some kind of new product in time for the gigs.

Metallica had just finished the grueling Master of Puppets tour and had barely thought about writing for the next album, so they had no fresh material on hand. Thus, the quartet convened in a hastily-constructed rehearsal space in Ulrich's garage and began banging out covers of some of their favorite NWOBHM and punk rock songs. After a few practices, they picked five of the tracks and headed into a studio to record proper versions of them. The entire project took a mere six days to complete (which is probably the last time Metallica was in a studio for such a short period!).

The "Re-Revisited" in the album's title referenced the B-side of 1984's Creeping Death European maxi single, which was sub titled Garage Days Revisited, and featured covers of Diamond Head's "Am I Evil?" and Blitzkrieg's "Blitzkrieg."

When The $5.98 EP was released, I happened to be in Germany on a high school student-exchange trip. I saw the EP in a record shop in Frankfurt, and somehow got the mistaken impression that it was a Europe-only exclusive. Naturally I snapped it up, thinking that I'd be the only kid on the block with new Metallica music when I returned to New Jersey. I figured I'd make a killing selling taped copies of it to everyone at my school!

When I got home, however, I was surprised (and a bit disappointed) to learn that The $5.98 EP had also been released in the U.S. while I was away. So much for my get-rich-quick scheme!

"Helpless" (Diamond Head)

The Songs

When I first heard the $5.98 EP, all of the songs -- and most of the original artists -- were "new" to my ears. I was somewhat familiar with Diamond Head since Metallica had previously covered "Am I Evil," and I'd heard of the Misfits since they were from my home state, but I had only ever heard one Killing Joke song, and Budgie and Holocaust were complete mysteries to me.

The disc kicks off with a spirited run through Diamond Head's "Helpless," then crashes into Holocaust's brooding "The Small Hours," which has a doomy, sludgy Black Sabbath feel to it. Post-punkers Killing Joke's "The Wait" is a raunchy riff-fest with hooks to spare. Legend has it that "The Wait" came about when guitarist Kirk Hammett had trouble learning another song the band was considering for the EP, and he began grinding the riff to "The Wait" out of sheer frustration. The rest of the band liked it so much that they ended up dropping the other song in favor of "The Wait."

New boy Jason Newsted gets to show off a bit on the nimble-fingered bass intro to Budgie's trippy "Crash Course in Brain Surgery," and the EP comes to a speedy and brutal end with the medley of the Misfits' "Last Caress" and "Green Hell." The Misfits tracks were a nod to the late Cliff Burton, who'd turned his band mates onto the Jersey horror punks via tour bus mix tapes. Metalheads instantly fell in love with "Last Caress," thanks to its irresistibly offensive refrain of "I got somethin' to sayyyyy... I killed your baby today! Doesn't matter much to me as long as it's deeeeaaad!"

The EP fades out with an out-of-tune (on purpose) snippet of Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills," and the result is a breezy, heavy, and fun peek into Metallica's record collections that is still a blast to listen to today.

"The Wait" (Killing Joke)

The Reaction

The $5.98 EP was an instant success, hitting #28 on the U.S. Billboard album charts and eventually being certified Platinum for selling over a million copies.

The EP is also credited with with revitalizing the careers of many of the defunct bands that were covered. After hearing Metallica's versions of these songs, curious fans started combing through used record stores looking for the originals. Over the next decade, Diamond Head, Holocaust, Budgie, and the Misfits all reformed for concert tours or released new material to capitalize on their renewed visibility.

"Last Caress/Green Hell" (Misfits)

The Legacy

In spite of The $5.98 EP's popularity, it was inexplicably allowed to go out of print in 1989. As a result, copies quickly became pricey collector's items on the secondary market, especially when Metallica's mainstream fan base exploded in the wake of 1991's gazillion selling "Black Album."

In response to fans' constant requests for a reissue of the EP, the five tracks were included on 1998's double-disc collection Garage Inc., a compilation of every cover song Metallica had recorded up to that point, with an additional set of fresh takes on classics by Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Discharge, and Bob Seger, as well as more Diamond Head and Misfits..

In 2018, the band's own Blackened Recordings label imprint re-issued The $5.98 EP in its original form for the first time, on vinyl, cassette, and CD (in the old fashioned "long box" packaging!), bringing the Garage Days saga full circle.

© 2021 Keith Abt

Comments

Ara Vahanian from LOS ANGELES on January 21, 2021:

Hey thanks so much for writing about this! I actually didn't really hear these cover songs until around the year 2000 or so. This later became part of a 2 disc set known as Garage Inc. It is a real shame that Cliff Burton didn't live to take part in their 1990s albums. What a foursome Metallica would have been! They are already great but would be even better with Cliff Burton on bass performing these covers! If only he had lived...I could keep going on about this but let's continue to spread the word about the greatness of Metallica.

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