Pre-History of Headbanging


I just wanted to share this conference paper which I will be presenting in a few weeks! It was written for the Modern Heavy Metal conference this June in Finland, and will be included in a conference proceedings book. But I wanted to make sure the paper was available to anyone, not just people who have the time and money to attend the conference.

The paper can be downloaded for free at the link below; it is copyrighted by myself and by the organizers of the conference, so please do not reprint without contacting me for permission. Enjoy!

“Metal Movements: Headbanging as a Legacy of African American Dance” on

“Metal Movements: Headbanging as a Legacy of African American Dance” PDF

Edit: The full conference proceedings are now available online.

Video Pre-History of Headbanging

I’ll work backwards in time with these examples. The folks at wikipedia describe 1970 as ground zero for headbanging, citing live performances by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. Below is a video from a Black Sabbath concert that year in France. You’ll see Ozzy shaking his head a lot, although he’s not terribly consistent about it and he’s also shaking his hips and waving his arms a lot. He was a wild creature in those days, gotta love him.

One step further back, before when most people consider heavy metal to have started, is the band Blue Cheer. They were one of the loudest psychedelic rock bands in San Francisco in 1968, and in the live video below, their drummer Paul Whaley has the headbanger look nailed down two years before the video of Black Sabbath above. Maybe it’s just because he’s *ahem* whaling on the drums so hard, but with his long hair hanging in his face and his head shaking on every beat, it sure looks like headbanging to me.

The last stop takes us back a decade further to the beginning of rock itself. There are a number of videos of Chuck Berry performing live in France in 1958. You can see Berry himself moving in all kinds of ways, including plenty of head shaking and deep bending over. But in this video of “Johnny B. Goode,” look over Chuck’s shoulder in the verse starting at 2:10. You’ll see the bass player bobbing his head like he’s ringing a bell…

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