The stories behind 10 of Megadeth’s biggest songs

Dave Mustaine reveals the inspirations behind some of Megadeth’s greatest hits – from Killing Is My Business… to Symphony Of Destruction.

The stories behind 10 of Megadeth’s biggest songs
Paul Travers

Last year, Megadeth celebrated their 35th anniversary. To mark the achievement the thrash legends released a compilation called Warheads On Foreheads.

Featuring an entirely appropriate 35 tracks hand-picked by Megadeth founder and frontman Dave Mustaine, it spanned their entire recorded output, from 1985 debut album Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! through to 2016’s GRAMMY-winning Dystopia.

“What do I put our longevity down to? Stubbornness!” Dave laughs. “I had my hopes that anything I would do would have merit. I don’t think anyone in this world plans to be insignificant and once I determined music was the path I wanted to take, I wanted to be great. I’ve worked hard at it for a long time.”

It’s been a very long time and it’s yielded some true metal classics, which is why we got Dave to talk us through 10 key Megadeth tracks…

Mechanix (1985)

“We were playing Mechanix in [Dave’s pre-Metallica band] Panic, so it was more than the bare bones of the song we had, it was flesh and blood and a whole living song. I’ve said that I felt angry when I heard Metallica’s version [The Four Horsemen]. I don’t want to say ‘betrayal’ because that’s such a heavy word, but there was the bitter-sweetness of something I had written being used by someone else. But deep down inside there was also the feeling of, ‘Hey, my song’s on a record.’ And I’m glad they did it because you have the comparison of the two songs. Mechanix by Megadeth I think was infinitely faster and heavier than The Four Horsemen by Metallica.”

Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good! (1985)

“When you look at all the songs on there, how could this not be the title-track of the debut album? When I was a kid I loved Iron Man and Captain America, but then all of a sudden the Punisher made an appearance. He didn’t have any superpowers, he just had a chip on his shoulder and he sticks up for good… I guess… and fights for the underdog. The song Killing Is My Business… is based on an assassin that I had made up after reading a bunch of Punisher comics. The same character made an appearance again in the second half of Holy Wars… The Punishment Due.”

The Conjuring (1986)

“At school this guy walked behind me and slugged me full-force in the stomach. Later we got the bus and then he elbowed me. I thought, ‘Right, that’s it’ and I put a hex on him. Who knows whether it’s real or not but I had started to get more into the occult when I moved to San Francisco with Metallica. I got a Satanic Bible and I thought, ‘I’m just going to be this evil bastard,’ but it just wasn’t me. I love people too much but the song came from that period. I also found out my dad was a Mason and writing the song I thought, ‘Oh, he’s made a deal with the Devil…’”

Good Mourning/Black Friday (1986)

“This was the same period and the same mentality. We had a drummer called Dijon Carruthers and there was another guy called David who was highly Satanic. He’d write phrases like, ‘The moon is noxious…’ and songs like Bad Omen had lyrics from that. I’d glean lyrics just from having conversations with this guy. Good Mourning/Black Friday is almost comical with the overkill of it, which is probably closer to death metal than thrash metal lyrically.”

Hangar 18 (1990)

“I had written that song when I was in Panic and it had a different title. I had looked at the tailfin of a plane and the numbers were N2RHQ. I thought, that says ‘into our headquarters’ and I thought N2RHQ was a cool song title, like Van Halen’s OU812. I thought that cleverness with letters was cool so I wrote all that, ‘Welcome to our fortress tall…’ about this place in space. It had nothing to do with Rosewell or Area 51 or any of that. [Former drummer] Nick Menza was completely fascinated by aliens. He once said Jesus was an alien and that was why he could levitate! He was always trying to be funny and outrageous but he was the one who was into aliens.”

Tornado Of Souls (1990)

“This was about my muse Diana. We were engaged and one day I called her and told her I had to walk away from this. It was painful but I knew I was really bad for her. It was toxic but it was me who was bad for her. When you’re growing up and you first get a boner you think you love someone but this was one of the first times in my life when I really loved someone. You’ll forsake all things for that person and I did with Diana. I never thought I’d love somebody so much again but luckily I did and I’m very, very happy with my married life.”

Symphony Of Destruction (1992)

“I was on my way back from martial arts class and going to get lunch. I’m driving away from the sushi place and I thought of the lines, ‘His head explodes, his metal brain corrodes’ and I wrote it on the back of the sushi receipt. The song itself is The Manchurian Candidate. You put somebody into power and they have a secret codeword. You say the word, his brain clicks into play… and evil ensues! My take on that was, ‘You take a mortal man/And put him in control’. And what happens next? Bad stuff. Another snippet on this… I don’t remember it going down like this but David Ellefson is like our archivist. He says that we turned the record in and they said, ‘You need to write a couple more songs.' We went back and wrote Holy Wars… and Symphony…, which are two of our best.”

Sweating Bullets (1992)

“People always think it’s about me but there was an American comedian who recently passed away called George Carlin. He had some stuff he was talking about that inspired me to write Sweating Bullets. And then my wife had a friend called Laurie who had a disorder. She’d go out with her and sure as shit, I’d get a call saying, ‘Laurie had another panic attack and she left me.’ So the story was about my wife’s friend – it wasn’t about me at all. People put their own stories to this stuff and I read it and think, ‘This is the greatest story I’ve ever heard!’”

Blackmail The Universe (2004)

“I love to read, I have this appetite for knowledge and I came across this book called The Screwtape Letters by an amazing English author called C.S. Lewis. He was the guy who wrote Narnia and my kids loved that, but I never made that connection at the time. I loved it, I couldn’t read it fast enough. I read more of his and by the time I was through I had Blackmail The Universe. So that’s what inspired this song, it wasn’t about the Cuban Missile Crisis or anything like that.”

The Threat Is Real (2016)

“It’s a phrase that has a heavy meaning but it’s overused to the point where it becomes pabulum. For me I thought, ‘Well, what is the threat? Is it terrorism, is it disease? Was it the person who brought Ebola back to the U.S. and refused to be quarantined?’ I read a book called Germs And Guns and one about The Coming Plague and it talks about the way people can sabotage and do terrible stuff. Think about this: a delivery guy comes to the door, kicks the door in and rapes and murders your wife. Then I saw on the news a delivery guy who picked up a shovel and snow-shovelled this guy’s porch. What makes one guy shovel the porch and the other guy be a murderer?”

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