Half-Life? Never heard of ‘em.
A friend recently shared some vintage garage-rock goodness with me from the Saginaw, Michigan band, Half-Life and man, it knocked me for a loop. On June 27, 1969 Half-Life recorded the track “Get Down” at GM Studios in East Detroit (the same studio that the MC5 recorded Back in the USA).
The minute I hit the play button, I was immediately floored by the opening riff in “Get Down” and its remarkable resemblance to Tony Iommi’s fuzzed-out riff on “Paranoid.” Even the opening percussion is eerily similar to the Sabbath classic. Recorded in only one take, when the band started shopping “Get Down” around to local Detroit radio stations they were told it had no commercial viability. Half-Life would later drop the song from its
Half-Life, a garage band from Saginaw, Michigan. Circa 1969
So this could mean one of two things. Either Half-Life are actually time bandits of the most awesome kind or Black Sabbath somehow caught wind of “Get Down” from 3,652 miles away (the approximate distance between Detroit, Michigan and Birmingham UK), allowing Iommi to claim the sweet lick for his own. Not only do both scenarios bear the markings of a lunatic conspiracy theorist, the first one has no real basis in reality. No matter much I wish that it did. Another interesting fact to add to this weird mix is that “Paranoid” almost didn’t make it onto the record and the track came came to be in a somewhat similar way that “Get Down” did—according to Sabbath bassist, Geezer Butler:
The whole story of how we created that song is funny. It became the most popular song from the album, but it wasn’t something we thought much of when we wrote it. In fact, we finished the record and then the producer told us we needed one more song to finish up the album, so we just came up with “Paranoid” on the spot. Tony [Iommi] just played this riff and we all went along with it. We didn’t think anything of it.
In all seriousness, the riffy similarities between “Get Down” and “Paranoid” are rather uncanny, but I’ll leave you to judge that with your own ears. Just press play below. Now do I believe that Tony Iommi, one of the most influential guitarists of all time lifted the epic riff for “Paranoid” from a little known garage-band from Saginaw? Of course not, and neither do you. However, if you dig “Get Down” (and I strongly suspect you will), I recommend that you pick up the compilation A-Square (Of Course): The Story of Michigan’s Legendary A-Square Records which features “Get Down” and other rare recordings from the Ann Arbor-based label from bands like the legendary MC5 and The SRC (The Scot Richard Case).
“Get Down” by Half-Life (1969)
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘New’ footage of Black Sabbath on German TV, 1970