In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of the Sochi Olympics, we’re celebrating jock jams—or songs we think should be jock jams.
Being a Metallica fan is a statement usually followed by a certain number of caveats. The band’s massive success should fly in the face of this claim, but for each individual devoted to the once-revolutionary thrash ensemble there’s a fan who has refused to acknowledge anything post a specific year. For me, I place my feet firmly in the “first four albums” camp, cutting myself out of the equation before the release of the group’s chart-topping fifth album, a self-titled affair that’s affectionately known as The Black Album.
The Black Album serves as a makeshift cutoff point for fans of the band, drawing a line in the sand between its early days of spouting “metal up your ass” to a watered-down approach that seemed to suggest “metal at your convenience.” It was an attempt to make itself an easier inclusion for DJs of early-’90s alt-rock radio stations, losing a bit of itself in the process. Yet, for all the cheesy, groan-inducing moments that permeate the album, lead single “Enter Sandman” is perfect for all the right, and all the wrong reasons.
Though baseball is hardly one my passions, when a group of friends convened on the bleachers for a Chicago White Sox game it was hard not to give in to the baser joys of America’s pastime. What I quickly realized was that, in the context of a few thousand sports fans, the main riff to “Enter Sandman” is downright edgy. From the second it came blaring out of the stadium’s speakers I found myself nodding along, seemingly out of instinct. It added an intense pressure to the at-bats that followed, unifying the crowd with a few simple notes. What set the song over the edge for me was hearing our sunbaked section offer up a myriad of James Hetfield impressions each time the song played: A stray “ooo YE-heah” here, a mumbled take on the signature opening to “Fuel,” and perhaps the most appropriate contribution of them all, a drunken spectator screaming “Amstel Light! Tastes all-riiiiiight!” instead of the actual “Sandman” chorus.
In that moment the beauty of “Enter Sandman” was exposed. It’s a song that can be mocked and admired for all the same reasons, enjoyed for a strange mix of genuine enjoyment and ironic winking without ever having to justify one or the other. Though it’s likely I’d turn it off in any other context, the combination of expensive light beer, cheap riffs, and a little bit of baseball made “Enter Sandman” effective for the first time in years. I may not remember the box score of the game I watched, but I remember moments of fleeting perfection during “Enter Sandman.” If only the rest of The Black Album’s songs could be so lucky.