Adam Lambert is the leading contender on this year’s “American Idol.” The 27-year-old musical-theater veteran proved it yet again Tuesday night during a tribute to Hollywood movie music when he went way back to 1968 for a hyped-up cover of [artist id="16900"]Steppenwolf’s[/artist] “Born to Be Wild.”
While the majority of the other contestants stuck to songs from the 1990s, and all the rest went the ballad route, Lambert stood out because he chose a 40-year-old high-octane rock song associated with the iconic 1969 hippie road movie “Easy Rider” (likely one of mentor Quentin Tarantino’s all-time top 10).
After performing a moving cover of the Tears for Fears ballad “Mad World” last week, Lambert did a 180 and gave some techno flash to a song many have credited with being the first-ever heavy-metal tune. Released as the Canadian band’s second single in 1968, “Born to Be Wild” essentially helped name the emerging genre of heavy music with the line “I like smoke and lightning/ Heavy metal thunder/ Racin’ with the wind/ And the feelin’ that I’m under.” (The phrase first appeared in late author William Burroughs’ 1962 novel “The Soft Machine,” in which a character is described as “the Heavy Metal Kid,” but the Steppenwolf song was the first piece of music to use it.)
The song became the band’s biggest hit and a shorthand reference to the wind-in-your-hair freedom of hitting the open road on a motorcycle thanks to its use in 1969′s “Easy Rider,” a counterculture classic that follows Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda as they ride their choppers from Los Angeles to New Orleans on a series of epic, drug-fueled adventures. The movie contained a reworked version of the song that included the sounds of motorcycles revving up in the intro. It was written by Mars Bonfire (a.k.a. Dennis Edmonton), who wasn’t a member of the band, but whose brother, Jerry, was Steppenwolf’s drummer.
It has since come to embody a rebel spirit and has been covered by everyone from INXS and U2 to the Cult, Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, Hinder and Ozzy Osbourne (in a 1994 duet with the Muppets’ Miss Piggy). It has been featured in movies including “Coming Home,” “Borat,” “Dr. Dolittle 2″ and “Herbie Fully Loaded.”
Lambert added his own unique take to the tune, performing it in front of a screen flashing with lightning and fire effects and putting a Broadway patina on the whole thing with his energetic stage maneuvers and a series of sky-high falsetto wails.
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