Metal Man Has Won His Wings: The Source

Exclusive report by Biffy the Elephant Shrew

"Metal Man Has Won His Wings" first appeared legitimately in 1985, on the boxed set The Old Masters, Box One. The song has appeared on CD for the first time in 1998, on Ryko's Mystery Disc. Frank Zappa's notes on the song, prepared in 1984, tell us that:

"In our spare time we made what we thought were 'rock & roll' records. In this example, Vliet was 'singing' in the hallway outside the studio (our vocal booth) while the band played in the other room. The lyrics were derived from a comic book pinned to the bulletin board near the door."

The liner notes for another song recorded under the same circumstances--"Tiger Roach," from The Lost Episodes--give more specifics. A Zappa quote identifies the comic book as X-Man [sic.], and the date of the sessions that produced both songs is given as "1962 or '63," with a footnote providing evidence that 1963 is the more likely date. In fact, at least "Metal Man Has Won His Wings" must have been recorded somewhat later than this (and the two songs sound so similar that it seems unlikely that they are from separate sessions).

The following images are the cover and a full-page ad from the DC comic Metal Men #7, April-May 1964. This book would have been on sale in early 1964; its on-sale date was probably February 20, the same as that of the Hawkman comic advertised (which also shows a cover date of May). This is clearly the source of the lyrics of "Metal Man Has Won His Wings." (Note that, contrary to the official title, it is actually Hawkman, in both the song and the original advertisement, who has "won his wings.") This proves that "Metal Man Has Won His Wings" must actually date from February 1964 at the very earliest.

Captain Beefheart's verbal riffing includes the phrases "metal men" and "the living gun," taken from the title of the comic itself and that of this issue's story.

The Captain quotes the first lines of this advertisement virtually verbatim, right down to Hawkman's cry of "Wheet! Wheet!" In an act of impressive (though very possibly accidental) inspiration, he transmutes the word "electrifying" into "electro-flyer."

One persuasive item presented in the "Tiger Roach" notes as evidence for attributing the songs to 1963 is the fact that Zappa's rejection letter from Dot Records dates from that year (it is dated September 19, 1963--the December date given in the Lost Episodes notes is incorrect). Zappa is quoted in the "Tiger Roach" notes as saying that Beefheart's recording of Little Richard's "Slippin' And Slidin'" was another recording "from this period," and he states elsewhere (in the 1974 "Ten Years On The Road With Frank Zappa And The Mothers Of Invention" press kit) that this song was one of the masters covered by the Dot rejection letter. Either Zappa must be wrong about the latter point, or (as I suspect) "Slippin' And Slidin'" was recorded several months earlier than "Metal Man" and "Tiger Roach."

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