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Celebrate James Hetfield’s 49th Birthday By Watching Awesome Metallica Moments

James Hetfield / Photo by Getty Images

As of today, Metallica frontman James Hetfield has one more year to live until he turns (gasp!) 50! Over the past three decades or so, he’s led an extraordinary life as the fearless leader of the thrash icons: He helped invent speed-metal’s signature guitar sound, he wrote songs that influenced artists ranging from Slayer to Shakira and he has had the opportunity to jam with people who have influenced him over the years like members of Black Sabbath and Queen. He’s always projected a level of poise, even during times he was admittedly uncomfortable (see photoshoots around Load), and yet he’s never lost sight of his sense of humor. So to help Jaymz, as he used to call himself, celebrate final year of his 40s, we’ve trawled YouTube to find his five most-awesome onstage moments.

James Hetfield crowdbaits fans at the 1983 release party for Kill ‘Em All
This video of Metallica playing “Metal Militia” would be impressive on its own, were it not just to watch early Het command a thrash classic alongside original bassist Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett wearing an unusually décolleté white shirt. What makes it more exciting though is that five minutes in, after they finish the song and launch into a boogie-woogie instrumental, the frontman pulls out a freshly minted copy of their debut and begins crowd-baiting. “Lookee what I got,” he says. “The debut album, out on Megaforce Records, it’s called Kill ‘Em All, and we’re glad to kill all you tonight. Who wants this fucker?” After it disappears into a mosh pit, Hetfield exclaims, “I don’t think anybody got that. We broke another one.” Watch the video to hear what Hetfield originally wanted to call the album, before he says, “Kill all the record distributors.”

Hetfield and Lars Ulrich have a drum-off in 1992
Feel free to skip to the 5:26 mark of this video (all you’re missing is drummer Lars Ulrich doing a drum solo, messing up at one point and literally doing a jerk-off motion with his drumsticks), to see our birthday boy ascend another drum kit to duel with his Danish counterpart. Pretty much anything Ulrich plays, Hetfield matches. He also literally gooses Ulrich with a drumstick. Judging from Hetfield’s command of “Walk This Way,” some blastbeats and what could be an Iron Maiden beat, maybe Ulrich better watch the drum throne.

Playing “Stone Cold Crazy” with members of Queen and Black Sabbath
A few months after Queen frontman Freddie Mercury died of AIDS-related complications, his bandmates held a concert in his honor on April 20, 1992 in front of 72,000 people at London’s Wembley Stadium. Although Metallica did play a three-song set of their own that was even worthy of being put out as an EP at the time, it’s Hetfield’s performance of the Sheer Heart Attack song “Stone Cold Crazy” alongside the British band’s surviving members and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. Without a guitar to hide behind, Hetfield assumes a true frontman role, gesticulating as he sings the lyrics, headbanging in front of Roger Taylor’s drum kit and playing air guitar with Brian May. Add the fact that the Queen guys join him with their trademark harmonies — something that was missing from Metallica’s cover of the song — and it made for one of the evening’s high points.

Pranking a security guard mid-song
On a 2010 stop in Oslo, Norway, Metallica pulled out the title cut to their 1988 album …And Justice for All. As Hammett begins the song’s solo, Hetfield takes stage left and jams behind an unwitting security guard. At about the 20-second spot of this video, he pulls off an impish prank you have to see to believe before jumping back into playing. The guard never knew what hit him.

Taking it like a man on his birthday in 2009
A long-running tradition at Metallica concerts is that when it is somebody’s birthday, they need to watch out. When Metallica stopped through England’s Sonisphere concert on August 3, 2009 — Hetfield’s 46th birthday — he thought he got off scot free when he mostly dodged a pie-in-the-face attack by the crew members. Little did he know about 15 other people were waiting for him. Thankfully, one of them was kind enough to take his guitar and safely stow it. Check out how he handles the situation below, as his fans sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Here’s to many more, James.