One look at Michael Alago in the 1980s and chances are you might not take him for the executive type. Brimming withenthusiasm and energy, the uncannily youthful-looking Alago would become a major-label A&R executive at age 24 and was responsible for signing one of the biggest rock acts of all time: Metallica. Alago would go on to work with some of the most iconic names in music, including Nina Simone, John Lydon, Cyndi Lauper, and the Misfits. But like they always say, you never for-get your first. And now, in his own words, the story of how Michael Alago signed Metallica to Elektra Records.


The very first time I saw Metallica was at L’Amourin Brooklyn. It was 1983 and I lived seven blocks from the club, where I grew up with my mom and my sister. Phil Caivano from Monster Magnet and I went and we freaked out! They were simply phenomenal. The band took all their influences—punk rock, the new wave of British heavy metal, traditional heavy metal, hard rock—and sped it all up to have this fucking concoction that nobody else had at the time. Plus, they were relentless on stage and forced the crowd to pay attention. It was truly special.

I started doing A&R at Elektra Records around the beginning of 1983, and my day-to-day was pretty simple: pulling out all the cassettes that were in boxes from unsigned artists; meeting with publishers, lawyers, managers, and sometimes the artists themselves, who were all looking for a major-label deal. At some point in time, I became colleagues and then friends with Jonny Zazula from Megaforce Records. As fantastic as that label was then—they made those first couple of Metallica records, plus Anthrax, Overkill—they didn’t really have the funds to take those bands to the next step. Jon eventually sent me a box of record sand said, “Michael, you know what? I really need to get Raven signed to Elektra, they’re going to be huge.” I said, “Jon, I’m going to give you $5,000 and you’re going to give me five of the best Raven songs possible.” But in all of that, in that Megaforce box, was Metallica’s Kill ’Em All—and nothing sounded likethat in that box. I remembered my experience at L’Amour and thought, “These guys are fuckin’ the greatest thing ever!” 


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