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It’s No Joke: Metallica Song Spurs New Interest in Excel

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Say you’re a heavy-metal band that recorded a song in 1989 only to hear a very similar song turn up as a big hit by Metallica in 1991. What do you do?

Sue, right? Just think what a piece of the monster album “Metallica” must be worth. The album has sold more than 3 million copies in less than three months since its release.

But Excel, a Los Angeles quartet, isn’t going to court even though the group’s song, “Tapping Into the Emotional Void,” is being played by several metal radio deejays across the country who have noticed that the introduction and dominant musical riff are remarkably similar to that of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

“You don’t know what to think,” said Excel singer Dan Clements, recalling the first time he heard Metallica’s “Sandman.”

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A fan of Metallica who even stood in line at midnight when their album went on sale, Clements said he was shaken by the similarities of the two songs, and the thought of the potential financial gain from a copyright lawsuit was tempting. Excel’s album, “The Joke’s on You,” has built a solid core of fans, especially in the Los Angeles club scene, but sold only about 20,000 copies.

But Excel’s manager, Jane Hoffman, said the band is wary of a lengthy, tiring court battle and is just hoping that the new attention paid to its old track, which was written in 1988, will give momentum to its next album, which is being written and recorded now.

“A lawsuit, unfortunately, sucks everything else out of your life,” Hoffman said from her Los Angeles office. “Every day you’re dealing with it. Instead of dealing with positives, you’re dealing with negatives, and nothing is proceeding.”

Metallica co-manager Cliff Burnstein said he had never heard of the Excel song. But he is familiar with the group, which formed in 1983. Excel guitarist Adam Seigel has been playing recently with Infectious Grooves, a band that includes two members of Suicidal Tendencies, which Burnstein also manages. But he chalked up the songs’ similarities to coincidence.

“If Excel could write that one (as good as that), I’m sure they can write more,” Burnstein said. “Then they’ll be successful.”

“Void” found a new life after Dave Berger, program director at small WXVU-FM at Villanova University near Philadelphia, thought that the Metallica song “sounded familiar.”

“I looked for the Excel record, and there it was,” Berger said. “We played it and some people called thinking it was a demo version of ‘Sandman.’ ”

Meanwhile, several other deejays recognized the similarity, including Chris Payne of Reno’s KZAK-FM, who during a recent edition of his Sunday-night “Metal Madness” show alternated between the two songs.

Caroline Records, which released “The Joke’s on You,” has reissued the song as a single and it’s getting airplay on college and metal stations. It was the “most added” song last week on metal-oriented radio stations reporting to industry tip sheets the Hard Report and Friday Morning Quarterback.

“Radio has really picked up on it,” said Janet Billig, Caroline’s director of artist and media relations. “Sales--after two years of virtual inactivity--are really going to put the record back on track.”

That, Clements said, is better for the band than winning a lawsuit would be. “I just want it to be known that it’s time more than 20,000 people recognized that musically Excel has it and is ahead of its time,” he said.


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