When Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine fired drummer Gar Samuelson and guitarist Chris Poland for not showing up for sound checks and other irresponsible and drug-impaired behavior, the band quickly had to find replacements. They were scheduled to begin work on their third album, So far, so good…so what!, as soon as they finished touring and needed to act quickly. Samuelson was easily replaced with accomplished drum technician Jeff Behler, but locking someone in for the guitar slot was more of a challenge.
The band originally hired former Malice guitarist Jay Reynolds to play on the record, which was released Jan. 19, 1988. But when Megadeth entered the Music Grinder studio to work on the album, they realized that Reynolds was out of his league. After Mustaine laid down the rhythms for one of the songs, he asked Reynolds to play his part, and the guitarist asked Mustaine if he could invite his guitar teacher, Jeff Young, into the studio to help him with the solos.
“It was as if he had spent weeks trying to hide the fact that he was in over his head, and now he had found a solution. Only it wasn’t a solution at all,” Mustaine wrote in his memoir, Mustaine.
Young did appear in the studio, but it was to audition for the second guitar slot, which Reynolds was relieved of before recording a note for the album. Given the sudden changes that occurred before it was written, So far, so good… So what! is a surprisingly strong and consistent album — perhaps not quite up to the standards of Peace sells… But who buys?, but impressively gloomy, heavy and virtuosic.
For the instrumental album opener “Into the lungs of Hell,” Mustaine integrated horn, flute and percussion samples within the framework of tumbling double bass drums, crushing rhythms and fluttering lead guitars. The second track, “Set the world on fire” was the first song Mustaine wrote after being fired Metallica. Not only did he write the lyrics on the back of a political pamphlet from California Senator Alan Cranston, he was inspired to name the band Megadeth after reading an expression in Cranston’s pamphlet.
Megadeth, “Set the World on Fire” – Live (1988)
“It said, ‘The arsenal of Megadeath cannot be freed,'” Mustaine recounted Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral History. “I thought, ‘What a great song title.’ That song later became ‘Set the World Fire.’ So in the middle of a problem naming the band, it was suggested that we call ourselves Megadeth instead of the song. With extreme lack of foresight, I decided to go with it, not knowing what a professional setback the name would be for us. No one had imagined that this band would become so successful at the level where the name would affect us. When you think about ruling the club circuit and playing the arenas and unsafe sex and drugs and alcohol and parties and fights and speeding down the roads, the thought about someone not liking your band because the name is “Megadeth” – it’s like, ‘Fuck you, it’s your loss.’ But when you try to get on the radio, it’s something completely different.”
With several strong songs written, including the barrelHook in the mouth” and the vicious thrash of “In my darkest hour” — as Mustaine wrote about the Metallica bassist’s death Cliff Burton — Megadeth’s frontman decided to record a cover song, as he had done on the band’s first two albums. He planned to come along Six guns “Problems” but was convinced by his record company to record “Anarchy in Britain” as it was more instantly recognizable.
Megadeth, “Anarchy in the UK” (Sex Pistols cover)
“The coolest thing about it all was staying [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones to play guitar on the track,” Mustaine wrote in his memoir. “We didn’t know how he would react to the invitation, but he was quick to accept. He was living in Southern California at the time and he was just driving one day on his Triumph motorcycle and sauntered in with a smile on his face… and a cast on his arm. Jonesy wasn’t about to let a little thing like a broken arm stop him from playing.”
Megadeth recorded So far, so good… So what! with producer Paul Lani in mid-1987, and the process was relatively painless. But when it came time to mix and master the album, Lani thought a change of scenery was a good idea, so he convinced Mustaine to finish the record with him at Bearsville Studio near Woodstock, NY While Lani had previously remixed Peace sells… But who buys?it quickly became clear that the relationship would not work.
“Everything about the guy just rubbed me the wrong way,” Mustaine wrote. “From his insistence on offering lessons in mealtime etiquette to his insanely fastidious approach to the mixing process.”
Megadeth in Decline of the Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
The breaking point with Lani came one morning when Mustaine was making himself a pot of coffee after waking up and he looked out the window to see Lani in her underwear feeding a peeled apple to a deer. Mustaine fired Lani on the spot and was on a flight back to Los Angeles a few hours later. He immediately replaced Lani with German engineer Michael Wagener, who had previously worked with Metallica, among other big bands. Despite Wagener’s credentials, Mustaine was ultimately unhappy with how he mixed the album. “He put in a pedestrian effort, burying everything under reverb and generally giving the record a muddy feel,” Mustaine wrote.
While So far, so good… So what! was created during a turbulent time for Megadeth, and was the only album on which Behler and Young played, it sold faster than any of the band’s records to date, moving 400,000 copies during its first month in stores. The record spawned three singles, “Anarchy in the UK”, “Mary Jane“and”Liar” and was certified platinum on May 26, 1998.
Mustaine and Ralph Patlan remixed So Far, so good… So what! in 2004 and hired Tom Baker to remaster the record. The release also featured four mixes of Lani allegedly created while wearing pants and a shirt.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.