Don't Tread On Me

Album: Metallica (1991)
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Songfacts®:

  • The motto "Don't Tread On Me" was very popular in colonial America. It is not known who originally coined the phrase, but it was paired up with the image of the American timber rattlesnake and printed on a famous flag commonly referred to as the "Gadsden Flag." Use of this flag and variations of it by American soldiers, sailors, and Marines grew fast and widespread during the American Revolution. There is a great historical significance and meaning to this flag and it is heavily linked to the Metallica song. The idea of the rattlesnake as a symbol of America was first thought of by Benjamin Franklin when he published the world's first ever political cartoon in 1754. It was a rattlesnake cut into several pieces and each part labeled a different colony. Under the snake it said "Join, or Die," encouraging colonial unity in standing up to the homeland monarchy ruling them from across the sea. Over the next two decades the rattlesnake, or more specifically the American timber rattlesnake of the northeastern states gained popularity (notice the rattlesnake on the cover of Metallica's Black Album). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matt - Cottage Grove, MN
  • The opening guitar riff (with triplets) is taken from the song "America" in the 1957 musical West Side Story. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Erin - Saint Louis, MO
  • In a 2001 interview for Playboy magazine, Hetfield rated this as not one of his favorites musically. The band never played it live.
  • This has been criticized for its jingoistic lyrics. At the time, the band's Danish drummer Lars Ulrich had to look up the word "jingoistic" in a dictionary, to see what it meant. He said: "It pissed me off!"
  • Should you ever encounter a wild cougar on your travels, "Don't Tread On Me" ought to scare it off. Canadian woman Dee Gallant leaned this when she was walking her husky, Murphy, in British Columbia's Cowichan Valley. When she spotted a cougar slowly approaching her, Gallant started yelling and making loud noises that she hoped would make the fierce feline go away. When that didn't work, she started playing "Don't Tread on Me" on her phone.

    "I thought it was the noisiest thing on my phone that would probably scare it, [but] that was also the message I wanted to convey to the cougar," Gallant explained to KelownaNow. "As soon as the first notes blared out, it ran into the bush."

Comments: 24

  • Mynystry from Guanajuato MexicoI see I am not the only one that heard: "Soviet" in the song... That was what came to my mind when I first heard it in 1991. But I am not a native English speaker.
  • Justin14me from Wherever I May RoamPlease... you guys are all wrong. This song is about defending personnel liberties at home, it's just that simple. It's a song about what we used to be about in this country and will be again someday. It's a song about standing up to oppressive government that infringes on our liberty at home. It's a some about revolution.
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjThis song is in standard tuning a half-step down (e-flat)

    @Ryan that's cool, I'll have to check 'em out.
  • Ryan from West Valley City, Ut@Nick This song has been played live since the album it's on was released in 1991. I have found several videos of them playing this song live on YouTube in 1991, 1992, and 2012.
  • Zero from Nowhere, NjWhen they play the Black album in it's entirety in July this year (2012), it will finally be played live. They also going to play Ride the Lighting in it's entirety on another night.
  • Jordan Rt from Bettendorf, Ia(cont.) of course, that is only the first verse from Metallica's "Don't Tread On Me", on my last post. The rest is a google search away! Enjoy! :)
  • Jordan Rt from Bettendorf, IaHere are the words of the "American Guesser"!...
    "I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids--She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.--She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.--As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shewn and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:--Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.--Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?"

    And the words of Metallica! -
    "Liberty or death, what we so proudly hail
    once you provoke her, rattling of her tail
    never begins it, never, but once engaged...
    never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage
    said don't tread on me!"
  • Jeremy from Albany, NySome of the lyrics may be attributed directly with Ben Franklin:

    http://www.foundingfathers.info/stories/gadsden.html

    In December 1775, "An American Guesser" anonymously wrote to the Pennsylvania Journal:

    "She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. ... she never wounds 'till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her."

    Many scholars now agree that this "American Guesser" was Benjamin Franklin.
  • Jean-pierre from Grants Pass , AlI actually got the feel that it was an anti american song. Like america gets involved to much and stuff. Then again i tend to do that often due to my anarchist beliefs. AWESOME SONG BY THE WAY
  • Luap from Fp, NorwayWell this is my fav song, of all the songs, this the one make my day. Simple as that.
  • Gunnery Sgt. Gibbs from Fort Palmer, AustraliaThis is an awesome song and so bloody true!
    Don't Tread On Me! f--k, I love that. We had that written on the back of our humvee when we went into Kuwait to push Sadam's forces back.
  • Tim from Stockholm, Sweden@ John319: I think it's actually pretty straight-forward. This is an excerpt of the lyrics from metallica.com - "Once you provoke her, rattling of her tail/Never begins it, never, but once engaged/Never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage"

    I think you're actually just reading it wrong - stressing the wrong words. James is using the rattlesnake as a metaphor for America. The rattlesnake is never the first to attack, hence the lyrics "Never begins it". However, when agitated or involved in a fight for some reason it never surrenders and gives a hard fight -->"Never surrenders, showing the fangs of rage".

    On a different note, I don't really like the lyrical theme of this song, although the actual lyrics are very clever. IMHO you hear more than enough "God bless America"-talk already if that's what this song is trying to say. I don't really embrace expressing nationalistic views - it's cool to like your own country but why prove it to others? =P It's a little like bragging about yourself. No offense to Americans of course, one can't be in love with every aspect of every culture, though I want to stress that I respect that you may or may not like your country - that's up to you.

    The Song itself is really kickass and I agree with JT and Luke that the riff at the beggining is a clever tribute/reference to West Side Story!

    Peace&Love
  • John319 from Templeton, CaI Agree with JT of Manchester that it's very creative to work that popular riff in there. also, what does "never but ONCE engaged" mean? it insinuates that there was one time when we struck first. what do you think they're talkng about?
  • Billy from Cresco, PaGreat song.

    I always thought this song had something to do with the Gulf War.
  • Tyler from Elk Grove, Ilok...the "Gadsden Flag" is still the a navy "jack" flown on ships, etc, dont tread on me was coined by benjimin franklin, as almost all the other lyrics in the song
  • Steven from Viking, CanadaThis is one of the best songs off the album, i love it
  • Luke from Manchester, EnglandJT, it is America, he plays it because he's American and the song's about America
  • Nick from Paramus, NjAs far as I know, this song has never been played live.
  • John from Overland Park, KsThe rattlesnake was one of the early suggestions for a national emblem. The reasons were twofold: (1) it is a native creature to America, and (2) it never strikes without first giving a warning - even when provoked. The first Continental naval flag showed a white background and a coiled rattlesnake, with the legend "Don't Tread On Me".
  • Matt from Cottage Grove, MnRobbie, CO Springs-- That's awesome that you thought of that. I hope it's true, if not it's still a brilliant idea. Either way the message of the song is immortal. "To secure the peace is to prepare for war." Exactly what Ronald Reagan believed and achieved - "Peace through Strength"... and the Soviets would threaten no more. DTOM!
  • Robbie from Colorado Springs, CoIn one part in the song where James says "So be it, threaten no more." It actually sounds a lot like he's saying "Soviets, threaten no more" even though he isn't. What makes that interesting is this album was put out the same year the USSR collapsed. Just an interesting and somewhat random thought.
  • Matt from Mentor, OhIts defintly about something with the army " Never provok her Rattiling of her tail Showing her fangs of rage" obviously means dont mess with US. Matt, Mentor, Oh
  • Jt from Manchester, CtIf you pay attention, you'll notice the guitar riff in the beginning sounds like "America" from West Side Story. These guys are so musically creative, it's awesome!
  • Marcus from Nykoping, SwedenHow come no one has posted a comment to this song yet? It may be a bit ordinary, but it's still a high class heavy metal song, that helps keep the "Black album" solid.
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