Ex-MEGADETH Bassist DAVID ELLEFSON On 'Peace Sells' Bassline: 'What An Honor To Have That Moment And To Be Part Of It'

June 19, 2023

Former MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson spoke to Ghost Cult magazine about the bass intro to the song "Peace Sells", from the band's 1986 album "Peace Sells… But Who's Buying?" The opening bassline was used as the theme for MTV News, but MEGADETH leader Dave Mustaine has repeatedly claimed he never received any royalties for MTV's usage of the song.

Ellefson said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "Most people don't get one of those in their lifetime. [BLACK SABBATH's] Tony Iommi, I always think of 'Iron Man'. [IRON MAIDEN's] Steve Harris, of course, has got his signature sound. RUSH has theirs. So, as a musician, to have such an identity related to…

"And the funny thing is, I was on tour. I missed the whole thing. I wasn't home watching MTV every day to hear it," he continued. "I was out going to work; I was touring. So it's people like you who tell [me], 'Oh my God. You have no idea. It was on every day. We heard it all the time. It was part of our backdrop of our lives through that whole season.' So, [it's] probably better that I wasn't there for it, because… I was out working. I was actually playing the song every night on tour and growing our band.

"Look, what an honor to have that moment and to be part of it. 'Cause that was a band — we put that song together as a group. It only took about two hours. We put the song together as a band — the arrangement and everything and all the pieces. And that was a beautiful moment in that band. We were very much in sync, the four of us. We were working well together. And that song just laid right in the trench so effortlessly.

"I'm thankful to whoever it was over at MTV who had the fortitude and the bright idea to use it," Ellefson added. "Thank you, dude, whoever you are. I think about that with [former JUDAS PRIEST guitarist] K.K. Downing. As great of a guitar player as he is, that opening whammy-bar thing for 'Sinner'? C'mon! Fucking changed all of our lives. That's his. It doesn't have to be some beautiful melody. It's just vicious, and he's fucking beating the shit out of the guitar. It's, like, 'Fuck, dude. You're our guy forever.' So in metal, sometimes it's the stabbing and the blood and the fucking viciousness of it — that's our takeaway; that's what we love the most."

Back in August 2019, Ellefson told 93.1 WMPA's "In The Basement With Jesse Bruce" about the creation of the "Peace Sells" bass intro: "It's funny. Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH guitarist/vocalist] and I were living with our producer from our first record, 'Killing Is My Business'; his name's Karat Faye. We were living up in a bungalow in Hollywood Hills and Laurel Canyon. We were so poor. We had no electricity. I think we were getting electricity via a cable, like an electrical extension cord from a neighbor. We were on hard times, if there ever was one. And Dave picked up… I had a bass. It was a bass that I had ripped the frets out of. He picked it up and he started playing it. And that riff basically then became the guitar riff of the song, the bass riff of the song. We went to rehearsal that night, and that song literally wrote itself right there in the band room. And I'm a firm believer that great songs do that — they just write themselves."

In 2006, VH1 ranked "Peace Sells" at No. 11 on its list of the "40 Greatest Metal Songs" of all time.

In 2018, Mustaine brought up the "Peace Sells" bassline while discussing Ellefson's contributions to MEGADETH. He told mxdwn: "David's got moments of greatness where he goes from being a star to a superstar; most notably is the riff I wrote for 'Peace Sells…But Who's Buying?' When I showed that to him, he embraced it and people fell in love with his playing and the rest is history."

Eight years ago, Ellefson told Songfacts that the "Peace Sells" bassline was "definitely one of the most recognizable" basslines ever in rock. "The reason the song stands out is the melody, for sure," he said. "But also because it's the tone, it's the sound. Like, you hear [Jimi] Hendrix play, it's not just him, but it's the sound that they captured of him back in those days that is part of the character. When I hear a [BLACK] SABBATH tune, you instantly know it's SABBATH, because you are so familiar with the recording. And I think 'Peace Sells' is that thing. It's the bassline, but also, our ear is trained now to hear that recording that we captured in 1986, when we put that down to tape. I think it really speaks to that line being used on MTV for all those years [as part of the theme for MTV News]. It was something that was almost subliminally piped into everybody's house for 10 years, and it's amazing what an effect it has on people. And also, it's just a really cool song. And it's a really tricky bass line. When people tell me that they just learned how to play the bass and this is the first line they're trying to learn, I'm, like, 'You might want to learn something a little bit easier.' That's a very tricky song to play."

Mustaine told Rolling Stone that he knew when he first wrote "Peace Sells" that it was something special. "Prior to that song, everything was just shred-festing and just playing really fast, aggressive stuff," he said. "But as soon as 'Peace Sells' came out, it was like, 'Wow, this is really a song-song,' something that, unbeknownst to myself, would stand the test of time, something that would be my friend forever. Never had I gotten that feeling from our previous songs. I never thought, 'Hey, you're gonna be playing this song every night for the rest of your life.'"

Image credit: Jackson Guitars

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