Metallica Invites Miley Cyrus and Elton John to Celebrate the Band’s Seminal ‘Black Album’ With a Stern Show Visit and 2 Live Performances

“Edge of Midnight” singer fronts the heavy metal trailblazers for a previously unheard take on “Nothing Else Matters”

September 10, 2021

Three generations of rock ‘n’ roll superstars sat down with Howard on Thursday afternoon for a very special Stern Show celebrating one the most beloved albums of all time.

Miley Cyrus and Elton John joined heavy metal pioneers Metallica in paying homage to the band’s seminal 1991 “Black Album,” sharing thrilling behind-the-scenes anecdotes about their early days in the industry and serving up multiple live performances, including the first live performance of Miley and Metallica together.

Thursday’s celebration of the album’s 30th anniversary came just a few days before the release of “The Metallica Blacklist,” a covers-filled tribute compilation featuring a bevy of artists from Chris Stapleton and Weezer to Miley and Sir Elton. The latter pair’s contribution to the project was a well-received rendition of “Nothing Else Matters” featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, cello legend Yo-Yo Ma, musician and producer Andrew Watt, and Metallica’s own Robert Trujillo as well.

Elton told Howard his decision to play piano on the star-studded cover was an absolute “no-brainer.” “This is one of the best songs ever written, to me. It’s a song that never gets old. Playing on this track I just couldn’t wait because the chord structure, the melodies, the time changes—it’s got drama written all over it,” he said.

Miley, meanwhile, lent her voice to the song for other reasons. While sitting next to Metallica singer James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Trujillo in Sirius XM’s West Coast studios, she told Howard she first performed “Nothing Else Matters” in 2019 at England’s Glastonbury Festival during a pivotal moment in her life.

“It was right before actually that the world knew I was getting a divorce, but I knew that I was,” Miley said. “I had just lost my house in the fires … I was so heartbroken and my purpose was coming from this performance. I got sober at that time. I really pulled my fucking shit together. This song was what drove me to that place.”

“My life in regards to love was falling apart, but I had my love for music,” she added.

Miley was undergoing a career transformation at the time, too, rebranding herself as not just a pop sensation but also a bona fide rock star. “There was a kind of rocky transitional period for sure where a lot of my fans … would feel disappointed. By me leaving a certain identity behind, I would leave them too,” she said. “It’s been kind of this journey of taking them along with me, and the way that I’ve been able to do before transitioning my own music was by doing covers.”

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

Elton said he cherished collaborating with Miley on the Metallica song. “When I heard her sing ‘Nothing Else Matters’ I just couldn’t believe it,” he told Howard. “It’s just astonishing, her voice. She’s probably the best rock and roll singer out there, without question.”

He had plenty more kind words for Metallica, too. “You can’t really define them,” Elton said. “[They’re] not a heavy metal band they’re a musical band. Their songs aren’t just heavy metal, they’re beautiful songs. This is just such a melodic song. It’s fucking great actually.”

As the men of Metallica listened to Sir Elton sing their high praises, they seemed visibly moved. “What’s it like for you, Metallica, to hear Elton John say these things?” Howard wondered.

“We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary this year, and if you could’ve said 40 years ago—when James and I started down the 605 in fucking Norwalk, in a garage down there without a pot to piss in— if you could say 40 years later that we would still be functioning, that we’d be sitting here with one of the greatest stars in the world [in Miley] next to us, with Elton on a Zoom, and doing [Howard’s] radio show, and talking about our accomplishments and what this record means to so many, that would be the mindfuck of all mindfucks,” Lars responded. “It’s just crazy cool.”

“[Elton] is the king of melody. He put melody into my heart … I remember picking up a tennis racket and rocking out to ‘Saturday Night’s Alright (for Fighting),’” James later added. “He created melody in me. So, for Elton to say this is one of the most beautiful songs and the melody is amazing, my heart is so full right now from Elton.”

2021 marks Metallica’s 40th year of existence. As Sir Elton pointed out, sticking together that long is no easy feat. “It’s hard to be in a band,” he told Howard. “I admire [their longevity] because it’s the hardest bloody thing in the world, so kudos to Metallica they are one of the greatest bands of all time.”

Elton’s Empty Garden

Sir Elton’s Stern Show appearance was brief, but the 74-year-old entertainment icon did make time to discuss another issue of considerable importance—the giant marble penis he received as a birthday present from singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran.

“The whole world wants to know, where is that?” Howard asked.

“I’m actually sitting on it, Howard,” Elton joked. “That’s why I’m in such a good mood.”

In truth, he said the oversized penis was hidden away in his office. He wanted to put it on display in the garden until his husband David reminded him they had two young boys at home.

“In the old days it would’ve been on display. We would’ve been eating and snorting coke off it,” Elton laughed.

Metallica and Miley Perform, and Literally Nothing Else Matters

Before Miley and Metallica performed “Nothing Else Matters” live from the studio, James told Howard and his listeners he’d been nervous all those decades ago to bring the song to both the band and their fans. “It was one of those just very vulnerable places … the late ‘80s, we built this reputation as tough guy[s],” he said. “I was shocked when [the record’s producer] Bob Rock and Lars both said, ‘That is beautiful, that is an amazing song.’”

“It was a life-changing experience to be okay playing this for them and them accepting it,” he continued, adding, “Like Miley was talking about earlier, this is what I like doing. I hope the fans like it because this is me.”

Lars had his own memories of listening to the song for the first time. “James played the very, very rough sketch of [‘Nothing Else Matters’] and I’d never heard that side of him. I didn’t even know it existed—and the vulnerability, and that tenderness, and then the lyric,” Lars said. “[He said] it shouldn’t be part of this record [but] I instantly knew we had to … show people that there was more.”

“It was the perfect time because we were at this reset, this crossroad. It was time to let people in,” he continued.

After Miley and Metallica performed the song, Howard and co-host Robin Quivers were nearly speechless. “Miley, what does it feel like to front that band?” Howard asked.

“It feels pretty fucking good,” Miley responded. “I’m making music tonight in the studio working on my next record. I’m pretty excited about the flex that I’ll have when someone tells me what to do and I say, ‘Fuck you, I played with Metallica.’”

An Encore Performance

After Howard waved goodbye to Miley, Metallica stuck around to chat more about their “Black Album” days and to deliver a hard-hitting encore. The guys played “Sad but True,” a tune past Stern Show performers Jason Isbell and Royal Blood both cover on the upcoming “Blacklist” tribute album.

“This was one of the first riffs that Bob Rock heard, and he was like, ‘This is amazing!’ ‘Really? Thanks for telling me,’” James said of “Sad but True.” “Tuning it down, this is a fun song to play. This is the ‘do you want heavy?’ song.”

“You still have it, boys,” Howard said after hearing the band’s rendition. “Wow.”

Making ‘The Black Album’

After spending the last several albums with the same engineer and James and Lars largely taking on producing duties themselves, the band was ready to widen their sound. “It was time for us to do something different,” the latter said of deciding to work with producer Bob Rock —at that point responsible for hit records from the Cult and Motley Crüe. “His whole thing was he felt we never captured what we were doing live on a record … He said, ‘I can do that for you.’”

That doesn’t mean it was easy at first to take direction from an outsider. “Halfway through the first song he goes, ‘How about changing the chords in that chorus?’ I remember we all looked at each other going, ‘Excuse me, who the fuck are you and how did you get in here?’ That was so foreign to us,” Lars recalled of their initial reaction to Rock. “We ended up becoming best friends in the next subsequent year or two and we ended up working with him for another 15 years.”

“I remember being excited to bring my buddies in … and they’re standing there going ‘Holy shit, this is amazing,’” James added of the new working environment. “I knew it was working.”

A tumultuous time personally for the majority of the band, Metallica in jest considered naming the album “Married to Metal.” “That was because three of us were getting divorced and that was just a joke,” Kirk noted before revealing the healing powers of throwing himself into the work. “It was a refuge, you know? Working on this album, working on all the songs … I used it as a kind of safe place.”

Thirty years and more than 30 million albums sold later, the band is humble when it comes to the legacy of their “Black Album.”

“It’s surreal … it’s fucking crazy to have a record that’s this appreciated by so many people,” Lars admitted before insisting they’re focused on the moment and the future. “We celebrate still being a band, we celebrate that we can be in the same room together, we celebrate that we can still make music, we celebrate the next record and the next record after that. We’re such a forward-looking band, always.”

For Whom the Jägermeister Tolls

Taking their rock star cues from predecessors like Led Zeppelin, Metallica went a rather wild route when it came to offstage antics. “Throwing TVs out of hotels … getting away with all kinds of chaos, we felt ‘Well, that is what you’re supposed to do on tour,’” a now-sober James admitted. “I think it was probably more in the Jägermeister days … That stuff made us crazy.”

One such crazy day was during Day on the Green in 1985, a frequent Bay Area event produced by legendary promoter Bill Graham. Playing early in the morning, the guys were able to imbibe in spirits for the entire day. “We were having a great time and we were hanging out and by the time the day was done we were all obviously completely ripped out of our minds,” Lars noted. “The dressing room got a beating … a redecoration.”

The move resulted in James getting a stern talking to by Graham himself. “He said, ‘Who do you think you are?’” the singer remembered before expressing gratitude for the gesture. “Bill Graham was certainly one of those guys that I respect because he took the time. He took the time and effort to say, ‘Hey, you are cared about.’”

Although James laughed as he remembered Graham covering the backstage with plastic the next time Metallica played one of his shows, he does not miss those more chaotic days. “I wasn’t thinking of anybody else. It was me and the Jäger, and my buddies … and this is how we celebrate life, by smashing other people’s stuff,” he said of his old behavior. “All the stupid stuff that we did, I’m super grateful that we are standing here alive … There are some things that are regrettable – I’ve got to let them go.”

The Memory (but Not the Bruise) Remains

Lars shared one final anecdote before Metallica said goodbye on Thursday. He regaled Howard with a story from the band’s early days which ended with James punching him in the gut. “We got [our first] encore. We’re standing offstage discussing what song to play and let’s just say there was a difference of opinion. I suggested a song that started with drums. James suggested something else. We went back on the stage, and I started the song that started with drums,” Lars said. “So, when we came off I got a slight punch in the stomach.”

In in the interest of fairness, Lars revealed James had bailed him out of far more fights than he’d started with him. “There were a couple times [in the 1980s] when the beer and the good times were flowing and I would say the wrong thing to the wrong people … but James was always there as my big brother,” he said. “I’d usually just run—I’d take off—but then James would clean it up for me.”

“James, how did you learn how to fight so well?” Howard wondered.

“I don’t know how to fight at all—I really don’t. I just have attitude,” James concluded. “He had the mouth and I had [the attitude]. It was quite a deadly combination.”

“The Metallica Blacklist” and the “Metallica (Remastered) box set arrive Sept. 10—get more information here and here. Sir Elton John’s new album “The Lockdown Sessions,” featuring his “Nothing Else Matters” cover with Miley Cyrus, arrives Oct. 22—get more info here.