“Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH frontman] wrote the riff,” Ellefson said. “I had a bass. It was a B.C. Rich Eagle bass, and I seem to think it was a fretless bass… Me and Dave were living with Karat Faye, who was the engineer [and] co-producer on the ‘Killing Is My Business’ record… We were sitting there, and Dave picks the bass up, and he starts noodling. He goes, ‘Hey, Junior, come over here and play this.’ So we started working on that, trying to get that figured out. And we go to rehearsal that night… We went down there, and that song just kind of wrote itself that night. Dave had the riffs, Gar [Samuelson, MEGADETH‘s then-drummer] started playing. We sort of put it together. [We had] a few suggestions here and there. I mean, that song, literally, within a couple of hours was done… I don’t know if it was that night. It might have been. We were sitting there driving, and we had the radio on… And I remember Dave just looks at me and he goes, ‘Hey, what do you think about ‘Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying?’ [And I said], ‘Cool. It sounds great.’ And wheels were turning. Dave would just kind of sit there, and wheels were always turning and ideas were coming up. And that became that song. And he wrote the lyrics, I think, pretty quickly; it kind of fell out.”
In 2006, VH1 ranked “Peace Sells” at No. 11 on its list of the “40 Greatest Metal Songs” of all time. The opening bassline was also used as the theme for MTV News, but Mustaine has repeatedly claimed he never received any royalties for MTV‘s usage of the song.
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.”
Six 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.”
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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.'”