Black Sabbath – Paranoid
Released September, 1970
I was introduced to Black Sabbath at a very early age. When I was quite young, my uncle used to have a German Shepherd called Sabby. He told me Sabby was short for Sabbath, named after a famous rock band called Black Sabbath. I didn’t know anything about them, but I knew ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ when I heard them. My parents raised me right.
Black Sabbath were formed when guitarist Tommy Iommi and drummer Bill Ward’s band broke up, and they needed to keep earning a quid. They found singer Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler after Osbourne advertised in a local music shop. They formed the awfully name Polka Tulk Blues Band, which they later shortened to the less awful Polka Tulk. The name changed yet again to Earth. Apparently Osbourne wasn’t keen on this name and I don’t blame him – who was coming up with these? Earth recorded a bit and scored a manager out of it. Lommi left the band in late ’68, to join Jethro Tull. Quite an upgrade, you’d think, but he felt like it didn’t fit right and came back to Earth (Ha.) in early ’69. Turns out there was another English band getting round in ’69 called Earth, and the ensuing confusion forced another name change. The name Black Sabbath came after a horror movie of the same name was screening across the street from the band’s rehearsal rooms. It was at this point the band started to write about the occult themes they became known for.
Black Sabbath were signed to Vertigo Records, Philips Records’ prog rock label, and released their first self titled album on February 13th, 1970. It reached number eight on the UK album chart, and though it sold a lot, music critics didn’t agree with the music buying public, giving it less than positive reviews. To stay with the momentum “Black Sabbath” built, the band hit the recording studio only four months after their first album was released. Originally slated to be called “War Pigs”, the second album was changed to be called “Paranoid”. The single ‘Paranoid’ made it to number four on the UK Charts, remaining to this day Sabbath’s only top ten hit. The album came a month after the release of ‘Paranoid’, and rode the single’s success to number one on the album chart. The impressive thing about the band’s best selling single is that it took less than half an hour two write. Bill Ward said “We didn’t have enough songs for the album, and Tony just played the “Paranoid” guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom”. Impressive, no?
There’s no denying Sabbath were an excellent metal band. Lommi and Butler are legends of their instruments, and Ward definitely doesn’t get the credit he deserves. But what I still can’t get my head around is Ozzy Osbourne. He’s not a great singer. I know that an amazing singing voice is not a requisite for heavy metal, but his high voice just doesn’t suit the style of the music. But who am I to argue with one of the highest selling heavy metal bands of all time? It’s for this reason that I really dug ‘Rat Salad’. With no vocals to get in the way, it allows the real musicians to show off a little. It’s a solid blues metal performance from everyone involved, and is constructed around an excellent drum solo from Ward. I’m really hoping the 70s brings us lots of drum solos. ‘Iron Man’ is arguable Sabbath’s most recognisable track. Weirdly, this song was initially going to be called ‘Iron Bloke’, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The song’s about a guy who travels forward in time and is turned to steel by a magnetic field. A) How? That’s incorrect. And b) Why is the song not called Steel Man then? Lyrical content aside, it is a good song, suitable dark and heavy. ‘Planet Caravan’ – why? It’s not good. Completely out of character with the rest of the album. Do not dig.
Paranoid is a great album, and I’m not at all surprised its so influential. It demands many more listens.
Truth be told, I’ve listened to this album so many times throughout my life, most of them not by choice. My dad, and at least 2 of my brothers, are big fans of Black Sabbath and have subjected me to many involuntary listens over the years. I wouldn’t say that I like Black Sabbath, in fact this kind of music is pretty much the exact opposite of what I normally enjoy; it’s sound is dark, it’s oppressive and for me, it’s depressing to listen to. Paranoid is widely revered as Black Sabbath’s best album, and its sound is distinctly heavy metal, making it a record that defined a style. It contains some of the most recognisable riffs of music history, such as that of ‘Iron Man’, one of their most successful songs, and probably the only song on the album I could tolerate. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard that riff wafting out of band practice rooms. For me to say that “Paranoid” is dark is an understatement. The themes are gloomy, with uplifting track titles like ‘Hand of Doom’, ‘Rat Salad’ and ‘Electric Funeral’, and Osborne’s vocal is on edge, and full of despair. I’ve listened to enough metal (once again involuntarily) in my time to recognise the influence that Black Sabbath have had in not just developing, but really shaping the genre. You can hear their sound in many contemporary heavy metal works and see why songs like ‘Paranoid’ have come to be synonymous with the heavy metal sound. This album has been cited as one of the greatest of all time. It didn’t really do it for me, but I can see why it’s a classic and I can draw the connection between what Black Sabbath were doing and today’s heavy metal sound.
This album’s title track is Black Sabbath’s best known song and their only major hit single. It’s quite bizarre considering that it was written quickly by the group to serve as filler. For those in the know, this record also contains the seminal classics ‘War Pigs’, ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Electric Funeral’, and is ground zero for many a heavy metal album. My love of Black Sabbath happened by ‘Ozzmosis’, pun absolutely intended. I was lucky enough to have a dad who not only loved Sabbath, but had EVERY record of theirs on vinyl. It wasn’t like I could jump on our little Microbee computer (remember them?) and hit up Spotify or anything back then. My dad also made up a cassette compilation of his favourite Sabbath tracks, which I frequently listened to. He’d chosen ‘Paranoid’ and ‘Iron Man’ as his picks from this album, and they only just scrape the surface of the record’s metal brilliance. Those ominous lyrics; the loud, distorted (and sometimes wah-enhanced) bass of Geezer Butler; the booming drums of Bill Ward; they all add up to a glorious aural assault. Ozzy’s thin and high-pitched voice wailing about war (‘War Pigs’), mental illness (‘Paranoid’) or drug addiction (‘Hand of Doom’) is perfect for perforating the thunderous riffs of guitarist Tony Iommi. A big highlight for me is ‘Planet Caravan’, which is eerily atmospheric, but somehow relaxing; particularly as it comes after the one-two punch of ‘War Pigs’ and ‘Paranoid’. From the instrumental ‘Rat Salad’ to the ambiguous ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ I love each and every track. My favourite moment is the tape speeding up in the last seconds of ‘War Pigs’, which is one of the best anti-war protest songs this side of Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’. Ozzy! Ozzy! Ozzy! Oi! Oi! Oi! \m/ \m/ \m/
I wasn’t looking forward to this week. The only track I’d heard from Black Sabbath was ‘Paranoid’ and its instantly recognisable riff. I didn’t care too much for it and therefore didn’t care too much for what the album might have in store for me. In fact, I waited a good five days before I even gave it a listen. I figured I’d trudge through my three listens and write a slap dash review on how it was a bit shit. Once again, I put on an afyccim classic album expecting so little only to discover how very very wrong I was. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that not only did I enjoy “Paranoid” but I fell for it in a big way. From the driving opener ‘War Pigs’, to the etheric ‘Planet Caravan’ (my favourite track on the album), through to the trippy wahs wahs of ‘Electric Funeral’ and the changing tempo of ‘Hands of Doom’. There isn’t a track I can fault on this album. Sure, there is a whole heap of Drug Fuelled Nonsense in the lyrics, particularly in ‘Faeries Wear Boots’, and Ozzy’s vocals aren’t the strongest. The band as a whole is so good though that it doesn’t matter. This isn’t the kind of music I normally wouldn’t listen to, but there’s something special happening on “Paranoid”. After only seeing Ozzy as somewhat of a caricature of himself on “The Osbornes”, I now get why he is so well loved and revered. “Paranoid” is a solid album from start to finish, and would stand up well if it was released today, and that is the true indication of a classic album for me. We are going to have to see some great albums this year to knock this out of my top ten.