Just seven months after Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut album in February 1970, they were back with the album that defined their career, Paranoid. It was released in September 1970 and features three Black Sabbath classics Paranoid, Iron Man and War Pigs. They’ve since become staples of Black Sabbath’s live performances. They’re also three reasons why Paranoid which will be reissued on vinyl, by Sanctuary, on 1st June 2015, sold twelve-million copies. Incredibly, Black Sabbath had only been formed two years earlier.
In 1968, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward found themselves with a band. Mythology, their previous band had just split-up. Tony and Bill decided to form a new band. So they got in touch with vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and bassist Geezer Butler. Ozzy had placed an advert in a local music shop saying “Ozzy Zig Needs Gig.” They were joined by slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan Clarke. This was the birth of what would later become Black Sabbath.
At first, the new band was called The Polka Tulk Blues Band. This was shortened to Polka Tulk, and later, Earth. The band’s name wasn’t the only thing that changed. So did the lineup.
Tony Iommi became concerned that Jimmy Phillips and lan Clarke weren’t taking the band seriously. So they hatched a plan. Earth would breakup, and straight away, reform as a quartet. The quartet were still called Earth and recorded several demos. These demos were penned written by Norman Haines. Among them were The Rebel, Song For Jim and When I Came Down. It looked as if Earth were going places. Then in December 1968, another member of Earth left.
This was Tony Iommi. He left to join Jethro Tull and featured on the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus television show. He didn’t spent long as a member of Jethro Tull. No. Unhappy with the direction Jethro Tull were heading, Tony rejoined Earth. Tony’s time working alongside Ian Anderson inspired him. Now he was determined that Earth were going to become a successful band.
Before long, Earth realised that there was a problem. With another band called Earth, this was causing confusion. So, when the members of Earth noticed that a cinema near their rehearsal room was showing a rerun of Moris Bava’s horror film Black Sabbath, which starred the inimitable Boris Karloff, they were inspired to write a song.
The inspiration was seeing people queue up to watch horror film. Essentially, people were paying to be scared. This the band felt was strange. So Ozzy and Geezer penned Black Sabbath, which was inspired by writer Dennis Wheatley. The lyrics were dark and gothic. Indeed, the song was later referred to as: ”probably the most evil song ever written” by Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Having written this dark opus, Earth decided to change their name to Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath made their debut in Workington, in Cumbria on 30th August 1969. Four months later, in November 1969, Black Sabbath signed to Phillips Records. They released their debut single Evil Woman through Vertigo Records, which was Phillips Records’ new prog rock label. After appearing on BBC radio, Black Sabbath began work on their debut album.
With producer Rodger Bain, Black Sabbath began recording their debut album. Ominously, Black Sabbath was released on 13th February 1970. It wasn’t a case of unlucky for Black Sabbath. Their debut reached number eight in the UK and number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200. Despite mixed reviews, Black Sabbath was certified gold in the UK and platinum in the US. Just two years after they formed, Black Sabbath were one of the most successful of a new generation of rock bands. Their sophomore album Paranoid would be a game-changer.
Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics to six of the eight tracks on Paranoid. The exception were Planet Caravan and Fairies Wear Boots, which Geezer and Ozzy penned. Black Sabbath wrote the music the eight tracks. These tracks would be recorded at two studios in London.
Recording of Paranoid took place in Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios, in London. Geezer played bass, Tony guitar and flute and Bill Ward drums and congas. Tom Allom played piano on Planet Caravan. Producing Paranoid was Rodger Bain, who’d produced Black Sabbath. Once Paranoid was completed, it was released in September 1970 in the UK and Europe. Paranoid wasn’t released until January 1971.
On the release of Paranoid in September 1970, it reached number one and was certified gold. Then in January 1971, Paranoid reached number twelve and was certified platinum four times over. Ironically, in the US, Paranoid wasn’t well received by critics. Just like Black Sabbath, Paranoid was slated. Black Sabbath, as you’ll realise, had the last laugh.
Opening Paranoid is War Pigs, an anti Vietnam War song. Here, Black Sabbath provide a slow, moody backdrop. The rhythm section and flourishes of searing guitar are joined by wailing sirens. They set the scene for Ozzy. His angry, frustrated vocal is the signal for Black Sabbath to become a power trio. Guitar doubles are panned left and right, balancing he mix. Meanwhile, the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. A buzzing bass, blistering guitar and pounding drums provide the backdrop for Ozzy’s strutting vocal. The result is not just one of the best anti-war songs you’ll hear, but a Black Sabbath classic.
Make that two. Paranoid is another Black Sabbath classic. From the opening bars, the track is instantly recognisable. It’s like meeting old friends. They just happen to be raucous, rabble rousers. Black Sabbath burst into life. They’re at their rockiest best. Machine gun guitars join the driving, rhythm section. Listening to Ozzy’s grizzled vocal, it’s as if he can empathise with the character in the song. It’s as if he’s experienced and suffered the paranoia he’s singing about. That, together with a blistering performance from Tony, Geezer and Bill made this a heavy metal classic.
Planet Caravan sees a change in direction from Black Sabbath. They head in the direction of psychedelia. Ozzy’s distant, lysergic vocal is full of mystery, while the arrangement meanders along, bathed in echo. The rhythm section and guitar take care never to overpower Ozzy’s vocal. Later, Tony’s guitar references Peter Green of Fleetwood Man. Understated, lysergic and psychedelic it’s another side of Black Sabbath, one I’d like to hear more of.
Iron Man sees a return to heavy metal. Drums pound relentlessly before menacingly, Ozzy announces “I am Iron Man.” From there, Black Sabbath are back doing what they do best, playing heavy metal. Tony delivers a guitar masterclass, while the rhythm section lock into a groove, becoming one. Ozzy’s vocal is a mixture of menace and raw power as he sings about a time traveller. It’s Tony that steals the show. His guitar playing is some of the best on Paranoid.
Menacing describes the introduction to Electric Funeral. That’s down to the rhythm section, Tony’s guitar playing and Ozzy’s vocal. Black Sabbath become one. The tempo is slow and sounds dark and dramatic. There’s even a nod to prog rock. Mostly, though it’s Black Sabbath’s unique brand of heavy metal. With Tony wielding his guitar like a musical wizard, Ozzy vamps his way through the track, singing about a futuristic world. He mixes menace, drama and theatre. Then later, the rhythm section want in on the act. When the baton is passed from Tony’s guitar, they enjoy their moment in the sun. They prove that Black Sabbath wasn’t just a one man band.
Hand Of Doom was written by Black Sabbath after noticing the number of American soldiers arriving in the UK. Many of them were traumatised, and resorted to taking drugs to blot out the horrors they’d witnessed. Sadly, the drugs destroy them. As a result, there’s a darkness to this song. Dark and dramatic. The arrangement meanders along, understated before exploding into life. Ozzy unleashes a vocal that brings to life the horrors these soldiers have witnessed. Anger, frustration and pain fills his vocal as the arrangement builds and grows. Soon, Black Sabbath are in full flow. That’s a joy to behold. Especially, as machine gun guitars are unleashed and Ozzy delivers one of his finest vocals on Paranoid.
Rat Salad sees Black Sabbath return to their blues’ roots. They jam, mixing blues, jazz and rock. It’s a case of sitting back and enjoying this musical masterclass. Whether playing as a unit or unleashing solos, Black Sabbath are peerless. They’re a power trio par excellence. Geezer’s bass playing, Bill’s drumming and Tony’s guitar solos play their part in delicious jam.
Closing Paranoid is Fairies Wear Boots. Blistering guitars and the rhythm section lock horns. They drive the rocky arrangement along. Bill’s around the kit, while Tony’s fingers flit up and down the fretboard. Geezer joins Bill in glueing everything together. Then having enjoyed their moment in the sun, Ozzy struts centre-stage. His grizzled, rocky vocal is the perfect accompaniment to one of the hardest rocking arrangements. It’s as if Black Sabbath are determined to lift their game one last time. This they do, closing Paranoid on blistering rocky high.
Whilst Paranoid wan’t released to the critical acclaim that accompanies many classic albums, it’s gone on to become one of the most important albums in the history of heavy metal. It redefined heavy metal. So much so, that Paranoid became the blueprint for the genre. If someone asked what heavy metal sounded like, Paranoid was the album to play them. Indeed, in the history of heavy metal, there are only two periods, B.P. and A.P. Before Paranoid and After Paranoid. Ironically, music critics panned Paranoid.
Among them was the so called doyen of critics Lester Bangs. This self styled tastemaker seemed to have a downer on Black Sabbath. Along with many American critics, they felt the album was too heavy. Then there were criticism of the aggression and satanic lyrics. Not for the first time, the critics got it wrong.
Paranoid was certified platinum four times over in the UK. It was the album that rewrote the rules of heavy metal. Now it was a case of the heavier the better when it came to heavy metal. At the forefront were Black Sabbath. Eventually, Paranoid sold twelve million copies worldwide and Black Sabbath became a musical phenomena.
Right through until 1981s Mob Rules, gold and platinum discs came Black Sabbath’s way. So did controversy. Much of it concerned Ozzy Osbourne. He parted company with the band in 1979. Sacked by the group he formed, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath survived to tell the tale. However, back in 1970, the Black Sabbath story was just beginning.
It started with Black Sabbath in February 1970 and then Paranoid in September 1970. Since then, critics have reappraised Paranoid and belatedly, realised it was actually a classic. Twelve million people could’ve told them that Paranoid was a stonewall classic. That’s why it’s fitting that Sanctuary will rerelease Paranoid on vinyl, on 1st June 2015.
Paranoid is much more than a classic album. I’d go much further than that. I’d say that Paranoid, Black Sabbath’s 1970 sophomore album was a groundbreaking release. Paranoid saw Black Sabbath rewrite the rules of heavy metal, with what was the most successful and most innovative album of their long and illustrious career, Paranoid.