Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
Let us all, for just ten minutes, try to forget what our old friend Ozzy Osborne has become. Let us try to forget that this Hard-Rock music pioneer and cult legend has reduced himself to a reality-TV cartoon character complaining about poodle-poo. Yeah, it’s funny – but it’s not Rock’n’Roll. I couldn’t see the cameras in Robert Plant’s house divulging all his day-today secrets.
Let us forget that Ozzy has shit all over his own career so badly that records such as the one in question, Paranoid, is barely even associated with his past. The kids know Ozzy, for sure – but not for the great music he contributed to back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. What a terrible shame. I want to hark back to a time when Ozzy’s band Black Sabbath were right out on the edge, writing and recording serious and revolutionary Rock music with depth and meaning. In order to do that you have to get your Living With The Osbornes DVD’s series and find the bin, and re-ignite the record player. Paranoid, after all, became the only Black Sabbath album to top the British charts for the next four decades – that’s where Ozzy’s legend lies.
1970 was the year Black Sabbath released Paranoid, their second studio album, during a year of great political and social unrest. It is, to this day, Black Sabbath’s classic album. As I have explained before, I’m not adverse to any genre of music as long as it connects with me in some way. Early Sabbath stuff such as this record is deemed to be heavy – whether that be Metal or Rock, although I would dispute that somewhat. To me this record is an exercise in great guitar playing and great songwriting, not just a thrashing blur of sound. The fact that they recorded the song Paranoid in a 20 minutes – the fulfilment of a legal obligation – is astonishing.
The record opens with the politically fuelled War Pigs – a fantastic, doom-laden rant about those in positions of power. Ok, so we know that Ozzy isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, so we’ll forgive him for his opening rhyming couplet: “Generals gather in their masses/Just like witches at black masses.” The record was initially to be called War Pigs until the record company stepped in; would the themes have been understood more had it been that way? Maybe. The critics initially panned Sabbath, with one notable magazine in the US calling them the “worst band in the world.” Not sure what prompted that – they weren’t listening to the same record as me.
Planet Caravan, the album’s highlight, is a dreamy experimental jam with Ozzy’s voice routed through a whirling Leslie speaker. It delivers images of romantic escapism and some sort of apocalyptic foreboding. It could be off a Doves record – it’s still that fresh. My favourite Black Sabbath moment ever, it must be said. Iron Man, the second single off the album, is thumping Sabbath and surely the birth of Metal. Intense, unstoppable, ageless and devastatingly dark.
Electric Funeral is built around a searing, distorted guitar riff as Ozzy gets crushingly sinister; it’s wonderfully, weirdly dark. Hand Of Doom is another bluesy, bass-led groove from Geezer Butler that builds up into a thrilling crescendo. Inspired by the drug-ravaged horror stories of US soldiers returning from the Vietnam war, it’s nightmarish and compelling in equal measure. Rat Salad is a Led Zep-ish, lead guitar masterpiece. It’s songs like this that push guitarist Tony Iommi into the upper leagues of legendary guitar virtuosos. Fiery, spiralling riffage by a largely unsung guitar hero. As for the title – had Ozzy not been involved you’d dismiss it as fiction.
The record closes with the intense Fairies Wear Boots – another anthemic exercise in excellence from a taught-tight 3-piece musical backbone. It’s got something seriously sea-monster about this track, and the production pulverises the ears. “Smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do!” Ozzy boasts; his finest vocal performance on the record, and one that leaves you smirking whilst melting with the whole metal of it all. The fact that Ozzy is alive to tell the tale is beyond miraculous. He’d have been in a surefire group of rock’n’rollers almost certain NOT to get into their 70’s.
My roots are in the acoustic scene, and always have been. However, I’m so pleased that I got my hands on this record as a teen. It changed my entire perspective, and opened me up to an entire new world of music.
An absolute classic album, Paranoid has its heavy moments, but also wanders through melancholy Blues, Soft Rock, and in some parts even Jazz. But remember: it needs to be played LOUD.
Top track trio: