Black Sabbath: ‘Paranoid’
Released on September 18, 1970 (Vertigo Records)
Review by Sam Burgh:
Like all other genres of music, heavy metal did not just appear. With bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, it was created with the extension of the blues being played heavier, with thicker sound and extended guitar solos. Black Sabbath are easily one of the biggest influences on the metal genre. They brought the dark lyrical content and sludgy tone to the masses, which created a sound that was very unique at the time. Sabbath’s second studio album, Paranoid, is without a doubt the group’s most noteworthy collection of songs. It contains three of the band’s signature hits consisting of “Paranoid”, “War Pigs” and “Iron Man”. It is impossible not to give credit to this album for contributing to the birth of heavy metal as we know it today.
Kicking off the album is the nearly eight minute long epic, “War Pigs / Luke’s Wall.” On US releases, the instrumental at the end of the song is titled “Luke’s Wall.” Originally titled “Walpurgis”, which is “Christmas for Satanists” according to Geezer Butler, this anti-war song is an absolute classic rock staple. It begins with ominous guitar and an unsettling air raid siren. After a minute of that, the track bursts to life with Tony Iommi’s iconic guitar riff and Ozzy Osbourne showcasing his vocal range. Bill Ward also displays fantastic drum fills. It’s hard to say anything new about this song that hasn’t already been said. This song is always being played, whether on the radio or at a football game, but it’s one of those rarities that never gets old. If it’s playing in my vehicle, it will never be skipped.
The next track is another big hit, which is “Paranoid”. As a song that was originally just written to be filler on the album, it certainly blew up way beyond that. This tune is without a doubt a legendary metal song, and I’m sure this is what got a lot of people hooked on Sabbath to begin with. The blistering guitar intro is iconic and the chugging effect, thanks to the rhythm section, carries us through this track. Personally, I have heard this song a million times, and I would be fine if I never heard it again. Not saying it’s bad, but I am very burnt out on it. Regardless, this is another staple for classic rock radio.
“Planet Caravan” follows “Paranoid”, and it is a very pleasant change up from the typical Sabbath sound. Ozzy uses a Leslie speaker to create the spacey vocal effect and Iommi plays in a way that’s reminiscent of Santana. It is very clear that they were going in a psychedelic direction on this track, which is shown by the congas played by Ward, Ozzy’s airy vocals and the way the melody floats. Next up is “Iron Man”, which was ranked by VH1 as the greatest heavy metal song of all time. The riff in “Iron Man”, which is legendary, is perfectly assisted by the groovy bass line and drum fills. The bridge of the song provides us with an Iommi solo that doesn’t disappoint, accompanied by Butler’s swinging bass playing.
“Electric Funeral”, which sounds like a perfect mix of blues and psychedelic elements, is a very underrated song on this album. The haunting cadence that Ozzy sings in gives us a very sinister sound, which is very appealing. The bridge further helps the song with Ward’s jazzy drumming and Iommi’s playing mirroring Ozzy’s singing. Following that is my favorite Paranoid track, “Hand of Doom.” Butler and Ward bring the groove as usual with an awesome bass intro and swinging drum beat. Like a lot of Sabbath songs that start out slow and calm, it rips into a tremendous metallic boom. This bluesy number is about the horrors of severe drug use, and it is perfectly captured with the instrumental element of the song. Around the two minute mark, it shifts into the classic Sabbath “chugging” sound. “Hand of Doom” is underrated and deserved more radio play, with many bands covering it, including Slayer and Danzig.
The instrumental “Rat Salad” was probably just a throwaway track, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not the best track on Paranoid for sure, but it still showcases the unbelievable talent of Black Sabbath. “Rat Salad” is very energetic, but what stands out most is Ward’s fast paced drum solo which is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. Finishing off the album is “Jack the Stripper / Fairies Wear Boots.” Similar to “War Pigs / Luke’s Wall”, the intro is was titled “Jack the Stripper” on US releases. This obscure song brings the blues/rock sound to the forefront. Ozzy once said the track is about being confronted by skinheads, but he’s also said it was about LSD. Like most of Ozzy’s life, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t remember. This song is a real head-nodder and a great way to round out the album.
A perfect album is hard to come by, but Paranoid is pretty darn close. It’s definitely a classic, and only being the second studio album, it really shows how rich Black Sabbath’s catalog is along with later compositions. The lineup of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward is pure talent, and we thank them for contributing to the early stages of a genre we love.
Review by John Stoney Cannon:
Recorded just weeks after their classic self-titled debut was finally released in America in June of 1970, Black Sabbath‘s sophomore record Paranoid would ride several future legendary singles into the top spot on the UK charts (their only chart topper until 2013’s studio swan song 13) including the band’s only top five single courtesy of the title track. Perhaps more importantly, Black Sabbath would use this second of a one-two album punch to become not only one of the biggest bands in the world, but the band many point to as the creators of one of music’s most powerful genres – heavy metal.
At the turn of the ’70s, rock music was an entirely different animal. These days, a punch of a computer button anyone can create a single and with hardly any more time, an album. It seems convenience has bred laziness. Back in the early days of Sabbath, it was not unusual for rock bands to write, record, and release multi albums in a year while touring in an effort to build a following despite the tedious task of hands-on studio editing which required not only for the band to be familiar with the songs pre-studio, but for the record to tape experience to be followed up by editing reels of tape. Compared to today’s computer recording world, you’re talking a far more time consuming mix of rolling (and even at times cutting) tape and in many cases, changing out reels. Somehow like many other bands, Sabbath managed by September 1970 to crank out a pair of now classic records along the way touring not only their homeland of England, but the United States as well. Even in 2020, when afforded free time due to lack of gigs, bands aren’t even tossing out an EP never mind a full length album or two.
From the start, Sabbath utilized a teamwork approach in not nit picking each band member’s actual songwriting contributions instead choosing to equally credit all songs to all four band members despite the majority of the music being created by guitarist Tony Iommi and the lyrics by bassist Geezer Butler with vocal melodies added by singer Ozzy Osbourne and in the pocket with the bass pounding drums courtesy of Bill Ward. The result on Paranoid being an open concentration on songs that more than likely is how the band were able to quickly take soundcheck and concert jams and transform them into solid tracks. This drama free approach added to the band’s road-tightness more than likely how Sabbath were able to churn out single “Paranoid” at the eleventh hour (literally) in reportedly under 30 minutes. Most people can’t even go from bed to out the door to work in thirty minutes yet in less time Iommi, Butler, Osbourne, and Ward created one of hard rock’s most influential classics that to this day sounds as raw and freshly brutal as it must of sounded to jam loving, tripped out hippies in 1970.
Fortunately for Sabbath, as this new heavy metallic sound was still new even to them, they were still open to flexing their blues and jazz influenced muscles without any consideration of backlash from metalheads making it possible for bands like Metallica years later, so be able to have a dark, beautiful side to their wall of head crushing metal sounds. “Paranoid” the song though accomplished many things for metal including brandishing final stamps of heavy riffs, crunchy distorted power chords, fast tempos, rhythmic bass lines, galloping drums, and angry wailing vocals belting out thought provoking lyrics as the key ingredients of heavy metal. To this day it’s no wonder that when the song first appeared, upon hearing the dark sounds of “Paranoid”, many also heard the words “end your life” where Ozzy was actually singing “enjoy life” after all, why would anyone first hearing the dark sounds of early metal expect anything other than horror movie-like themes especially from a band named after a 1963 Mario Bava fright film classic?
Maybe due to its status as the original album title or just someone’s idea of it being great record opening material, Sabbath classic “War Pigs” kicks off the band’s second release in dramatic fashion making incredible use of changing tempos and Ozzy‘s uniquely disturbing vocals. It won’t phase a soul if most of the ’80s hardest-hitting bands fingered this single track as influence for future angry odes to war, oppression, and political corruption. Despite the oddity of original Satanic Christmas title “Walpurgis” being scrapped due to label concerns, “War Pigs” perfectly fits the lyrics with the only true weird fact being that even after choosing not to also use the title for the record itself, the label still went with the original cover art of a sword wielding “war pig” charging in the dark woods. Even so, it does play more on the original ’60s horror movie art style origins of the band’s name than any of the band’s other cover art work.
Few albums boast such a double dose of killer hard rock as Paranoid but that’s only half of the first half of the story. It’s not enough that Sabbath managed to tweak out a second album in 1970 while touring, drinking, tripping, and whatever else, and though it starts off with a pair of future classic heavy metal standards they even double up on side one with changeup track “Planet Caravan”, a creepy stoned out tune with not only Ozzy‘s warbled Leslie amp dosed vocals, but warped flute courtesy of Butler and a bit of round the fire congas from Ward. Iommi shows a bit of love to Sabbath‘s blues past and suddenly in the middle of a side of molten metal wax, the forefathers of heavy metal deliver a mellow acid trip of a track but it’s cool. Despite it’s length, “Planet Caravan” drifts by quickly and before you know it the groaning guitar of “Iron Man” has creeped in to introduce a tale of a time traveler returning to warn the world of impending doom only to be turned to steel and mocked for his efforts. In one side, not only do Sabbath inspire a generation of heavy metal musicians, but future generations of metal and doom metal sub genres inspired by the slow, prodding riff of “Iron Man.” One side in and you nearly have half of what some would consider the first part of a Black Sabbath greatest hits single album but that isn’t to say that side B isn’t as wickedly awesome or inspirationally metallic.
Taking the slow grind finish of side one and dragging it over, Sabbath drop a wah drenched brick of slow, methodic doom in the way of the aptly titled “Electric Funeral”, a song that could have fitted perfectly on the soundtrack to any late ’60s or early ’70s foreign horror flick. Musically brooding, Ozzy‘s vocals lay hauntingly over top and make for one of the scariest sounding moments on Paranoid creating visions of nuclear chaos a decade before the true fears of the Cold War would fully feed into ever corner of culture including politics and features like 1983 “War of The Worlds” style television movie The Day After. It sets the dark stage for the gloomy lament of “Hand of Doom,” a song inspired by drug addicted American soldiers the band encountered in England in the late ’60s. Interestingly, for a band known to dabble in hallucinogenics, “Hand of Doom” paints a picture of drug use more critical than pleasant.
The open-minded stance of hard rock in the ’60s and ’70s included not only mind-expanding lyrics but also musical experiments in instrumental jams. Sabbath made certain not to be left out including instrumental jam/drum solo “Rat Salad”, a tune reportedly named after Ward‘s uncombed hair which, if stories about the song N.I.B. are even remotely true, this would not be surprising. While a cool tune, compared to other Sabbath tracks, it does not stand out coming off more like similar prog and hard rock jam tracks of the day and despite not necessarily a toss out track, perhaps the best feature of “Rat Salad” is that the band kept it down to a reasonable two and a half minutes of jamming which in all honesty, could have been left off to make way for the “Jack the Stripper” intro of “Fairies Wear Boots.” Regardless, with the final track on Paranoid, Black Sabbath get back into hard rock form with Osbourne-penned lyrics based on either Butler‘s story of skinheads picking on the singer’s long hair or Ozzy‘s claim that the lyrics have to do with LSD made even funnier by the fact that in 2004 he actually admitted that he really couldn’t remember what he wrote the lyrics about. But hey, we wouldn’t want Ozzy any other way right?
Since the day Black Sabbath‘s second release arrived to pretty much drop the final cog needed to birth the rock and roll’s evil bastard offspring, writers have shared all manner of reflection of this most sacred of platters calling it everything from a poor man’s mush to pure masterpiece. Some have payed homage raising it beyond classic status to heights of near mythological proportions with others granting it a spot as heavy metal’s all time most important release. Not surprisingly, despite its wide influence and place in pop culture and mainstream history is has not gone with its detractors but at the end of the day it can almost be certainly said that had it not been for Black Sabbath and Paranoid, heavy metal culture would be quite different or worse yet, non-existent. Imagine if you will a world without Black Sabbath which in part begat such dark beauty as Ronnie James Dio, the legendary solo career of Ozzy himself, the legend of the late Randy Rhoads, and on and on and on. Even on the lighter side, there might not have been a Spinal Tap or the classic Born Again (OK so maybe that’s a stretch) so thank goodness each day we are able to give thanks to Boris Karloff, Mario Bava, Tony (and his boss at his last real job), Geezer, Bill, and Uncle Ozzy for helping create a rat salad bowl filled with the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, and yes, even Manowar. Until next time, I tell you to enjoy life!
01. War Pigs / Luke’s Wall
03. Planet Caravan
04. Iron Man
05. Electric Funeral
06. Hand of Doom
07. Rat Salad
08. Jack The Stripper / Fairies Wear Boots
Ozzy Osbourne – vocals
Tony Iommi – guitar, flute (3)
Geezer Butler – bass
Bill Ward – drums, congas (3)
Tom Allom – piano (3)
Produced by Rodger Bain
Engineered by Tom Allom and Brian Humphries
Reviewed by Sam Burgh and John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, September 2020
Black Sabbath‘s “Paranoid” video:
Black Sabbath‘s “Iron Man” video: