Ozzy Osbourne: ‘Blizzard of Ozz’
BLIZZARD OF OZ
Released on September 20, 1980 (Jet Records)
During these strange days of self-isolation, it has not been lost on me that as I jot down my thoughts on Ozzy Osbourne‘s now 40 year old solo debut record, that the madman’s road to rock and roll redemption began with a knock on the door of the Los Angeles hotel room purposely hiding the recently fired Black Sabbath singer from the world. Dejected and pretty much done with music, the events reportedly put into motion by a pushy Sharon Arden would jumpstart a legendary solo career by a singer that many had already wrote off as an “over the hill has been” which even to Ozzy probably wasn’t surprising. After all, by 1980, he had washed down over a decade of rock and roll decadence with a numbing display of pills, booze, and take out. According to reports, what the future Mrs. Osbourne found that day locked away in the darkness of a seedy hotel room hardly looked like a future multi-platinum, stadium packing, game changing, hard rock legend but in actuality, who better to become the face of metal than a rebellious underdog that corporate suits had already written off? The world loves an underdog and nowhere are they more cheered than in the world of music’s most disrespected step child rock and roll and before the end of the ’80s, this barely awake, shell of a former frontman would be a huge reason for hard rock not only demanding, but grabbing respect from the rest of the music industry.
While 2020 continues to paint the darkest pictures of isolation perhaps known to man, for me it pales in comparison to the emotional exile I experienced between 1981 and 1982 and as usual, my finest company was the personal sounds of solitude that ranged from old cassettes to the new found frequency of Atlanta WKLS, 96 Rock. Beneath the blank emptiness of a dark room I lay on, my temporary cot stared at a shadowed ceiling with the only movement being the sounds permeating between my ears courtesy of the biggest set of headphones known to man, and occasionally the tussle of my shaggy hair as I briefly shook to displace it from my face. It was within this desolate space I was embraced by a mixed tapestry of rock and roll old and new, among them, the out of this world sonic vibrations of the Blizzard of Ozz featuring former Black Sabbath cast-off Ozzy Osbourne and rising wunderkind guitarist Randy Rhoads. At the time, it stood merely as an inspiring blast of inner peace and I could hardly fathom that eventually, in the course of a week, I would get to know everything there was to know at the time about Rhoads before he suddenly was gone.
By the time I arrived back to the States in 1981, Ozzy mania was in mid-swing with the release of second album Diary of A Madman just around the corner and songs like “Crazy Train” and “I Don’t Know” filling up radio airwaves alongside hot album singles from Foreigner, Journey, and more. After three years of Armed Forces Network Top 40 radio, I found myself captured in the sounds of rock radio stateside and the energy was beyond pulverizing especially the tracks from Blizzard of Ozz, which blasting through the sometimes blotchy radio often came across as communication from another planet. Until this point, the only guitar heard on radio that came even close could be found on tracks by Van Halen which was more like pulsing alien party guitar whereas the sounds coming from Blizzard blew across like Beethoven broadcasting from Mars through a large amplifier. It was like Eddie Van Halen sitting in on Sabbath but somehow much cooler.
While this was years before being able to stream an entire album online, luck would find me by way of the 96 Rock Album Hour in which listeners could get a whole record earfull just about every night! Needless to say I spent many a late eve fighting to stay awake at least long enough to hit record on my cassette deck. On one of those fateful nights, WKLS played Blizzard of Ozz from start to finish and the next day while listening, I was shocked to realize just how many songs off the album were being played regularly on 96 Rock. I guess these days you’d be lucky to hear anything other than “Crazy Train” on the radio but back then, rock radio was a much cooler, rebel kind of thing and I would soon learn that it was much more than just a “hits” format which was awesome because in my ears, there was not a tune on Blizzard unworthy of hit status.
I would soon come to realize that Blizzard of Ozz was not just a collection of great songs but also a masterclass in how to create an overall album vibe through mood swings and strategic sequencing. Sure “Crazy Train” starts with some pretty classic guitar riffs but if memory serves me correctly, the first song from post-Sabbath Ozzy I heard was Blizzard opening track “I Don’t Know.” Its volume swell of a start and now legendary guitar introduced me to the unsuspecting awesomeness of solo Ozzy as it crackled through my boombox speakers courtesy of the WKLS airwaves. The beginning of the ’80s arrived with many monumental album opening moments yet few powering out of seemingly nowhere as the combined ten minutes or so of unexpected power that ushered in the Ozzy Osbourne era ala Blizzard of Ozz.
By the time I arrived in Atlanta in 1981, there were only two guarantees in regards to rock radio, those being that the airwaves would be loaded with a ton of tunes from Journey‘s ultra popular Escape album followed by a massive amount of Ozzy, and “I Don’t Know” and “Crazy Train” were just two of the biggest reasons why. At the time, it was like this heavy metal ambush and looking back now, it’s sometimes hard to fathom that in 1980, this one time wasted singer, long-thought an over-the-hill rock dinosaur, arrived out of left field to not only drop a cool couple sides of rock and roll, but the first of two legendary records loaded to the extreme with tracks that to this day still resonate with metal fans. Forty years on, “Crazy Train” is still considered mandatory learning material for young hopeful metal guitarists in training. While a large portion of that can be credited to Rhoads, like his earlier songs in Sabbath, Ozzy‘s most classic solo work is generally held up as just great overall hard rock songs and even when it comes to the deep cuts, Blizzard of Ozz is loaded with them.
More than just a chance to catch a breath, side one follows its double barrel beginning with one of my favorite Ozzy album moments in the classically beautiful “Goodbye To Romance”, a ballad that drapes even more inflection on past melodic moments like Sabbath‘s “Changes.” It falls in line with the ’80s hair metal power ballad ideal before it was to become ’80s tradition yet does so with far more substance than say Poison‘s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” leaning closer to more serious melodic hard rock popularized by Scorpions or even Rainbow. Power rock tinged with the technical overtones of classical music which shows up again next in “Dee”, a beautiful work of acoustic instrumental dexterity honoring Rhoads‘ own mother Delores. Of course, this is Ozzy so any fears of Blizzard of Ozz possibly turning down a more tender permanent path quickly become tossed out the window as side one comes to a grinding halt with controversial tune “Suicide Solution”, the song that led to Osbourne being accused of contributing to the suicidal death of teenager John Collum despite it reportedly being about drinking one’s self to death. Regardless of the controversy, to this day “Suicide Solution” and its powerful yet often misunderstood message remains one of Osbourne‘s more popular tracks.
Speaking of controversial, Ozzy tackles the subject of a notorious popular English occultist on side two opening song “Mr. Crowley” — a track that makes great use of dark keyboards to add just the right amount of evil overtones. Despite being thought not metal by many fans over the years, Sabbath, Osbourne and other English metal acts over decades have used dark classic keyboard sounds to add a vibe reminiscent of a late ’60s Hammer Horror film score and perhaps the best example of the usage lies within the opening notes of “Mr. Crowley.” Don Airey‘s haunting solo starts this track bringing a chilling feel to the second of two singles released for the album while Rhoads‘ solo has gone on to become one of the most studied guitar pieces in heavy metal history. Label interest in the track was enough that less than a month after the release of Blizzard of Ozz, the song was put out as the centerpiece of a live EP that also included the heavily debated “Suicide Solution”, and rare track “You Said It All.”
Aside from the slow classical haunting beauty of “Revelation (Mother Earth)”, the remainder of Blizzard of Ozz nearly lightens the mood, first with the tongue in cheek fun of “No Bone Movies” which almost comes off like a tune Rhoads could have done in his early days in Quiet Riot. Bordering on early English glam and hair metal, it is a welcome side road on the record despite being a tad bit “happy” for heavy metal’s “Prince of Darkness.” In similar fashion, “Steal Away (The Night)” has a hooky edge especially during the catchy chorus but otherwise is a ripper of a fast tune loaded once again with some great guitar from Rhoads. The simple repetitive chorus is irresistibly cool and the solo break charges in before the band power chords back into the final verse. Again, metal’s resident madman proves that nothing is off limits thankfully opening himself up to the varied writing talents of veteran bassist Bob Daisley, the still unproven Rhoads, and even for a brief moment, drummer Lee Kerslake and the eerie flavor adding Airey.
By the time I landed back in the US, second album Diary of A Madman was just weeks from being released and while radio was already cranking single “Flying High Again,” support for Ozzy‘s debut was still so high that rock radio continued to barrage listeners with multiple cuts daily. Incredible enough to hit triple platinum in America, Diary of A Madman was certainly an explosive follow up as well as incredible studio swan song for Rhoads but even as early as 1982, the proof of the massiveness of Ozzy‘s solo debut was evident as the eventual five-time platinum Blizzard of Ozz would be represented on the Diary of A Madman tour with all but one of its tracks on most nights. That very tour, all of the greatness of both albums energized the audience with a much needed blast of rock and roll’s legendary past courtesy of Ozzy reaching back into his Sabbath past, and the youthful recharge of Rhoads who in his very short moment in the international spotlight became the stuff of guitar legend. It was during this tour that I went from transplanted new kid in town ingesting the great sounds on the radio, to wide-eyed student soaking up all this information from new classmates about Rhoads ultimately leading to me being excitedly taken to what would turn out to be Rhoads‘ second to last show.
In the end, I would experience feelings I never had before and perhaps being a new kid in a new place while desperately missing the one I just left only added to it but over a couple of weeks I found myself bonding with new fellow rock outcasts in a new school over not only this great music, but the personalities of the musicians behind the great songs. Sure I knew who Ozzy was but in a short time, I feasted on so much information that I almost felt like I knew Randy Rhoads personally which made it even tougher after experiencing the high of the Atlanta show to walk into school a few days later singing “Crazy Train” only to be informed by my new friends that Rhoads had died. At first, I laughed it off as a joke and as reality sunk in over the next few minutes, I found a numbness that remained throughout the school day lingering over the bus ride home, dinner, and watching the news on television including more updates on the plane crash that took Rhoads‘ life. In the end, the only way to break the spell was to climb into my temporary bed, strap on headphones, and steal away into a Blizzard of Ozz.
01. I Don’t Know
02. Crazy Train
03. Goodbye to Romance
05. Suicide Solution
06. Mr. Crowley
07. No Bone Movies
08. Revelation (Mother Earth)
09. Steal Away (The Night)
Ozzy Osbourne – lead vocals, harmony vocals
Randy Rhoads – electric and classical guitars
Bob Daisley – bass, backing vocals, gongs
Lee Kerslake – drums, percussion, tubular bells, timpani
Don Airey – keyboards
Produced by Ozzy Osbourne, Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake
Engineered by Max Norman
Mastered by Chris Athens
Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Crazy Train” video: