Black Sabbath: Paranoid
After sitting in a London recording studio for a mere 8 hours to record their debut self-titled album, they hit the road and became the “Godfathers of Metal.” An incredible feat. Four months later, fresh off the road, they returned to record arguably the greatest heavy metal album of all time. ‘Paranoid’ was recorded in six days at Regent Sound Studios @ 4 Denmark street in London, England, by the four young men who are collectively known as Black Sabbath.
Over 5 million copies of the album have been sold, officially. It’s the band’s best-selling record to date, and the song ‘Paranoid’ has been featured in various movie soundtracks, including ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Sid and Nancy,’ ‘Almost Famous,’ ‘Any Given Sunday,’ ‘We Are Marshall,’ and ‘The Stoned Age.’
Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Bill Ward formed an unholy quartet and unknowingly changed the face of music and culture forever. Four months after releasing their self-titled studio album, and returning to Regent Sound studio they would, in 6 days, create the masterpiece that Rolling Stone magazine ranked #1 on their Greatest Metal Albums of All-Time list.
Their familiarity with one another allowed them to play extremely tight live, and they took a live performance approach with them to the studio. Says drummer Bill Ward:
“We were very tight...We’d been playing together for over two years; we’d been through Germany and Switzerland. When we played together, we wanted to improve and be really good. You have to remember, this was a very good live band coming into the studio for Paranoid. The producer, Rodger Bain, has to be praised too, but I think we delivered our aggression and on-stage dynamics in the studio – perhaps not completely, but mostly.”
That aggression and raw energy can be not only heard but felt throughout the entire album. Ozzy’s vocals were much different than those of Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, and Rod Evans - the frontmen for Led Zeppelin, The Who, and Deep Purple. In 1969, the year before the boys from the Birmingham suburb of Aston released their self-titled debut, those three bands were deemed to be creating some of the best, heaviest music available. Osbourne’s flatter, darker vocals were a departure from Plant and Daltrey’s style, and Evans was deemed a pop vocalist who was cast out of the band in the summer of ‘69 while Deep Purple toured the US.
Tony Iommi’s guitar tracks were crushing; deep as the oceans themselves. Switching to his now classic Gibson SG, abandoning the single-coil Fenders he was using, the dark sound he craved was easy to attain by simply plugging in his dual-humbucker-equipped SG into a Laney amplifier and a Dallas Rangemaster Treble Boost pedal. He says:
“On Paranoid I basically used an SG and the Laney. Everybody used HiWatts and Marshalls, but I liked the Laney with 12-inch cabs.”
Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore was playing single coil Stratocasters and Marshall amps; Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page used a Marshall JMP Super Lead in the studio on ‘Led Zeppelin II,’ and The Who guitarist Pete Townsend was using HiWatt amps.
The combination of Ozzy’s dark, war-torn vocals and Iommi’s crushing treble-boosted power chord chugging quickly distanced them from what had been considered heaviest-of-the-heavy entering the ‘70s. Add to that Bill Ward’s modified jazz drumming style, and Geezer’s haunting lyric writing and bass lines, and ‘Paranoid’ was changing the game, though Geezer and Ozzy had major reservations about including the riff that came to be the title track ( the album was originally going to be titled ‘War Pigs’). Butler said they felt it sounded too much like Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ and Zeppelin’s ‘Communication Breakdown’ and they didn’t want to seem like they were ripping it off. He explained:
“We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album…So when Tony came up with the riff to ‘Paranoid,’ me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went: ‘Naw, we can’t do that!.. In fact, we ended up having quite a big argument about it. Guess who was wrong? The fact that it became such a big hit for us—and is now probably our best-known song—says it all, really.”
Iommi wrote the riff at the request of producer Rodger Bain who was, of course, interested in adding a track that might be more commercially viable than all the doom-and-gloom-themed riffs. The “Lord of the Dark Riff” explained:
“I had a basic riff and I showed it to the band when the others came back. As everyone knows, we just recorded that song really quickly and pretty much at the last minute…It was going to be a filler and that was why it’s also the shortest song we’ve probably ever done as a result.”
An escape from the depths certainly worked in their favor. That riff enticed more fans to join the band on their journey more than any other track they’ve ever released, arguably. The mood-lightening riff cuts through the darkness of ‘War Pigs,’ the almost 8-minute-long, Vietnam war-inspired opening track allowing listeners a 2-minute and 47-second reprieve before being sucked into Ozzy’s swirling call in ‘Planet Caravan.’ Geezer, who wrote the lyrics to all three opening tracks, says Caravan represents “floating through the universe with one’s lover.” A beautiful contrast to the message conveyed by ‘War Pigs’:
“Britain was on the verge of being brought into (the Vietnam War), there were protests in the street, all kinds of anti-Vietnam things going on. War is the real Satanism. Politicians are the real Satanists. That’s what I was trying to say.”
1990’s groove metal pioneers, Pantera, recorded a cover of ‘Planet Caravan’ for their Billboard chart-topping album ‘Far Beyond Driven.’ Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo explained how the track ended up on the album in a 2014 interview:
“Planet Caravan' was a song that we recorded for a Black Sabbath tribute record and it got rejected because of political reasons between record labels and whatnot..”
The album’s 4th track, ‘Iron Man,’ has become as iconic as the band itself. Originally titled ‘Iron Bloke’ - Ozzy thought Iommi’s riff “sounded like a big iron bloke walking around” - it has no doubt inspired millions of budding guitarists for its simplicity and heavy groove. Geezer recalls:
“I can’t exactly recall what Ozzy said, but it was something like: ‘Why don’t we do a song called Iron Man, maybe Iron Bloke’. That got me thinking about a lump of metal and then putting it all into a science-fiction context. It all flowed from there.”
The beauty and plodding power of that riff will be covered by artists forever. Metallica, Zakk Wylde, Ministry, Green Day, and NOFX, to name only a few, have played versions of it.
When asked in an interview what the 5th track, ‘Electric Funeral,’ was about, Geezer said:
“Electric Funeral” was about the atomic war that was imminent back then. The Cold War was at its height. Everybody thought they were gonna get blown to bits any second. So it was just all about real life and what was going on.”
War is a recurring theme throughout the album and ‘Electric Funeral’ emphasizes it. The menacing bass, almost ominous guitar sound, haunting vocals, and tempo changes create a spiritual war within the listener. Tony Iommi has suggested that during shows, Bill Ward “played it differently every time” and “plays three instead of four” live to this day.
The lyrics for the 6th track ‘Hand Of Doom’ were particularly therapeutic for Butler:
“It’s a sad song…Lyrically, it’s raw, and the lyrics do include drug use, but I’d stopped using heroin by then. I hated it. My drug of choice was alcohol and cocaine. I also loved speed, although I haven’t used it in nearly 30 years. I’m sure there’s references in the songs to people dying from this horrible fuckin’ disease.”
‘Rat Salad’ is the album’s 7th song; an instrumental that was added to kill time…Not really, but that’s how the idea for the track was spawned according to Geezer since Ward would play long drum solos live just to kill time:
“...Bill filling out a whole 45 minutes doing a drum solo just to get rid of that 45 minutes.”
‘Fairies Wear Boots,’ the 8th and final track, has a lost origin. Geezer has said that Ozzy wrote the lyrics after a group of skinheads called him a fairy because he had long hair. He went on to say that the second half of the song was about LSD. Ozzy suggested the song was about LSD, and later said that he couldn’t recall what it was about. Regardless, it’s hailed as one of their best songs by critics, and its meaning is still debated by fans. Some say it’s racist; some say it's homophobic. Others say it’s about conception and reincarnation. The debate will go on forever since no band member can say for sure.
Dark. Grooving. Eye-opening. Therapeutic.Visionary. Inspirational. Revolutionary. HEAVY! It’s been 52 years since ‘Paranoid’ started to shatter the eardrums and heighten the buzz of millions of people worldwide and it’ll no doubt be hundreds more, as long as the thirst for war doesn’t overcome the need to “float through the universe with our lovers.”
As fretboard-shredding barbarian and frontman of Sabbath tribute band ‘Zakk Sabbath’ Zakk Wylde points out:
“Whenever you’re having a garbage day, you just put on some Sabbath and you feel better!”