[101] Black Sabbath – Paranoid

13 Mar

It’s a good thing these riffs are so chunky and crunchy, these solos so fiery and fresh, because these vocals are at best forgettable.

The cover photo was not updated when the album title was changed from "War Pigs"

But neither you nor I are listening to Sabbath for the cartoon antics of Ozzy Osbourne – it’s the guitars, stupid.

It’s the heaviest, driving-est hooks created by Tony Iommi and anchored by Geezer Butler.  It’s the pyrotechnic, at times jazz-fueled solos which make the head spin throughout this seminal recording.

Meanwhile Ozzy whines weakly over the top, yet somehow doesn’t manage to ruin the effect.

The most amazing thing is that he had anywhere further to fall from here, his ludicrous accent and antics just a foreshadowing of the one-note, reality TV punchline he was to become.

I used to dance to “War Pigs”, “Iron Man” and of course “Paranoid” regularly at rock clubs throughout the ’90s and, as I’ve mentioned before, the well-worn vinyl coupled with the sound systems of the day left the experience far from crystal clear.

This turns out to have been a positive in the case of Sabbath, since the power and passion of the instruments came through loud and clear (as was so often the case with the songs we loved) while leaving the already uninspired vocals down in the mix.

There were plenty of vocalists who fared very well under these conditions – Steve Tyler and Brian Johnson to name just two explored to date in the 1,000 – projecting out over the crackle and fuzz, but Osborne simply disappeared.

Imagine somebody good singing these tracks, adding some range and subtlety, some real attitude and emotion, anything in fact instead of Osbourne’s mush-mouth mumblings.  It could have been breathtaking.

Listening to a remastered version today, I’m tempted to switch back to an old dubbed tape instead, or find a visibly scratched up vinyl copy.

But that would take away the joy of hearing every masterful detail of the other musicians on display, 45 years after they first borrowed the structure of a Led Zeppelin song and made it harder and darker.

In the end, despite Osbourne’s best (worst?) efforts, Paranoid remains one of the most enjoyable and important rock albums of the last half century.

It’s the guitars, stupid.

Next Week:  Ruben Blades and Willie Colon – Siembra

Owned before blogging? Yes. (10 of 101 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (16 of 101 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (83 of 101 = 82%)

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