Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

Guest Blogger Wendell: Black Sabbath – Paranoid

18 Mar

I love my guest bloggers, especially those like Wendell who have been following along from essentially day one . . .

—–

To mark the last day of 9th grade, our English teacher (Miss Reid) encouraged us to bring in albums to share.  I only remember one, brought in by a genial stoner named Kevin.

It was Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

At the time, I was making the transition from AM pop to FM album rock and had just begun to get into acts like Rush, Kansas, and Styx.  I had heard of Black Sabbath but didn’t know anything about them beyond their reputation for drugs and deviltry.  Kevin was hugely enthusiastic about sharing it – I’d never seen him so engaged about anything inside the class room.  He dropped the needle on the last song of side one – seven drum beats, an ominous guitar riff, and a distorted voice proclaiming “I AM IRON MAN” pulsed out of the tinny speakers.

I hadn’t heard anything like it before and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but boy was I intrigued.

Paranoid was the best of a string of great Black Sabbath albums in the first half of the 1970s.  If you only listen to one album from these early masters of heavy metal, Paranoid should be it.  The follow-up to their surprisingly popular debut (Black Sabbath), Paranoid hits on all gears.  As on Black Sabbath, Paranoid featured loud guitar, dark and often druggy themes with generous doses of fantasy and science fiction imagery, and an utterly uncommercial sound that garnered little radio play.

But these songs were better focused than the debut’s, and Paranoid deserves its reputation as Black Sabbath’s best album and as one of the top hard rock albums of all time.

Side one of Paranoid (the first four tracks if you don’t have the vinyl) is one of my favorite clusters of songs ever.  It starts with “War Pigs”, a grim indictment of evil in the form of generals and politicians who send the poor off to die in their wars.  ” War Pigs” rocked – its long instrumental sections and guitar solos show the song’s origin in jam sessions the band would do to fill out early concert sets.  This could have been the standout track on most albums; on Paranoid, I think it’s only the third best song – though lyrically it made the biggest impression on the teenaged me.

Next a completely different creature – the short loud blast of “Paranoid”, an driving up-tempo lament of a damaged man in deep isolating depression (ironically the word “paranoid” is not in the lyrics).  It was written at the last minute as album filler, built on a Tony Iommi riff – but filler has rarely been this good, and “Paranoid” is a popular and critical choice on various all-time great metal song lists.

Then follows the spacey “Planet Caravan.”  It’s mellow, strangely captivating and very different from anything else on the album.  To me it holds the same place on Paranoid as “The Battle of Evermore” has on Led Zeppelin’s fourth album (Zoso, 1971); both are quiet, odd, quixotic fantasy songs holding down the third spot on album sides that feature three all-time great rock tunes (“War Pigs”/”Paranoid”/”Planet Caravan”/”Ironman” vs. “Black Dog”/”Rock and Roll”/”The Battle of Evermore” /”Stairway to Heaven”).  (I wonder if Page and Plant were listening to Paranoid?)

This great album side concludes with “Iron Man” – a long dark science fiction song about a time traveler (maybe inspired by the Marvel comic character of the same name, maybe not – details do differ) who, angered by an indifferent human race, plans his revenge.  Six minutes of fast metal mayhem with heavy guitar, so it didn’t get a lot of radio play at the time – but it nevertheless has become hugely popular and probably gets more time on classic rock stations today than it did when the album was released in 1970.

Side two is also very good though no song rises to the level of “War Pigs”/”Paranoid”/”Iron Man”.  “Electric Funeral” and “Hand of Doom” are dark chugging metal tunes, “Doom” about drug addiction, “Funeral” about nuclear war.  Following the instrumental “Rat Salad”, the album closes with the long jam “Fairies Wear Boots”; Ozzy sings about fairies wearing boots and dancing with dwarves, and his doctor advises him that maybe he should be careful about the recreational chemicals he ingests.

Sometimes I wonder what Kevin is up to now – I haven’t seen him since high school.  If I ever run into him again, I’ll have to thank him for introducing me and Miss Reid’s class to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

I get his enthusiasm.

—–

Wendell has been listening to rock music for a long time because he isn’t talented enough to play it. 

In no particular order, some of his favorite bands are The Kinks, Guided By Voices, Pink Floyd, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Blue Öyster Cult, and Drive-By Truckers.   Don’t get him started on how American radio no longer plays good NEW rock music; classic rock is fine but you are missing a lot of excellent music if you only listen to stuff recorded before Bill Clinton was president. 

Wendell is currently living and working in the Minnesota area, and is supporting three hungry cats.

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[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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