So, in the spirit of my recent rant on Black Sabbath’s final concert announcement, I couldn’t help recently but begin reminiscing about my first true taste of them…and that would obviously be their second album, Paranoid, released originally in 1970. What an eye opener that was – and not just because the picture of the colorful looking, sword welding soldier on the cover made me think I was buying the soundtrack to some early 70’s low budget sci-fi movie!
I first heard of Ozzy Osbourne when he released Ozzmosis in 1995. I was 11 at the time and MTV News did a story on him and then a week later I saw his video for “Perry Mason”. But it was two years later, when I somehow joined the “rocker clique” in my school, that my friend Elan Bochbot educated me on Ozzy’s beginnings. What was ironic was this now was the year that Black Sabbath were to reunite (I think without Bill Ward) to headline Ozzfest. But it wasn’t until a year later that I finally bought my first Sabbath CD – and this was AFTER I bought Blizzard of Ozz so I think you can imagine how thrown off I was bound to be when comparing Randy Rhoads’s playing to Tony Iommi’s!
Oh, I also had an obstacle or two when listening to Paranoid. I was living with my dad when I got it back in the summer of 1998 and I didn’t have a radio in that bedroom so all I had was some shit CD walkman. Yeah, about that shit walkman; it was so shitty that for whatever reason it would not read the CD. And if it did read the CD I had to make sure not to skip tracks because it wouldn’t read and the fucking CD would just spin around aimlessly. You can’t make this shit up!
Now for the music! The first time my shitty CD player was able to read the CD I was smacked in the back of the head by the first low E strum and slow as fuck groove of “War Pigs”. That groove, the unusual way Tony Iommi played his guitar – a far cry from Randy Rhoads and “I Don’t Know” for sure! – Geezer Butler’s walking bassline, Bill Ward’s loose drumming. Those sirens!! I already couldn’t help but anticipate what was to happen next because I knew it’d be a while before my CD player would be able to do this again!
Then it got quiet, all you could hear was Bill’s hi-hat. Then it came. “Generals gathered in their masseeeeeess!” Whoa! Is that really Ozzy? Is that the same guy that I just heard a month earlier singing “Crazy Train”? Oh yeah it was. But this was a much rawer Ozzy. At that moment I understood that this was going to be nothing like those other two Ozzy CD’s I had. This shit was going to be fucking RAW. This would be the first time I wouldn’t hear a rhythm guitar track during any solos, this would be the first time I’d hear the guitar and bass intertwining together as one, swinging drums in a much more aggressive environment. I was listening to the origins of Heavy Metal – and it sounded pretty jazzy.
After being blown away by “War Pigs” “Paranoid” came next. This is one of the simpler songs on the CD. It’s perfect. Short, fast paced, the lyrics fit perfectly and that gnarly, dissonant solo totally fucked with my head. I can listen to it now and I can’t help but imagine the face of a crazy person. “Planet Caravan”, the lone mellow track here. This one threw me off for sure, especially with Ozzy’s voice going through a rotating speaker, which I wasn’t aware of at the time. I didn’t even think it was him! As he creepily spoke about sailing “through endless skies” as “stars shine like eyes”, I felt like I was watching a cartoon, and in it all four guys in the band when on some boat riding through space, then as Tony played the ending solo the four of them faded away in to the darkness. As it turns out my interpretation of the song wasn’t too far off from what Geezer had in mind after all. What makes me laugh is my rap loving brother heard this song the one time my dad let me play it in his truck and decided “You’re a poser and I’m gonna tell all ya friends!”. Yeah…good luck there buddy.
Then came that bass drum, then came the bending E string…”I am Iron Man!”. This was just fun as hell because while this wasn’t based on the comic book I read comics so this is another song where I couldn’t help but see a cartoon going on in my head, regardless that it turned out to be the ultimate rejection song and the same goes for “Electric Funeral ” too! But Tony’s use of the wah pedal on “Electric Funeral” made the riff that much more fucked up sounding and I loved it.
“Hand of Doom”, that is just pure groove. I wasn’t ready for that yet but I totally appreciate it now, especially when I gets faster in the middle before slowing down again. It’s an exercise in jazz improv, but of course as evil as they could get. Same thing goes for “Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots”. Upon my first several listens the lyrics made absolutely no sense at all. I didn’t think they were supposed to because I knew everybody and their mother did drugs like there was no tomorrow back then but later on I discovered the meaning behind it. But Geezer, I’m sure that not all skinheads are afraid to fight bud – you just got lucky that night!
The album, or at least my version of it, ends with “Rat Salad”, or as I like to call it, the Bill Ward Special! He is such an underrated drummer. He was to Black Sabbath what Ringo was to the Beatles. He had rhythm but he could swing to and it added such flavor to the groove. But unlike Ringo he could do drum solos. Was this John Bonham? No. But it fit perfectly with the tune.
And just like that not only was it over but I’d probably have to wait a while before the stupid CD player could read the CD again. This was nothing like what I was listening to at the time. Ozzy’s voice was raw and nasal as hell throughout the whole thing. Tony’s guitar playing was primitive but he undeniably had such a huge sound and I could finally see where so many guys stole their tricks from – myself included. It was filed with anger, it was dark, gloomy, nothing flashy or shrederrific about him. What you heard was what you got but it was real and you FELT IT. Geezer turned out to be such a player on that bass and Bill was more than an anchor. He was the perfect jazz drummer – he knew when to keep it tight but he also knew when to let it fly.
In the end it was the perfect historical piece for metal historians, not just because of the music. The artwork, the lyrical imagery, the themes of war, rejection, mental illness and again, how raw it all is. Paranoid will always be the perfect introduction to the band that started it all. I knew I was hooked and I wanted more. Now. Yesterday. Then I found Master of Reality, which I consider to be THE heaviest album of all time. But that’s another story.