A Short History of Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath made rock music an uneasy listening experience. Before them, the sixties had led to genre-swapping and stylistic hopping in the name of experimentation. Black Sabbath helped destroy all this and replace it with a basic drums, bass, guitar, vocal intensity which was heavy and dark. It was all wrapped up in a fey satanic, death-is-cool narrative. Their approach blazed a trail directly to the Sex Pistols, albeit via a naff and utterly un-cool path. But if you wanted your rawk music to, just, rock then they were for you.
At first they were called Polka Turk. Then they were called Earth, until they settled on Black Sabbath in 1968. The band’s sound is basically due to the fat sound of Tony Iommi’s guitar. He lost two fingertips in a work related accident and wear metal tips, thus the sound. Added to the bass, left in the mix, and the drums at the back in the center, and you have the perfect sludge-rock for Mr. Ozzy Osbourne to scream all over.
Their first album was released at the same time as the Rolling Stones were putting out ‘Sticky Fingers’, an album which heralded the death of hippy flower power and the rise of a more sleazy notion of free-love. It basically the birth of cock-rock. OK, the title track was ‘Paranoid’. It’s everything you need to know about Black Sabbath, condensed down into a couple of minutes of fiery rock energy. It was supposed to be just a filler track for their next album and it starts with some basic blues chords and develops into a full-blown teenage angst story of self-hate and, as the title makes clear, a good deal of paranoia.
Then, of course, there are the stories of bats, arson, defecation, drummer-accidents and general rock excess. It’s what made Spinal Tap great and is one part theater and one part stupidity. But then that’s what Black Sabbath are remembered for – the excess. They were really just a working class rock band who hung an image of the darkside over themselves because it sold records. No different to bands who adopt a wholesome ‘Osman-esque’ image, or a revolutionary fake-intellectualism like the Pistols or the Clash. It’s all showbusiness. Something which has certainly not been missed by the Osbourne family, who have made a second career out of the myth and legend of dad’s first.
Anyhows, what can’t be debated though is that Black Sabbath’s first four albums were certainly instrumental in honing down the sound of punk, and then maybe even informing the sound of grunge and the crossover of Ice-T. However, by 1976 (when punk broke) Black Sabbath had started to leave behind their own sludgey rock blueprint and they started to experiment. So, Ozzy left in 1977, and by 1980 both Butler and Bill Ward had also gone. Then came the rise of Ozzy. Popular in both the mainstream and the margins. It’s a little sad. Ozzy becomes an a-list clown because he was once rock’s a-list idiot savant. Oh well, there’s marketing for you. ‘Paranoid’ is still a great track though.