Black Sabbath - Paranoid

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:10 Release Date:1970-09-18
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Black Sabbath - Paranoid

According to various histories, Black Sabbath took their name from the 1963 movie of the same name, starring Boris Karloff. Furthermore, the band was noted for making use of the “tritone,” a musical term that I’ll not bore you by explaining save to say that the nickname for such a musical interval is called “The Devil’s Interval.” You can’t make this stuff up. However, my favorite footnote is that Black Sabbath came to be during a period where flower power, folk music, and hippie culture were at their grooviest peak. At this point, I’d like to formally thank the Dark Lord Satan for delivering the music world from hippie music and flower power via the musical juggernaut Black Sabbath.

On just their second album, mere months after their debut, Black Sabbath crushed the sophomore jinx with a hammer of sludge and metal, doom and gloom, and utter head-banging glory called Paranoid. Just one thundering chord in, the opening notes of “War Pigs” transport the listener to their dark and foreboding world. An air raid siren lets you know that things aren’t looking good, and finally, John “Ozzy” Osbourne screams ominously about “witches at black masses,” “bodies burning” and “death and hatred to mankind.” Suck it, flower power.

The title track, written and recorded in less than a day as a song to fill out the album, remains a crucial part of the overall blueprint for metal and punk. Short and brutal with bleak lyrics, “Paranoid” is a song one can never tire of hearing. Alarm clock manufacturers should include the song as an alternative alarm option.

The album isn’t all wrecking ball destruction, however. “Planet Caravan” is a glassy-eyed number, with Ozzy’s voice given the Leslie effect usually reserved for guitars, and “Hand of Doom,” delivers its anti-drug message with a more reserved, laid back bluesy vibe, driven by the soft/heavy sturm und drang that grunge would make popular decades in the future.

Lyrically, bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler addresses topical issues that were a far cry from the peace and love tripe of the era. Aside from Vietnam and the ravages of war, songs speak to nuclear war (“Electric Funeral”), drug addiction (“Hand of Doom”), and mental instability (“Paranoid”), as well as some sci-fi themes (“Planet Caravan” and “Iron Man”). As the band explains, they were working class guys from Birmingham who grew up with harsh realities of poverty, seeking music that spoke to them about things other than counter-culture pabulum. They had no interest in love songs. When the three songs that get the lion’s share of radio airtime deal with the hell of war, paranoia, and a sci-fi robot that angrily allows the destruction of Earth (Guitar 101 classic “Iron Man”), you know this ain’t no flower power sing-a-long. Even the slower number “Planet Caravan” is more trippy than hippie. And, just for the hell of it, underrated drummer Bill Ward gets a chance to shine on the instrumental “Rat Salad.”

Despite the constant radio airplay of the three big songs herein, the best cut on this album is the closer, “Fairies Wear Boots.” Yet another of the countless, timeless, and iconic Tony Iommi riffs starts off a short jamming piece before things pause for a fleeting millisecond, and then the muddy, chord-driven melody blindsides you. Commanding the power of a jackhammer controlled by otherworldly forces, the music compels your body to involuntarily move. Near the end, Ozzy delivers a line that head-banging stoners across the globe wail at the top of their lungs every time they hear it: “Cause smoking and tripping is all that you do…YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” All right now!

Paranoid is not just the highpoint of Black Sabbath’s long and storied recording career; it’s a watershed moment in rock and roll. Taking the guitar-bass-drums three-piece blues concept and adding a flailing, grinning, frantic, braying, screaming, mad-man of a singer in Ozzy Osbourne, the band opened the floodgates for millions of acts, whether they acknowledge it or not. From Iron Maiden to The Ramones, Metallica to Nirvana, and a million points in-between, Black Sabbath begat a lineage that runs through the decades that followed, right up to now. Honestly, if you don’t own Paranoid, you simply don’t get rock and roll.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars
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