Tag Archives: Ozzy Osbourne

Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

Black Sabbath File Photos
Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #666: Black Sabbath – ‘Black Sabbath’ (1970)

RITA#666Six hundred and sixty six – the number of the beast. Not to be confused with six hundred and sixty eight – the neighbour of the beast.

Back in 2012, I missed out on a Black Sabbath vinyl box set – the first eight studio albums housed in a lovely black and purple sleeve. I couldn’t afford it at the time – what with buying a house and having children to feed. It quickly went out of print, and now changes hands for silly money online. Another box set collection will be released eventually, I thought. I avoided buying the individual albums – both brand new and second hand – like the black death.

Six years later, and a new Black Sabbath vinyl box set has finally landed. It’s called The Ten Year War box set, presumably named after their militancy against Birmingham barber shops in the 1970s. The set is essentially the same as the 2012 release, featuring the first eight studio records plus a couple of 7” records and some associated stuff (posters, tour programmes, a brochure and a hardback book).

RITA#666bThe strangest thing about this new release though is the addition of a USB stick featuring digital high-definition audio copies of each of the records. The USB drive is shaped as – you guessed it – a black crucifix. This is presumably handy at a midnight black mass, when the ominous sound of chanting gets a bit repetitive. Just halt the proceedings – spare the sacrificial virgin for a couple of extra minutes – while you plug in the USB, tell everybody to wait until you download the correct codec for your media player, and resume to the tune of Vol. 4’s Snowblind.

I’m not sure if it justifies the NZ$400 price tag though. Even in the recent 20%-off sale at JB HiFi, that brings it down to NZ$320. Eight records at forty bucks a pop – that’s the price of a standard new release. Aren’t bulk purchases supposed to offer a discount to the buyer?

RITA#666cThe box set’s unique selling point, as far as I’m concerned, is that the eight LPs are all pressed onto splatter vinyl. These look fantastic, but not worth that additional cost. I figured out I can buy 2015 reissues of each of the eight records individually – on boring, standard black vinyl – at twenty bucks a pop in the same sale.

So I did. The Sabbath drought is over!

Black Sabbath is about as strong a debut rock record as you could hope for. It’s the most interesting of the Ozzy Osbourne records, if only for the fact that it includes some ‘lighter’ material that would never see the light of day on later records. Due to this, it’s a lot more fun than the band’s output in the latter half of the decade. There’s a touch of blues on this record – a harmonica even makes an appearance! – something they would avoid on subsequent releases to focus more of the heavy metal dirge of doom that made them a household name.

Hit: Black Sabbath

Hidden Gem: The Wizard

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Rocks In The Attic #665: Fastway – ‘Trick Or Treat’ (1986)

RITA#665Watching this film the other night, I was reminded of the decision I made somewhere in my teens that heavy metal was in a really bad place in the mid- to late-1980s.  At school, I was very much like the protagonist of this film – I’d wear double-denim, scrawl things like the AC/DC logo on my schoolbooks, and spend more time laughing than studying. Who knows where that might have ended in a parallel universe?

Thankfully, the appeal of heavy metal stopped where hair metal / glam metal started. I have no interest in listening to music played by musicians who have better hair than the girl next door. I can just about handle Def Leppard and early Ozzy Osbourne, but I avoid pretty everything else from that period. It’s generally very weak-sounding rock and roll, played by men wearing eyeliner and rouge.

When I see people on Facebook posting photos of Mötley Crüe or Poison records, I simply can’t understand the appeal. The cover image of Poison’s Look What The Cat Dragged In should be enough to deter anybody, yet is bandied around as a classic of the period.

I used to work with a guy who liked that sort of music. He was an old-school metalhead, and used to go to Donington’s Monsters Of Rock festival every year in the late ‘80s. I was speaking to him once and the conversation turned to the subject of Nirvana. He couldn’t hide his hatred for the band, seeing them as the reason why hair metal / glam metal had died. I just couldn’t understand this. The logic was that he felt that like he was onto a really good thing with that type of music, and when grunge kicked off, it killed all those bands.

Good riddance.

RITA#665bAs a film, Trick Or Treat owes more than a little to the plots of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Christine. The highlight is the appearance of Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons in small cameos, but even this novelty doesn’t save what is ultimately a wishful revenge fantasy with poor dialogue and a weak storyline. Backmasking should never be a plot-device.

The soundtrack features a bunch of dated heavy metal songs from the period by the band Fastway, formed by ex-Motörhead guitarist, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke. As with anything from the period, it’s very much hard-rock-by-numbers, and probably does sound better played backwards.

Hit: Trick Or Treat

Hidden Gem: After Midnight

Rocks In The Attic #512: Aerosmith – ‘Anthology’ (1988)

RITA#512Last night I finally watched Penelope Spheeris’ documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It’s something I’ve been looking for ever since I saw the first instalment on the 1979 L.A. punk rock scene. I’d heard about Part II ever since I’ve been an Aerosmith fan, and it didn’t disappoint.

Spheeris’ second film in the trilogy charts the comings and goings of L.A.’s glam metal bands from 1986 to 1988, all vying for stardom and attempting to out-do each other in the process. At first glance it’s not immediately clear who’s male and who’s female; the make-up and hairspray is so thick. And speaking of thick, there doesn’t seem to be a smart person among them. They’re the embodiment of Spinal Tap, without a trace of irony or self-awareness.

Intercut with these interviews and live performances are context-providing talking heads with the elder statesmen of the genre: Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy from Motörhead, Dave Mustaine from Megadeth, and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Aside from the absurdity of  the sections featuring Paul Stanley (lying in a bed with four lace-wearing groupies) and Gene Simmons (standing in a ladies’ clothes store, ogling at women), these interviews are reasonably candid and they come across much better than the young upstarts who are trying to make a name for themselves in the dingy Sunset Strip bars.

Alice Cooper particularly is as lucid as ever, and it’s refreshing to see Ozzy talk openly about the metal scene without the mumble he’s now commonly associated with. Tyler and Perry come across well, with the pair being able to talk with an air of stateliness, having recently hit the big time for a second time with 1987’s Permanent Vacation album.

Their sections are not too different from the content of the interviews in 1989’s The Making Of Pump documentary, with Tyler reeling off soundbites about his drug addictions, and Perry sounding as lugubrious as usual. It must be hard to summon the effort to talk about anything with enthusiasm when your adrenaline reserves have been destroyed through years of drug abuse.

One short shot in the film doesn’t ring quite true. After we’ve seen a domesticated Ozzy cook a fried breakfast with no issues, he goes to pour a bottle of orange juice into some glasses on the kitchen table, and Spheeris cynically inserts a shot of him spilling the orange juice as though he has the shakes. It’s obvious that it’s fake, and exists solely to make Ozzy look like he can’t handle sobriety. The end result is that you lose respect for Spheeris as a filmmaker. She might point her cameras at subjects she believes to be ridiculous, but at least they’re being honest.

Anthology is a rare West German compilation of Aerosmith’s early Columbia output, released on the UK label Castle Communications in 1988. It includes a heap of tracks that don’t feature on any other compilation, so you get, for example, the likes of Push Comes To Shove and the title track from 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place, the mis-titled Bite The Hand That Feeds and Sight For Sore Eyes from 1977’s Draw The Line, and several tracks from 1978’s Live! Bootleg – stadium performances of Walk This Way and Back In The Saddle, and the awesome 1973 Paul’s Mall performance of James Brown’s Mother Popcorn.

Hit: Sweet Emotion

Hidden Gem: Mother Popcorn (Live)

Rocks In The Attic #450: Motörhead – ‘Bomber’ (1979)

RITA#450.jpgYesterday, while out shopping with my parents and my eldest daughter, I heard the news that I never expected – Lemmy was no more, the King was dead. Only a couple of weeks after the death of drummer “Philthy Animal” Taylor too. As indestructible as that other survivor Keith Richards, nobody expected Lemmy to die. He’s made of stronger stuff than us mere mortals surely?

I used to listen to a lot more Motörhead than I do today. I would listen to the Ace Of Spades album – their masterpiece – pretty much on repeat in my early teens, with No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith filling in the blanks. Tastes change though, and melody became more important than heaviness. That’s probably why Ace Of Spades was such a breakthrough – the songs are there, to the extent that it’s almost a pop album. You can hear that aspect of the band throughout their career – even on earlier albums such as Bomber. They could always play, and could write great songs, it’s just that they were in the right place at the right time with Ace Of Spades. It helped that America noticed too.

What now? Ozzy is still with us, tweeting “Lost one of my best friends, Lemmy, today. He will be sadly missed. He was a warrior and a legend. I will see you on the other side.” And of course Keith is still upright. Alice Cooper is still scaring people on stage. Lemmy was different though. As much as I love the likes of Ozzy, Keith and Alice, at night they go home to their plush mansions, and travel everywhere by private jet. Lemmy seemed to be the real deal – perhaps because Ace Of Spades was their only crossover success – and it was such a long time ago (thirty five years ago!), he’s never had the kind of acceptance those other rock n’ rollers have. No private jet for Lemmy – you’d be more likely to bump into him on the local bus.

One thing I saw Lemmy do creeped into my own guitar playing on stage. In 1994, Motörhead released a single to promote the movie Airheads. The song – Born To Raise Hell – was a retread of an older song that Lemmy had written for the German band Skew Siskin. The music video for the song, accompanied by clips of the film, featured footage of Motörhead playing the song live on stage – and just as it kicked off, one thing that Lemmy did always stayed with me. Following his mantra that everything should be played LOUD, he walked over to his bass amp and ran his hand over the top of his volume and gain controls from left to right, essentially turning everything up to maximum. I used to do this from time to time, much to the chagrin of sound engineers. God bless Lemmy.

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Sean Murphy, one of the members of my vinyl group on Facebook said it best: “Woke up to the news, another of our finest gone. R.I.P. It’s only 7:15am but the neighbours shall feel my grief.”

Hit: Bomber

Hidden Gem: Lawman

Rocks In The Attic #420: Alice Cooper – ‘Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits’ (1974)

RITA#420I stole this one out of my Dad’s small collection of vinyl when I was about fourteen. At that point, I only knew School’s Out and nothing else, but this whole record quickly became a firm favourite of mine. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favourite rock compilations.

There’s something about the quality of the Alice Cooper band at this stage – when the band was called Alice Cooper, not the man – that Alice has never managed to recapture during his solo years. I saw him play live in Auckland a few years ago, and just like Ozzy he seems to take the approach that the heavier the band the better. So we got a lot of the songs from this album, but performed by a group of young guys in a band that was closer to metal than rock.

It’s such a shame because you lose a lot of the appeal of classic rock songs when you amp them up to metal. Imagine if Metallica did an album of Doobie Brothers covers – all the subtleties and nuances would fly out the door as soon as they plugged in. You can hear this in Metallica’s cover of Whiskey In The Jar, which just sounds like a metal-by-numbers imitation of the Thin Lizzy version.

I was stoked when Richard Linklater included two songs from Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits on the soundtrack to Dazed And Confused. Both songs used – School’s Out and No More Mr Nice Guy are used in the scenes with Wiley Wiggins’s character Mitch Kramer. School’s Out, not surprisingly, soundtracks the moment that school finishes; and No More Mr Nice Guy plays over the scene where Mitch gets captured – and paddled – by the seniors.

Years later, while watching Julien Temple’s fantastic Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, I found out that John Lydon auditioned for the Pistols by singing Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen next to a jukebox.

Hit: School’s Out

Hidden Gem: Hello, Hurray

Rocks In The Attic #280: Shihad – ‘Churn’ (1993)

RITA#280Before I came to New Zealand, there were only two New Zealand bands I had heard of – Crowded House, obviously, and Shihad. In fact, I didn’t even know Shihad were a Kiwi band. I’d heard some of their material and thought they were American, which isn’t a difficult mistake to make. But I had heard of them nevertheless.

Since living in the country, I’ve come to understand that they’re a national institution – a national treasure, if you will – which is odd considering that they started their career as a metal band, and a pretty heavy one too. Churn, their debut album from 1993 is a very heavy album, and doesn’t sound too much like the radio-friendly band that they would evolve into over the next twenty years.

My contact with Shihad in the five years I’ve been living in New Zealand has been with them fulfilling one of their key roles – that of New Zealand’s most prominent support band. It seems if there’s a big hard rock / metal band touring in New Zealand, you can almost bet Shihad will be supporting. I saw them play a radio-friendly set, supporting AC/DC in 2010, and earlier this year I saw them support a reformed Black Sabbath. Their set supporting Sabbath couldn’t have been any more different to the AC/DC slot – they drew heavily from this album, which had been re-released on vinyl for the first time that day – Record Store Day – to celebrate the album’s 20th year; and they were obviously playing to the more hardcore metal fans who had turned out to see Ozzy, Tony and Geezer.

Hit: Stations

Hidden Gem: Factory