Why Black Sabbath – Paranoid? Well, I figured that I had written my first record shop review about my hometown, Birmingham based store, The Diskery, so why not continue the theme for my first album review.
What can I say about Black Sabbath’s second studio album, Paranoid, that hasn’t already been said before?
At the time of Paranoid’s release, Ozzy and Black Sabbath were already on their way to rock domination, with a debut album that had already seen success in to the Top 10 of the UK album chart only months prior to the release of this album. The band was performing gigs left, right and centre before and following the release of their first album, which didn’t leave the band much down time to concentrate on a second album. How they got around this was to write songs while they were on the road, performing them during pre-show sound checks and at live events. The songs often didn’t have lyrics, so Ozzy (by his own admission) made up “any old shit”.
Over the months following their eponymous album release, the band set to the studio to record their second album. Ironically, the album’s title song was an afterthought, as the band didn’t have enough songs to fill the album, with the song taking about 25 minutes to write.
The album was released in September 1970 in the UK, and peaked at #1 on the album charts, while in the US it was released January 1971, received virtually no radio airplay and reach #12.
The album was originally going to be called War Pigs, but the record label chose not to go for that due to the conflicts happening in Vietnam, so they updated the name to Paranoid. What they didn’t update was the artwork though.
The artwork itself is relatively simple and totally different to their first album, which saw an occult looking lady wearing a black dress, standing in front of a depiction of Mapedurham watermill. Now, I’ve listened to commentary and watched documentaries that have said that the Paranoid album artwork is a man dressed as a pig, wielding a sword. I can’t really see the pig part of that, it just looks like a man in a motorbike helmet. Maybe pig oriented fancy dress was in short supply in the early 70’s?
The inside gate fold has a picture of the band, with all of them sporting classic 70’s rock hair and a powerful moustache on Geezer. It was the first time the band were depicted on their album artwork.
The album opens with War Pigs, an 8-minute extravaganza and probably one of the bands most well-known songs bar Paranoid. The song is a reaction to power hungry politicians who were eager to continue spreading war.
The songs composition is one of the bands most ferocious, combing a mixture of tempos alongside several classic Iommi guitar riffs serving as the song’s foundation, including some intricate solos that could literally melt your face off (see video below).
I remember trying to emulate War Pigs when I was a 16-year-old lad with my first electric guitar (a Yamaha SG-700s as you asked so politely). While the core of the song was relatively easy for even a beginner like me to learn, being a series of power chords, it was when Iommi took to the fretboard like a ravenous beast; I just had to sit and listen in awe.
It wasn’t until I started to learn to play the guitar that I really began to appreciate how good Geezer Butler is on this song, and all songs he plays. I don’t think it’s fair to say that he’s an underrated bass player, being a part of one of the world’s most successful heavy metal bands, but maybe an unsung hero.
Moving on to the bands most successful song and the title track, Paranoid, which features a whopping 4 power chords. The song saw success twice in the UK singles charts, reaching #4 in 1970 and #20 a decade later. The fact that the song is so simple is immediately countered by the continuously high paced tempo – which does take considerable amount of stamina to keep going throughout the song. When I think about it, it’s crazy how successful this song is considering 90% of it consists of only 3 power chords, followed by an extra power chord every now and then.
I can’t remember listening to this song before I heard it on ‘The Best Air Guitar Album in the World… Ever’ album, although I probably did, but it was this album that I played along to, rocking out in my bedroom!
The next, and final song I wanted to talk about on the album is Iron Man. This is my all-time favourite Sabbath song, if not only for its story, which many people assume has a connection with Marvel superhero of the same name. The origin of the song started when Ozzy said to Geezer that they should make a song called Iron Man or Iron Bloke (probably wouldn’t have had the same outcome – ha, bloke), and Geezer set out on the lyrics. The story tells the story of a man who can travel through time, who goes to the future and witnesses the apocalypse. When he travels back in time to warn the people of this impending doom, he gets caught in a magnetic field that causes him to go mute. He is unable to convey his message, and his frustrations at the way humanity treats him eventually causes the devastation he’d tried to warn everyone about. Nothing like a self-fulfilment prophecy, surrounded by 6 minutes of metallic mayhem!
At the end of it all, Paranoid is an album that just doesn’t date, it was a defining moment in rock and has the blue prints of what this band was, and of what they would be.