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Sunday Old School: Black Sabbath History Month Part 1 - Back Street Kids

Photo of Black Sabbath

Band Photo: Black Sabbath (?)

As so many of our readers are aware, in the United States, the month of February is Black History Month. It’s also the time when we devote the Sunday Old School column to Black Metal history. What many of our readers might not know however, is that Black History Month is also held in the United Kingdom, albeit on a far less noticed scale, in the month of October. Since it doesn’t make sense to dedicate two months of the year to one genre, Metal Underground and Sunday Old School in particular, will focus on a different history, that of arguably the first, and many would say best, heavy metal band of all time. Welcome to Black Sabbath History Month!

The seeds of Black Sabbath, and perhaps heavy metal itself, were sewn when guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward teamed up with bass player Terry "Geezer" Butler and vocalist John "Ozzy" Osbourne, an old schoolmate and reported bullying victim of Iommi’s. They formed the Pulka Tulk Blues Band, which also featured a slide guitarist named Jimmy Clarke and saxophonist, Alan Clarke. The sextuplet quickly shortened their moniker to Pulka Tulk, before changing their name once again to Earth. In order to remove Phillips and Clarke from the group in the most polite way possible, the founding quartet decided to disband then reunite the band as a four piece, recording new, exciting material such as "A Song for Jim," (a tribute to their manager, Jim Simpson.) After being mistaken frequently for another British band of the same name, Earth decided to once again rechristen themselves, choosing the now iconic name Black Sabbath upon Geezer’s suggestion, who remarked how interesting it was that people would pay to be scared by films such as the Boris Karloff feature from which the quartet took their name.

Inspired by this idea, the band continued to take risks with their music, taking it in a dark direction. The concept paid off, as before the year was out, they released their first single, "Evil Woman" through Phillips Records’ subsidiary label, Fontana, before being moved to another Phillips owned company, Vertigo Records in January 1970. They recorded their first album in one day, with the mixing handled the next, completing their now classic debut in only one weekend. Only a month after joining the Vertigo roster, their first masterpiece was unleashed into an unsuspecting world, featuring the terrifying title track and at least one other classic song in the shape of "N.I.B." As with anything new, initial reactions to the album from the press was largely negative, with the band being compared unfavourably to Vanilla Fudge, though of course, as time has passed, it is now regarded as a seminal and brilliant record and was also found commercial success, entering the top ten in their home country and number twenty three in the United States.

Only four months after the release of their first full length album, Black Sabbath returned to the studio to record a second effort, one which would arguably go on to be even more beloved than their debut. It was initially to be named, "War Pigs," though the label protested and the title was eventually changed to “Paranoid,” named after a song written and added to the record at the last minute. Both the new and original title tracks have gone on to become not just classics in the Black Sabbath catalogue, but in that of heavy metal itself, boasting a simplistically brilliant riff in the former song and jagged, aggressive anthem in the latter. It also contained another classic riff and song in the form of "Iron Man," not to mention the eerily beautiful, "Planet Caravan" and borderline party anthem, "Fairies Wear Boots." It’s brilliance was clear to listeners, who sent it to the top of the album charts in Britain and to number five in Norway. The title track was also a successful single at home, reaching number four in the charts and becoming their only top ten single to date.

Something the band is legendary for, besides their music, was their drug indulgence, something which increased greatly during the recording of their third album, "Master of Reality." Like their first output, it was a commercial success that was received poorly upon release, but has gone on to be viewed favourably by critics and metal fans alike. It sported more staples of the band such as "Children of the Grave" and "Sweet Leaf," the latter seen as a love letter to marijuana. After touring in support of the record, the band decided to take a break for the first time to combat the fatigue of constant trekking and recording three albums in the space of less than two years. When they regrouped, they found creating their next opus to be more of a struggle, hindered by the increasing presence of drugs, particularly cocaine, which the band wrote about on the song, "Snowblind," which was also to be the original name of the album before the label changed it to "Vol. 4" without consulting the band.

After a disappointing journey to Los Angeles with the failed intention of writing new material, the group returned to the United Kingdom and found greater inspiration when rehearsing in the dungeons of Clearwell Castle. The writing sessions were transferred to vinyl that September and two months later, Black Sabbath released another slab of genius in "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," which boasted an outstanding title track as well as such songs as "Killing Yourself to Live" and "Spiral Architect." It reached the top five in Britain and just missed out on a top ten place in America. It was even lauded by the press upon it’s release, who were also mostly fond of their next full length, "Sabotage," which was released in the summer of 1975 and contained yet more classics such as "Symptom of the Universe" and "Hole in the Sky," the latter track proving so influential there was even a festival named after the song in Norway.

There are some bands who might point to "Sabotage" as the last great album from the classic lineup, as following a label created compilation album named, "We Sold Our Souls For Rock and Roll," the album, "Technical Ecstasy" was recorded and released to unfavourable reviews and for the first time, a little sourly by fans. It featured more experimentation this time around and choices such as Bill Ward performing lead vocals on the song, "It’s Alright." Touring for the album faired little better, particularly in Australia where they were supported by an up and coming outfit by the name of AC/DC, with Geezer Butler and Malcolm Young taking a particular disliking to each other, which turned physical on at least one occasion when the older Young brother mistakenly thought that Geezer pointed a switchblade knife at him in a hotel.

When returning home, Osbourne told his bandmates that he was quitting the group, though he soon returned upon learning that former Fleetwood Mac member, Dave Walker had been brought in to replace him, who made one live appearance with the band on BBC television. With Osbourne back in the fold, the group spent five months in Canada recording a new album, which eventually surfaced under the title, "Never Say Die!" Though it contained some minor hits such as "Hard Road" and the title track, it was still given quite a band response upon release. They promoted the record by touring with another soon to be household name, Van Halen, who concert goers claim outperformed the headliners frequently, much as fans say AC/DC had done before.

Times were tough for the band and they were about to get even harder when after returning home, they found creating new music even more difficult than before, particularly due to Osbourne, who was refusing to sing any new material that was presented to him and was reportedly uninterested. It was decided that Ozzy would have to go and the task of telling him was left to Bill Ward. As expected, he didn’t handle the news too well and retreated to a hotel for two years, though that’s veering towards another story. So many bands don’t survive after parting ways with a fan favourite member, especially a singer and the future of the group was cast in doubt. But of course, Black Sabbath are no ordinary band…

Black Sabbath - "The Rebel"

Black Sabbath - "N.I.B."

Black Sabbath - "Fairies Wear Boots"

Black Sabbath - "Children of the Grave"

Black Sabbath - "Snowblind"

Black Sabbath - "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath"

Black Sabbath - "Symptom of the Universe"

Black Sabbath - "Rock and Roll Doctor"

Black Sabbath - "Never Say Die"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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5 Comments on "Sunday Old School: Black Sabbath Part 1"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Toney Clary writes:

Wasnt Snowblind originally an Eric Clapton song? Sabbath didnt write that did they?

# Oct 5, 2014 @ 9:15 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Diamond Oz's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

2. Diamond Oz writes:

I looked into that but couldn't find anything about Eric Clapton having a song called, Snowblind. Are you sure you're not thinking of his song, Cocaine?

# Oct 6, 2014 @ 7:25 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
kshanholtzer's avatar


3. kshanholtzer writes:

I recently read Tony Iommi's book. It was a pretty good book. Learned quite a few things I hadn't known.

# Oct 6, 2014 @ 9:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Carlos Santos writes:

Excellent first part - the second part will be equally good.
My belief is Snowblind is a Sabbath original. Cocaine was performed by Eric Clapton, but to my knowledge the author of this song is JJ Cale, a big influence on Clapton and Dire Straits.

# Oct 6, 2014 @ 10:00 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Diamond Oz's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

5. Diamond Oz writes:

Thanks Carlos! Snowblind is credited to Black Sabbath so that backs up it being their song.

# Oct 6, 2014 @ 10:13 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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