Black Sabbath - the Band
Created | Updated May 25, 2005
Black Sabbath were formed in 1969, in Aston, Birmingham, by Ozzy Osbourne1 (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass guitar) and Bill Ward (drums).
Originally called Polka Tulk, they renamed themselves Earth, and then Black Sabbath, after a Boris Karloff film. Their eponymous debut, released on Friday 13 February, 1970, sold surprisingly well. Upon hearing it had charted, Tony Iommi, while driving up the motorway with the rest of the band, 'was so shocked [he] nearly crashed the van'.
The band quickly attained a Satanic image, thanks to the doom-laden tones of their debut album Black Sabbath, an image which generated anger among many Christian groups who thought them to be genuinely evil. This was particularly so in America. After all it wasn't that long after the Charles Manson murder case. Perhaps folk were a little sensitive. Perhaps too sensitive for Ozzy Osbourne and his own peculiar brand of lunatic, black-clad Brummie2 rock.
Nevertheless, despite many cancelled gigs in America, the band gained in popularity. This reached its peak among the general public when their single 'Paranoid' reached No. 4 in the UK charts. Curiously enough, it wasn't the decision of the band to release the single, but their record company's. The band themselves were none too pleased about having attracted a 'teenybopper' fan base through having a chart hit, although no doubt the single did serve them well.
War Pigs or Just Plain Paranoid?
Their next album, released in September 1970, was originally to be entitled 'Walpurgis', after the witch's sabbath, but it was decided by the band, in light of the recent uproar in America over their dubious 'satanic' image, to retitle the album to the much... er... lighter, 'War Pigs'. However, their record company interfered yet again, and decided to name the album Paranoid , after the single which also appeared on the album. By this time, Black Sabbath had moved further away from their blues roots, and had developed a sound all of their own. Black Sabbath's third album, Master of Reality, 1971, showed this transition more than ever before. Containing many masterpieces, such as 'Sweet Leaf', a song about cannabis, the album demonstrated the band's more mellow aspect with tunes like, 'Solitude'. Sabbath were not a one-dimensional band.
Their next album, imaginatively titled Vol. 4, was released in 1972. It marked yet another period of evolution for the band, their distinct heavy sound becoming crisper and leaner than ever before. The album contains a beautiful acoustic number, 'Laguna Sunrise', along with a somewhat odd track called 'FX'. Their fifth album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, featured Rick Wakeman (from prog-rockers Yes) on keyboards, on the fourth track, 'Sabbra Cadabra'. This track was also covered by Metallica on their double-album Garage Inc., although in the more mellow central part, they inserted part of 'A National Acrobat', also taken from the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. The album as a whole is often reckoned to be the pinnacle of Black Sabbath's career, and is certainly their most evolved album.
The Metal Gets Less Heavy
Their sixth album, Sabotage, was less critically acclaimed than its forebears, although it's still a fine album. The best track is probably 'Symptom of the Universe'. On their seventh album, Technical Ecstasy, the band seems to lose much of its heaviness, adopting a similar style to that of contemporary Queen. This album is often thought of as the beginning of the end for the classic Sabbath era, which itself ended when Ozzy left in 1978. Ozzy briefly left between the release of Technical Ecstasy and the recording of their next album, Never Say Die. In the meantime, ex-Savoy Brown member Dave Walker replaced Ozzy. He only performed with the band once, on BBC Midlands TV performing 'Junior's Eyes', taken from Never Say Die.
Return of the Ozzman
When Ozzy returned, he demanded that the whole album, which was nearing completion, be re-recorded, with him on vocals. Much of the old material was ditched, too, and some completely new stuff written. The album was not received well by critics. By the time of its release, in 1978, punk rock was emerging onto the scene, and Black Sabbath were portrayed as gross, bloated dinosaurs of rock.
Ozzy left the band (almost) for good later that year, and Ronnie James Dio was recruited to take Ozzy's place. The first studio album released in the post-Ozzy era was Heaven and Hell, in 1980. A live album, Live at Last, was released the same year, the first Black Sabbath live album legally produced (ie, by the record company, not bootleggers). It was not officially endorsed, however, by either the band or Ozzy, despite their appearance on the album. Their next 'official' live album was Live Evil, again not officially endorsed by the band. Numerous studio albums followed Heaven and Hell, with the entire line-up except Tony Iommi eventually changing. Even a keyboard player was added, although he was not listed as a full band member until the early 1990s.
The original line-up reformed for one gig, namely Band Aid, in 1985, but only as a one-off. In 1997, the original line-up reformed again, this time 'for good'. They played two world tours, the 'Reunion' tours, ending with two gigs at the Birmingham NEC in December 1997. One of these nights was recorded, and released as Reunion. This was the first live album endorsed by the band. It also included two studio tracks, including the blinding 'Psycho Man', released in America as a follow-up to 'Reunion', albeit on the b-side of a re-release of Paranoid.
In early 1999, the band announced that they were to split after two gigs in August at London's Earl's Court, as part of Ozzfest '99. However, these gigs were cancelled for numerous reasons, including some animosity from the local residents and the police force. The councillor for the area claimed that all Black Sabbath fans were a bunch of selfish, arrogant fools (or words to that effect). He also commented on the fact that only seven people sent him letters of complaint, so he came to the conclusion that this was the sum total of literate Black Sabbath fans. There was obviously uproar at the cancellation - many fans claiming that the band had forgotten its roots and would rather play in America than Britain. The last two concerts were held on 21 and 22 of December 1999, at the Birmingham NEC, and by all reports the band gave rousing, vintage performances. Black Sabbath are a legend.