Black Sabbath‘s 1970 single ‘Paranoid’ is a proto-metal classic that needs no introduction. The scorching iconic riff and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s wailing vocal melody are unmistakable. It is undoubtedly one of the highest points of the metal legends’ career. It features the seminal lineup of Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward.
‘Paranoid’ and its eponymous 1970 album have inspired countless musicians since its release. Featuring other iconic tracks such as ‘Iron Man’ and ‘War Pigs’, the band’s second album still endears itself to fans today. The ironic thing about the title track is that it was written as an afterthought. In Steven Rosen’s 1996 work The Story of Black Sabbath: Wheels of Confusion, Bill Ward remembers: “We didn’t have enough songs for the album, and Tony (Iommi) just played the guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.”
Bassist Geezer Butler built on this sentiment in the liner notes of the 1998 live album Reunion. The perpetually ice-cool master of the low-end remembered that the song was written in “five minutes”. He continued: “Then I sat down and wrote the lyrics as quickly as I could. It was all done in about two hours.”
Apart from being an important progenitor of the metal genre, ‘Paranoid’ is also a classic for another reason. It marks the exact moment that Sabbath‘s writing process was truly perfected. Iommi would kick off the activity by introducing one of his signature sludgy riffs. Butler then provided a strong tonal ballast with his driving bass tone, and Ward would support the devilishly undulating tune with a thunderous rhythm. Amongst all this, frontman Osbourne would work on a vocal melody. To finish off the seemingly straightforward process, Butler would provide the majority of the band’s lyrics henceforth.
‘Paranoid’ was released on August 7th, 1970 and reached the fourth spot on the UK charts. A resounding success, it remains the band’s only top ten hit. Hence, the song’s legacy is plain for all to see. Duly, it has cemented itself in pop culture history. It has featured in classic films such as Dazed and Confused and Almost Famous. Furthermore, Titan’s such as Megadeth and Weezer have also offered up covers of the masterpiece.
It is coming up to 50 years since the song’s release, so why not revisit it? Instead of just listening, treat yourself to some rare footage of the band playing at the iconic Jazz Bilzen festival, the “mother of all European festivals”. If you were to think of any of the so-called “Gods” of rock ‘n’ roll history, you’d likely find them on a past lineup of the now-defunct festival. The likes of Lou Reed, The Kinks and Blondie all graced the Belgian city’s stage over the course of its existence.
Although the footage comprises approximately two-thirds of ‘Paranoid‘, it is brilliant in the way it acts as a time capsule, transporting us to an age long since faded. The footage captures Sabbath in their prime, featuring a young, headbanging Osbourne, shaggy-haired and energetic – a far cry from the vacant god of metal we know today. In fact, it is a stark reminder of how we all get old and that youthful energy is to be cherished, as one day we will wish we were headbanging or dancing away at a festival.
The crowd in the footage are typical of the era. The standout is the hippie, sat cross-legged and topless on top of a makeshift plinth, chucking his head back and closing his eyes as he takes in the karmic energy exuded by the Birmingham quartet. Aesthetically, the audience is so symbolic of the late 1960s and early ’70s that they could quite easily appear in any footage from the time, and one would be none the wiser. Extending that attitude, I guess you could say the same for the crowd in the footage at the ill-fated Woodstock ’99.
However, most importantly, the footage shows just how visceral and tight Sabbath was in its prime. The sound quality is fantastic. It clearly demonstrates that the band were just as adept at writing masterpieces as they were at successfully translating them onto record.
The triumphant performance took place just weeks after the release of ‘Paranoid’ on August 21st, 1970. As for Jazz Bilzen, it would run until 1981. Though, before too long, the esteemed celebration would become the gargantuan Rock Werchter – but that is a story for another day.
Check out the exhilarating footage below.