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(Credit: Jet Records)

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40 years on from Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’

@TomTaylorFO

In 1835 the masterful Russian author Nikolai Gogol penned the farcical short story Diary of a Madman about a fellow plagued by talking dogs and imagined miscreants of all kinds as he humbly tries to go about his day. Anyone who has ever watched The Osbourne’s knows that Gogol pretty much prognosticated the life of everybody’s favourite bumbling frontman with eerie perfection. Thus, it is safe to assert that rarely has a borrowed title been more befitting of its custodian.

There are reams of reviews of Ozzy Osbourne’s Diary of a Madman that tear into the misguided narratives, overly brash production and lack of lyrical introspection. By doing so, they are seemingly failing to judge the book by the cover and notice that it sports Ozzy dressed as some sort of grinning Werewolf with a child inexplicably giggling away in the background. In other words, we’re not dealing with an album that takes itself too seriously here.

However, impishness alone does not give any record a free pass, and despite how it may seem, Ozzy Osbourne is more aware of that than most. Thus, amid the maelstrom of madness is an undercurrent of design, intent and expert musicianship. Take, for instance, ‘S.A.T.O.’ — the track couples raucousness with rumination as Ozzy takes inspiration from a letter entitled A Ship to Cross the Sea of Suffering by a Buddhist monk named Nichiren Daishonin from 1261 and plays it out over some scintillating hammer-ons by Randy Rhoads. It proves that there is often a method to the madness when it comes to this record. And the madness was indeed profound and present here. 

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The song title ‘S.A.T.O.’ itself is a pastiche of the strange atmosphere in the studio as Ozzy twisted it to represent the maiden names of both Sharon (Arden) and his ex-wife Thelma Osbourne. Behind the title is the story of a pivotal moment in his career. According to Bob Daisley, this was the last song that they wrote together before he and Lee Kerslake were fired from the band, leaving only Ozzy and Randy Rhoads remaining from his first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz. When Tommy Aldridge replaced Kerslake for the record and was credited in the liner notes, he remarked: “I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s not my drumming on that album. I have never taken credit for that recording and have always given Lee Kerslake, whenever asked or interviewed, the credit he rightly deserves.”

Kerslake recalled: “Everything was working fine. It was only when Sharon came in that we had a problem. When she started managing—taking over—she wasn’t the manager until Diary of a Madman.” Whether this reported chaos in the studio rubbed off on the album or through the simple fact that Ozzy is a man predisposed to bedlam is unknowable, but what it is self-evident that the hair-raising album is wilder than most, and the reason it soars is that its both aware of that fact and unable to do anything about it. It is a laughable folly somehow brimming with self-awareness, and as such, it resides among his best efforts. 

On the surface, the musicology is conventional classic rock. Still, when you put that in the cocktail shaker with Ozzy’s Halloween vocals, a consistent concept album-like production and a few flourishes of original mayhem, you have something very singular and maddeningly fun… much like the madman whose sonic diary we are listening to.