Ozzy Osbourne’s image as Shiba, the bringer of death, doom and bat decapitation was brilliantly smashed to pieces when he starred in The Osbournes and was revealed to be a hilarious bumbling sweetheart. Now, it is almost impossible to reconcile him with the fearsome moody singer who shook the 1970s to the core and left the 60s cowering in the corner.
When Black Sabbath burst onto the scene, however, they were considered by many to be the inventors of heavy metal, but regardless of whatever followed in their wake, they were certainly one hell of a trailblazing force to contend with when they first crash-landed onto the scene after signing to Philips Records in November 1969.
By 1970, Sabbath had released a self-titled debut and one of the greatest sophomore records of all time with Paranoid, and their legacy was cemented within a year of emerging from the factories of Birmingham with their fingers barely intact.
The mark of their beast was that they were so wildly different to what came before them. Darkness had begun to creep into music in the late sixties, but Black Sabbath were the first huge name to propagate something like satanism. As Ozzy explains, this made their first gigs a terrifying ordeal: “When we started gigging way back when, as soon as we started playing this song’s opening chords, young girls in the audience would be fucking freak out.”
He went on to tell the NME: “They thought we were Satan’s fucking friends or something. That’s when the whole Prince of Darkness shit started. When people get excited about Halloween coming around each year, all I think is, ‘Well, we used to have Halloween every fucking night!'”
And the scariest of all their tracks, he believes, is their self-titled masterpiece, of course, ‘Black Sabbath’. It was a song that changed music forever and not solely because it scared the living daylights out of unsuspecting audiences. However, while it may have changed the music scene forevermore, the group were not universally taken to by their desired audience. As Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone scathingly wrote about their debut album: “Discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitised speedfreaks all over each other’s musical perimeters, yet never quite finding synch,” in truth, he couldn’t have defined heavy metal, before the event, better if he tried.
Everything about the band was rough, tumble, and raw. Even their debut album was pieced together in a day, as Tony Iommi recalls: “We thought we have two days to do it, and one of the days is mixing. So we played live. Ozzy was singing at the same time; we just put him in a separate booth, and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff.”
The song, ‘Black Sabbath’, was one of the first that the band ever wrote when they were previously working under Earth. Fortunately, another band in Germany were using the same name, so they switched to the more befitting moniker lifted from a 1963 horror movie directed by Mario Bava and starring Boris Karloff.
As Ozzy explains during Black Sabbath: The Ozzy Osbourne Years: “While rehearsing new material, the band formerly known as Earth experienced a supernatural experience. Geezer and Tony were playing new riffs for Ozzy and Bill when, much to everyone’s surprise, they both strummed the same notes at the same tempo – although neither had ever before heard the other one play the piece! Convinced that this was an omen, Geezer christened the song and the group Black Sabbath [after the movie].”
After all, any song based on an Italian horror movie is certainly not going to be a jangly ‘Lilly the Pink’ style singalong.