Black Sabbath are one of the most influential bands of all time. Hard rocking to the core, their dark take on music helped to create the multi-dimensional genre we know today as metal. The oppressive sounding music was unlike anything anyone had ever heard at the dawn of the 1970s, and through drawing on lyrical themes such as sci-fi, the occult and the supernatural, they unwittingly laid down some key blueprints of metal moving forward.
However, the band surprised the world in 1972 when they released their fourth album, the inventively named Vol. 4. A brilliant album containing classics such as ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ and ‘Supernaut’, the standout was, without a doubt, ‘Changes’. An introspective ballad, this was unlike anything Sabbath had ever done before. Perhaps the band’s biggest track, it has been covered countless times.
“We’re certainly not going to get any less heavy,” frontman Ozzy Osbourne explained in 1972. “We will probably do ‘Changes’ on stage with a Mellotron but we’ll never take strings on stage with us or anything like that.”
Credited to all four members of Sabbath’s classic line up, Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, at that point, it was the most mature track the band had ever recorded, dealing with the inevitable changes adults experience as they get a little older.
In Osbourne’s 2010 memoir, I Am Ozzy, he recalled how the song came to fruition, stating: “We wanted to impress ourselves before we impressed anyone else. If other people happened to like what we were doing, that was just a bonus. That’s how we ended up doing songs like ‘Changes,’ which didn’t sound like anything we’d ever done before.”
Detailing further, Osbourne said: “When a lot of people hear the name ‘Black Sabbath’ all they think of is the heavy stuff. But there was a lot more to us than that – especially when we started making an effort to get away from all that black magic shit. With ‘Changes,’ Tony just sat down at the piano and came up with this beautiful riff, I hummed a melody over the top, and Geezer wrote these heartbreaking lyrics about the breakup Bill was going through with his wife at the time. I thought that was brilliant from moment the we recorded it.”
A year later, in his 2011 autobiography Iron Man, Iommi explained how he approached the piano, an instrument he had never played before. It was a huge step for the band, and something that would stand them in good stead for the rest of their careers. They were maturing as a group. Iommi posited: “I’d never played the piano before and I started learning it right there and then … I came up with ‘Changes.’ Ozzy came in and said, ‘Oh I like that’ and started singing to it. We got the Mellotron in and Geezer started playing that, like an accompaniment, an orchestral thing. And that was it, we decided to record it. It sounded really weird; I couldn’t believe it was us. Geezer and me were learning, it was a challenge.”
There’s no wonder that ‘Changes’ is one of, if not the most enduring song Black Sabbath ever released. A ballad that appeals to the changes that we all go through at some point in our life, be it relationship-wise or personally, it dispelled all the overtly metallic parts of Sabbath, and showed them to be what they always were, human beings.
Listen to ‘Changes’ below.