The needle hits the groove on Paranoid, and following the great cackle and hiss of anticipation that emanates from the vinyl, like an orchestra’s last fine tunings before the wall of sound that follows, the opening track is the gunshot that starts a legendary race in the evolving progress of rock music. While some openers coax you into position, ‘War Pigs’ doesn’t have a hair-raising second to wait. It smashes the saloon doors off their hinges and starts firing shots before asking any questions.
From the rumbling bass to the rafter rattling guitar, the pounding salvo of drums and no-holds-barred vocals, this song knows what it’s about and in doing so, it fills you with reassurance that what will follow is undoubtedly going to be an album of note. This track is the Promethean force that all genres deserve to yield when they attempt to usurp the status quo, or at least shoulder out a small place to call its own amid the mainstream. In short, ‘War Pigs’ is one of the great rock songs that has been offered up to date.
Black Sabbath are 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, they 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.
While they may have changed the music scene forevermore, they were not universally taken to. As Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone scathing wrote about their debut: “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.”
That same ethos bled onto one of the band’s most iconic tracks, ‘War Pigs’, the song that sparked their second album into gnarled existence. “We didn’t have enough songs for the album,” drummer Bill Ward recalls while making Paranoid. “Tony just played the guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.” This quintessential rock ‘n’ roll slapdash approach layered their sound with a wholly visceral edge, and that cut through all the more when they performed live.
The magnificent clip below finds the band at California Jam in 1974. The massive gathering now known as Cal Jam took place in Ontario, California, in the spring of ’74 as part of an ABC television special. The day-long day event brought a staggering crowd of 250,000 to take in shows from Sabbath, Deep Purple, ELP and the Eagles. However, if there was a moment that topped the below performance of ‘War Pigs’ then even the reams written about it since, deserve even more text. Enjoy responsibly…