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Music

Exploring the wild efficiency behind the first Black Sabbath album

Recording sessions were an entirely different beast in the 1960s. While albums can take weeks, months, or even years to produce and finish in the modern era, there are plenty of examples of old-school musicians making the most out of limited amounts of time. The best-known example is probably The Beatles, who recorded almost the entirety of Please Please Me in a single day, but there are other notable instances as well.

Take Black Sabbath, for one. The world’s first heavy metal band had only just been signed to the then-recently formed Vertigo Records when they entered Regent Sound Studios on October 16th. Over the past year, the group’s material had evolved from 12-bar blues into a darker and more frightening sound. The goal was simple: record an entire album in one day.

“We had two days: one day was for recording and the second day was for mixing,” Iommi told Gibson TV in 2020. “Which we weren’t involved with, incidentally. We were there for the recording and then we had to go to leave to get the boat to go to Europe because we got some shows.”

“We just went in the studio and did it in a day, we played our live set and that was it,” was how Iommi remembered it in 2012. “We actually thought a whole day was quite a long time, then off we went the next day to play for £20 in Switzerland.” In 1996, Iommi recalled that the entire album was recorded live with no overdubs. “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.”

For his part, Osbourne remembered in his autobiography I Am Ozzy that there were a few guitar overdubs, but otherwise, the album remained barebones and came together remarkably quickly. “Once we’d finished, we spent a couple of hours double-tracking some of the guitar and vocals, and that was that. Done. We were in the pub in time for last orders,” Osbourne remembered. “It can’t have taken any longer than twelve hours in total. That’s how albums should be made, in my opinion.”

By the time the band returned from their shows in Switzerland, Black Sabbath had already been released and landed in the top 20 of the UK Album Chart. Eventually, the album would peak at number eight, giving Black Sabbath their first taste of success. Reviews were uniformly negative, but that didn’t stop Black Sabbath from connecting with a large audience of rock fans. The debut LP remains a landmark recording to this day, proving that great music doesn’t need to be laboured over.

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