“Nobody but the public digs Sabbath”
Really funny headline from a 1971 issue of Record Mirror, featured in the great documentary, Classic Albums: Paranoid (Netflix streaming), about the recording of Black Sabbath’s classic second album.
Couple of well-worn takeaways from the doc:
1. Critics don’t matter if your work is finding an audience.
Black Sabbath never got good reviews from critics, but they put out rad albums, won legions of fans, and influenced almost every heavy metal band who came after them. (As a talking head in the documentary said, “Genres are invented after the fact.”)
2. All art is collaboration.
Ozzy: “We were just a lucky bunch of guys who got together and something magical happened.” Every member in Sabbath brought something: sure, Ozzy and Tommy Iommi were great, but Geezer Butler was not only killer on bass, he wrote a ton of the band’s lyrics, and Bill Ward is a monster on drums. So many of their songs came out of long jams.
3. You have to put the time in.
Like many a great second album (my favorite example is R.E.M.’s Reckoning) Paranoid was made after a period of intense touring (notably, long series of 45-minute sets at the Beat Club) so Sabbath was a well-oiled machine when they went into the studio.
4. The same message in a different context is something new.
“War Pigs” is basically Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” set to heavy metal — and, for my money, it totally eclipses Dylan.
5. Constraints, even, and maybe especially, monetary constraints, equal creativity.
Frank Ocean is right: (sometimes) “the best song wasn’t the single.” I’ve written about Tommi Iommi’s missing fingertips before, but another great story: the record company didn’t hear a hit, so the band walked into the studio, and Tommy started playing the riff to “Paranoid.” About a half hour later they had their #1 hit single and a new title for the album.