Top 100 Classic Rock Albums

#2 Black Sabbath - Paranoid

By James West, The-Rocker.com

It’s hard to imagine life in classic rock and roll without the album Paranoid in it.  It’s like Adam and Eve and the forbidden apple, with Paranoid definitely being Adam and Eve being Led Zeppelin IV.  For my ultimate Classic Rock Album pick ladies come first here with Led Zeppelin IV, but Paranoid definitely shares the other-side of the apple, the dark side if you will, to Zeps’ light side.  Where Led Zeppelin IV has plenty of light and shade to its structure and flow; Paranoid encompasses everything dark and sinister in its essence.

Both are equally part of a Rocker’s rock and roll heart, but sometimes you just gotta head-bang the shit out of something! And Sabbath does it for me every time!

Paranoid Born In Just Four Months!

Four months… can you imagine that?  Just four months after the first Black Sabbath record was released in February 1970 they were back in the studio cutting this masterpiece.  Most of the songs on Paranoid evolved during onstage improvisational jams. In the Classic Albums documentary on the making of Paranoid, guitarist Tony Iommi declares that "War Pigs" came from "one of the clubs" with Butler adding, "During the song "Warning" we

used to jam that out and that particular night when we were jamming it out Tony just went da-dum!" In the same documentary, Iommi demonstrates his approach to the guitar solo in the song, explaining that "I always tried to keep the bottom string ringing so it fills it out nicely." On "Planet Caravan", Osbourne sings through a Leslie speaker, with the singer telling Mojo in 2010, "Then Rodger Bain used an oscillator on it – whatever that is. It looks like a fridge with a knob on."

To me the start of War Pigs sounds like you are starting a downward spiral to the depths of your own tortured soul.  The droning riffs from Iommi… The plodding along bass of Geezer… Then the siren letting you know you have arrived at your destination.  Listening to this first song you know you’re not in Kansas anymore…

 

“General’s gathered in their masses; just like witches at black masses…” Holy shit what’s going on here???

It’s almost like a sermon being preached by Ozzy, and he’s passing the offering plate of heavy metal to any angst-ridden teenage kid willing to steal a dime…  And I’m forever sold!

The key to any kick-ass Sabbath song is the ability to sing-along to not only the melody but the actual guitar riffs from Master Iommi.  So, you not only get the sermon you also get the choir to go with it too.  Then there’s the headbanging, and nothing gets you in bang-mode more than the second song titled after the album Paranoid- Sabbath’s only real single that had any chart success for them.

The album's title track was written as an afterthought. As drummer Bill Ward explains: "We didn't have enough songs for the album, and Tony (Iommi) just played the guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.

In the liner notes to the 1998 live album Reunion, bassist Geezer Butler recounts to Phil Alexander that they wrote the song "in five minutes, then I sat down and wrote the lyrics as quickly as I could. It was all done in about two hours." According to Alexander, "Paranoid" "crystallized the band's writing process, with Iommi initiating the ideas with his charred riffs, Ozzy (Osbourne) working on a melody, Geezer providing drive and the majority of the lyrics, and Bill Ward locking into a set of often pounding rhythms beneath Butler's bass rumble."

 

The single was released in September 1970 and reached number four on the UK charts, remaining Black Sabbath's only top ten hit.

Taking A Ride On The Planet Caravan!

It took me a long time to get behind Planet Caravan’s soft, tom tom-driven pulse.  When I was 12 and first heard the album I dismissed Caravan as just another pot-smoking wind-down. But now it has become one my favorite go-to songs when I need to wind-down from the B-S of the day, and I don’t even smoke weed anymore… or any less… just kidding!

According to Iommi, Planet Caravan is about “just taking a spaceship out into the stars and having the ultimate romantic weekend.”  Pantera had an excellent cover of the song also, but nothing beats the beat of the original for me. People who don’t think Sabbath was bred in the blues need to listen to the great solo in Planet Caravan.

Just when you think you’re getting a break from the doom and gloom you hear the opening stomp of Iron Man and that monstrous riff that spawned a thousand metal bands.


Even though the comic book version came out in 1963, it was Sabbath’s ode to revenge that made you FEEL Iron Man’s pain and the wrath he delivered. 

The riff to "Iron Man" is iconic among heavy metal guitarists, with Osbourne declaring in his memoir that "...Tony Iommi turned out to be one of the greatest heavy rock riff-makers of all time. Whenever we went into the studio we'd challenge him to beat his last riff – and he'd come up with something like 'Iron Man' and blow everyone away."

 

Butler wrote the lyrics as the story of a man who time travels into the future and sees the apocalypse. In the process of returning to the present, he is turned into steel by a magnetic field. He is rendered mute, unable verbally to warn people of his time of the impending destruction. His attempts to communicate are ignored and mocked. This causes Iron Man to become angry and have his revenge on mankind, causing the destruction seen in his vision.

Attending An Electric Funeral!

And then just when you think the riff machine is taking a break another killer Iommi offering smacks you in the face with Electric Funeral!  If you’ve ever attended a Black Sabbath concert you know this song drives the crowd and crowd-surfers wild.  The shifts in riffs and tempo are the secret to Sabbath and how they hook you into their void.  Then, just when you get used to a tempo change they slow everything down and take you to another level.  Brilliant, simply brilliant!

From the slow fade-out of Funeral you get to witness one of my favorite Black Sabbath songs in their entire catalog- Hand Of Doom.  The slow, jazzy-type intro of Doom makes you realize how relevant drummer Bill Ward is to the overall sound of Sabbath.

 

It’s almost a shuffle that accompanies Geezer’s incredible bass run that starts the song.  It’s rare that Ward and Geezer take center stage from the riffage of Iommi, but this song is still killer all the way through, and it symbolizes the strength of all the components of Black Sabbath: Osbourne-Iommi-Butler-Ward together in total Heavy Metal harmony.  “First it was the bomb… Vietnam napalm.  Disillusioning… you push the needle in.”  Geezer’s words, Ozzy’s vocals, both in perfect sync.  It doesn’t get any better than this, kids!

After the tempo shuffle of Hand Of Doom the band gives you a little Rat Salad for nourishment.  According to Butler, Ward's drum solo in "Rat Salad" resulted from the band having to play eight and three-quarter hour spots a night in Europe early in their career. "Bill used to fill out a whole 45 minutes doing a drum solo just to get rid of that 45 minutes," he revealed to Classic Albums.

You would think Fairies Wear Boots is all about a weird acid trip or something, but it’s actually about an actual encounter that Ozzy had:  In 2013, Sabbath biographer Mick Wall described the closing track on the album, "Fairies Wear Boots", as a "hard-driving riff sweetened by a beautifully baleful melody" with a lyric written by Osbourne about a nasty encounter with a group of skinheads.

 

So Skinheads, Paranoia, Comic Book Heroes, Heroin, and Outer Space Dates just about sum it up on Paranoid.  And you thought Heavy Metal was just about a bunch of stoners and doom and gloom, did ya?  I say go eat yourself some Rat Salad for that kind of talk!

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