Warner Brothers Records, 1971
REVIEW BY: Paul Hanson
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/06/2009
I picked up a cassette of this release in a bargain bin for $4.99 sometime in 1984 at a now-closed record store. The cassette I bought does not have any liner notes, not even any mention of who the musicians are on the release. I think I bought it at the same time as a Vanilla Fudge and Fiona cassette. While the Vanilla Fudge and Fiona albums are holed up in my collection of dusty cassettes, this release struck so many chords with me that I listen to it at least once a month, a trend that has continued into my adulthood. For many years, I honestly did not know who I was listening to when I rocked out to this tape. But at least twice a month for over 25 years, I have consistently pulled this release out to re-center myself when wanting to decide if a new band I am listening to rocks or sucks. Justified or not, best Black Sabbath release or not, this is the only Black Sabbath album I have ever purchased twice (the second was a Father’s Day gift in 2006.) There are other great metal discs, probably other great Black Sabbath albums, but this is the standard to which I apply other heavy metal bands.
Just so you don’t live in the same state of oblivion, Black Sabbath is made up by Ozzy Osbourne (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass), and Bill Ward (drums). Some bands have a weak link but there is none in Black Sabbath. Say what you may about Osbourne and his delivery, he is stellar on this release; his raspy delivery adds a unique color to Iommi’s guitar riffs. As for the rhythm section, the Butler/Ward section is undoubtedly one of the tightest I’ve ever heard.
Digging into the meat and gravy of why this release resonates after all these years begins with the first track “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall” and does not conclude until the last convincingly played note of “Fairies Wear Boots.” “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall” contains the trademark drumming of Bill Ward, whose hi-hat pick-up note immediately prior to the guitar playing during the verse is widely mimicked. The fun continues with the short, straightforward rocker “Paranoid,” starting with the killer lyrics “Finished with my woman because she couldn’t help me with my mind.” The mood turns somber for the subdued “Planet Caravan” before ramping up with the greatest guitar riff ever. But make no mistake, the opening riff is not the best part of this song. The end of the song, beginning with Geezer Butler’s thunderous bass riff, ends the song at full throttle.
And it’s not just me who adores these first four songs on this release. They have been covered multiple times by multiple bands, including four bands that you might actually recognize. Faith No More covered “War Pigs” on their The Real Thing release, Megadeth tackled “Paranoid” on Hidden Treasures, Pantera took on “Planet Caravan” on their Far Beyond Driven release, and Metallica covered “Iron Man” during the Black Sabbath Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction (view it on YouTube).
So everyone appreciates the first four songs on this release. Who cares? That’s the way it is with some releases – the band puts their best material first and the rest is filler junk that gets released due to “that’s the best we can do” type mentality. And that’s true with this release.
Clearly, the last four songs on this release are strong enough to have been the first four songs – and, actually, starting the release with “Electric Funeral” would have changed the world. “Hand Of Doom” is equally impressive. However, it is the 2:31 instrumental “Rat Salad” that gets me with each listen. As impressive as a drummer John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” may be, compared to the sheer aggressiveness with which Bill Ward assails his drums, I’d take “Rat Salad” in a heartbeat; there is no debate. To include a guitar solo in a piece designed to showcase Ward’s abilities was sheer brilliance. Osbourne’s silly lyrics perfectly fit the concluding stomp “Fairies Wear Boots” when he sings “Fairies wear boots and you gotta believe me…So I went to the doctor / See what he could give me / He said son, son, you’ve gone too far / ‘Cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do.”
Black Sabbath changed my world with these eight songs. The material on this release was recently re-released as a three-disc set, including a CD of instrumental versions of all of these songs. Now I know what to ask for when Father’s Day 2010 rolls around…