No one could hold a candle to it Black Sabbath for their first six albums, but by 1976 the knots frayed by bad contracts, fraudulent bookkeeping, alcohol and drug abuse and utter mental and physical exhaustion began to quickly unravel. The 1976s Technical Ecstasy was an unfocused record without much bite. The end of an era came less than two years later when Black Sabbath released their final 70s album with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, Never say die!, which was published Sept. 28, 1978.
The band started working on Never say die! in January 1978 at a time when few of the band members were able to play “Louie, Louie,” let alone write a new album. In an effort to be progressive and innovative, they brought in horns, piano, clean guitars. The whole scene was a recipe for disaster, and it was a dish that would take a while to prepare even the initial stages of, as lead singer Ozzy Osbourne was nowhere to be found.
“We would make plans to get together and he would pull these disappearing acts,” guitarist Tony Iommi told me in 2010. “We were so far away, it would take us a while to notice he was missing. Someone would say, ‘Well, where’s Ozzy?’ And then we’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess he’s f—ed away again. He’ll be back soon.’ And that meant just me and Bill [Ward] would go back to what we were doing, which wasn’t good for anyone, especially us – mostly lots of drugs and drinking.”
One day, Osbourne showed up, told his bandmates he was quitting, and then disappeared again. At the time, Black Sabbath did not want to continue without their singer. But when Osbourne didn’t return or call, they hired ex-Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac vocalist Dave Walker to work with them on Never say die! After writing a handful of songs, Osbourne contacted Sabbath and said he would work on the record, but he would not sing on anything they wrote with Walker.
“The situation was a mess,” Iommi said. “We were already behind. So the record company was bothering us and we didn’t have anything to show them. Ozzy wants us to start over. We write during the day and try to record at night. I think there was some good stuff there, but it’s hard to keep your footing when you feel like things are falling apart.”
Black Sabbath took three months off after Osbourne’s father died. The rest of Black Sabbath sympathized with Osbourne, but did not want to wait another six months to finish. They did what they could during that time and even got drummer Bill Ward to sing lead vocals on the album closer.”Oscillation of the chain.”
Black Sabbath, “Swinging the Chain”
Finally, Osbourne reunited with his bandmates at Sound Interchange Studios in Toronto, Ontario and tracked most of his vocals for Never say die!. When the final overdubs were completed in May 1978, no one could have been happier than the band. “Let’s just say, yeah, it was definitely not our finest hour,” Iommi said. “I can tell you that.”
While many have criticized the meandering composition and lack of aggression of Never say die!Ward defended the album, claiming the adventurous forays into jazz on “Johnny Blade“and”Aerial dance” were innovative and original.
Black Sabbath, “Johnny Blade”
Thanks in part to the self-titled hard rock single, which was propulsive, upbeat and free or horns and keys, Never say die! got a brief push at rock radio, debuting at No. 69 on the Billboard albums chart. But the boost didn’t last and a trip along Van Halen was a wakeup call for Black Sabbath, whose pioneering sound was usurped by a new breed of guitar heroes led by Eddie Van Halen.
Black Sabbath, “Never Say Die”
Never say die! went gold in November 1997, more than 19 years after it was released and is still considered the least successful album of the original Ozzy era just above or below (depending on who you talk to) Technical Ecstasy. In 2013, Black Sabbath was released 13their first studio album with Osbourne on vocals in 35 years.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legendsco-author of Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral Historyas well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthraxand Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, The Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.