When fans and critics look back on the early career Black Sabbath they acknowledge that the band released six breakthrough albums in a row before being consumed by their appetite for drugs and alcohol. But what they often fail to absorb is that all six albums were released within a five-year time frame. Yes, vocalist Ozzy Osbourneguitarist Tony Iommibassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward reinvented the mythology of rock ‘n’ roll as they stormed from one city to another, but they had their act together enough to write some legendary music. Take, their second album, Paranoidwhich was released on September 18, 1970.
The landmark release, which includes metal staples “Paranoid”, “War Pigs” and “Iron Man”, was recorded live in the studio with producer Rodger Bain. And they tracked the entire album at Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios in London between June 16th and 21st. It only took six days, because yes, that was all they got.
“We finished the first album, toured Europe for six weeks and then went straight back into the studio,” bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler told me in 2010. “It felt like the four of us against the world. We still hadn’t realized that we had made it, you understand?”
The Sabbath began to work on Paranoid So shortly after returning from the road, they had only seen negative reviews of their first album from the world’s rock press. They didn’t realize that a loyal fan base was building in the US, and their main goal was to prove to their families that they weren’t wasting their time making music.”
“Our families had no hope in us of ever making it on our own,” Butler said. “They thought we were bums. And our friends used to laugh at the idea that we would ever be successful at what we did. It brought us closer together and made us more determined to succeed. We didn’t want to rock stars or something. It was the exact opposite.”
Compared to the single day Black Sabbath had to record their first album, six days seemed like a luxury.
Fortunately, they had played some of the songs on the road, so when they entered the studio, they acted on instinct. “We literally walked in and played like it was a live concert,” Butler said. “We didn’t know anything about studios or production or engineering. We just went in, set up and played live in the studio and they recorded us. It sounds easy, but it’s actually a really hard thing to do – to record a band live in the studio and get the whole feeling across. A lot of producers tried it and failed miserably. But Rodger was up for it. He made a few suggestions here and there and we wanted to do it.”
One of the biggest suggestions was to write another song for the album to serve as a single. So after tracking the other seven songs, Black Sabbath wrote the title track on the spot.
“I was sitting there on my lunch break and came up with the main riff for ‘Paranoid,'” Iommi said. “And then when the other guys came back, I played it for them and they thought it was good, so we just recorded it as a filler.”
Black Sabbath, “Paranoid” music video
“We didn’t think anything of it because we thought it was just another song,” Butler said. “And later the record company said, ‘Hey guys, this is the best song on the album. Let’s call the post Paranoid.'”
It was an odd proposition, since Black Sabbath and Warner Bros. Records had agreed to name the album War pig and was already working on the cover. Even that was a compromise. The band originally wanted to use the title Walpurgis for the record, which Butler said is “kind of like Christmas for Satanists.” The brand refused and a compromise was reached – or so everyone thought.
“The album cover is really terrible to begin with, but it was based on this idea of ’War Pigs,'” Butler said. “The cover was bad enough when the album was supposed to be ‘War Pigs’ but when it was ‘Paranoid’ it didn’t even make sense.”
“There’s a guy standing there with a shield and a sword, with the album title called ParanoidIommi added. “Imagine the questions we got asked after that? ‘What does that have to do with Paranoid?'” Well, nothing, really. But it was.
Black Sabbath, “War Pigs” – Live (1970)
As opposed to being the Satanic album, it was portrayed as, Paranoid is filled with relevant social and political commentary. For example, “War Pigs” with the famous line “Satan laughs spreads his wings” is not about the Devil at all. “For me, war was the great Satan,” Butler said. “It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was bad. So I saidGenerals gathered in the masses / Like witches at black fairs‘ to make an analogy. But then everyone turned the whole thing upside down and was accused of being Satanists. And in a way I suppose we bought into it, but of course we never were.”
Another song, “Fairies Wear Boots”, which was based on an incident where the band members were harassed and threatened by a gang of skinheads wearing Dr. Martens boots. “I wrote about what I saw going on around me,” Butler said. “I wrote about the Cold War in “Electric Funeral.” It was always touch and go whether Russia was going to nuke us or we were going to nuke them. So nuclear war was always imminent, we thought.”
Much of the energy of Sabbath, especially on their first two albums, stemmed from their distaste for the rest of ’60s youth culture. Having grown up in war-torn Birmingham, ‘flower power’ was a completely foreign concept. They were surrounded by bombed out parks and when they looked around they saw unhappy people with dead end jobs.
“We were four working class people in the most industrial part of England and all we had to look forward to was a job in a factory,” Butler said. “We felt hopeless and constantly frustrated and we believed at any second that we would be called up to enter the Vietnam War because it looked like Britain was going to get involved in it too. So there wasn’t much of a future in something for us.”
However legendary it became, Paranoid was a slow grower. The album reached No. 23 in the US charts and No. 8 in the UK. The album went gold in the US on May 7, 1971, almost eight months after it was released. And it took another 15 years to go platinum. In 1995, the album was certified quadruple platinum.
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.