There are a number of reasons for this Ozzy Osbournesolo debut, Blizzard of Ozz, which was released on Sept. 20, 1980, is one of the greatest albums in metal history. First, it was a great comeback from an artist who seemed completely battered and burned out.
At the end of 1978, after recording, eight albums with Black Sabbath, Osbourne was coming apart at the seams. Incapacitated by drugs and alcohol and dealing with debilitating writer’s block, he went AWOL and missed six weeks of rehearsals with the band. Ultimately, the other members of Sabbath – who had serious alcohol and drug problems of their own – decided they couldn’t go on with Osbourne any longer.
“At that point Ozzy didn’t want to do anything but go out and get drunk,” Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi told me to the book Louder Than Hell: Metal’s Definitive Oral History. “So it got to the point where the other guys said, ‘Well, look, if we don’t do something, we’re going to break up. We’re not going to take it. We’re leaving.’ So it was the decision between the three of us. We said, ‘We’re going to have to replace Ozzy.'”
At the time, Osbourne was living in a run-down hotel he could barely afford, having spent so much money on cocaine and booze. He had lost his wife, his band, his self-esteem and, he believed, his charisma. But Sharon Arden, daughter of Black Sabbath’s manager, Don Arden, felt Osbourne had been the star of the show when he was on stage with Sabbath and could still be part of something extraordinary. So she took him under her wing, first as a friend and then as a manager, restoring his confidence as a performer. She then worked with him to put together a new lineup of musicians. At first they wanted to recruit guitarist Gary Moore, but he wasn’t interested, so at the suggestion of Ozzy’s friend Dana Strum, they tracked down a young virtuoso guitarist named Randy Rhoads.
“We drove to a studio somewhere so I could hear him play,” Osbourne wrote in his memoir I’m Ozzy. “I remember him plugging his Gibson Les Paul into a little practice amp and saying to me, ‘Do you mind if I warm up?’ “Knock yourself out,” I said. Then he started doing these finger exercises. I had to tell him, ‘Stop, Randy, just stop right there.’ “What’s wrong?” he said. “You’re hired. You should have heard him play, man.”
From then until March 19, 1982, Rhoads was Ozzy’s not-so-secret weapon.
To complete the lineup, Ozzy wanted Strum to play bass, but that didn’t work out, so he added ex-Uriah Heep bassist Bob Daisley and one of Ozzy’s friends, Barry Screnage, as their temporary drummer.
Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train”
With new blood, strong musicianship and excellent chemistry, Rhoads, Daisley and Osbourne began writing in a live-in studio in Monmouth, Wales. In early 1980, the band demoed three of their strongest and most popular songs, “Crazy trains,” “I do not know“and”Goodbye to romance” with drummer Dixie Lee. Realizing they needed someone who could keep a more powerful and consistent beat, they auditioned and hired drummer Lee Kerslake, who had previously played with Daisley in Uriah Heep. It was a bit of a compromise as Ozzy was looking for Tommy Aldridge who was busy at the time. But Kerslake served the band’s needs, although both he and Daisley would later become embroiled in a legal battle over unpaid royalties.
That Blizzard of Ozz band, as it was then called, flew to Ridge Farm Studio in Rusper, England to begin recording the album with producer Chris Tsangarides. Max Norman was his engineer. The first song they tracked was “Goodbye to Romance,” a tune that would establish Osbourne’s reputation for balancing high-energy anthems with heart-on-sleeve ballads. They repeated the formula on the ghostRevelation (Mother Earth).”
Ozzy Osbourne, “Mr. Crowley”
Other standouts on the album were the storm “Steal away the night“the occult theme”Sir. Crowley“the classic guitar instrumental”Dee“and the controversial”Suicide solution.” Some thought the song advocated suicide, but it was actually a warning about the dangers of drowning in alcohol.
Nevertheless, after a teenage fan, John McCollum, shot himself in the head, possibly after listening to the song, in 1984 the boy’s parents sued Prince of Darkness and CBS Records for encouraging vulnerable individuals to commit suicide. The case was dismissed by a court, which ruled that Osbourne’s free speech was protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Ironically, Ozzy and his bandmates were initially disappointed by the sound of Blizzard of Ozz. They blamed Tsangarides, who they fired and promoted Norman to the producer chair. Although not credited with the release, Norman strengthened the record’s sound and worked as Ozzy’s producer until the 1986s The ultimate sin.
When the Blizzard of Ozz band finished the album, CBS Records created artwork that featured Ozzy’s name in large print and Blizzard of Ozz in much smaller print. Immediately – mistake or not – the album was considered Osbourne’s first solo album. In all likelihood, when the label realized how strong the record was, they figured it would be easier to market it as the solo album of Black Sabbath’s former singer than as a brand new band.
“When we got it Blizzard in the can I knew we had a banging album,” Ozzy wrote. “We actually had a couple of exciting albums because we had a lot of material left when we finished.”
Some of that material was used in the follow-up to Blizzard of Ozz, Diary of a Madman, which was written quickly and recorded between February and March 1981. At the time, Osbourne was still partying hard, but he was back to full strength, able to record and perform exceptionally using muscle memory. All it needed was a big injection of success.
“Even if you think something is brilliant, you never know what the general public will come up with,” Osbourne wrote in I’m Ozzy. “But as soon as the radio stations got hold of ‘Crazy Train,’ it was a done deal. The thing just exploded.”
Blizzard of Ozz entered the Billboard album chart at No. 21 and it was No. 7 in the U.K. The album was certified gold on July 31, 1981, and platinum on June 18, 1982. To date, it has sold over four million copies in the U.S.
In 2002, Osbourne reissued Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madmanbut when he had been sued by Daisley and Kerslake, their parts were re-recorded for the bassist release Robert Trujillo and Believe no more drummer Mike Bordin, who was playing in Osbourne’s band at the time. Some fans were outraged by the move, which Sharon said was Ozzy’s decision, while the Prince of Darkness claimed he didn’t even know the albums were being revised until after their release. A later reissue of Blizzard of Ozz, released in 2011 to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, featured Daisley and Kerslake’s original bass and drum parts. The reissue also included the B-side, “You Looking at Me, Looking at You”, a previously unreleased version of “Goodbye to Romance”, and “RR”, a Rhoads solo outtake from the original album session.
To date, Blizzard of Ozz is not just one of the most successful metal albums of all time, it is also one of the most influential. “The first album I knew was heavy metal was Blizzard of Ozz“, say Testament lead guitarist Alex Skolnick. “I wasn’t familiar with Sabbath yet. But it was a big discovery for me. And hearing Randy Rhoads play was absolutely terrifying and pretty much reinvented the way I thought about the electric guitar and what you could do with it, which was pretty amazing.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is a co-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.