The Story Of Black Sabbath As Told Through Their Singles – Part 2
To celebrate the release of Black Sabbath’s new seven-inch box-set, we took a dive into the history of the band. First, we looked at the band’s humble beginnings as an Aston doom-laden blues rock quartet up until the release of their 1973 album and single, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.
Now, we’re looking at the drama that engulfed the recording of their 1975 follow-up Sabotage to the dismissal of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne.
In 1975, the band were going through their most turbulent time in their career.
The band were locked in a legal battle with their former manager Patrick Meehan – who had since been replaced by Don Arden, whose daughter Sharon would later marry their frontman – and had their Sabotage studio sessions constantly interrupted by lawyers and subpoenas. The whole episode was documented on the seething album closer The Writ, with lyrics written by Ozzy: ‘You bought and sold me with your lying words… everything is gonna work out fine / If it don’t, I think I’ll lose my mind…’
Their state of disarray can be seen on the album artwork; a photograph – which they maintain they thought was a test shoot – features Butler and Iommi alongside Ozzy in a kimono and Ward, who decided wearing his wife’s red tights would be a very good idea indeed. Why did no-one think to reschedule another shoot? Still, we now know where the drummer carried his packed lunch in the mid-’70s.
Nevertheless, the band managed to retain focus to make their heaviest album since Masters of Reality, featuring the thunderous Hole In The Sky and the gloriously heavy Symptom Of The Universe.
Sabotage spawned one single, the curious psychedelic detour of Am I Going Insane? (Radio). Fun fact: the ‘radio’ suffix is not for the benefit of broadcasters, but cockney rhyming slang for ‘mental’. Radio Rental. Mental. Got it?
Black Sabbath – Am I Going Insane? (Radio)
The following year, the band, exhausted from legal battles and alcohol and drug abuse, set about recording their album Technical Ecstasy. There was also another obstacle to navigate: the punk explosion.
The quartet headed to Miami’s Criteria Studios with Iommi assuming the producer’s role. Changing their sound somewhat to fit in with the rock scene of the time, the resultant album is more uptempo and polished than their previous releases.
Even the artwork suggested a different side to the band. Hipgnosis’ Storm Thorgerson – responsible for many of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and UFO’s covers during the ’70s – worked on a concept which Ozzy described as “two robots screwing on an escalator” in former Kerrang! writer Mick Wall’s Sabbath biography Symptom Of The Universe.
Hipgnosis co-founder Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell tells the story to Rolling Stone in far less brusque manner.
“We came up with the idea of two robots passing on an escalator and they’re falling in love; they absolutely loved it. It moved away from what you’d normally associate with Black Sabbath, which is black guitars, dark lyrics, heavy rock, themes of devil worship, and blood and daggers. It was a picture of a love story.”
He adds that a hammered Ozzy turned up to the band meeting late and although he agreed it was the sleeve, all hell broke loose after a comment from Iommi stating it had already been chosen.
“Ozzy suddenly turned on him and completely flipped,” he reveals. “They started fighting. It was so rock’n’roll in a way. It was fantastic.”
Bill Ward performs It’s Alright in 1976
Two singles were released from Technical Ecstasy. First came Gypsy, where Bill Ward shines on an extended drum solo. There’s no doom, no references to the occult, just a song that plods along like an ELO/Queen hybrid. She’s Gone – a tearjerker which features on the B‑side – was an ambitious ballad which featured acoustic guitars and an orchestra.
It’s Alright followed, a Bill Ward composition inspired by The Beatles, and features the drummer on lead vocals.
“I never dreamed for one second that it would end up on a Black Sabbath record,” Ward told Joel Gausten. “I felt really uncomfortable with the idea of me singing on a Sabbath album; it didn’t feel right. But eventually, I stepped up to the post and did the best I could in singing the song. In hindsight, the whole thing felt a little bit awkward for me. I liked the outcome.”
Ozzy was happy, too, praising his former bandmate in his book, I Am Ozzy: ““He’s got a great voice, Bill, and I was more than happy for him to do the honours.”
The B‑side features Rock’N’Roll Doctor, an uptempo rocker which comes off as a poor man’s KISS: ‘If you wanna feel groovy, give the doctor a call, doctor rock will help you anytime at all.’ Back then, GP waiting times weren’t scandalously long.
Ozzy, feeling the effects of years of booze and drugs, says he lost the plot during the album recording.
“My boozing was so bad during the Technical Ecstasy sessions in Florida, I checked myself into a loony bin called St George’s when I got back home,” he wrote in I Am Ozzy. “Its real name was the Stafford County Asylum, but they changed it to make people feel better about being insane. The first thing the doctor said to me when I went there was, ‘Do you masturbate, Mr. Osbourne?’ I told him, ‘I’m in here for my head, not my dick.’”
1978 saw the release of their eighth studio album, Never Say Die!.
Ozzy quit at one point, leaving the band to recruit former Fleetwood Mac vocalist Dave Walker.
It was the briefest of tenures, and Ozzy returned and refused to sing any songs written in his absence.
During the recording, Ozzy’s father Jack passed away and took several months away from the band to grieve. His bandmates, continued working on the album and persuaded Ward to take the vocals once again in the song Swinging The Chain.
“The situation was a mess,” Tony told Loudwire’s Jon Wiederhorn. “We were already behind. So the record label was bothering us and we didn’t have anything to show them. Ozzy wants us to start all over. We’re writing in the day and trying 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.”
Never Say Die! – the sort of thing someone says in the glare of certain defeat – was promoted by way of two singles: the vibrant title-track (She’s Gone enjoyed another outing as a flip-side) and A Hard Road, a Quo-like singalong. It was backed by an edit Symptom Of The Universe, which completely overshadows the A‑side.
Black Sabbath perform Never Say Die in 1978
It was to be Ozzy’s last studio recording for Black Sabbath until 2013. Following an lacklustre tour with Van Halen, and after simmering tensions in the studio, on April 27, 1979 his bandmates made the decision to sack their vocalist if they had any chance of surviving as a band themselves.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel betrayed by what happened with Black Sabbath,” he wrote. “We were four blokes who’d grown up together a few streets apart. We were like family, like brothers. And firing me for being fucked up was hypocritical bullshit. We were all fucked up. If you’re stoned and I’m stoned and you’re telling me that I’m fired because I’m stoned how can that be? Because I’m slightly more stoned than you are?”
Former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy a few months later and recaptured their verve on the subsequent two albums, 1980’s Heaven And Hell, and follow-up Mob Rules, which was released the following year.
Ozzy meanwhile, dusted himself off and formed a new band, The Blizzard Of Ozz, featuring Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads, bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake. The band released their debut album Blizzard Of Ozz under Ozzy’s name in 1980 and, well, the rest is history…
On the 50th anniversary of its release, we look at Black Sabbath’s introspective doom masterpiece Master Of Reality
Slipknot have posted a tribute to their founding drummer Joey Jordison, who passed away earlier this week.