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Black Sabbath: Many Happy Returns To 'Paranoid'

Wednesday, 23 September 2015 Written by Graeme Marsh

In 1970, free love, flower power and the psychedelic excesses of the previous decade were still fresh in the memory. The ‘60s had culminated in Woodstock, and there was anxiety and concern at the outset of a new time, almost as though a generation realised that the fun couldn’t last forever. Heavy rock hulked into view, part saviour and part destroyer of what went before it.

It was to become a defining year for the genre, one that was home to the Who’s ‘Live At Leeds’, Deep Purple’s ‘In Rock’, Led Zeppelin’s ‘III’ and, as if to pass the baton, the Beatles’ final album, ‘Let It Be’. Standards were high.

In the late ‘60s, Birmingham’s Black Sabbath coalesced from the remnants of several other bands, morphing from a heavy blues outfit into something quite different. In February 1970, their self-titled debut hit record shops on, fittingly, Friday the 13th.

The seven-track collection was a great success, reaching the top 10 in the UK and, amid tolling bells and thunderstorm effects, arguably sounding the first note for what would become heavy metal. It would also be their sole album for only a matter of months.

The speed at which the band was recording was not uncommon at the time, but in today’s environment it seems manic beyond comprehension. Immediately after touring their debut, they headed back into the studio to lay down ‘Paranoid’.

In 2010, Terry ‘Geezer’ Butler touched on the pace the band were working at in an interview with Ultimate Guitar: “It was all done so quickly. We started the first album and the second album, ‘Paranoid’, was almost all written in one go. We were on the road all the time so we'd just literally write and stuff at gigs.

"I think half the ‘Paranoid’ album was written when we'd written the first album. So we didn't really have time to think back then. It was just like: ‘We gotta write this, gotta write that.’ As long as the four of us enjoyed what song we came up with, we'd just go in and record it.”

In August they released Paranoid as a single, the song reaching number four in the UK singles chart. The rate at which the band were knocking out material was epitomised by this unlikely hit, which was cobbled together at short notice as they rushed to complete the record. From such beginnings it has become one of the iconic heavy metal songs.

The album was also renamed as a result, shifting ‘War Pigs’ from title track to album standout. Renamed itself - it began life as Walpurgis - it found Butler, the band’s lyricist, tapping into the anti-war sentiment that helped draw a line under the ‘60s as the war in Vietnam raged.

“It was Walpurgis at first, that's why it was comparing war to a witches’ Sabbath conjuring up Satan,” Butler added. “And that's what the whole thing was about. The generals gathering together to conjure up Satan, Satan being war. The record company wouldn't let us call it that so we changed it to War Pigs.”

Another myth about the band was that they were heavily into drugs at the time. They enjoyed the odd joint, but the fantastical nihilism of their music was rooted not in mind-altering experimentation, but in dissecting the other side of the hippy movement’s peace and love message. Speaking to Noisecreep, Butler said:

“We couldn't afford it. We couldn't even afford booze, so none of us were drinking yet. The music we were making was more a reflection of what we were thinking and experiencing at the time. We weren't into flower power and good vibes. That was crap to us, because from where we were, everything was bleak and dark.”

Despite the enormity and legacy of the title track and the magnificence of War Pigs, the album had many more moments to savour. The subject of war raised its head again on Electric Funeral, tapping into the charged energy of the Cold War between Russia and the West, along with the escalation in Vietnam.

“It was always touch and go whether Russia would drop the atomic bomb on us or we would drop the atomic bomb on them,” Butler added. “So atomic war was always imminent, we thought. So we were as far removed from hippy flower power as you could get. We were four working class people in the most industrial part of England, and all we had to look forward to was dead-end jobs in factories.”

Another essential track, Fairies Wear Boots, had violent undertones, stemming from a skirmish with skinheads following a show. The specifics of that event are swept up in the album’s overall tone and propped up by Sabbath’s barbed response to the world around them.

“Keep in mind that one of the most important things was that we were all, pretty much, pissed off guys,” drummer Bill Ward later told the Quietus. “We were kind of at odds with the counter-culture. Some of those things: love and peace and serenity, that is what I crave these days. But back then, at 17 or 18 years old in Birmingham and coming from Aston, we didn’t care too much for peace, love and serenity. You had to watch your arse back then to make sure you got home safely and not get your fucking head kicked in.”

Then you have the psychedelic Planet Caravan and the iconic, riff-heavy Iron Man, a song that appears futuristic and open-minded on the surface but is, in fact, a musing on mankind’s capacity for heedless self-destruction.

Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut would later be credited as one of the first heavy metal records ever. It was ‘Paranoid’ that cemented the Aston band’s place in rock history, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with both the innumerable classics of 1970 and the rock milestones that would follow. Many Happy Returns.

Black Sabbath Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed January 20 2016 - OMAHA Nebraska - CenturyLink Center Omaha (Formerly Qwest Center) (USA)
Fri January 22 2016 - CHICAGO Illinois - United Center (USA)
Mon January 25 2016 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - Target Center (USA)
Thu January 28 2016 - SASKATOON Saskatchewan - SaskTel Centre (formerly Credit Union Centre) (Canada)
Sat January 30 2016 - EDMONTON Alberta - Rexall Place (Canada)
Mon February 01 2016 - CALGARY Alberta - Scotiabank Saddledome (Canada)
Wed February 03 2016 - VANCOUVER British Columbia - Rogers Arena (Canada)
Sat February 06 2016 - TACOMA Washington - Tacoma Dome (USA)
Tue February 09 2016 - SAN JOSE California - SAP Center (formerly HP Pavilion) (USA)
Thu February 11 2016 - LOS ANGELES California - Forum - Los Angeles (USA)
Sat February 13 2016 - LAS VEGAS Nevada - Mandalay Bay - Events Center (USA)
Mon February 15 2016 - DENVER Colorado - Pepsi Center - Denver (USA)
Wed February 17 2016 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Sprint Center (USA)
Fri February 19 2016 - AUBURN HILLS Michigan - Palace Of Auburn Hills (USA)
Sun February 21 2016 - HAMILTON Ontario - First Ontario Centre (formerly the Copps Coliseum) (Canada)
Tue February 23 2016 - MONTREAL Quebec - Centre Bell (Canada)
Thu February 25 2016 - NEW YORK New York - Madison Square Garden (USA)

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