Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970) – Review

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A new installment of the Old’n’Tasty series beckons. So, what better record to spiff this list up some than Paranoid from good ol’ Black Sabbath. Even if its slow start did not really bode well in 1970. The album did however finally make it to quadruple platinum. But only in 1995, some 25 years later.

This is one of these records that improves with age like good red wine. One that many experts now consider a classic. But in the harsh light of reality, is it really that good? And what on earth is a classic at all? Questions galore, some of them surely for an editorial of the future. 

And did you know that Black Sabbath hit the market twice in that same year? First, with their self-titled iconic piece, and then – a few short months later – with Paranoid. This apparently happened because the label wished to ride this wave until it gave up the proverbial ghost. And they were not all that wrong after all. It is even more amazing that the deed was done in only six short days, as the lore goes. Recording, mixing, and mastering, all ready in one short week.

Not many bands had the artistic muscle to pull this kind of feat off the ground in the lengthy history of contemporary music. You’ll find some of course. Uriah Heep comes to mind with Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday in 1972. But this tactic is now exceedingly rare in today’s commercially driven and ideologically loaded world. 

Paranoid indeed covers some of the most successful and iconic tracks Black Sabbath ever produced, starting with War Pigs. The track with this riff-solo thing in the middle, constantly reminds me of 13. As the lore goes, Paranoid was going to be called War Pigs, by the way. Until – again – the label decided to name the album after the front-runner. And not to the unanimous pleasure of the band, so it appears.

Now, as it turns out, the label was entirely correct. Paranoid really took off at that time and it resounds to this day. Western Europe – for sure – took a liking to this track, with many countries listing it in their top 10. The North American reception was a bit more lackluster. But still: The track made it into the US Billboard Hot 100 at # 61. Which is, considering the dominance of the US market at that time, not a bad result.

What amazes me most, though, is that this album actually made it off the ground at all. 

Black Sabbath got a shitload of flak for their first album for – apparently – being Satanists. An opinion that gained new traction with Paranoid. The record caught some of the music press’ finest with their heads up their mutual asses. Like the memorable post of Nick Tosches on Rolling Stone in April 1971. That the magazine even printed this kind of idiocy will forever amaze me.1)

But then, Rolling Stone also had other editors of same or similar ilk. Like Melissa Mills, who wanted to commit suicide over Uriah Heep’s debut album. Or others again issuing ill-fated prophecies about the future of rock in general and AC/DC in particular.2) 

To my dying day, I will never understand where this perception of Satanism may have come from. Even if the band somewhat encouraged it in their heyday. And – indeed – Ozzy Osbourne is still looking the part today, with Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi duly clad in black on their lengthy The End Tour last year. But then, I am looking at this with modern eyes. In times where Satanism and its undercurrents have taken on quite different and much more sinister proportions.

The record’s lyrics mostly deal with anti-war sentiments, anti-violence, and resistance to drugs. And all of that compares itself against the backdrop of a morose economical situation of the Western World after the crippling 2nd world war. Not to forget that Britain was about to step into the napalm-fueled Vietnam war. And the members of Black Sabbath probably thought to be called to action. Ozzy with a helmet on his head fighting the gooks, an unspeakable image indeed. Of course and luckily, Britain never entered this particular clusterfuck and thus prevented a wealth of trouble for themselves.

Paranoid produced yet another hit – Iron Man – that really impressed with its meaty riff and refrain. Back in the ’70s, this was about as hard as things were going to get, believe it or not. However, metal was not quite invented yet and the chugging thus comes across as pretty anemic by today’s standards.

Now, whenever I look at both of Black Sabbath‘s albums of 1970, I am struck by how much garbage they happily included. You get those absolute killer tracks that somehow live alongside them dreary blurbs of neurotic garbage.

In other words, Paranoid really enjoys today’s status because you get about 3-4 really good leading tracks in the midst of some abysmal bullshit. Planet Caravan, Hand of Doom, Rat Salad, and even Fairies Wear Boots need to wash down that infamous trap. If only the band and the label would have had the wisdom to curate that list down to the winners. We would today enjoy only one record, true. But of an exquisite quality – a real classic. Oh, and by the way, the Slovenians from Pyroxene delivered a pretty neat rendition of Electric Funeral. If you are interested.

In the end, Paranoid found its way into the annals of the history of Black Sabbath. Controversy sells, and this band knew this then and exploits it still today. 

The record features some of the best tracks the band ever produced, together with some of the most dismal. Good and bad in giddy coexistence. But the album nonetheless went ahead and became one of the stepping-stones of the history of this band’s illustrious career. A portent of great things still to come with this band, chaotic and painful as they may turn out to be. 

Record Rating: 6/10 | Label: Vertigo Records | Web: Official Site
Release date: 18 September 1970


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