Nov 092011

Somebody shared this video with me today, and I enjoyed it well enough. The tunes ride along on some serious riffage, Ozzy is entertaining in a frantic, brain-addled kind of way, and — I noticed this for the first time today — the lyrics are actually kind of clever.

Then I started thinking about all that must have seemed completely bizarro about this to mainstream rock audiences in 1970-1971: the stripped-down, sludgy, riff-centric sound, the unbeautiful Ozzy, and — I noticed this, too, for the first time today — the apeshit pounding on the drums, bashing away on open hi-hats and crash cymbals from start to finish, etc. That ain’t no “Across the Universe,” bub. It’s not even “Communication Breakdown!”

Then I stopped myself and wondered: hey, Hrrundi, you silver-tongued, sly, handsome devil — are you mythologizing the things about Black Sabbath that had the staying power to still be cool in the 21st century? Maybe these guys were totally ho-hum back in the day. You’re old — but you’re not old enough to remember how these guys were perceived by the rock music buying public when this stuff came out.

I answered: Hrrundi, you sexy motherfucker, you’re right. You don’t know shit! Which is why I’m asking BigSteve and any other ancient RTH denizens — those who didn’t take so many damn drugs that they can’t remember whether their pee went up or down in the ’60s and ’70s — to tell us their recollections. Think back — back through the fog of dope smoke, the sight of topless chicks wigging out in the third row and the stench of sweat-soaked buckskin — and tell us, if you will, what the world of 1970-1971 thought of…Black Sabbath.


  23 Responses to “Hey, Old Man! Tell Us What the World Thought of…Black Sabbath”

  1. tonyola

    You had to be a 16-year-old surly male on drugs and out to scare your parents to appreciate Black Sabbath. While I once fit the description, even I had limits – I never actually bought a Black Sabbath record since enough of my friends were playing it to fully acquaint me with the band’s limited charms. Besides, quaaludes and Mad Dog 20/20 weren’t my drugs of choice and Alice Cooper soon came along with Love It To Death and Killer – far superior albums mining the “decadent rock” vein.

  2. 2000 Man

    I’m not quite old enough to give you insight into 70 – 71, but I can tell you that by 74, when I was 12 Black Sabbath were well beloved around here (even girls liked them). I had some friends that liked Led Zeppelin, but Sabbath was always the heaviest heavy hitter.

    I got to see them in 78. Van Halen opened up for them. Van Halen was really great, and us 16 year olds were a big part of their audience. Black Sabbath made you forget who they were. They were fantastic, and still to this day one of my favorite concerts ever.

  3. BigSteve

    I would have been a senior in high school at this time, and I may have already been too old for Sabbath. Plus I ran with an intellectual pothead crowd, so music like this would have seemed to us like music for people who took downers. We looked down our snooty noses at the Ripple-and-reds types.

    I would eventually learn to enjoy stupid music. Listening to it it today, it seems like the problem is that Sabbath’s music is not stupid enough.

  4. ladymisskirroyale

    I saw Black Sabbath about 10 years later, with Foghat and Blue Oyster Cult. The show was remarkable to me because 1. I sampled some contraband substances and 2. in the middle of BS’s set, it started to rain, thunder and lightening. It seemed very impressive that BS could summon up such weather in Arizona. Then their set was canceled due to worries about electrocution (that seemed pretty piddling for a band that was known for biting the heads off of bats).

  5. Happiness Stan

    I’m not old enough to confidently offer anything other a teenybopper outlook and insights into the music of Bowie, T Rex, Slade and Sweet from that time, being nine/ten in that period, but my friend-next-door’s older sister had a very cool record collection, which certainly included at least one Black Sabbath record. We’d borrow from it when she was out and played her Beatles, Stones, Who, Wishbone Ash, Hawkwind, Curved Air and even Alice Cooper albums, but remember giving Sabbath a pretty wide berth because they looked just too scary and challenging. Paranoid was quite a big hit over here and I seem to remember that it was played on daytime radio.

    A few years on I would hang out with hippy types about ten years older, who were universally disdainful about Sabbath, and apart from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, which our ten year old daughter loves and makes me play in the car quite regularly, they’ve pretty well passed me by.

  6. misterioso

    I am too young to speak authoritatively on this one. But for myself, by the later 70s when my musical tastes were forming, if not ossifying (but by no means ozzifying) I thought Sabbath was a total joke and I maintained that view for a long time, even though I guiltily always enjoyed hearing “Paranoid” on the radio. It wasn’t really until the past decade that I got past decades of accumulated hostility to accept the fact that the first couple of records are, actually, really good in their way, and even, as HVB notes, quite clever in a dumb sort of way. Actually, a bootleg of the concert from which this video derives, I think (Paris, 1970?), helped turn me around. It is pretty solid. After Paranoid I think the pickings get somewhat slimmer and by the mid-70s I think they are non-existent; and post-Ozzy Sabbath is, I still think, a total waste of time.

  7. I had much the same experience as you, misterioso.

  8. 2000 Man

    they looked just too scary

    A few years ago (really, like two or three) I worked with a guy that told me Third Eye Blind had songs that were “just like Punk Rock.” I made a cd of real punk rock for him and he hated it, but he never called Third Eye Blind’s music Punk again. He also ran calls with me one day and I drove, and I was listening to Black Sabbath (cuz I like them), and he said, “Doesn’t this music scare you?”

    I said, “You can’t be serious. It’s just music, why would I be afraid of it?”

    He was dead serious when he said, “Don’t you worry about the devil taking your soul?”

  9. And you replied, “It’s too late for worrying over that!”

  10. Happiness Stan

    I love Ozzy’s comment about the only black magic Sabbath ever got into being a box of chocolates (

  11. That is a great story on Third Eye Blind — I had a guy tell me that Nickelback was alt-country a couple of months ago — then gave a playlist that had Uncle Tupelo and Whiskeytown and Gillian Welch and that kind of stuff on it.

  12. I have only just come around to appreciate the thuddy mass that is called Black Sabbath. From my perspective, most of my enjoyment comes from the thick groove.

    Of course, I have no historical perspective, so that’s out.

    I do like what John Enwistle had to say about heavy metal music. Something along the lines of how he enjoyed playing it, but didn’t enjoy listening to it. “Kind of like smelling your own farts.”


  13. 2000 Man

    I had a friend that always said everyone liked the smell of their own farts, but everyone else’s made them sick. So I’m not sure where John was going with this.

  14. tonyola

    I’m a little more concerned for your friend than for John.

  15. Allow me to post the exact quote, just for reference:

    “I’m only interested in heavy metal when it’s me playing it,” John once said,”I suppose it’s a bit like smelling your own farts.”


  16. Happiness Stan

    No doubt paraphrasing WH Auden’s famous quote “Every man loves the smell of his own farts”, which, before someone pince nez’s me was originally an Icelandic aphorism, collected by the poet and one of his mates for a book of popular sayings they put together. We had an English teacher who would quote Auden regularly in the vain hope that it would turn us on to his poetry. I remember being impressed by how incredibly leathery Auden always looked, the only man I can think of who could make Keef look healthy (before Auden died, obviously).

  17. jeangray

    Dude! That there are still people out there that doubt the majesty of Black Sabbath or only listen to it ironically, is truely mind boggling. Their oeuvre forms a foundation for an entire style of popular musik. It cannot be denied.

    “…limited charms…”
    “…not stupid enough.”
    “…universally disdainful…”

    I have not heard such negative BS talk since the ’80’s. Strong work guys!

  18. misterioso

    Dude! You put your finger right on the problem: the entire style for which early Sabbath forms the basis more or less totally sucks!

  19. hrrundivbakshi

    The thing I’d like to note is that — back in the day — Sabbath was seen as (for want of a better term) Loser Stoner Rock, i.e., music for people who took lots of the wrong kinds of drugs for the wrong kinds of reasons. Nowadays, I think their appeal is more, uh, anti-intellectual. I get the sense that people appreciate them in hindsight as being a loud, rude, who-gives-a-shit-what-other-people-think, working-stiff band. Like, the line between today’s rock critics and Bon Scott-era AC/DC is the same length and weight as the one that connects them to those first four Sabbath albums. Which suggests an interesting class-ism to rock appreciation that seems to have pervaded things back in the day.

    I wonder if that’s gone completely today? I suspect not — the continuing popularity/seething critical hatred for Kid Rock suggests otherwise. I wonder if, on the holographic pages of Rock Town Space Colony 2042, we’ll see an appreciation for the “edgy, in-your-face cracker-fest that was Kid Rock.”

    Elsewhere, I’d like to add that as a child, I, too, steered clear of Sabbath albums because of those creepy album covers. There was something terrifyingly low-budget about them, in a world of sparkles and airbrushed perfection.

  20. From my young-‘un Philly-centric perspective, in the late ’80s, Sabbath were one of those bands who were seemingly wiped from history by classic-rock radio and rockumentaries. I wonder if it was because of the Satanist rock hysteria earlier in the decade. Or maybe because the modern incarnation of the band was a farce, Tony Iommi and a bunch of nobodies. (Their wikipedia bio is pretty fascinating for all the turmoil and turnover during this period.) Nowadays, in those rare occasions when I’m in a car and listening to rock radio, it’s very likely I’ll hear “Paranoid,” “War Pigs” or “Iron Man.”

  21. Bakshi, great hard rock nostalgia post!

    Sabbath was pretty popular in the area I grew up in, although it was definitely for metal head outsiders and not mainstream high school party music by any stretch.

    I don’t agree though with your idea of why, in hindsight, the band seems to have become cooler over time. Instead I think it has something to do with the fact of not just the simplicity of their driving groove, but with the fact of their frequently explicitly political, but also outsider cynicism. Fascinating, for instance, that they’re one of the few heavy metal bands (maybe the only?) that in their original incarnation never did any “We shall overcome” songs that, say, Judas Priest at their worst, does do. Or any macho cockrocking lyrics either.

    In other words, aren’t they maybe the only metal band from the 70s that after being initially rejected by punk, turn out to be not out of line with the new cool of the later punk and alt-rock eras–and in fact, with Black Flag, punk actually went over to Sabbath more than the other way around. I don’t hear anyone say that Sabbath is proto-punk like they say of The Stooges, but I’m not sure they shouldn’t.

  22. Great point re: RTH circa 2042!

    I know what you’re saying. I think at least 2 things are at issue:

    1) This generation can appreciate different forms of music more easily without first feeling the need to pass through the prism of highly specific drug intake. Way back when various forms of r ‘n r were still new territory, and I suspect people felt the need to “liberate” their minds a bit to venture forward.

    2) The 30-something hipster culture strives for faux white-trash cred; their generation has done such a good job at reaching this nadir that the 20-somethings unironically dig Kid Rock for his “roots rock.”

  23. hrrundivbakshi

    Yeah, Mwall. I’ve long held that AC/DC were punker than many ostensibly “punk” bands in the 70s — but you’re right, Sabbath’s simple-minded (and I mean that in a good way, as in unencumbered by any sort of nuance whatsoever), outsider cynicism out-punks AC/DC by a wide margin. Good call.

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