Classic Albums: Black Sabbath – Paranoid Netflix | Amazon | Google Play | YouTube DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Matthew Longfellow
Starring Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, Henry Rollins, Jim Simpson, Tony Allom, Deena Weinstein
Eagle Rock Entertainment
Originally Released: June 30, 2010
With drummer Bill Ward‘s birthday today, May 5, and with all the news surrounding the upcoming Black Sabbath album, 13, (despite Ward not being involved), I thought it would be timely to delve back into the past for this week’s streaming review. This week, we take a look at the band’s classic album called Paranoid, a ground-breaking release that established them as an international phenomenal, and put Black Sabbath’s name down on the history books as the first heavy metal band.
The significance of Paranoid, in union with the other first four releases by Black Sabbath, is unparalleled. Combining musical influences of rock and roll, blues, jazz, swing, and classical; and swarming it among darker occultist lyrical topics, the band laid down a basis that would not only establish their own careers, but also form the basis for all metal bands that would follow as well as all of the subgenres to break off from metal. Black Sabbath’s contributions to the early development of metal are incomparable to all who would follow.
Paranoid branches from the early days of Black Sabbath, during their "Ozzy" era – their second album, released in 1970, Paranoid takes the beginnings of the band from their self-titled debut album and fine-tuned their style, attitude, and sound into a more mature direction. After their songwriting and performance experience from the debut album, their second album resulted in a compiling of their most iconic tracks ever, together with the title track "Paranoid", but also “Iron Man” and “War Pigs.” In fact, all of the tracks on Paranoid are instantly recognizable classics.
The chapter of Classic Albums on Netflix that focuses on Paranoid follows the four original members of Black Sabbath, as they guide the audience through the making of the album. Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward all contribute memories to the retrospective looking at the album, combined with their manager of the time, Jim Simpson, and engineer Tony Allom.
Like all the Classic Albums installments, the producers gather together a whole bunch of critics who review the consequence of the album. A lot of this (not all) is done with the benefit of hindsight, because it’s important to remember that Black Sabbath was shunned by the critics of the day. They were strange, different, and opposed to the norm – and like many of the early metal bands, they were highly criticized for just not fitting into the accepted conformity of the art movement of the time.
However, enter: Henry Rollins.
Rollins makes a substantial appearance on this Classic Albums episode, and justifiably so. Not only does Hank have some musical foundation to base himself from, having been frontman of the seminal hardcore band Black Flag, and later his own Rollins Band, but he has been very vocal for decades on being a supporter of Sabbath – often extolling the gravity and importance of the first four Black Sabbath albums. They were game changers, and the content within those albums is still as relevant as it is today.
Unlike most of the critics invited to comment on the album, Rollins is perhaps the one person on the special that was outside of the band that contributes the most valid insight into the importance of Black Sabbath in the history of music. He is an animated inclusion on the episode, drawing attention to not only how much of a fan he is of the band, but also explaining some of the more intricate elements of the playing of the album that many overlook.
One of these overlooked elements is often the magnitude of the rhythm section of Black Sabbath. While most focus on the charismatic focal points of Ozzy and Iommi, the chemistry of Sabbath would be nothing without Geezer on the bass and Ward on the drums. Geezer is repeatedly underplayed as an incredible bass player, but the Classic Albums focus on Paranoid gives a little focus on the thundering bass guitarist. There are a few mixer highlights, isolating some of his playing and in all honesty giving it a chance to breathe, as well as zoning in on some of the swing influence on Geezer and Ward (notably on "Fairies Wear Boots"), further underscoring the importance of the rhythm section of Sabbath.
Geezer especially is a highlight of this Classic Albums episode. His humorous anecdotes really push the strength of the band and their outlook at the world – and many of his comments, and Ozzy’s, are quite amusing at times.
But on a more serious-minded note, the band members (particular Geezer) focus on one of the most important thing about early Black Sabbath and the Paranoid album – to paraphrase a quote from the episode: Everything going wrong in the world and no one was talking about it. Markedly in America, there was the peace and love and hippie movement, which was an ideologue response to the Vietnam War.
The musicians of Black Sabbath on the other hand were realists, and amplified the darker and macabre aspects of the content matter. “War Pigs” delves into the resonating dissatisfaction of the public towards war (the Vietnam war at the time, but still very relevant to conflict in modern terms), highlighting the despicable nature of those in control of wars. Later on the album, and just as realist and dark, “Hand Of Doom” in essence, was the Trainspotting of the day, zoning in on the heroin use by some American soldiers returning from Vietnam.
The ironic thing about Paranoid is its title track. The band had initially intended for “War Pigs” to be about Walpurgis, but the record label wanted nothing to do with it. After tweaking the song into “War Pigs,” they also wanted the album title to be War Pigs – and again the label wanted nothing to do with it. At the eleventh hour, Black Sabbath needed a final song for the album. Running out of time, Iommi came up with the beginning riff for “Paranoid” and the band fleshed it out within 20 minutes. The song was so well received by the label (probably because of its chart potential), that the band went with the title for the album. It is somewhat ironic that the iconic Paranoid album would take its name from a song that was created at the last minute.
Like all the Classic Albums episodes, there is some attention-grabbing footage, including from the US tour where Tony has no moustache and shorter hair! But a particular highlight is some of the in-studio modern footage, of Iommi and Geezer recreating the riffs and the playing whilst discussing how they came up with the songs.
One criticism about the Classic Albums edition for Paranoid is the lack of coverage on some important elements of the band, particularly during the early years of the band. Tony Iommi, for one, lost his fingers in an industrial accident, and reshaped and redeveloped his own playing to continue guitar playing – including with the invention of his own prosthetics. This element is glossed over within less than a minute. This, along with other elements of the early years of the band, is really brushed over or ignored completely, which is disappointing, because all of these aspects are key into what lead them to recording Paranoid.
Despite the disappointing omissions in the episode, the Paranoid episode of Classic Albums is well worth the view. It’s enjoyable watching the band members discuss the evolution of the album, but just as importantly, having Henry Rollins contributing some incredibly significant insights into the band and this album. Well worth a look – if you’re a metalhead or a music fan, add this one to your queue now.
I highly recommend this one. How sad the would would be, if the first four Black Sabbath albums never existed…!