Friday, September 18, 1970

Black Sabbath released Paranoid


Black Sabbath

Released: September 18, 1970

Peak: 12 US, 11 UK, 20 CN, 4 AU

Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, 0.2 UK, 4.52 world (includes US and UK)

Genre: heavy metal


Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.

  1. War Pigs [7:57] (4 CL)
  2. Paranoid [2:48] (8/29/70, 61 US, 69 CB, 58 HR, 25 AR, 1 CL, 4 UK, 54 CN, 18 AU)
  3. Planet Caravan [4:32]
  4. Iron Man [5:56] (1/29/72, 52 US, 67 CB, 77 HR, 32 AR, 1 CL)
  5. Electric Funeral [4:53] (18 CL)
  6. Hand of Doom [7:08]
  7. Rat Salad [2:30]
  8. Fairies Wear Boots [6:15] (12 CL)
All songs written by Black Sabbath.

Total Running Time: 41:51

The Players:

  • Ozzy Osbourne (vocals)
  • Tony Iommi (guitar)
  • Geezer Butler (bass)
  • Bill Ward (drums)


4.368 out of 5.00 (average of 21 ratings)

Quotable: Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.” – Steve Huey, All Music Guide

Awards: (Click on award to learn more).

About the Album:

After Black Sabbath (originally called Polka Tulk Blues Band) TL recorded their debut self-titled album, they toured Europe for six weeks and then headed right back to the studio. Considering the negative reviews from the rock press, Geezer Butler said, “it felt like the four of us against the world.” LW They didn’t realize what a loyal fan base they were developing in the U.S. Their main goal was to prove to their families that they weren’t wasting time on music. LW

The result is what has become an essential album in the history of rock music. “Radical songwriting. Ear-shattering riffs. Unforgettable vocals. An all-time great rhythm section. Even a slower love song set in outer space. Paranoid had it all.“ NPR

The Writing and Recording
The songwriting was much more systematic than on the first album. “Guitariist Tony Iommi would start with one of his killer massive roaring riffs. Vocalist Ozzy Osbourne then worked on the melody for the vocals, followed by bassist Geezer Butler who would write most of the lyrics. Drummer Bill Ward would then top it off with a pounding beat to complement Butler’s thunderous bass.” CR

With only six days in the studio (an eternity compared to the one day they had for their first album), LW they recorded the songs as if playing a live concert. The songs had largely been written on the road while the band toured in support of Black Sabbath.

The Sound…and Satanism?
Paranoid refined Black Sabbath’s signature sound – crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock – and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics.” AMG The album “perfectly captured the rage, confusion and, yes, paranoia of the Vietnam era” GW as well as “the oligarchic structures that suppressed the working class” PF with songs that focused on “war, drug abuse, death and destruction.” CR It’s as if “the band members were tasked to deliver warnings of doom to the world.” CR

When the album was released, “the world was convinced that these working class chums…were either satanists or an incredible facsimile.” TL Frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s biting-the-heads-off-bats incident didn’t come until he’d embarked on a solo career, but he had people nervous with his “declaration that he had sat through The Exorcist a gazillion times.” TL

Mostly, though, the band owed its infamous reputation to their creation of “a primal howl of fear and loathing” GW via “Tony Iommi’s crushing, granite-fuzz guitar chords, the Visigoth rhythm machine of Bill Ward and Geezer Butler’s” RS “massive bass riffs,” TL and Ozzy’s “agonized bray.” RS When he “screams, he sounds like he wants to drag you down to the bottom of the ocean and eat your brain.” VB

“The anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in its path.” AMG “Iommi’s stump-fingered leads and down-tuned riffs provided the perfect platform for songs about war-mongering generals, boots-wearing skinheads and nuclear fallout.” GW Throughout the album “the subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath makes it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music.” AMG

Their Background
The band wouldn’t be the same without their factory hometown of Birmingham, England. Joel McIver, who wrote two books about them, says, “You cannot separate the environment of Black Sabbath from the music that they made.” NPR The town was ravaged by bombing in World War II and the future looked bleak for anyone born in the late 1940s, such as the members of Black Sabbath. As McIver said, “your future was 45 years on a factory assembly line.” NPR

Template for Heavy Metal
Frankly, “you don’t know metal until you have heard the classic Black Sabbath Paranoid album.” CR It carved out “an essential metal template.” PF It is “monolithic and primally powerful,” AMG “heavier than seven lead elephants [and] metaller than a fork factory.” VB It was the group’s most successful record and “stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time,” AMG helping to “launch heavy metal not just as a genre but also a veritable industry.” PF

“Nearly every heavy-metal and extreme rock band of the last three decades…owes [it] a debt of worship.” RS It “set the standard against which all heavy music would forever be judged.” GW Quite simply, “Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.” AMG It is “the landmark in the history of heavy metal.” CR

“War Pigs”
“Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paranoid have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards like” AMG the “apocalyptic songs…War Pigs and Iron Man which are no less great for being totally incomprehensible.” TL Butler said the band “wrote ‘War Pigs’ because many Americans were frightened to mention anything about the wary so we thought we’d tell it like it is.” PF

Lines like “Satan laughing spreads his wings” furthered the image of the band as Satanic, but it wasn’t about the devil at all. Butler said, “To me, war was the big Satan. It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was evil. So I was sying ‘Generals gathered in the masses / Just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy.” LW

It's also worth noting that the album was originally to be called War Pigs and the artwork had been designed with that in mind. As Tony Iommi said, “There’s a guy standing there with a shield and a sword, with the album title called Paranoid…’What’s that have to do with Paranoid?” Well, nothing really. But that’s how it was.” LW

“Iron Man”
Meanwhile, “Iron Man” “sports one of the most immediately identifiable riffs in metal history” AMG and found a whole new audience as the title song for 2008’s super-hero movie, Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr. Of course, the original song had nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character. It is “a surreal fantasy” PF “about a man who travels to the future and sees the apocalyptic destruction on mankind.” CR When returning to the present, he is turned to steel by a magnetic field and is rendered mute, leaving him unable to warn anyone about the apocalypse. “He’s ostracized and ignored he lashes out, iron fists falling on the city with the weight of Iommi’s monstrous riff and Ward’s colossal Bonham drums.” PF

That song and the album’s title track even “scraped the U.S. charts despite virtually nonexistent radio play” AMG in an era “when it was far more fashionable to sing gentle acoustic songs about ‘getting back to the garden.’” GW The title cut, “a three-chord classic dashed off as last-minute album filler,” GW isn’t only a heavy-metal classic, but “presaged the coming of punk rock.” GW

Tony Iommi wrote the “simple riff that chugged, paused, and kept prowling, like a predator always in search of its next meal” PF while the rest of the band headed to the bar. PF The song “foregrounds an adolescent sort of worry – about being depressed and not understanding the symptoms or root of it, about crying when others laugh, about breaking up with someone because ‘she couldn’t help me with my mind.’” PF

The record company, Vertigo, heard a hit and issued the “three-minute assault” PF as a single just six months after the band had released its debut album. Vertigo also pushed for renaming the album Paranoid (instead of the originally planned War Pigs) “to remind potential customers of the song they’d seen four long-haired weirdos headbang to on Top of the Pops.” PF

“Hand of Doom”
“The drifting verses of Hand of Doom are direct arrows into…doom metal, turbocharged by sections that feel like nebulous hardcore.” PF “The song became infamous as a supposed endorsement of heroin, but it’s a warning for deployed soldiers taken with the newfound hobby of trying to kill time with drugs but only killing themselves.” PF

“Electric Funeral”
The band weren’t just tackling the tragedy of Vietnam, but the threat of the Cold War. “Anchored by a hangman riff and guided by Osbourne’s best sorcerer vocals, Electric Funeral lases out at the woe of that atomic age and the endless destruction it enables.” PF As Butler said, “It was always touch and go whether Russia would drop the atomic bomb on us or we would drop the atomic bomb on them.” LW

“Rat Salad”
“The starts and stops of Rat Salad and the way Iommi’s guitar line runs like razor wire between the rhythmic shifts, presage the instrumental ecstasy of math-rock, in spirit if not skill.” PF

“Fairies Wear Boots”
Fairies Wear Boots grew out of an incident in which the band members “were harassed and threatened by a gang of skinheads wearing Dr. Martens boots.” LW It “boasts one of the best grooves of Sabbath’s entire discography, some of Osbourne’s most effortlessly soulful singing ever, and a bridge and solo that feel…triumphant.” PF “The beginning…keeps folding and rising, only to empty into declarative verses, like the skeleton of power metal awaiting eventual flesh.” PF

“Planet Caravan”
Ozzy “delivers images of romantic escapism over circular bass and hand-drum patter during Planet Caravan…a clear antecedent for metal’s exploratory psychedelic side.” PF

Notes: A 2009 deluxe edition added a second disc of the album in a quadrophonic mix and a third disc of instrumental versions and versions with alternate lyrics. A 4-CD deluxe edition was released in 2016 which included two live 1970 shows, one from Montreux and one from Brussels.

Resources and Related Links:

Other Related DMDB Pages:

First posted 2/18/2008; last updated 3/14/2022.

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