For The Records #1 - Black Sabbath's Sabotage
For The Records #1
Black Sabbath - Sabotage
By Mike Tomano
© 2022 Michael Tomano / Fossil Entertainment Group
I’ve decided to incorporate a series of music writings into the mix of random rants, interviews, reviews and limitless etcetera of The TomanoBlog. This series of essays will be titled "For The Records” and draw inspiration from albums that have shaped my musical sensibilities and impacted my taste over the years.
First off, an album that I continue to revisit on a regular basis. A magnum opus from a game-changing band that spawned legions of followers, imitators, and homage-payers: I give you the colossal Black F’n Sabbath in all their glory.
I was introduced to this band from my sister’s boyfriend, Frank, at the age of 11. I had heard “Iron Man”, and had seen black light posters with their logo at local record shops. At this time, my listening was centered around my Mom’s 45 collection, Dad’s big band albums and my sister’s Monkees records and Motown 8-tracks. I was also a KISS fanatic, as were most kids my age, and fervently looking for more bands to get into.
Hearing Frank’s 8-Track of Sab’s Master of Reality was a musical awakening for me. The guitar riffs, the strange lyrics, the haunting vocals, the pounding bass and drums. I had found my band!
I purchased all their albums up to date. The mind-blowing eponymous debut and the masterful Paranoid were my first buys (plus, I still had Frank’s 8-Track.) One summer day I visited a small car stereo place on 59th Street in Marquette Park with my cousin Randy. We both loved music and Randy was heavily into Sabbath and Rainbow.
The store had a small selection of cassettes on a shelf. As we were toting the obligatory late-70s teenager accoutrement, The Boom Box, I was determined to grab some fresh tunes. An older girl wearing a bandanna around her head and an army jacket bought two cassettes: David Bowie’s Low and Black Sabbath Vol. 4. I might have fallen in love for a moment. I bought the other, last, copy of Vol. 4. The girl and I made eye contact. “Bowie and Sabbath rule,” she said. I concurred.
The album blew me away, as the band had proven to do with each new discovery from their catalog. Sabbath’s first eight albums all hold great memories and favorite songs. It is their sixth release, Sabotage, however, that encompasses the spectrum of this band’s magic.
Soon after, one fateful Summer Saturday morning, I had finished washing windows at Midwest Department Store on Archer Avenue, hopped on my trusty Schwinn Stingray and rode to Tape Town. Arriving, I said hello to the bowl-puffin’ proprietor, Larry, and headed straight to the Sab selection. The inverted mirror cover photo of Sabotage grabbed my attention. Left-to-Right features Geezer in trendy blazer, hippy shirt, cross necklace, and white slacks, Iommi dressed in a 70s casual jeans and half-unbuttoned shirt, Bill Ward with a leather jacket barely covering his bare beer-gut and red tights highlighting his package, and Ozzy in a goofy-ass kimono replete with platform soled boots.
While the cover has made numerous “Worst Album Cover” lists over the years, its weird charm perfectly encapsulates the schizophrenic mood and off-the-rails musical adventure within.
Larry told me that the Rolling Stone review said the album was “even better than Paranoid.”
What? Could that even be a possibility? Surely it cannot top Vol. 4!
I sped home anticipating the greatest listening of my life. Better than Paranoid? Surely Lar was one toke over the line. But...this was Sabbath...and they were magicians.
Sit back, lad. Adjust the headphones. Drop the stylus. Take the ride.
The opening one-two punch of “Hole in The Sky” and “Symptom of the Universe” set the template for what would become Heavy Metal music, influencing countless groups in its wake. “Megalomania” follows, a nightmare set to music, followed by the grinding “Thrill of It All”:
Won't you help me Mr. Jesus, won't you tell me if you can? When you see this world we live in, do you still believe in man? If my songs become my freedom, and my freedom turns to gold Then I'll ask the final question, if the answer could be sold...
“Supertzar” continues the nightmarish mood of the album, a sweeping instrumental with a haunting vocal accompaniment by the The English Chamber Choir. The piece’s similarity to The Omen soundtrack are enough to make one wonder if Jerry Goldsmith heard Sabotage while composing the score. (Sabotage was released in ’75, The Omen film premiered a year later.)
Am I Going Insane (Radio) has a catchy chorus, though the subject matter keeps it from being akin to the hard-partyin’, girl-chasin’ feel of their hard rock contemporaries hitting the charts at the time.
Every day I sit and wonder How my life it used to be Now I feel I'm going under Now my life is hard to see
So tell me people, am I going insane, insane?
The album wraps up with the stunning The Writ, one of the few songs from the Sab cannon featuring lyrics written entirely by Ozzy Osbourne, who usually deferred the task to bassist Geezer Butler. Its subject matter is related to that of Megalomania, according to drummer Bill Ward, detailing the monetary strain on the band caused by corrupt management and legal woes. Ward stated that Sabotage was recorded with lawyers present in the studio. The Writ is a savage indictment of the music industry, specifically aimed at the band’s former manager, Patrick Meehan who was suing the band during the recording of the album.
Production on this album was handled by Mike Butcher, who produced the previous Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in ’73, and guitarist Tony Iommi. The result is nothing short of The Sgt. Pepper’s of Heavy Metal.
When I look at the music that shaped my youth, the first eight Black Sabbath albums form the foundation. When Ozzy left and Dio took over vocals, I abandoned ship. Although I would later come to appreciate the first two Dio-era Sabbath albums, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, it was a different band, with a more streamlined sound and somewhat less adventurous approach. Gone were the demented vocals of the OzMan, and soon after the first Dio outing, drummer Bill Ward split. Dio’s vocals were stunning, and Ward’s replacement Vinnie Appice marked his territory with a more basic style, but the band who captured my heart and imagination as a young Rock & Roller ceased to exist after 1978’s Never Say Die.
Each of the initial Ozzy-era albums continue to get regular spins in my listening regimen. As for 2013’s original lineup (sans my man Bill Ward) reunion release, 13, I fart in its general direction. Muddy production by Rick Rubin and derivative compositions make the album a disappointment. While Rage Against The Machine / Audioslave drummer Brad Wilk does a great job on the drums, Rubin’s dilapidated mix buries Iommi and Butler behind the percussion. 13 is a mess of an album, and a tragically missed opportunity.
In a recent interview with Stereogum, Osbourne lamented the absence of Ward on the album and admitted he felt 13, “wasn’t really a Black Sabbath album.” Geezer Butler told Sirius XM’s Eddie Trunk, “Some of it I liked, some of it I didn't like particularly. It was a weird experience, especially with being told to forget that you're a heavy metal band. That was the first thing [Rick] said to us. He played us our very first album, and he said, 'Cast your mind back to then when there was no such thing as heavy metal or anything like that, and pretend it's the follow-up album to that,' which is a ridiculous thing to think.”
Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Vol. 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage, Technical Ecstasy, Never Say Die: Eight albums that shaped my love for music and continue to elate my senses. And, at the top of that heap of wonder, stands the epic, Sabotage.