On this day 7th Jan 1971, 1971, Black Sabbath released ‘Paranoid’ their second studio album in the US. The album features the band’s best-known signature songs, including the title track, ‘Iron Man’ and ‘War Pigs’. The album was originally titled War Pigs, but allegedly the record company changed it to Paranoid, fearing backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War.
In June 1970, Sabbath reunited with producer Rodger Bain at Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios, London to record sessions for their second album. As well as working with the band on their debut, Bain also produced Welsh trio Budgie’s first two albums, as well as Judas Priest’s debut disc.
The original title of the new Sabbath album’s opener War Pigs, was Walpurgis, according to drummer, Bill Ward, whose memory was of first working on the song at The Beat Club in Switzerland in 1968, backed up by Tony Iommi, who said that the song first originated as a jam session. The outro of War Pigs, whose title, lyrics, and theme were subsequently changed during the recording of Paranoid, has its own name, Luke’s Wall (named in homage to the band’s two-man road crew, Geoff ‘Luke’ Lucas and Spock Wall) and features a more melodic tone than the rest of the song. In addition, the last few seconds of the track feature the sound of the tape speeding up, changing tempo and pitch.
Following War Pigs is the mighty title track, still ranked as one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time, bringing Sabbath to the single charts, peaking at #4 in the UK, #1 in Germany and, despite very little airplay in the US, reaching #61 on the Billboard Chart. Rumour has it that, after recording his vocals for the track Paranoid, front man Ozzy Osbourne turned to his band mates in Black Sabbath and said: ‘What the fuck does ‘Paranoid’ mean?’ Still, Ozzy’s vocal track was the perfect counterpart to what has become one of heavy metal’s most identifiable riffs.
In his book ‘Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven And Hell With Black Sabbath’, Tony Iommi confirmed the story, saying that he and Ozzy probably had no idea what the word ‘paranoid’ meant at that time: they left the lyrics to bassist Geezer Butler, considered the ‘intelligent one’ in the group.
For his part, Butler told Guitar World magazine in 2004, ‘A lot of the Paranoid album was written around the time of our first album, Black Sabbath. We recorded the whole thing in about 2 or 3 days, live in the studio. The song Paranoid was written as an afterthought; we basically needed a 3-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.’
Guitarist Tony Iommi wrote the song during a lunch break at the recording studio, and the band put it on tape that very afternoon. ‘It was all pretty fast and furious,’ Iommi recalls of the recording. ‘I also remember that I had a shocker of a black eye at the time, having had a rather unpleasant altercation with some skinheads a few days before. We had a photo shoot scheduled for the day of the recording; no amount of cunning lighting or posing could cover it up.‘
The psychedelic Planet Caravan follows, on which Ozzy Osbourne used a Leslie speaker to achieve the vocal effects, the track later being covered by Pantera for their 1994 album Far Beyond Driven.
Iron Man, the second Sabbath single in the US, was originally entitled Iron Bloke. Upon hearing the main guitar riff for the first time, Osbourne remarked that it sounded ’like a big iron bloke walking about’, possibly inspiring the lyrics, by Butler, who wrote the story of a man who time travels into the future, and sees the apocalypse. In the process of returning to the present, he is turned into steel by a magnetic field. He is rendered mute, unable verbally to warn people of his time of the impending destruction, his attempts to communicate ignored and mocked. This makes Iron Man angry enough to have his revenge on mankind, causing the destruction seen in his vision.
Paranoid launched Sabbath into the chart, jump-starting hard rock. The album, often cited as the defining heavy metal release of the genre, hit #1 in the UK, and sold more than four million copies worldwide, largely via the charting of singles ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ in the USA, which both achieved success without benefit of much airplay. The album was originally titled War Pigs, but record company Vertigo / Phonogram changed it to Paranoid, thinking it would be easier to sell if it was named after the single, which had already had significant success by the time the album was released.
Over the years the song Paranoid has been covered by a host of bands including Big Country, Inspiral Carpets, Megadeth and Type-O Negative. Both the album and the track itself are testament to Sabbath’s timelessness and towering influence over generations of heavy metal bands ever since its release. Parnoid, with its loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on memorable heavy blues-rock riffs, is still one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal recordings of all time.