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Following the breakup of their previous band Mythology in 1968, guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward sought to form a heavy blues band in Aston, Birmingham, England. The group enlisted bassist Geezer Butler, and vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, who had played together in a band called Rare Breed. The new group was initially named The Polka Tulk Blues Company, and also featured slide guitarist Jimmy Phillips and saxophonist Alan "Aker" Clarke. After shortening the name to Polka Tulk, the band changed their name to Earth, and continued as a four-piece without Phillips and Clarke.
Earth played club shows in England, Denmark, and Germany, with sets consisting of cover songs by Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer, and Cream; as well as lengthy improvised blues jams. In December 1968, Tony Iommi abruptly left Earth to join Jethro Tull. Although his stint with the band would be short-lived, Iommi made an appearance with Jethro Tull on the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus TV show. Unsatisfied with the direction of Jethro Tull, Iommi returned to Earth in January 1969. "It just wasn't right, so I left", Iommi said. "At first I thought Tull were great, but I didn't much go for having a leader in the band, which was Ian Anderson's way. When I came back from Tull, I came back with a new attitude altogether. They taught me that to get on you got to work for it".
While playing shows in England in 1969, the band discovered they were being mistaken for another English group named Earth, and decided to again change their name. A movie theatre across the street from the band's rehearsal room was showing the 1963 Boris Karloff horror film Black Sabbath. While watching people line up to see the film, bassist Geezer Butler noted that it was "strange that people spend so much money to see scary movies". Butler wrote a song titled "Black Sabbath" after reading a book by occult writer Dennis Wheatley, and seeing a black-hooded figure standing at the foot of his bed. Making use of the musical tritone, also known as "The Devil's Interval", the song's ominous sound and dark lyrics pushed the band in a darker direction, a stark contrast to the popular music of the late 1960s, which was dominated by flower power, folk music, and hippie culture. Inspired by the new sound, the band changed their name to Black Sabbath in August 1969, and made the decision to focus writing similar material, in an attempt to create the musical equivalent of horror films.
Black Sabbath and Paranoid (1970–1971)
Black Sabbath were signed to Philips Records in December 1969, and released their first single, "Evil Woman" through Philips subsidiary Fontana Records in January 1970. Later releases were handled by Philips' newly formed progressive rock label, Vertigo Records. Although the single failed to chart, the band were afforded two days of studio time in late January to record their debut album with producer Rodger Bain. Iommi recalls recording live: "We thought 'We have two days to do it and one of the days is mixing.' So we played live. Ozzy was singing at the same time, we just put him in a separate booth and off we went. We never had a second run of most of the stuff."
The eponymous Black Sabbath was released on Friday the 13th, February 1970. The album reached number 8 in the UK, and following its US release in May 1970 by Warner Bros. Records, the album reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, where it remained for over a year, selling a million copies. While the album was a commercial success, it was widely panned by critics, with Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone dismissing the album as "discordant jams with bass and guitar reeling like velocitised speedfreaks all over each other's musical perimeters, yet never quite finding synch".
To capitalise on their chart success in the US, the band quickly returned to the studio in June 1970, just four months after Black Sabbath was released. The new album was initially set to be named "War Pigs" after the track of the same name, which was critical of the Vietnam War. However Warner changed the title of the album to Paranoid, fearing backlash by supporters of the Vietnam War. The album's lead-off single "Paranoid" was written in the studio at the last minute. As Bill Ward explains: "We didn't have enough songs for the album, and Tony just played the (Paranoid) guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom." The single was released prior to the album in September 1970, and reached number four on the UK charts, remaining Black Sabbath's only top ten hit.
Black Sabbath released their second full-length album, Paranoid in the UK in October 1970. Pushed by the success of the "Paranoid" single, the album hit number one in the UK. The US release was held until January 1971, as the Black Sabbath album was still on the charts at the time of Paranoid's UK release. The album broke into the top ten in the US in March 1971, and would go on to sell four million copies in the US, with virtually no radio airplay. The album was again panned by rock critics of the era, but modern-day reviewers such as Allmusic's Steve Huey cite Paranoid as "one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time", which "defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history". Paranoid's chart success allowed the band to tour the US for the first time in December 1970, which spawned the release of the album's second single "Iron Man". Although the single failed to reach the top 40, "Iron Man" remains one of Black Sabbath's most popular songs, as well as the bands highest charting US single until 1998's "Psycho Man".
Master of Reality and Volume 4 (1971–1973)
In February 1971, Black Sabbath returned to the studio to begin work on their third album. Following the chart success of Paranoid, the band were afforded more studio time, along with a "briefcase full of cash" to purchase drugs. "We were getting into coke, bigtime", Ward explained. "Uppers, downers, Quaaludes, whatever you like. It got to the stage where you come up with ideas and forget them, because you were just so out of it."
Production completed in April 1971, and in July the band released Master of Reality, just six months after the release of Paranoid. The album reached the top ten in both the US and UK, and was certified gold in less than two months, eventually receiving platinum certification in the 1980s. Master of Reality contained Black Sabbath's first acoustic songs, alongside fan favourites such as "Children of the Grave" and "Sweet Leaf". Critical response of the era was again unfavourable, with Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone dismissing Master of Reality as "naïve, simplistic, repetitive, absolute doggerel", although the very same magazine would later place the album at number 298 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, compiled in 2003.
Following the Master of Reality world tour in 1972, Black Sabbath took its first break in three years. As Bill Ward explained: "The band started to become very fatigued and very tired. We'd been on the road non-stop, year in and year out, constantly touring and recording. I think Master of Reality was kind of like the end of an era, the first three albums, and we decided to take our time with the next album."
In June 1972, the band reconvened in Los Angeles to begin work on their next album at the Record Plant. The recording process was plagued with problems, many due to substance abuse issues. While struggling to record the song "Cornucopia" after "sitting in the middle of the room, just doing drugs", Bill Ward was nearly fired from the band. "I hated the song, there were some patterns that were just... horrible" Ward said. "I nailed it in the end, but the reaction I got was the cold shoulder from everybody. It was like 'Well, just go home, you're not being of any use right now.' I felt like I'd blown it, I was about to get fired". The album was originally titled "Snowblind" after the song of the same name, which deals with cocaine abuse. The record company changed the title at the last minute to Black Sabbath, Vol 4, with Ward stating "There was no Volume 1, 2 or 3, so it's a pretty stupid title really".
Black Sabbath's Volume 4 was released in September 1972, and while critics of the era were again dismissive of the album, it achieved gold status in less than a month, and was the band's fourth consecutive release to sell a million copies in the US. With more time in the studio, Volume 4 saw the band starting to experiment with new textures, such as strings, piano, orchestration and multi-part songs. The song "Tomorrow's Dream" was released as a single - the band's first since Paranoid - but failed to chart. Following an extensive tour of the US, the band travelled to Australia for the first time in 1973, and later mainland Europe. Black Sabbath also appeared on England's Top of the Pops in 1973, sharing the stage with such diverse acts as Engelbert Humperdinck and Diana Ross.
Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage (1973–1976)
Following the Volume 4 world tour, Black Sabbath returned to Los Angeles to begin work on their next release. Pleased with the Volume 4 album, the band sought to recreate the recording atmosphere, and returned to the Record Plant studio in Los Angeles. With new musical innovations of the era, the band were surprised to find that the room they had used previously at the Record Plant was replaced by a "giant synthesiser". The band rented a house in Bel Air and began writing in the summer of 1973, but due in part to substance issues and fatigue, were unable to complete any songs. "Ideas weren't coming out the way they were on Volume 4 and we really got discontent" Iommi said. "Everybody was sitting there waiting for me to come up with something. I just couldn't think of anything. And if I didn't come up with anything, nobody would do anything.
After a month in Los Angeles with no results, the band opted to return to England, where they rented Clearwell Castle in The Forest of Dean. "We rehearsed in the dungeons and it was really creepy but it had some atmosphere, it conjured up things, and stuff started coming out again". While working in the dungeon, Iommi stumbled onto the main riff of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", which set the tone for the new material. Recorded at Morgan Studios in London by Mike Butcher and building off the stylistic changes introduced on Volume 4, new songs incorporated synthesisers, strings, and complex arrangements. Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman was brought in as a session player, appearing on "Sabbra Cadabra" .
In November 1973, Black Sabbath released the critically-acclaimed Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath. For the first time in their career, the band began to receive favourable reviews in the mainstream press, with Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone calling the album "an extraordinarily gripping affair", and "nothing less than a complete success". Later reviewers such as Allmusic's Ed Rivadavia cite the album as a "masterpiece, essential to any heavy metal collection," while also displaying "a newfound sense of finesse and maturity". The album marked the band's fifth consecutive platinum selling album in the US, reaching number four on the UK charts, and number eleven in the US. The band began a world tour in January 1974, which culminated at the California Jam festival in Ontario, California on April 6, 1974. Attracting over 200,000 fans, Black Sabbath appeared alongside such 70's pop giants as Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Deep Purple; Earth, Wind & Fire; Seals & Crofts; and The Eagles. Portions of the show were telecast on ABC Television in the US, exposing the band to a wider American audience. In 1974 the band shifted management, signing with notorious English manager Don Arden. The move caused a contractual dispute with Black Sabbath's former management, and while on stage in the US, Ozzy was handed a subpoena that led to two years of litigation.
Black Sabbath began work on their sixth album in February 1975, again in England at Morgan Studios in Willesden, this time with a decisive vision to differ the sound from Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath. "We could've continued and gone on and on, getting more technical, using orchestras and everything else which we didn't particularly want to. We took a look at ourselves, and we wanted to do a rock album - Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath wasn't a rock album, really." Produced by Black Sabbath and Mike Butcher, Sabotage was released in July 1975. Again the album initially saw favourable reviews, with Rolling Stone stating "Sabotage is not only Black Sabbath's best record since Paranoid, it might be their best ever", although later reviewers such as Allmusic noted that "the magical chemistry that made such albums as Paranoid and Volume 4 so special was beginning to disintegrate".
Sabotage reached the top 20 in both the US and the UK, but was the band's first release not to achieve platinum status in the US. Although the album's only single "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" failed to chart, Sabotage features fan favourites such as "Hole in the Sky", and "Symptom of the Universe". Black Sabbath toured in support of Sabotage with openers Kiss, but were forced to cut the tour short in November 1975, following a motorcycle accident in which Ozzy ruptured a muscle in his back. In December 1975, the band's record companies released a greatest hits record without input from the band, entitled We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll. The album charted throughout 1976, eventually selling two million copies in the US. [Wikipedia]
Black Sabbath, Convention Hall
August 5, 1975, Asbury, New Jersey
01. Killing Yourself To Live
02. Hole In The Sky
04. Symptom Of The Universe
05. War Pigs
01. Sabbra Cadabra
03. Iron Man
04. Orchid/Rock & Roll Doctor/Don't Start (Too Late)
05. Black Sabbath
06. Spiral Architect
07. Embryo/Children Of The Grave
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