Thursday, April 23, 2020

Black Sabbath


In 1970, I shared a room with my brother. There would always be a record album leaning against the record cabinet. That was our "Now Playing" LP. It was the usual fare for the time, from Blood, Sweat and Tears to The Beatles, but there were those LPs that I just didn’t really get. Ten-year-olds get pop music; not necessarily The Mothers of Invention or King Crimson. Still, the Mothers were funny, and despite how frightening the cover for In the Court of the Crimson King may have been, the music was pretty and lilting.

Then came Black Sabbath. It just appeared one day, leaning there, the LP on the turntable, the green Warner Bros. label twirling round and round. No one was home. The needle was spinning on the inner groove, begging me to…

The album cover was scary enough, but then I heard the church bells ring. It was like watching The Day the Earth Stood Still; I was scared to death. Maybe my brother had run screaming from the room, but I listened all the way through. That was 50 years ago. I’m still afraid. I didn't go running from the room then. I don't go running from the room now, but the Sabbath debut maintains its sinister Hammer Horror appeal. It's like watching a truly scary film late at night.

Here we find the progenitor of Metal and Progressive rock and, amazingly, Black Sabbath was recorded over one 16-hour session, at a time when Brian Wilson had spent six months in the studio just to record "Good Vibrations." Guitarist, founder Tommi Iommi said, "We just went in the studio and did it in a day, we played our live set and that was it. We actually thought a whole day was quite a long time, then off we went the next day to play for £20 in Switzerland." Ozzy doesn’t thing it took that long: "Once we'd finished, we spent a couple of hours double-tracking some of the guitar and vocals, and that was that. Done. We were in the pub in time for last orders. It can't have taken any longer than twelve hours in total. That's how albums should be made, in my opinion."

The opening track, still my favorite on an LP that to me is really only about side one, was inspired by Holst's The Planets and the track known as "Mars." There is genius hidden in these tracks, but despite the eerie callings of the devil within, there is an obvious innocence in the band; a bunch of guys who love rock and roll, who love music, and who loved the music they were making. Oh, and the devel, it seems.

The Beach Boys were squeaky clean. The Beatles were the band you could play loudly in your room and your mother wouldn't scream, "Turn that down!" The Rolling Stones were the supposed "Bad Boys of Rock," but Sabbath is a very different kind of bad. I mean, we never heard from my brother again.

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