Category: Paranoid

Paranoid deals chiefly with three subjects: depression, drugs, and social issues relevant to the day. Two songs out of eight don’t fit the pattern, those being “Iron Man” and “Planet Caravan.” The latter doesn’t fit any pattern established by the rest of Paranoid, and is a very odd duck amidst the heaviest album ever, coming right before the two most metal songs on here.

“Planet Caravan” is a quiet, ethereal dreamscape. Its’ lyrics speak of the moon, the skies, starlight, and even the planet/Greek god Mars, supposedly being about a journey through the universe with your loved one. The one pattern this sets up is metal artists having one quiet, subdued, or sensitive number on their albums. Black Sabbath was consistent, having “Solitude” on their next record Master of Reality, “Changes” on Vol. 4, and “Fluff” on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.  While I think metal musicians generally suffer from insecurity about the size of their male organs, a lack of a “Planet Caravan” track somewhere in their catalog seals the deal.

The peaceful calm of “Planet Caravan” only lasts a few minutes before it’s utterly shattered by the stomping inevitability of “Iron Man” in what’s one of the most famous riffs in all of rock and roll. But “Iron an” arguably isn’t the heaviest track on here. In my estimation, that honor goes to the opening song of the vinyl flip, “Electric Funeral.”

Loud, doomy and quivering, “Electric Funeral” has the same element of impending destruction “Iron Man” does so well. Like “War Pigs” does with war, it deals with the topic of nuclear holocaust through horrifying imagery. Musically, this is even more terror-inducing than their Satan opus “Black Sabbath.” It’s not enough to tip me over into actually believing this, but “Electric Funeral” makes a pretty strong case for some music (regardless of lyrics) being inherently evil.

It’s also an example of a motif that’s present in much of Black Sabbath’s early output; the heaviest songs are often the slowest. Heavy metal acts from the 80s onwards took the approach that faster is better, more notes equals more awesome.  Metallica in particular developed early on a hard-charging musical personality. For them, it came out of playing in L.A. clubs where no one was listening to them, so they decided to play louder and faster in order to get the crowd’s attention. More and more, I’m realizing that while fast songs translate anger better, slow songs have much more doom. Doom is the most dangerous weapon in the heavy metal arsenal.

hey, fairies DO wear boots!

I mentioned drugs as a subject of Paranoid, and it gets two songs as well. “Hand of Doom” is a fairly straightforward song about the dangers of hard drugs, particularly heroin. It’s long and meandering, featuring an extended solo in the middle that has Tony self-indulging, like “Warning” from the previous album. At the cap, there’s “Fairies Wear Boots,” a more subtle treatment of hallucinogens. The fabled story goes that Geezer wrote the lyrics to this after he and Ozzy encountered some skinheads wearing combat boots. Geezer mocks them in the song calling them “fairies.” BS had a tendency to sensationalize themselves, and I have a feeling the skinhead story is simply that. Even a cursory analysis of “Fairies Wear Boots” tells me it’s about drugs, particularly the last 3 lines. “So I went to the doctor to see what he could give me / He said ‘son, son, you’ve gone too far / ‘Cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do.’”

Two of my closest friends are practicing psychologists. One of the things in the shrink’s bag of tricks is the word association game. If a psychologist played that game with me and they said “Metal,” I would have to respond with “Paranoid.” Led Zeppelin are responsible for the genesis of the genre with II, but Black Sabbath wear the metal crown by having the single greatest and most influential statement in metal’s entire history, even to this day. Paranoid did 90% of the work that was started by II and brought it to full fruition by perfectly capturing what it means to be heavy metal, defining that term in a way that’s lasting through the ages. When musical scholars talk about heavy metal, they’re talking about Paranoid.

Paranoid – Black Sabbath – 9/18/1970

Things were barreling along for Black Sabbath since their first album. Black Sabbath didn’t do it for the critics at the time, but it sold well. The band was like lightning, and they did their best to capture that lightning in a bottle with their first two albums. They returned to the studio just a few months after Black Sabbath was released, and they again did a recording at hyper-speed. It was 6 days and Paranoid was ready for the presses.

In 3rd century BCE, the Macedonian author and war strategist Polyaenus wrote an account of Macedonian king Antigonus II Gontanas’ siege on the Greek city of Megara. Antigonus came with an impressive array of war elephants, but they failed because the Megarians outsmarted them by doing a simple but ingenious thing. When the fearsome elephants approached, the Megarians took several pigs, doused them with pitch and resin, lit them all on fire, and sent them out the city gates where they ran pell-mell, screaming and squealing. They ran right into the elephants. Instead of crushing the much smaller animals under their feet, the elephants panicked and fled in terror of the killer pigs, quite often killing the soldiers driving them. Antigonus had to admit that he had lost to a bunch of pigs.

This could be seen as the Little Guy (the Megarians) using pretty ingenious methods to overcome the Big Guy (the Macedonians) who was pushing him around. It’s kind of a cool underdog story, but what about the pigs? Any way you spin it, it pretty much sucks to be them.

From there we go to “War Pigs.” In Black Sabbath’s narrative, the “pigs” are reversed to mean politicians who carelessly and arrogantly send others off to die. BS must have been feeling the injustice of the powerful making unilateral decisions that have no effect on them, but a huge effect on the powerless. But the song was originally about witches and satanic rites, a darker but less sophisticated subject. The original lyrics can be heard on The Ozzman Cometh, a retrospective of Ozzy Osbourne’s solo career released in 1997.

Whereas their record company generally ignored them the first time around, they were slavering dogs for Paranoid. Executives paid it very close attention, meddling only a little in the scope of record companies’ involvement in the creative process. The album was originally supposed to be called War Pigs, but label bigwigs thought that would cause too much controversy about the ongoing Vietnam War. The band members had to be saying, “What’s wrong with controversy? It is about Vietnam!”

The title track comes next, though it almost didn’t exist. Near the end of the recording process, they found they didn’t quite have enough material. They also didn’t have a punchy, radio-friendly single, as the record company reminded them. Tony Iommi started playing a guitar riff, the rest of the band joined in, and Geezer penned lyrics on the spot. “It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom,” drummer Bill Ward explained.

Twenty or twenty five minutes to give birth to what is largely thought of to be one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time. In Finland, its name is even shouted out at concerts, regardless of who’s playing or what style of music is being performed. The riff is one of the easiest guitar licks to play, and the legacy of “Paranoid” has grown so that for nearly every young rock guitarist, this is one of the first songs they learn.

no, not THAT Iron Man… jeez

Amazingly, this album houses yet another iconic and uber-classic metal song, “Iron Man.” When Tony first played the riff for the rest of the band, Ozzy said it sounded “like a big iron bloke walking around.” Lyrics were again written on the fly in the studio, and recording of it couldn’t have taken that long. Again, this is foundational stuff for rock guitarists. In the movie School of Rock, Dewey Finn is introducing classical guitar prodigy Zack to the electric by playing him rock licks and seeing if he can copy them. And what’s the first riff Dewey plays for him? You guessed it.

Tomorrow: can music be evil?