I had an odd history with Black Sabbath. When I first became a music obsessive, my mother’s friend Mrs. Smith (name obscured to protect the guilty), a busty, hard drinking smoker, brought a hand full of albums over to the house. She said these were the records her kids were listening to and to be friendly she thought she’d bring some music over to share with me and I could record it to cassette tapes if I so desired. I have to applaud Mrs. Smith for doing that, she was a nice if a bit unstable woman. When I saw the records I couldn’t help but think, “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs Robinson?” I mean, I was 14 years old, all I thought about was sex and rock n roll and of course, more sex. And Mrs Smith sizable breasts were enough to be distracting…But, as usual I digress.
When I started sorting through this sudden windfall of vinyl, I realized it was all stuff I’d never heard of. My musical exploration was pretty nascent at the time. I was still a Stones, ZZ Top, bluesy rock kind of guy. The stack of records included Motorhead, Black Sabbath (‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ jumps out in my memory), and Judas Priest. This was all the current hard rock/heavy metal of the day. Just looking at the (at the time) frightening album art, I couldn’t help but think, “what the fuck is going on at the Smith house?” When I dropped the needle on “British Steel” and the music exploded out of the speakers, I thought I’d broken something on my stereo. I couldn’t help but imagine cigarette smoke filled rooms, loud screaming music and pagan sacrifices going on over there. I felt for the only time in my life, that perhaps I needed to start paying attention in mass on Sunday. Needless to say I quickly returned the Satanic musical collection to Mrs. Smith without taping any of it, which in retrospect is a shame.
Less than year later, I heard the song “Neon Nights” on the radio. Ah, I do long for those days when you could turn on a radio station like KY/102 in Kansas City and actually hear the latest in great rock n’ roll. Obviously “Neon Nights” was not the Ozzy version of Black Sabbath but the Ronnie James Dio fronted version of the band. I didn’t know Sabbath, Dio or Ozzy from Adam, as the saying goes, even though only months prior the boozy, Satanic Mrs. Smith had brought a couple of their albums to the house. I’d pretty much repressed that weird afternoon. Well, except the low cut blouse Mrs. Smith was wearing… paging Dr Freud.
I immediately ran out and bought Black Sabbath’s LP, ‘Heaven And Hell’ and absolutely loved it. I even loved the album art, a picture of angels playing poker and smoking like Mrs. Smith… Hmmm, I sense a pattern. I played the heck out of that classic LP. The fact that it scared my parents made it all the better. As far as I knew this new Black Sabbath was the only Black Sabbath. I had no idea that for years Ozzy Osbourne had been the front man of Sabbath or that he’d either quit or been fired for substance abuse. The now famous story of Ozzy languishing in a filthy LA hotel room until Sharon Arden (soon to be Osbourne) showed up to resurrect his career was something I’d never heard.
About six months after ‘Heaven And Hell’ came out, I was over at my friend Matthew’s house drinking a few afternoon beers while he burned some local herbs for medicinal purposes and he pulled out a new LP he’d purchased by this Ozzy guy, ‘Blizzard of Ozz.’ I had no idea who this Ozzy was but I loved the guitar work on this album. I’d heard “Crazy Train” on the radio, you couldn’t escape that tune, and I liked it, but the album was even better. “Mr. Crowley” was an immediate favorite. “I Don’t Know,” the opening track hooked me right away. I quickly grabbed the liner notes and read that the lead guitarist, who wrote the music was Randy Rhoads. Unlike Iommi, who was all riffs with the enormous solo interlude, Randy played like Eddie Van Halen, the man is all over the fret board. Those two, Eddie and Randy, created the blueprint for the rest of 80s metal bands. A charismatic lead singer and a speed merchant guitarist were all the parts you needed to be successful. Many emulated that sound but few got it down the way these guys did. Ozzy and Randy Rhoads were a match made in 80s Metal Heaven. I can’t explain the excitement of hearing Randy play for the first time. Something exploded in my temple. My world had been changed, the axis had altered.
‘Blizzard of Ozz’ is a must have LP for any metal enthusiast. I remember that afternoon at Matthew’s house reading the lyrics for “No Bone Movies” which is actually a condemnation of porn, something you don’t think you’d hear in 80s metal. “Suicide Solution” was about the death of the great, great Bon Scott by drinking misadventure, and not the call to kill yourself the small-minded Religious Right tried to label it. The band actually had some deep lyrics to go with the magic guitar work. ‘Blizzard’ is a stone cold classic and I immediately committed it to a cassette tape that Matthew gave me and played it in my car until the tape broke.
My first vinyl Ozzy purchase, was the follow-up LP, ‘Diary of a Madman.’ Often times great bands struggle on their second LP, the famous “sophomore slump.” Not so with Ozzy and Randy. In many ways I like ‘Diary’ better than ‘Blizzard.’ The first two tracks, “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” rank amongst my favorite songs ever. When Ozzy sings, “mama’s gonna worry, I’ve been a bad, bad boy, no use saying sorry, it’s something that I enjoy,” he completely summed up my teenage years. Many people have purchased ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ but to truly understand this band, you have to have ‘Diary of a Madman.’ The title track, “Believer” and “S.A.T.O.” are all on my desert island metal list. The centerpiece of the album for me was “You Can’t Kill Rock N Roll.” It’s a determined statement of purpose and as a budding young rock enthusiast, it became my National Anthem. Unfortunately, that song’s title proved untrue. While on tour in support of ‘Diary’ Randy Rhoads was killed in an airplane crash misadventure. One of the truly gifted rock guitarists stolen away at the tender age of 26. He didn’t even make it to the 27 Club.
At that point, I feared the Ozzy/Randy partnership had ended and we’d hear no more from that great combination. Not so! Years later Ozzy released the fabulous live album ‘Tribute’ which features live recordings of Randy Rhoads and the rest of his ‘Blizzard’/’Diary’ era band. To the amazing selection of tunes on the Ozzy/Randy LPs, the band does fantastic versions of the Ozzy Sabbath tunes “Paranoid” and “Children of the Grave,” the latter of which may be the definitive version of that song. This album stands as a living testament to the truly symbiotic nature of Randy’s guitar and Ozzy’s vocals. This is not only one of Ozzy’s best albums, it’s one of the best live albums ever, by anyone. It gets a high recommendation from BourbonAndVinyl.
If you’re like me, and Spring Fever has started to set in, the only thing that will cure it is heavy metal. If you needs some good, vintage, 80s, Heavy Metal look no further than these three albums. If Ozzy had given up recording after the untimely death of Randy Rhoads, these three albums would still encompass what would be considered an amazing career. Luckily Ozzy kept going. The guy has an eye for guitar talent almost unrivaled. He recorded with Jake E Lee, Zakk Wylde, and as has been recently reported Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame. That should be interesting. Many think of Ozzy as a daft, old, reality TV star. These albums remind us of what a true force of nature he once was… with Randy at his side, he could do no wrong… well except that whole plane crash thing… (too soon?)
Turn it up loud, and as always, Cheers!