100 Greatest Songs of the 70’s #61 Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Released : 1970

Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi wasn’t much sold on the idea of his loss being everyone else’s gain when, whilst working in a sheet metal factory an industrial accident badly damaged two of his fingers. Credit then goes to his foreman, who in trying to console the heartbroken employee played him a Django Rheinhardt album, explaining that the Belgian’s genius picking was despite having a couple of badly injured digits himself.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Iommi then devised a new method of playing, an adaption which would create the fatter chords that along with down tuning would become key parts of Black Sabbath’s distinctive heavy metal signature. Throw in some manufactured controversy about witchcraft and it seemed here was yet more evidence that the utopian hippie dream of the 60’s was unraveling into the new decade’s nightmare.

Eager to consolidate the success of their eponymous debut album, the quartet – Iommi, drummer Bill Ward, bass Geezer Butler and former house breaker turned vocalist Ozzy Osbourne – went almost straight back into the studio to make Paranoid, the record which would turn them into (Very) unlikely household names on both sides of the Atlantic.

It’s title track however was thought of at the time as little more than a throwaway, a riff devised by Iommi in the studio whilst the rest of the group were out to lunch. When his band mates came back they laid down the rest in about as much time as it took to play it, the lyrics arriving later.

In the short term Paranoid was a record which flung Sabbath into a pop world they didn’t understand and whether by luck or design the attendant Salem schtick became a reaction to that. But theirs and the song’s musical legacy is so vast as to be almost incalculable, in turn progenitors of thrash and black metal, plus grunge and goth as well to name a handful of the many. Iommi’s misfortune undoubtedly changed the course of rock and roll’s history; The foreman remains unidentified.

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