MIR­ROR MIR­ROR on the wall...

…what’s the great­est Sab­bath al­bum of them all? As Ozzy pre­pares to bow out (well, kinda), we dis­sect Black Sab­bath’s ex­per­i­men­tal mas­ter­piece, Sab­o­tage. As the band re­veal, it was an al­bum cre­ated in chaos. Words: Paul El­liot

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Black Sabbath -

April 6, 1974. In the warmth of an early evening in Cal­i­for­nia, with the sun still shin­ing, the four mem­bers of Black Sab­bath looked out at the big­gest au­di­ence they had ever seen. 300,000 peo­ple were massed at the On­tario Mo­tor Speed­way race­track, 35 miles from Los Angeles, to wit­ness the first Cal­i­for­nia Jam fes­ti­val, co-head­lined by Deep Pur­ple and ELP.

Sab­bath had flown in from Eng­land es­pe­cially for this one show. And, in a style be­fit­ting of their su­per­star sta­tus, they ar­rived at the site aboard a char­tered he­li­copter. As drum­mer Bill Ward re­calls to­day: “We were fly­ing high, high, high…”

On the huge stage, be­neath the arc of a steel-and-glass rain­bow, Sab­bath rolled out the heavy-hit­ting songs that had sold them mil­lions of al­bums: War Pigs, Chil­dren Of The Grave, Para­noid. Apart from the bare-chested Ward, the band favoured the flam­boy­ant cou­ture of the mon­eyed rock’n’roll star: Ozzy Os­bourne in pur­ple-tas­selled white jacket and out­sized moon­boots, bassist Geezer But­ler in sil­ver satin, gui­tarist Tony Iommi (mi­nus his trade­mark mous­tache) in blue silk fringed with white. Ozzy even spoke with a faux-US ac­cent as he ex­horted the crowd: “Let’s have a party!”

But af­ter the high of Cal­i­for­nia Jam, Black Sab­bath would come crash­ing down to earth. Ac­cord­ing to Geezer But­ler: “We hadn’t stopped tour­ing and record­ing for five years. We needed to go home and be­come nor­mal for a few weeks.”

But in the months that fol­lowed, Black Sab­bath would face a far greater prob­lem than mere fa­tigue. The band had de­cided to fire their man­ager. What re­sulted was a pro­tracted le­gal bat­tle, a bit­ter strug­gle that threat­ened to de­rail their ca­reer. It was a pe­riod that Geezer de­scribes as “to­tal chaos”.

But out of this chaos would come one of the great­est and most in­flu­en­tial al­bums in rock his­tory, and the last classic al­bum Black Sab­bath would make with Ozzy. Its ti­tle – a bleakly hu­mor­ous com­ment on the forces bear­ing down on the band – was Sab­o­tage.


It was in 1970 that Pa­trick Mee­han was ap­pointed man­ager of Black Sab­bath. The band had al­ready made sig­nif­i­cant progress by this point, un­der the guid­ance of their first man­ager, Jim Simp­son, a club pro­moter in Sab­bath’s na­tive Birm­ing­ham. Their first al­bum, Black Sab­bath, had reached the UK Top 10; their sec­ond, Para­noid, went to No.1. But as their pop­u­lar­ity rapidly es­ca­lated, there was a feel­ing within the band that Simp­son was a lit­tle out of his depth. In Ozzy’s opin­ion: “over­whelmed”.

En­ter Pa­trick, a for­mer as­sis­tant to the self­styled ‘Mr Big’ of rock’n’roll man­agers, Don Ar­den. The band were im­pressed by his global busi­ness

plan, sym­bol­ised by his com­pany’s name, World­wide Artists, and by his go-get­ter at­ti­tude. “Mee­han talked a good talk,” Tony said. Once in­stalled as Sab­bath’s man­ager, Pa­trick de­liv­ered on his prom­ises. “In the early days,” Tony said, “he re­ally got things go­ing. He’s the one who got us to Amer­ica.”

With Pa­trick at the helm, Sab­bath be­came an in­ter­na­tional suc­cess. The three al­bums that fol­lowed Para­noid – Mas­ter Of Re­al­ity in 1971, Vol.4 in 1972, Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath in 1973 – all hit the UK Top 10 and the US Top 20. By 1974 the band had all the trap­pings of suc­cess, the coun­try houses and flash cars.

But af­ter four years on a con­tin­ual cy­cle of tour­ing and record­ing, they were run­ning on empty. As Geezer says: “We wanted to take a break af­ter Tony col­lapsed with ex­haus­tion on the Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath tour. We were in Eng­land, hav­ing just re­turned from the tour, when our man­age­ment called us all and said we had to go back out to do the Cal­i­for­nia Jam. We said no, but we were even­tu­ally forced into do­ing it.”

More­over, Sab­bath had grown sus­pi­cious of Pa­trick. Ozzy com­plained: “He never gave you a straight answer when you asked how much dough you were mak­ing.” Geezer said, bluntly: “We felt we were be­ing ripped off.”

Shortly af­ter their re­turn from Cal­i­for­nia Jam, the band no­ti­fied Pa­trick of their de­ci­sion to end their con­tract with World­wide Artists. But Pa­trick was not go­ing to give up one of the big­gest rock bands in the world with­out a fight.

Such was the man­age­rial tur­moil sur­round­ing Black Sab­bath that it took them al­most a year to com­plete the record­ing of Sab­o­tage. Geezer But­ler sums up the band’s state of mind dur­ing this pe­riod in four words: “Con­cerned, tired, drunk, stoned.”

The al­bum was recorded at Mor­gan Stu­dios in Lon­don, a state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity where Sab­bath had made their pre­vi­ous al­bum, Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath. The band worked at Mor­gan for four months, split into three­week ses­sions. Mike Butcher had been the



en­gi­neer on Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath, and he was charged with pro­duc­ing Sab­o­tage. Mike re­calls that the ses­sions ran to a loose sched­ule. “I’d ar­rive at two in the af­ter­noon, but the band wouldn’t start show­ing up un­til four. And be­cause Mor­gan had a bar, that’s where the guys would wait for the oth­ers to ar­rive. Most days, we’d start at nine and go through ’til one or two the next morn­ing.”

Many hours were idled away in that bar, where Geezer spent one drunken evening play­ing darts with Rolling Stones drum­mer Char­lie Watts. “We called the dart­board ‘Bill’s beard’,” Geezer says, “be­cause the stuffing was com­ing out of it at the num­ber 3 mark.”

The drink­ing con­tin­ued in Mor­gan’s stu­dio rooms 3 and 4. The band also had a plen­ti­ful supply of co­caine and mar­i­juana: “Bags of the stuff,” says Mike. Dur­ing the ac­tual record­ing, how­ever, it was work all the way. “When it came to lay­ing track, my in­take of any­thing mind-al­ter­ing would di­min­ish some­what,” says Bill Ward, drily.

Mike re­calls there was only one oc­ca­sion dur­ing the ses­sions when work was im­peded by a band­mem­ber’s pen­chant for self­med­i­ca­tion. “Be­cause ev­ery­thing was recorded live, the band al­ways wanted Ozzy to sing along as they were track­ing,” he says. “But this one time, Ozzy was passed out drunk on the sofa, well out of it.”

Tony – iden­ti­fied by Mike as Sab­bath’s “un­of­fi­cial leader” – has stated that

Sab­o­tage was in part a re­ac­tion to the com­plex style of Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath, on which the band had com­bined their sig­na­ture heavy metal with el­e­ments of pro­gres­sive rock, aided by Yes key­board player Rick Wake­man and even an or­ches­tra. “We could’ve con­tin­ued get­ting more tech­ni­cal,” Tony said, “us­ing or­ches­tras and ev­ery­thing else. [But] we wanted to do a rock al­bum.”

Tony was also re­act­ing, on a deeper level, to the on­go­ing lit­i­ga­tion with Pa­trick

Mee­han. “We were in the stu­dio one day and in court or meet­ing with lawyers the next,” the gui­tarist said. And his anger and anx­i­ety fed into Sab­o­tage. “The sound was a bit harder than Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath,” Tony ex­plained. “My gui­tar sound was harder. That was brought on by all the ag­gra­va­tion we felt over all the busi­ness with man­age­ment and lawyers.”

Cer­tainly Tony’s heavy riff­ing is the dom­i­nant tone on the al­bum, not least on the song cho­sen as its opener, Hole In The Sky, which be­gins with the hum of am­pli­fiers set at max­i­mum vol­ume and a scream of ‘At­tack!’ The scream was an in­joke, de­liv­ered by Mike. “Sab­bath had a sup­port­ing act who had a man­ager who’d stand be­hind them on­stage shout­ing, ‘At­tack! At­tack!’” he re­calls. “So that’s what I shouted from the con­trol room through the Tan­noy.”

Even heav­ier was Symp­tom Of The Uni­verse, Sab­o­tage’s most fa­mous and in­flu­en­tial song. Its blud­geon­ing, stac­cato riff would pro­vide the tem­plate for count­less metal bands, but it was more than a one-note head­banger. It ended in a funky coda, cre­ated by the band jam­ming while record­ing the track and sub­se­quently over­dubbed with acous­tic gui­tar.

There were more left turns through­out the al­bum. Tony may have set out to make a more straight­for­ward rock record, but Sab­bath con­tin­ued the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion they started on Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath. And, iron­i­cally, it was Tony who cre­ated the most bizarre and un­ortho­dox song ever to fea­ture on a Black Sab­bath al­bum: Su­pertzar.

More at­mo­spheric even than the song that gave the band its name, Su­pertzar was a darkly dream­like piece fea­tur­ing the English Cham­ber Choir, and de­scribed by

Bill Ward as “a de­monic chant”. Tubu­lar bells, played by Bill, car­ried an echo of the 1973 movie chiller The Ex­or­cist. The only con­nec­tion to con­ven­tional rock mu­sic was Tony’s slow gui­tar riff, played like a death march. Ozzy had no part to play on Su­pertzar, but what he heard as he ob­served the song be­ing recorded was, in his words, “a noise like God con­duct­ing the sound­track to the end of the world”. Tony said, with char­ac­ter­is­tic re­serve, that “it sounded re­ally dif­fer­ent and re­ally great”.

In stark con­trast was Am I Go­ing In­sane (Ra­dio), es­sen­tially a pop song writ­ten by Ozzy on a Moog syn­the­siser, which he played on the fin­ished track. “Oz drove us all nuts with that Moog thing,” Ward re­calls, “but the song was great. And in hind­sight, it was kind of a pre­cur­sor for his solo ca­reer. His per­son­al­ity was bloom­ing on this song.”

The ‘Ra­dio’ in the ti­tle was rhyming slang: Ra­dio Rental – men­tal. Ozzy’s lyrics were “def­i­nitely au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal,” Geezer says.

Even bet­ter, and even more point­edly au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, were Ozzy’s lyrics for the al­bum’s heavy­weight fi­nal track, in which he poured scorn on Sab­bath’s tor­men­tor, Pa­trick Mee­han. ‘You bought and sold me with your ly­ing words,’ Ozzy sang, be­fore threat­en­ing a curse on his en­emy. The song was named The Writ, a ti­tle that was sug­gested by Mike Butcher af­ter Mee­han’s lawyers ar­rived unan­nounced at Mor­gan Stu­dios. “Some guy walked in and said, ‘Black Sab­bath?’” Mike re­calls. “And Tony said, ‘Yeah.’ The guy said,‘I have some­thing for you,’ and gave him a writ.”

Adding to the threat­en­ing vibe of The Writ was a sin­is­ter in­tro mix­ing laugh­ter and cries of an­guish. The laugh­ter was that of an Aus­tralian friend of Geezer’s. “He was a com­plete nut­ter,” the bassist says. “We in­vited him into the stu­dio when he was vis­it­ing Lon­don.”

The cries were those of a baby, recorded on an un­marked cas­sette tape that Mike found ly­ing on a con­sole at Mor­gan. When he played it at half speed, the baby’s cry­ing took on an eerie qual­ity. “It was so weird,” he says, “that it worked per­fectly for that track.” Mike never found out whose tape it was.

For Ozzy, writ­ing and singing the words to this song had a ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect. “A bit like see­ing a shrink,” he said. “All the anger I felt to­wards Mee­han came pour­ing out.”

And yet, for all the vit­riol in The Writ there was a note of hope, and de­fi­ance, in its clos­ing line: ‘Ev­ery­thing is gonna work out fine.’ And, in the short term at least, those words would ring true. Pa­trick Mee­han would not break Black Sab­bath. Ultimately, they would do that to them­selves.

In the spring of 1975, one month af­ter record­ing was fin­ished in Lon­don, Mike Butcher flew to New York to over­see the mix­ing and mas­ter­ing of Sab­o­tage. And it was here that the pro­ducer added, at the end of The Writ, a 31-sec­ond snip­pet of mu­sic he had recorded with­out the band’s knowl­edge. “Mi­cro­phones were plugged in all around the stu­dio,” Butcher ex­plains.

“So one night, when Ozzy and Bill were mess­ing around on the pi­ano, I pushed the record but­ton.”

What he’d cap­tured was a joke song named Blow On The Jug. “This stupid fuck­ing thing,” says Bill now. “A drunken song that Ozzy and me would sing to­gether in a van or on a plane. That’s me on pi­ano, and Ozzy blow­ing on one of those brown cider jugs, play­ing it like a tuba.”

Bill in­sists he had no idea that Blow On The Jug would end up on the al­bum. But for the out­fit he wore in the al­bum’s cover photo – black leather jacket and a pair of red

tights – he has no one to blame but him­self. “I had this old pair of jeans that were re­ally dirty,” he ex­plains, “so I bor­rowed my wife’s tights. And so that my bol­locks wouldn’t be show­ing un­der the tights, I also bor­rowed Ozzy’s un­der­pants, be­cause I had none.” Ozzy didn’t look much bet­ter, in tra­di­tional Ja­panese garb that led to him be­ing mocked as “the homo in the ki­mono”. It spoke vol­umes about where the band’s heads were at. “Chaos per­son­i­fied,” Geezer says bluntly.

Nev­er­the­less, when Sab­o­tage was re­leased on June 27, 1975 it was well re­ceived.

In the UK chart it peaked at No. 7, and al­though it made only No.28 in the US – a dis­ap­point­ment af­ter four con­sec­u­tive

Top 20 al­bums – it was highly praised by Rolling Stone mag­a­zine. “Sab­o­tage is not only Black Sab­bath’s best record since Para­noid, it might be their best ever,” stated re­viewer Billy Alt­man.

Billy noted “the usual themes of death, de­struc­tion and men­tal ill­ness run­ning through­out this al­bum”. But Geezer But­ler, Black Sab­bath’s prin­ci­pal lyri­cist, didn’t limit him­self on Sab­o­tage. In Symp­tom Of

The Uni­verse he ad­dressed the mean­ing of life. “The ti­tle was about love, fate and be­lief,” he ex­plains. “Love is the symp­tom that brings forth life. Death is the cure, but love never dies. I was very re­li­gious grow­ing up, and ev­ery­thing in my life seemed to be pre-planned.”



The­ol­ogy was also at the heart of Me­ga­lo­ma­nia, a night­mare vi­sion of drug­in­duced mad­ness. “It was based on a rare heroin ex­pe­ri­ence I had,” Geezer says. “I stayed up all night look­ing in the mir­ror: I was God, and my re­flec­tion was the Devil. It was the bat­tle of the two big­gest egos in the uni­verse. Un­for­tu­nately I don’t re­mem­ber the out­come.”

Geezer freely ad­mits that much of his writ­ing for Sab­o­tage was done while stoned out of his mind. But with the lyrics for Hole In The Sky he wrote with a pre­science that would prove chill­ingly ac­cu­rate. “The most prophetic lyrics I have ever writ­ten,” he says. “The West­ern world go­ing down in the East, a hole in the ozone layer, no fu­ture in cars. It seemed to me that ev­ery­thing east of Europe was be­com­ing a threat. Ja­pan was ris­ing in the busi­ness world, Chair­man Mao was build­ing up China, the Soviet Union was threat­en­ing nu­clear war, and the Mid­dle

East was in tur­moil as usual. At the time, oil was on ev­ery­one’s minds and petrol was be­ing ra­tioned.”

With Hole In The Sky, Geezer caught the mood of the times just as he’d done five years ear­lier with Sab­bath’s Viet­nam-era protest song War Pigs. But, as he says now: “I usu­ally tried to in­stil some hope into the bleaker im­ages of my lyrics. Grow­ing up in As­ton, I’d had my share of vi­o­lence and neg­a­tiv­ity. So I was a bit of a ‘peace and love, man’ bloke.”

And it was this sen­si­bil­ity, height­ened by a shared fond­ness for smok­ing dope, that held Black Sab­bath to­gether through this trou­bled pe­riod. “We were con­stantly stoned,” Geezer says, “so we were never con­fronta­tional to­wards each other. It was an ‘us against them’ at­ti­tude in the band. We re­lied on each other – there was no one else we could trust.”

bill be­lieves it was sheer force of will that got Sab­bath through the mak­ing of Sab­o­tage. “We’d taken some knocks,” he says, “but we car­ried on. It was a tough band.” Geezer re­mem­bers that “we were burned out by the time the al­bum was fin­ished”.

And by the end of 1975, Sab­bath re­alised just how much they had lost in their bat­tle with Pa­trick Mee­han. “We had to pay him off to get out of our con­tract,” Geezer says. “It cost us thou­sands of dol­lars of lawyers’ bills. And then we got a huge tax bill. The In­land Rev­enue didn’t sym­pa­thise with us. They blamed us for be­ing naïve. Most of our money went to lawyers and taxes.”

Rid of Pa­trick, the mem­bers of Sab­bath de­cided to man­age the band’s af­fairs them­selves. But com­mon sense pre­vailed when they ap­pointed Mark Forster to run the day-to-day busi­ness (iron­i­cally, Forster was a for­mer em­ployee of Pa­trick Mee­han).

And Sab­bath did carry on. In purely prag­matic terms, they had to. But af­ter Sab­o­tage they would never be the same again. The chaos that en­gulfed the band dur­ing the mak­ing of that al­bum would have a pro­found ef­fect on their lives. “It changed us,” Bill says. “I have no doubts about that.”

With­out a des­ig­nated man­ager to me­di­ate be­tween them, the band­mem­bers – tired, pissed off, drug-ad­dled and fi­nan­cially drained – be­gan slowly to drift apart. “The band,” Geezer re­veals, “was dis­in­te­grat­ing.”

In 1976 they hired Don Ar­den as their new man­ager, but there was lit­tle that

Don could do to save Black Sab­bath. The band’s 1976 al­bum Tech­ni­cal Ec­stasy was the be­gin­ning of a steep de­cline, both cre­atively and com­mer­cially. Fol­low­ing 1979’s weak Never Say Die!, Sab­bath fired Ozzy Os­bourne. The news did not come as a shock: Ozzy had al­ready quit the band twice in the years lead­ing up to his sack­ing. The strain that had been build­ing within the band ever since the mak­ing of Sab­o­tage had fi­nally reached break­ing point.

Al­though this al­bum car­ries mem­o­ries that would sooner be for­got­ten by the men who cre­ated it, there is a greater as­pect of its legacy. What Black Sab­bath cre­ated while they had their backs to the wall was a mas­ter­piece. Their first four al­bums hold mythic sta­tus as genre-defin­ing clas­sics. Sab­o­tage, as fear­lessly ex­per­i­men­tal as Sab­bath Bloody Sab­bath be­fore it, added an­other di­men­sion to Black Sab­bath’s mu­sic. Its power still runs deep to­day.

“That al­bum,” Bill Ward says, “it was so hard for us mak­ing it. But when I lis­ten back to it now… God, it’s in­cred­i­ble.”

“let’s have a party!’: ozzy at the cal­i­for­nia Jam, april 1974

geezer But­ler:Sab­o­tage’s chief lyri­cist

Black sab­bath in late 1974 (left to right): geezer But­ler, tony ‘where’s me ’tache?’ iommi, ozzy os­bourne, Bill ward

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