The Secret Sabbath Songs: A Listener’s Guide

I first heard Black Sabbath at a friend’s house, sometime in 1978. I was 14 years old. That same year, I saw them get utterly destroyed by a young and hungry Van Halen, who opened for them on Sabbath’s ‘Never Say Die’ Tour. Behind the scenes, Ozzy had previously quit the Sabs, but was coaxed back to celebrate the band’s 10th Anniversary with one final album & tour. But somebody must have said ‘Die’, as for all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath as we knew them were over, seemingly the very moment I discovered them.

Although I started buying Sabbath records with 1980’s ‘Heaven and Hell’, I back-filled all of the Ozzy-era albums over the next few years. By the time I started collecting records, all of the Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums were into their umpteenth pressings, and so I unfortunately missed out on some neat features found only in the initial production runs: UK copies of ‘Black Sabbath’ originally shipped in a gatefold sleeve with a creepy poem lurking inside; ‘Master of Reality’ originally came in an embossed cover and included a full-color poster; the early run of ‘Volume IV’ was not only produced as a gatefold, but also had several pages of color pics bound within, like a book. By the early 1980s, none of these features were still in production.

Since I completed my Ozzy Sabbath collection in the pre-internet age, I had no idea that any of these earlier variants existed, until I found a gatefold copy of the debut at a flea market at the local mall. But the most mind-blowing revelation was finding a dilapidated copy of ‘Master of Reality’ at a used record store in Boston in the late 80s. The copy was sans poster, but the vinyl within sported the old khaki green Warner’s label. Cool. I examined those labels closely. What the—

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On those labels were titles of songs I had never seen before… ‘The Elegy’… ‘The Haunting’… ‘Step Up’… ‘Deathmask’…?? The room spun around me. Was this some kind of bootleg? Nope, the Warner’s logo was front & center. Did the original version of Master of Reality contain extra songs that had for some reason been removed from subsequent pressings?? Then, like a 5-pound sledgehammer: WERE THERE OZZY-ERA SABBATH SONGS THAT I HAD NEVER HEARD BEFORE???

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Well… kinda. Actually, no.

Follow me, if you will, as we ascend downward and backward, into the murky darkness of Black Sabbath’s early years, where we’ll attempt to unravel one of the greatest mysteries of their classic Ozzy-era catalog… We’ll explore musty and worn album covers, moldy old books and faded record labels for the keys to unlock the keys to the Sabbath Code… We’ll travel to that to that cursed and unholy place where Art meets Commerce in an eternal battle for our musical souls. Because it’s true what they say: the Devil is in the details.

Nerd Alert!

On their landmark 1970 debut, Black Sabbath put their live set down on tape as-is, almost completely live, including Iommi’s guitar solo showpiece. Parsing these recordings for a proper track listing was likely a bit problematic in such a free-flowing, jam-like presentation, particularly during the final third of the album. When the original European ‘Black Sabbath’ was released in Europe in February 1970, this arrangement was listed as just two songs: ‘Sleeping Village’ and ‘Warning’, with an extensive untitled guitar solo section occurring inside of ‘The Warning’; four months later, when the album was released in the US, the solo section was given a title: ‘A Bit of Finger’, and all three ‘songs’ were grouped together into one single 14-minute track.

If this was an attempt to clarify this convoluted cluster of music, it failed, because while ‘Finger’ is listed first, the album’s 14-minute climax actually begins with ‘Sleeping Village’. With the last guitar note from ‘Village’ still ringing, ‘Warning’ begins with bass and drums, with no clean break between the songs. Then at around the 7-minute mark, ‘Warning’ transitions into ‘A Bit of Finger’, Iommi’s 6-minute lead guitar showcase, after which the rhythm section re-enters at around 13:00, providing a brief musical bridge for the band to reprise ‘Warning’ and give it a proper ending. Exactly why ‘Finger’ appears first in the track list is a mystery. So, if not to clarify, why alter the track listing at all?

Side One features the same phenomenon: The UK version lists ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’ and ‘N.I.B.’ as two songs; the US version listed this music as four separate works combined into one track, adding something called ‘The Wasp’, and also gave Geezer Butler’s solo intro to ‘N.I.B.’ a clever title: ‘Bassically’. These changes to how this music was identified resulted in two songs becoming four. Again: Why were intros, and other sections of songs broken out and given their own titles for the US market, identifying them as distinct pieces of music?

Simple answer: Money. The Warner’s deal for the US afforded band an opportunity to negotiate a new publishing deal, and more songs = more publishing money, for both band and publisher. Bill Ward has himself once responded to an interview question regarding these titles by stating that the band needed a minimum of 10 songs per album to satisfy the requirements of their publishing agreement; Ward was likely referring to their US publishing deal, as each Sabbath album that had less than 10 titles listed on the UK version contained 10 or more titles when released in the US.

For confirmation that these ‘extra’ titles were added after the albums were recorded, one only need to check out the handwritten track notes on the original tape boxes for the Sab’s first three albums (reproduced in Sanctuary’s 2009 CD reissues), indicating that these titles were not in use during the recording sessions. So: Extra song titles were added to each of Sabbath’s first five US releases to satisfy a stateside publishing deal. Mystery solved?! Probably.

Now that we have surmised the origin of these phantom titles, nagging questions remain: Were these titles just conjured out of nothing and slapped onto record labels for mere monetary gain? Or are they connected to any of the music on these records in some way? We can only guess… Um, hold on a minute… Besides also appearing on early cassette or 8-track tape runs, these song titles actually DID appear in one other notable place…

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Hal Leonard Publishing, the music notation juggernaut, produced ‘easy guitar’ songbooks that were published concurrently with each of the Sab’s first five albums, and are still in print today. All of our phantom songs are included in these books, each of which provides ultimate confirmation of exactly where these musical mysteries reside. Where does ‘The Elegy’ end and ‘After Forever’ begin? Through the precise language of music notation, the Hal Leonard songbooks express these delineations explicitly, marking exactly where all of these ‘songs’ begin, end, and in some cases, reprise. While the titles and their sequencing on the early WB record labels provided clues, understanding exactly where these ‘songs’ reside is a futile exercise… Unless you can read music.

To save you the trouble of learning how to read music notation and/or spending fifteen bucks a pop on the HL songbooks, I’ve provided a rundown of Sabbath’s mystery songs, along with some pointers to understand exactly where and when they occur on each album. As you’ll see, some of these tags make perfect sense, while others seem quite random… the intro riff from ‘Lord of This World’ gets a title, but the intro riff from ‘Under the Sun’ doesn’t…? But again, the band only needed to choose two or three sections to name in order to reach that magic number of ten titles per record. Anyway, here we go:

I’ve already dissected ‘A Bit of Finger’, and ‘Bassically’ is pretty self-explanatory, but ‘The Wasp’ is a little tougher to nail down; Hal Leonard confirms that this piece of music acts as the intro to ‘Behind the Wall of Sleep’, it initially ends at the :32 mark and then kicks back in again at 2:30.

‘Luke’s Wall’ is the two-minute section that closes ‘War Pigs’. It starts at approx. 5:40 and ends the song by speeding up the tape to the point where this Black Sabbath masterpiece sounds like an Alvin and the Chipmunks song. Like, wow, man.

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‘Jack the Stripper’ is the intro to ‘Paranoid’ album-closer ‘Fairies Wear Boots’. It wraps up it’s initial appearance at about 1:10, where the drum break carries us into the classic ‘Fairies’ riff; it reprises again at around 3:30 and repeats its lead-in to the main song.

‘The Elegy’ is the section of music that introduces ‘After Forever’, coming in immediately after that ominous phased tape loop that bookends the song. ‘Elegy’ reprises several times within ‘Forever’, and early Warner’s pressings listed this grouping as ‘AFTER FOREVER (Including ‘THE ELEGY’)’.

‘The Haunting’ is nothing more than the ghostly edge-of-feedback bent note that soars and dives throughout the slow fade at the close of ‘Children of the Grave’. Ozzy whispering the song title as the section fades was undoubtedly the inspiration for the iconic sounds that signal the arrival of Jason in the Friday the 13th movies. I can’t be the first one who’s noticed that…

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‘Step Up’ is the riff that repeats for 30 seconds at the start of ‘Lord of This World’. It’s listed on the original solid green Warner Bros label as occurring before ‘Lord’ and its duration is time-stamped at :30, although it does appear again within the song, just after the chorus.

‘Death Mask’ is not only the greatest/heaviest muthafuckin’ riff of all time, but it’s also the intro to ‘Into the Void’. It’s likely that this was conceived as an song idea and given a title before it was attached to ‘Void’, as this segment was played live by itself as part of an extended jam inside an elongated ‘Wicked World’ in 1973 (See: ‘Live at Last’).

‘The Straightener’ is the instrumental section that quickly fades in and closes ‘Wheels of Confusion’ on the ‘Volume 4’ album.

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‘Every Day Comes And Goes’ is the section in ‘Under the Sun’ where the song breaks down into a new riff, at double speed. The vocals start with the line ‘Everyday just comes and goes/Life is one long overdose’ etc, before moving into some jazzy soloing from Iommi and solo bits for Ward.

‘You Think That I’m Crazy’ is tacked onto ‘Killing yourself to Live’ and occurs between 2:45 – 4:08 (ish); while ‘I Don’t Know If I’m Up Or Down’ kicks off directly after that and winds up the song. These two pieces were likely written separately (and perhaps even assigned titles?) and connected during the songwriting process. The recognition of these two ‘ghosts titles’ imposes some structure on this somewhat-meandering piece of music and reveals ‘Killing Yourself to Live’ as a 3-part suite. Mind = Blown.

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‘Prelude To A Project’ is the 45-second solo acoustic intro to ‘Spiral Architect’, the gorgeously epic finale to the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album. The ‘Crazy’, ‘Up or Down’, and ‘Prelude’ titles never made it onto any official release, not even on any of the record’s labels, and have only ever appeared in the official songbook from Hal Leonard in 1973.

So there you have it: we’ve cracked the Sabbath Code, solved a decades-old riddle and uncovered hidden dimensions in the understanding of Black Sabbath’s essential catalog. These troublesome titles have caused confusion and consternation among fans and collectors for decades– at least for those who were aware of their brief existence– but no more.

The inexplicable disappearance of these titles from subsequent US pressings, and the fact that these titles never appeared on any album covers (just on the labels) has made these ‘songs’ the stuff of legend and added to the dark mystique of early Black Sabbath. For you skeptics and/or agnostics who would prefer your Sabbath remain dark and mysterious, I will submit that I have not examined these titles for any secret messages, biblical codes or mathematical formulas… If anyone out there wants to take a crack at it, go for it. Let me know what you come up with. But please, be careful…

Legal Discliamer: This blog exists for infotainment purposes only. Consume at your own risk. In no event will we be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever arising from the summoning of demons, initiation of Armageddon, loss of soul, or insanity, arising out of, or in connection with, the use of this blog.

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(This article copyright 2019. All rights reserved. Not to be republished without the express permission of the copyright holder.)

Special Thanks to my bud Monte Conner for instigating, inspiring, and informing this article with his November 25, 2018 Facebook post about this phenomenon, and to all who contributed to the thread. Oh, and to Hal Leonard!

Satan, Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas!

When internet news sources began announcing that Satan would be releasing an album in September of this year, I was immediately interested. I thought, ‘great, now we’ll get to see what he’s really all about musically.’ After decades of collaborating with other artists, it was finally time for the Horned One to step out on his own and pursue his own unique artistic vision. But alas, the headlines actually referenced the NWOBHM band called Satan, and NOT The Father Of All Lies. So, no Beelzebub solo album after all. Damn it!

 
It’s a shame. Such was the impact of his work, that, in his own way, The Devil himself became one of the biggest rock starts of the 1970s. But Ol’ Scratch retired from the music biz in the early 80s, and opted to watch from the sidelines as his message devolved into shtick, leaving behind a void that was quickly filled by a seemingly endless parade of Venoms and Motleys and Slayers, all peddling phony evil and bogus damnation… What prompted his sudden departure from the world of Rock n’ Roll? My guess is that Satan retired from the music biz after the embarrassing failure of one of this most ambitious and creative projects: Writing backwards Rock and Roll lyrics with some of the biggest artists of the 70s.

 
The Devil’s plan was simple. He would find popular songwriters and record producers willing to collaborate with the Prince of Darkness. For the most part, Satan chose established artists and bands with ready access to large audiences and a track record of success on the radio. It was probably easy enough to find writing partners among the biggest stars of the era; the standard ‘deal with the devil’ was fairly commonplace, and if the promise of unlimited fame and fortune didn’t work, there was always the ‘strippers and blow’ approach. Satan would then insert Satanic ideas and messages into the artist’s songs, brainwash the masses into worshiping him forever, overthrow God, bring forth the Apocalypse, etc etc.

 
The true genius of Lucifer’s plan was his use of ‘phonetic reversal’, a key component in the theory of ‘reverse speech’. Satan subscribed to the idea that the subconscious mind will attempt to interpret messages in several different contexts, including by reversing information, and that the mind will be subliminally influenced by said messages because they are not perceived consciously and are therefore not subject to analysis and critical thinking processes available to the conscious mind. This idea finds little validation in hard science, and remains at best a grey area in the field of cognitive theory. However, this didn’t stop Satan from moving forward with the project in earnest. Science! BAH!

 
Crafting a lyric where Don Henley sings about rehab and also references Satanism when reversed by the brain is an enormous artistic achievement, if not Grammy-worthy. However, the Devil’s poetic voice lost much of its persuasive force in translation. Think about it: These lyrics needed to be meticulously constructed syllable-by-syllable; words and phrases carefully chosen and intricately placed so as to flow understandably forward and backward; each stanza containing not one but two ideas, each flowing simultaneously in opposite directions. This method carried with it some considerable vocabulary and grammatical limitations, and often left Satan’s message severely compromised.

 
Looking back at his best work decades later, it’s easy to see why Satan’s plot failed: The Devil had outsmarted himself. His message was hopelessly muddled by his process. What’s difficult to understand, however, is how these nonsensical statements actually caused such a stir; yes, they referenced the Devil; yes, they were placed in our kids’ favorite songs covertly, but… They sure don’t seem to add up to much. What follows are the top ten most-referenced instances of hidden Satanic messages found in Rock music during the 70s ‘Satanic Panic’ era. Everything gathered here is 100% pure Devilspeak; none of the intentional studio chicanery purposely created as a response to Satan’s poetic plot is included below. Now: Prepare to be underwhelmed by these Palindromes For the Damned:

 

AC/DC / ‘Highway to Hell’: I’m the law, my name is Lucifer, she belongs in hell.

 
It’s unclear exactly why AC/DC opted to work with Satan and his evil secret messages; a band with songs called ‘Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be,’ and ‘Hell’s Bells’ etc obviously doesn’t feel the need to hide their devilry. Indeed, AC/DC’s Angus Young commented on the hoo-hah surrounding ‘Highway’s hidden messages: “You didn’t need to play [the album] backwards, because we never hid [the messages]. We’d call an album ‘Highway To Hell’, there it was right in front of them.”

 
It’s also curious that Black Sabbath’s ‘N.I.B.’ contains the lyric ‘my name is Lucifer’ which plays out forward, while AC/DC’s ‘my name is Lucifer’ was inserted backwards. Neither song fills me with the urge to sacrifice goats or burn churches, so it’s unclear which method is more effective.

 
The Eagles / ‘Hotel California’: Yes, Satan organized his own religion.

 
This song was went to #1 in 1977 in the US, and became an international smash; the album from which it was pulled has sold 42 million copies. The song’s appearance on The Eagles Greatest Hits album ensured that record would be certified as the best selling album of the 20th century. All of this success, obviously orchestrated by the Devil himself as his part of the Eagles/Satan merger, guaranteed millions upon millions of ears would hear his message… And this is the best lyric he could muster?

 
Cheap Trick / ‘Gonna Raise Hell’: You know Satan holds the keys to the lock.

 
Rick Nielsen’s lyric concerns the Jonestown Massacre, and Satan uses the dark subject matter to craft this cryptic missive. Note the use of third person, which creates distance between the messenger and the message, while also revealing Satan to be a narcissistic, self-obsessed asshole.

 
Black Oak Arkansas / ‘When Electricity Came To Arkansas’: Satan Satan Satan, He is God, He is God, He is God.

 
Okay, okay, okay!

 
Queen / ‘Another One Bites the Dust’: It’s fun to smoke marijuana.

 
Beyond the Captain Obvious message, this one is notable for being inserted into a song about a hit man. A guy who kills people for money. A murderer. Did Satan even read the forward lyrics to any of these songs while working on them backwards?

 
Electric Light Orchestra / ‘Eldorado’: He is the nasty one. Christ, you’re infernal. It is said we’re dead men. Everyone who has the mark will live.

Styx / ‘Snowblind’: Satan move through our voice.

 
After being accused of inserting these Satanic messages into the title track of their 1974 album ‘Eldorado’, ELO included several intentionally backmasked messages on their next album, 1975’s ‘Face The Music’. Backwards messages were ‘found’ in ‘Snowblind’ as well, and Styx responded to the accusations of Satanic influence by placing backwards recordings on the follow-up ‘Killroy Was Here’.

 
Very funny, guys… Now can we get back to brainwashing millions of kids into doing the Devil’s bidding? Thanks.

 
Judas Priest / Better By You, Better Than Me’: Do it

Judas Priest / ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’: I took my life

 
One wonders if anyone ever checked the original Spooky Tooth version for backwards/forwards lyrics? Pro Tip: If you ever find yourself under the spell cast by the backwards instruction embedded in this song, and feel a desperate need to ‘do it’, I would suggest giving the Pink Fairies 1971 B-side ‘Do It’ a few spins, to… you know… Undo it.

 
And how ironic that, considering the tragic events forever connected to Priest’s version of ‘Better By You…’, that the ‘I took my life’ bit, from a song on the same album, wasn’t a major focus of that infamous 1990 court case.

 
Led Zeppelin / ‘Stairway to Heaven’: Oh here’s to my sweet Satan. He will give those with him 666. There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan. He will give you 666. Happy is the man who makes me sad whose power is Satan.

 
Jimmy Page’s flirtations with Black Magic, his association with Alistair Crowley and the ensuing fallout that his band and their associates suffered are well known. Thanks to Satan, the record would go on to sell 37 million copies, and currently sits in the #11 spot for biggest selling albums of all time. The album’s centerpiece, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, is widely considered the band’s greatest work, and Satan contributed some outstanding material to this grand collaboration. What it all means? How the fuck do I know. But the bit about the little tool shed is pure evil.

 
So: After studying his work for many… minutes, I can safely state that, while working in reverse, The Devil is no Bob Dylan. As a lyricist, he’s actually much closer to Ronnie James Dio. Let that sink in for a minute…

 
Lucifer’s backward poetry was often confused with backmasking, a process by which a sound or message is purposely recorded backward onto a track that is meant to be played forward, for aesthetic/artistic reasons or, later, for ironic effect. Again, BAH! His Satanic Majesty was always more poet than technician. And let’s remember that A&M’s Bob Garcia famously said ‘It must be the devil putting messages on the records because no one here knows how to do it’. Most folks regarded the phenomenon as hooey, deciding that what was being heard occurred completely by accident, but when artists began intentionally inserting humorous or ironic backwards phrases into their recordings as a response to accusations of Satanic influence, these actions confused the issue and lent a level credence to the allegations.

 
Regardless of the true origins of the messages, legislators and religious leaders declared that any words or lyrics that made sense when played backwards were a) placed there intentionally, and b) of Satanic origin and intent. As Satanic phraseology, both real and imagined, was gradually ‘discovered’ and exposed, it caused an uproar that included protests outside of record stores and concert venues, as well as organized record burnings. Books were written, so-called ‘experts’ lined up to appear on radio and TV talk shows, and ‘Satanic Influence in Rock Music’ was viewed as a legitimate area of public discussion and debate. Perhaps the most bizarre result of this Satanic panic was the introduction of legislation in Arkansas and California.

 
The California bill, H.R.6363 Phonograph Record Backward Masking Labeling Act of 1982/1983, was introduced on the Senate floor as a law that would prevent backmasking that ‘can manipulate our behavior without our knowledge or consent and turn us into disciples of the Antichrist’. Yep, that sentence is part of the Congressional record. A California State Assembly hearing was held, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was played backwards. None of the legislators present sprouted horns. The bill made the distribution of records with undeclared backmasking an invasion of privacy for which labels, distributors, and retailers could be sued; however, the only result of this law was that five DJs were fired for encouraging listeners to find backward messages in their record collections.

 
The Arkansas law passed unanimously in 1983, and referenced Satan’s work on records by Electric Light Orchestra, Queen and Styx, among others. The legislation mandated that records with backmasking include a warning sticker that read: ‘Warning: This record contains backward masking which may be perceptible at a subliminal level when the record is played forward.’ However, the bill was rejected by then-Governor Bill Clinton and ultimately defeated. Government action was also called for in the legislatures of Texas and in Canada.

 
Of course, all of this Lucifer-centric legislation was specific to ‘backmasking’, or material recorded backwards on purpose, and did not cover reverse phonetics, which could happen ‘accidentally’ or exist only in the mind of the listener. The Devil’s bad poetry emerged from the American legislative process unhindered. Fools! You cannot legislate against The King Ov Hell! However, as lawmakers no doubt believed they were saving the souls of a generation of young people from damnation, it was Satan’s bad grammar and sloppy syntax, along with the bogus theories of reverse phonetics, that saved countless innocent children from the never-ending torment of eternal Hellfire.

 
Halleluja!

Ramones Leave Home

January 23rd, 1977. Punk Poet Priestess Patti Smith trips over a stage monitor and falls 8 feet, breaking her leg. Smith cancels her next few dates, including a February 4th date opening for fellow New Yorkers Blue Oyster Cult at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island. A frantic search begins for a last-minute replacement to open the show; preferably a local NYC-area act.

It probably made sense on paper. Just a few weeks after releasing their second album, ‘Leave Home’, the Ramones had barely left home themselves, with only about 20 gigs outside of the Tri-Sate Area under their belts. Outside of New York, reactions to their music and their …presentation were mixed; while at home they were spearheading a music scene that would literally change the course of Rock and Roll. Such was the unprecedented nature of their act that venturing outside of their comfort zone of CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City proved troublesome, as their version of Rock n’ Roll was considered either too avant garde or just plain terrible. But this last minute fill-in gig with BOC on Long Island was close to home, everything will be fine, they said…

 
Turns out that it’s not just where you play, it’s also who you play with. Or for. Fans in attendance that night had no idea they were witnessing world-changing genius; here’s an eyewitness account from an online Blue Oyster Cult fan site:

 
“Ramones opened up the show and a near riot broke out in our section as a guy tried to advance towards the stage to throw a chair he had separated from the row. He was stopped but nearly everyone was shouting/cussing and giving the Ramones the middle finger, it was a crazy atmosphere during their set. The Ramones played music that none of us had listened to before, it was fast, loud and really short songs but the sound was really crappy and garbled. A guy in our row later told me it was “that fucking punk rock!”

 
Ah, yes, that fucking Punk Rock. The Ramones practically invented the genre, which had just begun the process of turning Rock music on its ear.

 
To promote ‘Leave Home’, Ramones management had decided that the band needed to do just that; to break out of NYC and tour the country. The band spent the rest of 1977 spreading their minimalist musical message headlining clubs and small theatres, concentrating almost exclusively on the East and West Coasts, where the Punk movement was having the most impact.

 

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A national tour promoting their third LP ‘Rocket to Russia’ at the start of 1978 with the Runaways was a step up, with the band playing slightly larger venues and proving that a ‘Punk’ tour could be a viable, money-making endeavor, lending credibility to the Punk movement in America. Fourth album ‘Road to Ruin’ was a deliberate attempt to get the band on the radio. But management felt that to truly break the band in America, Ramones needed to nab an opening slot with a major Hard Rock band… But who do you tour with when the music you’re playing seems to piss everyone outside of NYC right off? When the aesthetic you’re pioneering threatens the relevance of most of the arena-level bands of the day?

 
Since nobody was beating down the door at Ramones HQ with invitations to tour, the band’s management informed their booking agency, Premiere Talent, that it would take any available gig, and so a tour was assembled where the Ramones would either headlined a club or open for a more established act… Which resulted in some truly bizarro pairings, or truly memorable evenings, depending on your point of view. And so, before they became recognized as one of the most important bands of the Rock era, the Ramones bravely ventured outside the insular confines of NYC, and into the wider world of mainstream Hard Rock… where they were compatible with absolutely no one.

 
November 13, 1978: Omni Coliseum in Atlanta, GA w/Black Sabbath and Van Halen. It was the Sab’s 10th anniversary tour, and Van Halen’s first-ever world tour. Black Sabbath were trying their hardest not to say ‘Die’, but finding it hard with young upstarts VH blowing them off the stage every night. How both bands felt about The Ramones, with their machine gun attack of chainsaw bubblegum punk, hopping onto this date on the final leg of the tour, is unknown.

 
November 18, 1978: St Paul Arena, St Paul, MN w/Foreigner. Foreigner was riding high with their ‘Double Vision’ album sitting at #3, and ripping up Hard Rock radio with the ‘Hot Blooded’ and ‘Double Vision’ singles peaking at #3 & #4 respectively. Who better to open their gig in St. Paul than… The Ramones? A one-off fill-in set, much to the relief of the headliners, one may reasonably surmise.

 
December 1, 1978: Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino CA, w/Black Sabbath (Van Halen had dropped off the tour, as they could book their own arena gigs in the Cali area). Ramones hop on to Sabbath’s NSD tour once again. The local promoter of this concert advertised it in print ads, posters, and on local radio as “Punk Rock vs Heavy Metal”, getting it all wrong and exactly right simultaneously. The members of the Ramones actually felt their lives were in danger that night, and they were probably right.

 
Tour manager Monte Melnick says of that show: “Playing with Sabbath was dangerous. Their audience didn’t want to have anything to do with us. It was scary. It was bad.” Joey Ramone added: “We didn’t fit in. Our new booking agent thought it would expand our audience. The local promoter booked it like a battle of the bands. 20 minutes in and everything started coming at us. We were able to dodge it all, and no one got hurt, but we said fuck you and got off the stage.”

 
December 4, 1978: Long Beach Arena, Long Beach CA, w/Sabbath. A popular bootleg recording of the Ramones set from this, their third show on the Sabbath/VH tour, showcases the *ahem* ‘warm’ welcome the Ramones received during their brief opening sets. Where the audience can be heard during what little space there is between the songs, a rising level of hostility and impatience is apparent. At least they were able to complete their set. Barely.

 
December 5, 1978: Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, AZ. Their final show with the Sabs. Three of the remaining four Never Say Die shows were to take place in Texas… The Ramones wisely opted out of the remainder of the tour.

 

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December 28-31, 1978: Four more West Coast dates; two nights with The Tubes, one with Eddie Money, and one with Derringer. Happy New Year?!

 
January 26, 1979: Louisianna Civic, Lake Charles, LA. Some idiot booked The Ramones to open for Toto. Toto? Toto! Hit single ‘Hold the Line’ was sitting at #5 on the Billboard singles chart; what a great opportunity for the Ramones to widen their…. NOPE. Here’s what a Ramones fan had to say about the event on a Punk Rock message board:

 

“Three songs before the crowd had a chance to process what they were witnessing. Once they did, a wave of bottles, cups, shoes and other debris rained down on the band, which only caused them to play faster and louder. Johnny stood on a monitor yelling “F**K YOU!” at the bottle throwers and Joey flipped them the bird. Bobby Kimball, lead singer for Toto and a Lake Charles native, came out and profusely apologized to the crowd for having to endure such a ‘horrible band.’”

 
July 2, 1979: Canadian World Music Festival, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. With Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Johnny Winter, AC/DC, and Nazareth. I’ll let Johnny explain the debacle:

 
“We played on a bill with Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Johnny Winter, AC/DC, and Nazareth to a crowd of forty-six thousand people in Toronto… I saw the other bands we were playing with and I thought, “This isn’t gonna work.” I complained to Premier, our booking agency, about it, and they said, ‘We’ve been in the business a long time, we know what we’re doing’…”

 
“About five or six songs into the set, the whole crowd stood up, and I thought it had started to rain. Dee Dee thought the same thing, but they were throwing stuff at us – sandwiches, bottles, everything. Then, all of a sudden, I broke two strings on my guitar in one strum. I thought it was a sign from God to get off the stage, because I’d rarely break a string, maybe once a year. So I just walked to the front of the stage, stopped playing, and gave the audience the finger – with both hands. I stood there like that, flipping them off, with both hands out, and walked off. The rest of the band kept playing for another ten or fifteen seconds until they’d realized I was walking off, and then they did too. I wasn’t gonna stand there and be booed and have stuff thrown at us without retaliating in some way. We had to come off looking good somehow, and there was no good way to get out of that.”

 
Tour Manager Monte Melnick: “We were happy to be playing these big festivals, but as soon as they started playing, all this food and junk gets thrown onstage. It was horrible. They played an abbreviated set and walked off in a hail of sandwiches. It was depressing.”

 

ramones-canadian-world-music-festival-toronto-july-2-1979
 

Changing the world is dangerous business.

 
By the summer of ’79, fellow Bowery denizens Blondie topped the singles chart with ‘Heart of Glass’ and Talking Heads hit the Top 30 with ‘Take me to the River’… while the Ramones battled projectiles hurled by an angry mob of 46,000 stoned air guitarists. But Blondie had ‘gone disco’, and that Talking Heads song was a cover… The Ramones, however, never took the easy way out of the underground, as many of their fellow CBGB alumni did. Consider the courage and commitment it took for the these guys to present their act under these harsh circumstances.

 
The Ramones’ radically minimalist reinvention of Rock music made them critical darlings in the US (and conquering heroes in the UK) but in mainstream middle America, ‘that fucking Punk Rock’ was generally rejected as an obnoxious annoyance. And so the Ramones travails also illustrate the single-mindedness of the average 70’s rock fan; the same passionate rejection of the Ramones was levelled at Disco during the ‘Disco Sucks’ era. Peaceful coexistence was just not possible. But was the gulf between the Punks and the Hard Rockers really so wide? Hopping on to the Black Sabbath/Van Halen tour, where the band that invented Heavy Metal appeared with the group that was re-inventing it, may have seemed a bit misguided, but take a quick listen to both ‘Paranoid’ and ‘(I Wanna be) Sedated’ back to back and tell me what you think.

Re-master of Reality

AC/DC OFFICIAL NEWS ANNOUNCEMENT

BIGGEST ROCK BAND IN WORLD TO RETIRE ON TOP: AC/DC CALLS IT QUITS   January 28 2009

Hot on the heels of their most successful release ever, fifteenth studio album ‘Black Ice’ (Sony), Australian hard rock band AC/DC have decided to end the band after touring in support of what will now be their final record. The band feels strongly that it would be impossible to top the worldwide success of ‘Black Ice’, and would rather wind up their career on a high note. Despite the fact that Black Ice was released exclusively in physical formats, and only through Walmart in North America, ‘Black Ice’ peaked at No. 1 in 29 countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. The record shipped 6 million copies worldwide by December. “This is gonna be tough to beat,” says guitarist Angus Young. “You gotta know when to end it, right? This seems like a pretty good time to call it a day, before we embarrass ourselves!.” Expect AC/DC’s farewell tour to wrap up in 2010, after which the band will enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

AEROSMITH DISBANDS, CITES INABILITY TO WRITE SONGS WHILE SOBER   September 4th, 1986/Framingham, MA

Boston-based Hard Rock band AEROSMITH have announced they are disbanding. After attending rehabs and declaring themselves 100% sober, the band has discovered they are utterly incapable of writing Aerosmith music. Last year’s mediocre ‘Done With Mirrors’ was written while the band tried to appear sober; writing the next record completely without the aid of illicit substances has yielded disappointing results. Manager Tim Collins and Geffen Records A&R John Kalodner enlisted an army of ‘song doctors’ to help write a follow-up, but the band flatly rejected the idea. “Now that I’m straight all the time, I just don’t feel like a badass anymore. We just aren’t Aerosmith without the drugs”, said guitarist Joe Perry. “It’s been a great ride, but I guess it’s over,” added vocalist Steven Tyler. “We’re clean and sober now, but our mojo ain’t workin’. Consider us all on permanent vacation.”

BULLETIN: DATELINE 6 NOV 1978

KISS ANOUNCES RETIREMENT, FRANCHISE PLANS

Legendary theatrical rock group KISS will retire from writing and performing early next year, inside sources say. The infamous shock rock quartet plan to expand KISS-related activities in other avenues. All four band members have signed on to star in a Saturday morning children’s variety show called ‘The Rockin’ Adventures of KISS!’, which is slated to debut in June of next year on. KISS will also enter the franchise market, with different musicians from across the country donning the costumes and make-up, allowing different versions of KISS to operate in different regions (KISS Vegas, KISS LA, etc). KISS has also signed an agreement with Disney to present nightly KISS concerts using animatronic versions of KISS in both theme park locations. Says Gene Simmons, “While there will be no more KISS records, the brand will continue and expand. Because it’s all about the brand. And the fans, right. The brand and the fans.”

June 12 1984 Hollywood CA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: GUITARIST TONY IOMMI ANNOUNCES NEW GROUP ‘THE END’

Former Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has put together a new band, The End. “Doing my solo album (‘Seventh Star’) was great fun, but I want to get back to a band situation. I’m happy to be working with Geezer again, and excited to see what kind of music comes of it.” Joining Iommi in The End will be former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan and ex-ELO/Move drummer Bev Bevan. “Geezer and I talked about having Bill Ward in, but we thought the better of it. The record companies would probably try to slap the old Sabbath name on it, and after Ozzy died in that horrible plane incident, there will never be another Black Sabbath record. Besides, Bill’s in rehab.” The new group is planning an album for the spring of next year, tentatively titled ‘Born Again’.

BULLETIN / BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND DEC 18 1985

JUDAS PRIEST ABANDON NEW ALBUM SESSIONS, HALFORD ENTERS REHAB

Judas Priest lead vocalist Rob Halford has entered a rehab in Van Nuys, California to address an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs. A spokesman for the singer states that Halford ‘…has taken the steps necessary to get himself together and will return to the band early in the new year.’ This move has halted recording sessions for the follow-up to Priest’s highly successful ‘Defenders of the Faith’ album. The band began recording material for a double album, tentatively titled ‘Twin Turbos’, but bassist Ian Hill says the band will “probably scrap everything and start over when Rob is back.” Hill continued, “We’re going to take this time to reassess where we are right now. There’s a lot of change happening in heavy music right now, and we want to be sure not to get caught up in the current trends or fads or what have you. We have to stay true to ourselves and our fans, and make sure we are honoring what Priest is really all about.”

7 April 1998 Huddersfield, UK / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

STEVE HARRIS REPORTS: IRON MAIDEN GUITARIST SITUATION SORTED

JUST ANNOUNCED: Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers has decided to leave the band. In a statement released today, Gers stated “I had heard that Bruce (Dickinson) was coming back, everybody knew it would happen, but I wasn’t aware that they’d been talking to Adrian (Smith) as well. Maiden’s not a 3-guitar band, it’s a little much, isn’t it? I thought ‘If I step down, then it will be a proper reunion, won’t it?’ I don’t want to be the one standing in the way of that, you know.” Despite the fact that Gers’ tenure in the band included what some would say were Maiden’s weakest records, Harris has nothing but respect for the guitarist. Harris: “Janick feels he is doing the right thing, and we support him 100%. We thank him for the years he gave to Maiden and wish him all the best.” Harris has also dismisses claims that Gers was ‘forced out’ to accommodate Smith “Nonsense. I would have done with 3 guitars, ’cause it was a difficult situation and firing anybody wouldn’t have been right,  but Janick stepped up of his own accord and saved us from having to do that.”  Gers is reportedly planning to re-form White Spirit.

May the 13th, 1996/Via New Musical Express

Ex-Lizzy Man to Honor Mother’s Wishes; Lizzy-Without-Lynott Will Not Happen

American guitarist Scott Gorham wishes it to be known that he no longer intends ‘re-activate’ beloved rock group ‘Thin Lizzy’, as he had stated earlier this year in several music papers. Gorham’s change of heart comes soon after Philomena Lynott, the mother of Thin Lizzy frontman Phillip Lynott, made several public pleas for Gorham and fellow ex-Lizzy member John Sykes to “stop this madness before it starts”, and to “respect my son, who you have called your brother” (see NME March 26). Gorham reportedly met with Mrs. Lynott at her home in Howth some weeks ago, and finally made a public announcement yesterday. “We have all agreed to honor Philomena’s wishes.” said Gorham, during a short press conference on MTv UK. “She actually made us swear to it… We all took a vow and swore to let the legend of Thin Lizzy rest in peace.”

24 January 2010 HANOVER, GERMANY / FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SCORPIONS ANNOUNCE 3 FINAL ALBUMS AND 6 FAREWELL TOURS!

German hard rockers SCORPIONS have decided that their upcoming album, titled ‘Sting in the Tail’, will be their last. The band will then launch their final world tour to promote the album and to thank their loyal fans for supporting them for almost 50 years. SCORPIONS will then release another final album, called ‘Comeblack’, and embark on yet another farewell tour. This tour will be filmed for release on DVD, to be entitled ‘Get Your Sting’, and will showcase the SCORPIONS last-ever concert performances. Next up is another DVD, ‘Unplugged in Athens’, filmed on either the fifteenth or sixteenth leg of the band’s last tour ever. SCORPIONS final final album, to be called ‘Return to Forever’, will follow, followed by another string of final farewell world tours. SCORPIONS fans can expect the band to continue breaking up well into 2016, six years after first announcing their retirement.

September 1986, SOUNDS: “What’s Next for Purple People?”

After conquering the hard rock world with their one-off reunion album, ‘Perfect Strangers’, the members of Deep Purple are weighing their options. The first Deep Purple MkII album in 11 years went Top 20 in 9 countries, and has been certified Gold or Platinum in 6 countries, while the US leg of the Perfect Strangers tour was the 2nd highest-grossing tour of 1985. But no one seems to feel much like celebrating. “I have no idea what I’m going to do next, but I have to tell you I’m glad this Purple thing is finally over. Again.” The singer won’t confirm, but rumors of a post-show punch-up between Gillan and guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after their final Wembley show are circulating, and none of the other members are talking. Bassist Roger Glover: “Well, all I can say about that is there’s always been sort of a volatile chemistry within this band, and I think we were wise when we all agreed to limit this to one album. Anything more than that and it just wouldn’t work.” Jon Lord agrees. “Of course, I’m very proud of this album. We all are. But let’s leave it be, shall we? Time to move on to other things.”

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT October 31, 1986   Metallica HQ, San Rafael, CA

METALLICA BREAK UP AFTER TRAGIC LOSS OF BASS PLAYER

Following the tragic death of bassist Cliff Burton, the remaining members of pioneering thrash metal band Metallica have decided to call it quits. “Cliff is irreplaceable”, said drummer Lars Ulrich. “Trying to do so would be ridiculous. We’re going to what Zeppelin did; just end it. Honestly, we were running out of Dave Mustaine riffs anyway.” The pair plan to break the news to Kirk Hammett “pretty soon”. Ulrich plans to spend his free time learning how to play the drums. Frontman James Hetfield is rumored to be planning an as-yet-untitled 2-part country music concept album, centered around his gun collection. Dave Mustaine could not be reached for comment.

MUSICNEWS.COM: MAY 19 1996

VAN HALEN REVEAL IDENTITY OF NEW LEAD SINGER

The VAN HALEN NEWS DESK (http://www.vhnd.com) announced this morning that storied hard rockers VAN HALEN have hired a new lead singer. Despite rumors of auditioning several ‘big names’ over the past 5 months (Meatloaf, Iggy Pop, Regis Philbin, Elmer Fudd), the VH brothers have instead decided on a virtual unknown with no experience or ability, but with one important qualification: Malcom Van Halen is drummer Alex Van Halen’s son. On hiring his nephew, a professional photographer without any sort of musical track record, Eddie Van Halen remarked, “So what? He’s family. Besides, who cares? Roth sucked last time around and we still sold tickets. No one listens to this band for the vocals. And if Mal doesn’t work out, there’s always my nephew Aric.”

SQUATNEY, LONDON, UK

FOR ALL MEDIA-22/05/2016

HEAVY METAL LEGENDS SPINAL TAP TO RE-REUNITE, TOUR IMMINENT

Veteran British rockers SPINAL TAP have reunited once again. The band will launch a world tour on July 1st, weather permitting. The crowd-funded ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will feature the band’s ‘smallest production yet’, and each show will include the classic album ‘Shark Sandwich’ (Polymer, 1977) played in its entirety. Select shows ‘may’ ‘perhaps’ ‘possibly’ be recorded for a live album. The band are currently auditioning drummers (interested parties should contact eatonhoggprod@tap.com.uk, must be able to play the drums by July 1). Support on the ‘Where Are We Now?’ tour will be UFO and Blue Oyster Cult. #gofundyourself/taptour

 

Critics Bloody Critics (Part 2)

Let’s be fair. Sometimes critics just don’t fully understand what they are dealing with. Sometimes a band is so far ahead of their time, or so different from what came before, that a fair critical evaluation is difficult, if not impossible. And what do critics always do with something that they don’t understand? They hate it, of course. What do critics do with something that becomes hugely popular, despite their protestations? They try to kill it.

With Black Sabbath, they failed… although it would take decades before Sabbath were fully accepted by the mainstream. The Rolling Stone Record Guide tells an interesting story: In the 1979 edition of this venerable reference book, the review of Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ album received a lowly One Star. Ditto in the 1983 edition. In the 1992 edition, RS upgraded ‘Paranoid’ to 3.5 Stars. 2004: Five Stars. So it took RS 34 years to fully understand what we all knew in 1970.

Rolling Stone was the most widely-read and well-respected rock mags of the 70s. And they got Black Sabbath wrong four times on a row, trashing each Sabbath album from ‘Black Sabbath’ right through ‘Vol 4’. Robert Christgau, writer for The Village Voice, and self-proclaimed ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’, was another important journalist of the era who disparaged or dismissed Sabbath at every opportunity. The legendary Lester Bangs, whose work appeared in Rolling Stone and also in Creem, was also responsible for the first trashing of Sabbath in the American press: a scathing review of Sabbath’s debut. Journalists in the UK were no less abusive. So the biggest writers and publications in 70s music journalism all stepped up to disparage the Black Sabbath phenomenon. Of course, the widespread critical disdain of Black Sabbath did not destroy them; in fact, as we saw in Part I, it only made them stronger.

Now: A word about Grand Funk:

Before the mainstream the rock cognoscenti decided that Black Sabbath Must Be Destroyed, Grand Funk Railroad was their favorite whipping boy. GFR’s first 6 albums were all universally panned by critics; 8 of their first 9 went Top Ten in the U.S. The band also scored four Top Ten singles during 1973/74. Despite their enormous popularity, critics consistently dismissed the band and their music, attributing their success to ‘hype’, constantly referring to their music as ‘phony’, and generally unleashing the same level of vitriol and spite that they would visit upon Black Sabbath. In fact, writers often referenced GFR while beating up Sabbath, as we’ll see below, while we look back at how Sabbath’s first four albums were assessed by the more notable writers of the early 1970s…

BLACK SABBATH

black-sabbath-evil-woman-wicked-world-572084Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone: “Over across the tracks in the industrial side of Cream country lie unskilled laborers like Black Sabbath, which was hyped as a rockin’ ritual celebration of the Satanic mass or some such claptrap… The whole album is a shuck—despite the murky songtitles and some inane lyrics that sound like Vanilla Fudge paying doggerel tribute to Aleister Crowley… —just like Cream! But worse.”

Robert Christgau, The Village Voice: “The worst of the counterculture on a plastic platter–bullshit necromancy, drug-impaired reaction time, long solos, everything… I’ve been worried something like this was going to happen since the first time I saw a numerology column in an underground newspaper. C-“

556544ddc0e22_110247bPARANOID

Robert Christgau: “They do take heavy to undreamt-of extremes, and I suppose I could enjoy them as camp, like a horror movie–the title cut is definitely screamworthy. After all, their audience can’t take that Lucifer bit seriously, right? C-“

Nick Tosches, Rolling Stone, April, 1971: Tosches, a highly-respected writer, wrote a 1,500 word ‘review’ that mentions neither the band’s name nor the name of the record, or any of the songs on it, blatantly dismissing both the band and the album. If there’s a point to his critique, I suppose it can be found in his use of the term ‘bubblegum satanism’.

MASTER OF REALITY

Richard Green, New Musical Express, August 1971: “At last here it is, but don’t expect this one to win any awards. It is quite possible to play tracks at random and, with one or two exceptions, not be able to tell much difference… Sorry, lads, not this time.”

Mike Saunders, The Rag, September 1971: “Grand Funk has been the most important band in the land for the last year, which you’re probably aware of anyway. Grand Funk in concert are as big an attraction as the Beatles were in their heyday, and the truth is this: Grand Funk are the first SUPERGROUP, popularity-wise, America has ever had. Black Sabbath have been creeping up on Grand Funk, though… Well, what should one make of all this? Is it all just another sign of the decadence that seems to be everywhere these days?”

Lester Bangs, Rolling Stone, November, 1971: “The real question is whether Black Sabbath can grow and evolve, as a band like the MC5 has, so that there is a bit more variation in their sound from album to album. And that’s a question this group hasn’t answered yet.”

Black_Sabbath-_Children_of_the_GraveRobert Christgau: “As an increasingly regretful spearhead of the great Grand Funk switch, in which critics redefined GFR as a 1971 good old-fashioned rock and roll band even though I’ve never met a critic (myself included) who actually played the records, I feel entitled to put this in its place. Grand Funk is like an American white blues band of three years ago–dull. Black Sabbath is English–dull and decadent. I don’t care how many rebels and incipient groovies are buying. I don’t even care if the band members believe in their own Christian/satanist/liberal murk. This is a dim-witted, amoral exploitation. C-“

VOL 4

Lester Bangs emerged in June of 1972 as a full-fledged convert, vehemently supporting Sabbath’s music as well as their message. His extensive 2-part piece in CREEM is not only an intelligent and passionate analysis of the Sabbath phenom (Master of Reality was then at #8 in the US, pulling the two previous LPs back into the Hot 100 with it), but also one of the finest pieces of rock writing you or I will ever read.

http://www.ideologic.org/news/view/creem_bangs_sabbath_72_pt1

Bangs peeks behind the curtain of negative hype and busts several myths surrounding Sabbath. The legendary scribe even goes so far as to compare the lyrics in ‘War Pigs’ to those in Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’, in a bid to legitimize Sabbath’s oft-misunderstood lyrical stance. To stand tall among your peers and compare one of the most respected songwriters in all of rock music to one of the most hated and reviled bands ever took massive balls. Cheers to you, Lester Bangs. For the rest of Sabbath’s critics, however, it was still business as usual…

Tomorrow'sdreamTom Clark, Rolling Stone, December, 1972: “As the Sabs poured into ‘Wheels of Confusion’ like giant gobs of wet cement gushing from the heavens in the never-ending sameness of a taffy-pull performed by mutants…”

The rest of Clark’s review is jammed with more of this bizarre language and exaggerated hippie-speak, rendering the review impossible to comprehend or take seriously:

Ten-ton dogs snarled in the mouth of the volcano. Storms of liquid metal blasted their way into the soap factory. Soaring zoos, etc.”

Billboard Magazine, hardly able to hide their sarcasm, wrote: “The red kings of demon rock have gotten it together and gifted their adoring public with a long awaited fourth album. They have not disinterred any new musical pathways here, their sounds are, as always, immediately recognizable. Some nice titles include ‘Wheels of Confusion’, ‘St Vitus Dance’, and ‘Cornucopia’.”

Max Bell, Let It Rock, December 1972: “Despite Black Sabbath’s protestations that they have spent both a great deal of time and money on their latest album (earthshatteringly entitled Volume 4) the end product still manages to be a monumental bore. In the past, say the Sabbath, their discs have suffered from a lack of the above essentials and, as a result, they have failed to do themselves justice on record. I am inclined to think that even with unlimited resources they would be hard put to make a really good album. They just don’t have sufficient talent or musical direction.”

SABBATH BLOODY SABBATH

51b5997502db1_110247nBy 1973 and Sabbath’s fifth album, the shift in critical appraisal that Lester Bangs began the previous year had begun to take hold. It didn’t hurt that ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ displays a healthy level of maturity and subtlety, and the band was rewarded with their first positive mainstream reviews. Their detractors were still out there, but the tide was starting to turn…

Gordon Fletcher, Rolling Stone, February, 1974: “This record transcends third-generation rock in that it possesses a degree of internal intricacy that belies popular conceptions of heavy-metal… An extraordinarily gripping affair… Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath is nothing less than a complete success.”

SABOTAGE

Billy Altman, Rolling Stone, September, 1975: “Sabotage is not only Black Sabbath’s best record since Paranoid, it might be their best ever… Even with the usual themes of death, destruction and mental illness running throughout this album, the unleashed frenzy and raw energy they’ve returned to here comes like a breath of fresh air.”

So Black Sabbath survived all attempts to destroy them, and a gradual critical reappraisal had begun. You’d think that after all of this, by the time of Van Halen’s debut, the critics would have learned their lesson:

Richard Riegel, reviewing Van Halen’s debut, Creem 1978: “LET ME TELL you about dinosaurs. No, ‘dinosaurs’ may be too harsh a term, even if Van Halen-style rockers do find their evolutionary fulfillment in a quick extinction…. Van Halen. Big rock. Remember the names. Extinct is forever.”

Critics Bloody Critics (Part 1)

As Black Sabbath nears The End, few would argue their status as the most important Heavy Metal band of all time. The passage of time and several generations has seen the Sabbath Mythos grow in depth and stature, and the band (or brand), regardless of its current configuration, is being honored in the mainstream press with overwhelmingly positive reviews for both their ‘comeback’ album ’13’, and the band’s live performances on their current ‘The End’ tour. The Sabs are enjoying a well-deserved critical pass, as fans heap love, respect and appreciation on their heroes, and rock critics everywhere take their seats on the bandwagon. It’s as if the mainstream press are hosting Black Sabbath’s retirement party.

But Black Sabbath’s relationship with the music press was not always so accommodating. In fact, if we move from ‘The End’ back to the beginning, we find that the mainstream music press absolutely despised Black Sabbath, from Day One. Seriously; it was brutal.

Keith Altham wrote in the New Musical Express, 14 April 1973:

When it comes to obvious targets for critical assassinations, then Black Sabbath are sitting ducks very loud, very basic, very brash… What is it that most critics seem to find so objectionable about Black Sabbath music or, more positively, what is that they miss which is enjoyed by their thousands of fans?

To fully understand the extend of the disdain directed at this band in their earliest days, we need a little context. What was American popular culture like when Black Sabbath arrived on the scene?

America, at the close of the 1960s: The flower-power era is over. The era of Peace and Love has ended, and will soon give way to the cynicism and disillusion of the early 70s. The cultural backlash against the Hippie idealism and the ‘free society’ social experiments of the previous decade includes a preoccupation with the occult, which pervades all areas of popular culture; occult-themed horror movies, the zodiac and the beginnings of New Age mysticism, witchcraft, and a flirtation with Anton LeVay’s Church of Satanism. The counterculture has fallen to the dark side.

0Black Sabbath, with their dark lyrical imagery, menacing music, and apparent embrace of black magic, were the perfect band for the time, although this synergy wielded a double-edged sword: the band capitalized on the dark zeitgeist of the day, while the rock press blamed Black Sabbath for killing the hippie dream.

There is an element of truth to this theory, however. As Ozzy says in the book ‘Louder Than Hell’ by Wiederhorn & Turman:

When I was a kid, I was hungry. I had my ass hanging out of my pants. I hated the fucking world. When I heard the silly fucking words, “If you go to San Francisco, be sure to put a flower in your hair” I wanted to fucking strangle John Phillips [of the Mamas and the Papas]. I was sitting in the industrial town of Birmingham, England. My father was dying of asbestos from industrial pollution and I was an angry young punk.

The churning, grinding, smoke-belching steel mills of Birmingham were a long way from Haight/Ashbury. Sabbath and their music delivered a bleak, desperate message: The swingin’ Sixties are Dead; or, to quote Blue Oyster Cult, This Ain’t the Summer of Love. For the rock critics and journalists who lived and loved the music and culture of the 60’s, Black Sabbath just pissed in their Cheerios.

Context: Heavy Metal in general, which was only recently becoming recognized as a distinct genre, was constantly dismissed by the ‘straight’ rock press as ‘puerile’, ‘primitive’, or worse. Creem Magazine described it in its early stages as ‘music for young men without a war of their own.’ When Sabbath emerged, they were one of a very few bands tagged with the HM label, a label which the music press quickly turned into a derogatory term. Black Sabbath quickly became the whipping boy for an entire genre; a genre uniformly looked down upon by the mainstream media of the day. The ‘straight’ press often to referred to the average Heavy Metal fan of the day in caricature, as in this piece from Sounds in 1973:

A Sabbath fan is a youth who sees his future as just a long dark alley with a row of hoods lined up in the shadows on either side, waiting with knives. The only escape is to go to one of the band’s concerts, get wasted mindless and let a black, menacing wave crash over you for the evening.

1More Context: The high of choice at the dawn of the 1970s is actually a low. The use of psychedelics is on the wane; Downers are now the ‘in’ thing. Depressants like ‘reds’, Valium and Quaaludes, are where it’s at. I was amazed at the number of times Tuinal was mentioned in the many contemporary articles and reviews on Sabbath that I read to prep for this piece. Mike Saunders wrote in The Rag in 1971:

Black Sabbath are ten times cruder… (They) sing lyrics about Satan and death and evil, and attract the most strung out 16 year-old-reds-users audience of any group around.

Intentional or not, for some, Sabbath’s music was the aural equivalent of a handful of barbiturates, and the journos of the time applied adjectives like ‘plodding’ and ‘droning’ to describe the Sabbath sound ad nauseam. Bill Ward acknowledged the connection and defended the band against the ‘downer rock’ tag in Rolling Stone in ’71:

Most people live on a permanent down, but just aren’t aware of it. We’re trying to express it for people.

Strong elements of psychedelia are present in Sabbath’s early sound, and the down-tuned, dirge-like qualities of much of their music lent itself to the ‘downer’ stereotype thrown around by Sabbath’s critics at the time. ‘Heads’ were an instant and obvious audience for Sabbath’s music, and this made the band an easy target.

3Forty years ago, the young Sabs were not viewed by the press backward through the lens of four or five decades of rock and metal history, as they are today; rather they were a new band with a new sound, and could only be critically assessed against the bands of the day, particularly their ‘heavy’ contemporaries: Cream, Purple, Zeppelin, and Hendrix. When Sabbath first visited the U.S., they toured as an ill-fitting opening act for Cactus, Mountain, Canned Heat, Fleetwood Mac, Jehtro Tull, ELP, and Grand Funk Railroad, and later, headlining over Yes, Nazareth, Three Dog Night, Humble Pie, and Wild Turkey. Black Sabbath spawned a thousand imitators along the arc of their career, but in those early years, they were an anomaly; a band apart.

Sabbath’s first single, ‘Evil Woman’, failed to chart in any territory. While it reached #4 in the UK, the ‘Paranoid’ single peaked at a dismal #61 here in the States. ‘Iron Man’, released as a single in the U.S. only, actually charted higher, peaking at a still-lowly #51. In fact, Black Sabbath’s next 5 singles would all fail to chart anywhere. Each of the band’s first 5 albums, however, went Top Ten in the UK, and Top 40 in the U.S. Suffice to say Black Sabbath was not a ‘singles’ band, and did not need the support of mainstream rock radio to sell records. The fact that Sabbath was able to achieve such success while working outside of the established ‘system’ further confounded the Sabbath-haters, who were utterly incapable of grasping just what it was about this band that made then so successful.

There were some in the media who made note of the vehement bashing of Black Sabbath by the mainstream press. Here’s an excerpt from a piece called ‘Black Sabbath: Nobody But The Public Digs Sabbath’ by Keith Altham, from Record Mirror, 30 January 1971:

There would seem to be a lot of unnecessary resentment over Black Sabbath’s success in this business. And even outside it by those bastions of public musical taste who regard any kind of youthful success on an inflationary scale as some kind of obscene hype.

The word ‘resentment’ in Altham’s piece was well-chosen. By 1972, Black Sabbath were one of the biggest bands in the world. 1971’s ‘Master of Reality’ had shipped as a Gold record on advance orders alone. It reached #8 in the U.S. (#5 UK), and it’s success pulled both ‘Black Sabbath’ and ‘Paranoid’ back into the Hot 100. There was no ‘hit single’ associated with ‘MoR; both singles pulled from the album, ‘After Forever’ and ‘Children of the Grave’, failed to chart anywhere. ‘Vol 4’ went Gold in three weeks, and became their fourth consecutive platinum album. Radio did not support them, as most Rock stations in the U.S. at the time ran with a Top Forty-based format, and the ‘Paranoid’ single only reached #61. So how did Sabbath achieve this level of success, without the support of radio or the press? Critics just couldn’t figure it out, didn’t understand the Black Sabbath phenomenon, and so they resented the hell out of them for their success.

2Touring the States repeatedly (eight times in 16 months) was part of it, but perhaps an even bigger factor was word-of-mouth. Sabbath was regarded as a ‘people’s band’, meaning ‘regular people’ dug them but the critics just didn’t get it (Grand Funk Railroad was perhaps the first band to be assigned this title; more on them in Part II). This ‘outsider’ status was pivotal to Black Sabbath’s early success… and every time a critic published a piece about how terrible Black Sabbath was, their legions of fans just loved and supported them even more. Black Sabbath did not just succeed despite the constant critical drubbing; in part, they thrived because of it.

Perhaps a 17-year old David Harris of London’s Putney district said it best, when he responded to Keith Altham’s question about the consistent trashing of Black Sabbath in the music press in that 1973 NME article:

I read some of the musical papers and I’ve always thought they’ve had a rotten deal from the critics, because they are not playing for the benefit of reporters they’re playing to us.

 


(In Part 2, we’ll look at contemporary reviews of Sabbath’s first handful of records, 1970 – 1975. And I’ll explain that Grand Funk thing.)

 

Volume 50: The End is Nigh!

As I sit and write this, my 50th post for MayoNoise, the metallic corners of the internet are all a-buzz with the announcement that Black Sabbath will embark on their final world tour. This final trek has been officially dubbed ‘The End’, and it was announced via a striking advert that reads “THE FINAL TOUR BY THE GREATEST HEAVY METAL BAND OF ALL TIME”. Listed just under that pronouncement are the names OZZY OSBOURNE, TONY IOMMI, and GEEZER BUTLER. Bill Ward’s name is conspicuous in its absence.

If you read my blog, you know this already. You also know why Ward’s name isn’t on the poster. It’s early yet; maybe they will wrap the tour in Birmingham and have Ward play that set, or a short set at the end of the show(s)… Hopefully they will do the right thing; I sincerely hope everyone involved can find a way to do end Black Sabbath that will include Bill Ward. But regardless; Black Sabbath have announced ‘The End’, and after The End, for me, Metal is over.

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Two days previous to announcing ‘The End’, Lemmy ended a Motorhead set in Austin, Texas after just three songs, saying “I can’t do it” and walking off the stage. Cancelled gigs and postponed tours have become commonplace for Motorhead since 2013, when a plethora of health issues began to plague their fearless leader. Lemmy has stated that he’ll probably die on stage, and, looking back over the last 7 days, it looks like Lem meant what he said and said what he meant. As ever. “I don’t wanna live forever!” indeed. Still, how sad was it to see Lemmy, who turns 70 in December, hobble off stage, with the aid of a cane, after apologizing to the Texas crowd. Lemmy: We love you. Go home and take it easy. Job done.

Bruce Dickinson and Tony Iommi have had recent cancer scares; Malcom Young succumbed to dementia. Bun E. Carlos and Bill Ward have both had to watch their bands carry on without them due to diminished physical capabilities brought on by aging (and, in the case of Ward, likely compounded by years of substance abuse). Craig Gruber, AJ Pero, Allen Lanier, Trevor Bolder, and RJD… It’s as if the Grim Reaper stepped out of one of the gazillion album covers he adorns and began stalking our heroes, ending their lives and/or careers. Who will be the Figure in Black’s next Chosen One? Motorhead resumed the tour in St. Louis a few days after the Texas walk-off… but how much longer can he soldier on?

Ronnie James Dio’s death was a wake up call for me. I have been listening to Heavy Metal seriously since 1976. After forty years of music from these guys, you kind of get used to having them around. These bands and the people in them become part of your life. My favorite bands: AC/DC, Cheap Trick, Motorhead, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Rush… these bands have been with me for 4 decades. Like good friends, they have always been there when I needed them, during good times and bad. It’s a unique relationship; Metal fans are more passionate about their music and the musicians that make it than fans of any other genre of music. And with Dio’s passing, I realized that if The Man on the Silver Mountain could die, then all of my heroes were really just men; men who will grow old. Men who will eventually die. My Favorite Bands of All Time are dancing perilously close to the edge…

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Some of them are growing old gracefully: Rush are acknowledging that playing such physically demanding music gets tougher with the passage of each year, and are tailoring their final years to accommodate this reality. If ‘Clockwork Angels’ is the last Rush album, I’m ok with that. And how long can Iron Maiden continue to perform at their standard level of intensity? Their current strategy of staging shorter tours with longer breaks will buy them a few years, but cancer has already intervened once… As far as their current music, I don’t know what to make of IM’s latest 92-minute opus; it will probably take me the next five years to absorb it. Motorhead may now have no choice in the matter, but if they are in fact all done, they’ve left us with a real scorcher of an album in ‘Bad Magic’, with music full of piss and vinegar, and lyrics filled with thinly veiled goodbyes.

Now would be an excellent time to end it. I mean right now. Deep Purple’s ‘Now What?!’ album is one of their very best records, but the band are planning to do another. Don’t! End your 40+ year career on a high note! Don’t wind the band up with another ‘Bananas’! And I really don’t want to live in a world where a Cheap Trick album exists that does NOT include Bun E. Carlos on the drums. Their last record, ‘The Latest’, was strong; in fact, all of their albums since ‘going indie’ in 1996 have been strong… But a Bun-less CT album will be unwelcome in my home. AC/DC may have hung around for one album too many; ‘Black Ice’ broke records across the globe, but ‘Rock or Bust’ wasn’t quite the global phenomenon expected, and, while I like the album a lot, an AC/DC album without any contributions from Malcom Young needs to be considered carefully… Also, Angus Young, everybody’s favorite naughty schoolboy, is now 60 years old… Class Dismissed!

Lo, ‘The End’ will surely be the end. When the Pantheon of Old Gods is gone, who will be the New Gods? Slayer released a new album this week; just after a much-publicized spat between guitarist Kerry King and Mayhem Festival organizer Kevin Lyman. Lyman was bitching about low attendance during this year’s tour. While Lyman blamed the ‘metal scene’ in general, his issue was clearly with his aging headliners:

“The bands at the top all demand a certain level of fee to be on a tour. Unlike punk rock, metal never knows how to take a step back to move the whole scene forward…What happened was metal chased girls away because what happened was metal aged. Metal got gray, bald and fat.”

King came back with a statement calling Lyman’s remarks ‘business suicide’, and he was right: The 2015 Mayhem run was the last. But Lyman failed to acknowledge the lack of young bands developing into headliners over the past 20 years. During the eight year existence of his festival, which launched in 2008, the festival organizer soon found himself resorting to adding ‘older’ bands to key positions on the bill. Lyman wouldn’t have to resort to costly ‘grey, bald and fat’ bands if there were younger bands capable of filling arenas. When the old guard is gone, who’s gonna sell tickets?

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It saddens me to think that, in our lifetimes, we will live in a world with no Lemmy, no Alice Cooper or Ozzy, no Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Rob Halford… No Schenkers, no Youngs… No larger-than-life characters, no living legends, no more heroes. Of course we’ll still have Dave Grohl, but he’ll have no one to jam with! Slash, maybe? Kiss will still be around though. I’m willing to bet that Gene Simmons has been grooming his son Nick for years to take over as Bat Lizard 2.0. The inevitable reality TV show to find the next Starchild will surprise no one.

Most of my favorite bands originated in the 1970s. That they survived the MTV ’80s and the alternative ’90s is nothing short of a miracle. I am grateful that they’ve been able to continue their careers so far beyond their original expiration dates. Back in 1978, no one would have guessed that any of these bands would still be touring and releasing viable music in 2015. I value everything they have given us over the last three or four decades, both good and bad, and I truly wish it could go on forever, that all of my heroes were immortal. But when Sabbath reaches the end of ‘The End’, it will likely be 2017. By then, my friends, the glory days will be well and truly over. How perfect that the band that started it all will be the band that presides over the funeral services.