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.)

 

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Legacy of a Madman

Plenty has been written about Sharon Osbourne and what a detestable witch she is; here’s a few more sentences: Sharon Osbourne is the Devil. She is a corruptor of careers, poisoning every artist and all the art that she touches, manipulating and distorting their histories and legacies, and can only be described as Evil. This petty, vengeful shrew has made heroes into villains, stolen glory from the gifted, and turned her own husband into a clown. The amount of damage to the world of Hard Rock and Metal that this woman has done is epic, and in my eyes makes her the musical equivalent of Hitler or Stalin.

Thanks for letting me get that out of the way. Anyone who wants further detail about the exploits of the most hated woman in music since Yoko Ono should read Bob Daisley’s excellent book ‘For Fact’s Sake’, which focuses in incredible detail on the years he worked with the Osbournes. For now, I’m going to try to focus my lens on just one single bit of debris left in Sharon’s wake: Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Diary of a Madman’ LP. An amazing, important album, this record turned the tables on the Ozzy vs. Sabbath debate and set His Ozzness on a course to superstardom. But within this single album and its convoluted history lies enough evidence of her withering touch to condemn her for all eternity. Read on.

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After Ozzy was fired from Black Sabbath in 1979, he (or rather, his handlers) formed a band. Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake, Bob Daisley and Ozzy himself all felt that it was a true ‘band’, not a solo project, and they named the band ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. They agreed that having ‘Ozz’ in the band’s name was concession enough to their high-profile lead singer. Even their label, Jet Records, produced promo material using the band name ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. On the band’s debut album, however, the title and logos present the album title as ‘Blizzard of Ozz’, and the artist’s name as ‘Ozzy Osbourne’. (In some territories, the album was released without ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ on the cover at all.) Right out of the gate Ozzy was being represented as a solo act, thus diminishing the contributions of the other band members. For their follow-up album, ‘Diary of a Madman’, the name ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ is nowhere to be found.

Here’s were things get really ugly. Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley were both fired from Ozzy’s band (by Sharon, not by Ozzy) soon after the recording sessions for ‘Diary’ were completed. The pair had done the unthinkable: question management. Months later, DoaM was released, with an inner sleeve that included a picture of Ozzy’s new ‘band,’ and what one would assume are performance credits, including ‘Rudy Sarzo – Bass’ and ‘Tommy Aldridge – Drums’. The script above the band pic is written in the Theban alphabet, and reads, ‘The Ozzy Osbourne Band’. Back in pre-internet 1981, it took a while for the truth to leak into the rock press, but eventually it was revealed that DoaM was recorded by the same line-up of musicians that recorded ‘Blizzard of Ozz’. Bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake are credited in the sleeve notes as songwriters, but not listed anywhere as contributing musicians… Johnny Cook, who played all of the keyboards on the album, is also uncredited.

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(Side Note: Rudy Sarzo’s early career has always baffled me. He was in Quiet Riot with Randy Rhoads before DoaM, which explains how he got the Oz gig… But while his picture is on the cover of the second QR album, and he is credited in the notes with playing bass on the record, he didn’t. So the first two records Sarzo’s discography credit him as the bass player and feature his picture in the album art, but neither record features his actual bass playing. So the basis of this guy’s considerable reputation is his being credited with the bass tracks on two albums that he had nothing to do with? Awesome.)

And thus began the epic legal battles undertaken by Daisley and Kerslake. I won’t go into them all here; but I will mention that in 1986, Daisley & Kerslake settled one suit filed against Don Arden, owner of Jet Records, for unpaid royalties and proper accreditation for his work on DoaM. Oh, and did I mention that Don Arden is Sharon Arden’s father; Sharon Arden managed Ozzy’s band, and would become Sharon Osbourne in 1982. This twisted triangle set the stage for the dirty dealings detailed in Daisley’s book. So: if you’re Ozzy Osbourne, your wife is you manager, and your father in-law holds your recording contract. Your manager and your label are screwing your band, and you yourself are screwing your manager. What do you do? Nothing, because you’re Ozzy Osbourne, clueless idiot.

The years rolled on, and, despite their settlement with Arden, Daisley & Kerslake never saw any performance royalties from The Blizzard’s first two albums. Daisley continued to collaborate with Ozzy as a bassist, lyricist and songwriter through 1991’s ‘No More Tears’ album, although the unpaid royalties and performance credit issues resulting from his work on DoaM remained unresolved. The first two Blizzard records were re-mastered and re-released in 1995, almost a decade after their settlement with Arden. With new versions of these now-classic albums were hitting the stores, Daisley & Kerslake beleived that they would finally see themselves properly credited for their contributions to both albums… Nope. The credits on these new versions read “Drums – Tommy Aldridge” and “Bass – Rudy Sarzo”. Still no money; still no credit. Arden’s settlement had been a complete sham. The lie that had been perpetuated for a decade had been re-told to a new generation of rock fans.

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Refusing to give up the fight to be credited and paid for his work, Daisley responded with more legal action. The bassist eventually became such a fly in Sharon’s ointment that she famously had the Blizzard’s first 2 albums deleted, and in 2002, reissued them with Daisley and Kerslake’s performances erased and replaced with new tracks played by Rob Trujillo and Mike Bordin. Daisley and Kerslake would no longer be able to claim performance royalties on this new version of the album. This move might very well be viewed as the biggest ‘Fuck You’ in the history of rock music. The notes on the back of these CDs, unattributed to anyone specific, say that the new tracks give the albums ‘a fresh sound’… Bullshit. Both players copy every note played on the original records exactly. Great pains were taken to capture the same sounds as those on the original versions. Good job, guys.

(Side Note: Mike Bordin? Fine drummer. Rob Trujillo? Fine bassist. I do question, however, their professional ethics. I’m sure they made a pretty penny recording these tracks, but I’ve no doubt they were aware of exactly what they were contributing to: the bastardization of a classic album, and their aiding and abetting of Mrs. Ozz in the ultimate insult to a fellow musician. Shitty.)

Ozzy has said that he had nothing to do with this decision, that it was all Sharon; Sharon has said that it was solely Ozzy’s decision. Based on the Ozzy we watched on the TV show ‘The Osbournes’, the most challenging decision Ozzy was capable of making in 2002 was which cereal to eat for breakfast, so I’m thinking that the decision to replace those tracks was Sharon’s. Ultimately, after several years of sleepless nights, wracked by guilt, a deeply ashamed Sharon Osbourne finally had Daisley and Kerslake’s tracks restored to DoaM, just in time for the record’s 30th anniversary. We can be sure that her decision had nothing at all to do with the years of vociferous fan backlash, abysmal press and weak sales figures that resulted from her bogus 2002 version… Well, at least this version would be another chance to get the credits right and restore this classic album to its proper form and standing. Just Kidding!!!

The 30th Anniversary Legacy Edition of ‘Diary of a Madman’ includes no performance credits at all for the DoaM album which comprises Disc One, not even for Ozzy and Randy’s contributions. The 2nd disc, which features a live show from 1981, is properly accredited to Ozzy, Randy Rhoads, Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge. These credits are placed in the CD booklet after the info for Disc Two, creating the impression that these four musicians were responsible for the music on both discs. Intentional? You betcha. It shouldn’t be a surprise at this point to learn that none of the pictures used to illustrate the booklet feature Daisley or Kerslake; in fact, in some instances, their likenesses have been awkwardly photoshopped out of some pics that are probably familiar to many fans.

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The 30th Anniversary Boxed Set included both the ‘Blizzard’ and ‘Diary’ albums, and also came with a DVD called ‘Thirty Years After the Blizzard’. It purports to be a documentary on the making of the ‘Blizzard’ & ‘Diary’ albums, although, by avoiding any mention of Daisley and Kerslake, its presentation is skewed to say the least. It’s the Ozzy and Randy Show, and it paints a picture of two gifted musicians coming together and making magic. Ironic, because Ozzy himself has said that he had little input into these albums beyond contributing vocal melodies, as at the time of their recording, he was a complete mental and physical train wreck. While there is some classic RR footage to be found here, along with several touching moments featuring Ozzy reminiscing about working with Rhoads, leaving one half of the band/songwriters/performers (including the album’s primary lyricist) out of the picture does history a grave disservice.

‘Diary of a Madman’ has had 4 major releases on Compact Disc: 1987, 1995, 2002 & 2011. Only the bastardized 2002 version contains the proper performance accreditation. The casual fan would have no idea which version of this album they were buying from iTunes, because most mp3s don’t come with credits or liner notes attached. If you hear ‘I Don’t Know’ or Flying High Again’ on the radio today, do you know who you are listening to? DoaM has sold over three million copies since it’s release. Three million lies, told again and again, for over three decades. Don’t support Sharon Osbourne’s 30-year campaign of deceit. Find the vinyl version. The truth is out there.

The denial of credit to Daisley and Kerslake is nothing more than a game to this vicious, vengeful bitch, played for her own amusement at the expense of two excellent musicians and all fans of great music. And it’s a game she continues to play… The music world is currently watching this despicable cow destroying Black Sabbath from the inside out, by stabbing at its heart: drummer Bill Ward. There is ZERO doubt in my mind that this detestable hag is behind the curtain, pulling the strings to ensure that the original Sabbath will never play or record together ever again, because this time it was Ward who did the unthinkable: he asked to be fairly compensated for his contributions to one of the greatest bands of all time.

A Deal With the Devil

June 1981. When Motorhead learned that their live album, ‘No Sleep ‘til Hammersmith’, had reached the top of the UK charts, Lemmy and the lads were slogging around the USA opening for Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz. It was a huge opportunity for Motorhead, who’d had a number of charting albums and singles at home in England but were virtually unknown in America.

August 8, 1981. The Heavy Metal Holocaust at Port Vale Football Stadium, Stoke on Trent, England. The bill for the year’s biggest UK Metal festival was originally to have been topped by Black Sabbath. Motorhead, still riding high on the success of their number one album, were to co-headline the event. When the Sabs pulled out due to recording commitments (or fear of a red-hot Motorhead, depending on which story you believe), ‘head were slotted at the top and, in an ironic twist, Ozzy Osbourne’s band was added and slotted in just under the headliner. This would be the UK’s first look at the Aldridge/Sarzo version of Ozzy’s new band. Lemmy introduced a nervous Ozzy’s set that night; Ozzy intro’d Motorhead’s, as several bootleg recordings of the event reveal.

Now jump forward a decade to 1991. Ozzy and Lemmy are both signed to Epic/Sony Records, and a deal of sorts is struck between the two old friends. Lemmy is asked to co-write songs for Ozzy’s forthcoming ‘No More Tears’ album. In return, Ozzy agrees to appear on Motorhead’s ‘March or Die’ album. Who got the better of the deal is a matter of opinion.

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What did Ozzy get? Lemmy wrote the lyrics for four of the songs included on the ‘No More Tears’ album. One of these songs, ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’, became Ozzy’s only solo Top 40 single on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at number 28. The ‘NMT’ recording of another of Lemmy’s contributions, ‘I Don’t Want to Change the World’, would be nominated for a Grammy for Best Metal/Hard Rock Performance. On the strength of this single and the Grammy hooplah, the record would reach double-platinum certification by September of 1992. Lemmy’s other two offerings, ‘Desire’ and ‘Hellraiser’, were also quality songs, and undoubtedly contributed to the overall success of the record. It’s a strong album overall, though a bit mainstream for my tastes; far stronger than it’s predecessor ‘No Rest For the Wicked’, which took 9 years to reach double-platinum status. Simply put, it’s hard to dispute the impact of Lemmy’s contributions to the success of ‘No More Tears’.

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What did Lemmy get? On 1992’s ‘March Or Die’, Motorhead’s second and, thankfully, final foray into the world of major label bullshit, Ozzy appeared as a guest vocalist on the power ballad ‘I Ain’t No Nice Guy’ (Slash also contributed a guitar solo), which garnered some airplay despite record company apathy. Sony pushed the godawful cover of Ted Nugent’s ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ to radio instead. Ozzy also appeared in the ‘Nice Guy’ video. Motorhead recorded their own version of ‘Hellraiser’ for ‘MoD’ and actually got their version featured in the film ‘Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth’ and it’s soundtrack album.

The brief Lemmy/Ozzy/Epic partnership positioned Motorhead for their biggest successes ever. But it wasn’t to be, as none of it worked in Motorhead’s favor. Truth be told, ‘March or Die’ sucks. The record is a typical over-produced major label mess; two producers, three drummers, a radio-friendly cover version, a power ballad, and guest stars galore (Ozzy actually guests on two songs, Slash also appears on two). And the Hellraiser movie flopped. Despite the record company machinations, MoD failed commercially as well as failing completely as a Motorhead album. Motorhead were never suited to play the kind of game that a major label, and mainstream success, demands.

So: who got the better of the deal? It all depends on what your definition of success is, and what your goals are. Me, I’d call it a draw.

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Deep Purple’s Jon Lord said in an interview in 1996 that his royalties for ‘Smoke on the Water’ add up to ‘a tidy six figures’ annually. And that was almost 25 years after the song was a hit. Similarly, Lemmy’s been quoted as saying that ‘the Ozzy checks’ will pay his rent in LA for the rest of his life. In his autobiography, Lemmy states, ‘I made more money out of writing those four songs than I made out of fifteen years of Motörhead – ludicrous, isn’t it?!’

I hear ‘Mama I’m Coming Home’ on my local rock/metal station regularly, and while it’s no ‘Smoke…’, it is firmly established as a minor classic rock radio staple. For Lemmy, Ozzy’s ‘No More Tears’ was such a success that the failure of Motorhead’s ‘March or Die’ was irrelevant. Lemmy, the ultimate rock and roll survivor, would walk away from his flirtation with major label success, soul intact, and release the excellent ‘Bastards’ on indie label XYZ in 1993. Lemmy Kilmister may be the only musician in history to ever have made his deal with the devil (or she-devil, as we all know who is really calling the shots for the Ozzman) and walked away unscathed.