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—

s-l1600

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???

s-l1600 (1)

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…

am946320_2

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.

sabbath book 2

‘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…

blacksabbath-masterofreality140213125718phpapp02-2-638

‘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.

sabbath book 4

‘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.

k2l0eb

‘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.

_________________________________

(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!

Advertisements

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.”