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Top 10 Best Black Sabbath Songs
It is easy to underestimate the impact that Black Sabbath have had on rock music, but their dark and powerful sound was completely unique when the band's first album was released in 1970.
Although the band members were all from the West Midlands, they performed many of their early gigs in Carlisle, up in the extreme north west of England near the border with Scotland.
I myself began following the band in the late 1970s. They were suffering legal troubles at this time, along with the drink, drugs, and personal problems that led eventually to their charismatic and distinctive singer, Ozzy Osbourne being ejected from the band for unreliability.
The band went through a number of singers after Ozzy was gone, and later some other lineup changes. They still made some great music - although perhaps they never quite reached the scale of their early days.
Black Sabbath are currently on a world tour at the time of writing, promoting the release of their new album, entitled: 13, which has reached the number one position in many charts, including the US and UK.
My early influences were the Shadows, who were an English instrumental band. They basically got me into playing and later on I got into blues and jazz players. I liked Clapton when he was with John Mayall. I really liked that period.— Tony Iommi
Apart from Ozzy, Tony Iomi was another key figure in the band (and the only constant presence over the years), writing much of the backing music, including some of the most memorable guitar riffs in rock music history. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Tony Iomi has been diagnosed with cancer and is facing the challenge of dealing with the illness.
The musicianship of the other two original members is often under-rated. Geezer Butler, as well as playing some excellent bass guitar, also wrote much of the music and all of the lyrics for many of the early classics. Bill Ward's drumming, often doom-laden, slow and heavy, was revolutionary in the early seventies.
Somebody said to me this morning, 'To what do you attribute your longevity?' I don't know. I mean, I couldn't have planned my life out better. By all accounts I should be dead! The abuse I put my body through: the drugs, the alcohol, the lifestyle I've lived the last 30 years!— Ozzy Osbourne
I have decided to stick to Ozzy songs only in my top 10 best Black Sabbath songs. Although some of the music made with Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan and others on vocals was great, it just wasn't true Black Sabbath to me.
The current line-up of the band includes three of the original members: Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iomi, and Geezer Butler.
Black Sabbath was written on bass: I just walked into the studio and went, bah, bah, bah, and everybody joined in and we just did it.— Geezer Butler
Black Sabbath's only top 10 hit in the UK. Featuring one of the most famous guitar riffs of all time, the track was written quickly in the studio in just 25 minutes, as the band didn't have enough tracks for their second album, according to drummer, Bill Ward.
2. War Pigs
Considered by many to be the greatest heavy metal track of all time, this crunching anti-war track is a masterpiece and keeps you gripped for its entire eight minutes. Written at the time of the Vietnam War, Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics to express his horror at the destruction.
3. Children of the Grave
Another track featuring Geezer Butler's anti-war sentiments (Butler was the band's main lyric writer early on). More classic, thundering riffs from Iommi.
The vinyl version of the song finishes with the words: "Children of the grave" hauntingly whispered in a continual loop.
4. Black Sabbath
Impressively slow, dark, and menacing, the first track from the first album concerns a "figure in black" that Geezer Butler claims to have seen after waking from a nightmare. This crunching track was unlike anything heard before when it was released.
Another classic riff from Iomi begins this song. N.I.B. is commonly thought to stand for Nativity in Black, although Ozzy Osbourne claims in his biography that the title actually refers to Bill Ward's goatee beard, which was pointed like a pen nib.
From the Black Sabbath Vol. 4 album. The band were using a lot of drugs by this time and were pretty messed up. They could still make great music, however, and this track about cocaine abuse is a classic.
7. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
In search of inspiration, the band rented Clearwell Castle in the Forest of Dean and rehearsed in the creepy cellar. The trick worked and Tony Iomi hit upon the memorable opening riff for this track.
8. Hole in the Sky
The opening track from Black Sabbath's 6th album, Sabotage. With its strange, apocalyptic lyrics, monster riffs, and crashing drums, this track is a piece of heavy rock beauty.
The Sabotage album was more experimental and more produced than any Sabbath album that had preceded it, and even featured the English Chamber Choir.
The whole thing frustrated Ozzy, who preferred a rawer, more spontaneous approach to recording. He wrote in his autobiography: "Sabotage took about four thousand years."
9. Hand of Doom
A dark song about the perils of drug abuse, which features on their 2nd and possibly best album, Paranoid.
Black Sabbath were experts at using the quiet/loud, quiet/loud dynamics that would later be used to great effect by bands like Nirvana and The Pixies.
10. Sweet Leaf
The lyrics praise cannabis and the song begins with a taped loop of Tony Iommi coughing while smoking a joint with Ozzy Osbourne.
The music is as lumbering as any stoner, but with considerably more weight. Black Sabbath at their best.
The biggest thing has been realizing how much people really do love the early Sabbath music. People have said it in the past but I've never really believed them before. I remember years ago when Metallica opened up for me, I went backstage and they were playing old Black Sabbath albums and I thought they were taking the piss! They said, 'No, we really love Sabbath.' I couldn't see that at the time...— Ozzy Osbourne
Best Non-Ozzy Sabbath Song: Heaven and Hell with Ronnie James Dio
After Ozzy and Black Sabbath parted company at the end of the 1970s, the band continued without their iconic front man, employing other singers such as Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame), David Donato, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin.
Out of all the other singers, Dio did probably the best job. The raw charisma of Ozzy was difficult to replace after his departure, but Dio brought a degree of professionalism and his exceptional voice to the band.
The band became more polished with Dio and the quality of their musical output surprised many, especially on tracks like "Children of the Sea," "Lonely is the World", "Die Young", and the title track: ‘Heaven and Hell’.