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Black Sabbath's Black Sabbath, produced by Roger Bain (who would produce their first three albums), was released on Friday, February 13th, 1970. This album was not very well received by the critics, but that did not deter its popularity from spreading through word of mouth and relentless touring. The album went crawling - then screaming - into the #8 position on the British charts; sharing it with the likes of Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, the Beatles, and Andy Williams. Black Sabbath was recorded over a 36 hour period, and the master tapes were leased to Vertigo for somewhere between $500 and $1000. Monstrous riffs, magical lyrics, and inverted crosses helped to create in them a satanic/occult image. Hated by both press and the Church, this disdain and religious backlash made it hard for them to play many places. People were so afraid, that while in America they had to meet and explain themselves to local mayors and police departments. Ironically, in the Land of Free Expression, many shows were cancelled because of their implications. With songs like "Black Sabbath," "The Wizard," and "N.I.B." - FYI, "N.I.B." came from the nickname they tagged on Bill from the expression "pen nib," and not the other names that have surfaced over the years - the album's demonic riffing, banshee cries, and eerie and evil connotations helped establish what they stood for. Black Sabbath also contained their only two cover songs: "Evil Women" and "Warning."

[ black sabbath ]

From the underground fan base they were building they started work on their second album. Paranoid came out in September 1970, having had its title changed from "War Pigs" at the last minute by the label executives. Incidentally, "War Pigs" was shortened from "Walpurgis," being the Witches' Sabbath. With the song's anti-Vietnam lyrics, and considering the war's bad taste still in everyone's mouth, the U.S. executive disapproved of the title. The song "Paranoid" was last minute filler material needed to complete the album. Tony was working on the riff, and in their intuitive fashion, the rest of the band filled in and put the song to tape in 25 minutes. The band wasn't particularly happy with it, but the label heads saw a hit single. And so, without contacting the band, they changed the album title to "Paranoid." With the artwork for the original title of "War Pigs" already shot, and with no time to change it, on the cover we get a guy in a helmet and leotards looking like a pig with a sword - what the hell does that have to do with being paranoid? Even with that the album shot into the charts and peaked at #1, knocking aside Simon and Garfunklel's Bridge Over Troubled Waters. Released in the U.S. in 1971, it reached #12 and was on the charts for several years. With the popularity brought on by "Paranoid," the band decided not to record any singles for awhile, staying true to their original fans before they became popular. Other titles included: the sad character story of "Iron Man," something Geezer dreamed up; "Fairies Wear Boots," the Ozzy-penned skinhead satire; and "Hand of Doom," the state of Bill's addictions at the time.
[ paranoid ]

From the popularity of this album came the task of pushing the envelope higher. The anxiety this produced surfaced in the form of Master of Reality. Trying to take some time off from touring, the album was recorded in approximately two weeks. With its "too-big-of-a-bong-hit" opening, "Sweet Leaf" came from a slogan found on a package of Irish cigarettes called Sweet Alton: "It's the sweet leaf." Also included on the album is the thundering "After Forever," "Into the Void," and the metal classic, "Children of the Grave." With the continual touring, partying, and living in hotels, all was not well in the Sabbath camp. They toured the world for four long years - acquiring the infamous "one mile stare" along the way. And even though Master of Reality charted at #5, Black Sabbath was suffering going into recording their next album.
[ master of reality ]

On Volume 4 the threads holding Black Sabbath together were starting to unravel. The constant touring and their many addictions weighed heavily on the tensions in the band. All this lead up to the recording of what was to be called "Snowblind." Session players (a first for them) were brought in to play strings on the track, and Bill wanted Alvin Lee of Ten Years After to come and jam with the band. This wasn't taken to very kindly by the others, and it proceeded to get Bill so shunned by everyone else that he had to sleep on the lawn. It was obvious his addictions were interfering with how the band operated. Drugs, especially cocaine, were destroying the band (one groupie's job was to carry around a suitcase of cocaine for them). With the connotations of the album's working title apparent, Warner Brothers executives pressured them to change it. "Volume 4" was chosen, much to the dislike of the band because of its similarities to their rivals in Led Zeppelin. This album also saw a change in producer to Vic Smith. He tried to duplicate the bomb-blast of their previous albums, and instead what resulted was a varied mix of songs that still managed to retain their classic heaviness. From the epic "Wheels of Confusion," to the mellowness of "Changes," to the sheer magnitude of "Supernaut" (which I personally think they should have named the album), to the coke induced "Snowblind," to the album's heavy closer, "Under the Sun," the internal problems continued to mount, threatening to crush the band. Typical to the music business, no one cared about what the band did as long as music was produced, and Volume 4 pushed the blokes over the edge towards splitting up.
[ volume 4 ]

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