If heavy metal had standards like blues or jazz, then Paranoid would comprise about half of them.1 Is your band angry and political, maybe a little punk-ish? “War Pigs.” Crazy stage antics, frontman a little mental? “Paranoid.” Want some old psychedelic vibes? “Planet Caravan.” Don’t mind the pop realm, want a recognizable crowd-pleaser to start off your set? “Iron Man.” Into that weirdo doom stuff? “Electric Funeral.” Angry like before, except more interested in social issues – perhaps even a bit thrashy? “Hand of Doom.” Got a drummer who likes to masturbate? “Rat Salad.” Feeling a bit cryptic, want more of a jam feel? “Fairies Wear Boots.”
Although Black Sabbath’s debut was more musically complex and engaging from a songwriting standpoint, Paranoid demonstrated heavy metal’s propensity to become a distinct form of music far removed from its blues, R&B, and skiffle rock progenitors.2 There’s a colossal amount of innovation that’s easy to ignore because of how many tricks that the Birmingham quartet pioneered. “Iron Man” features the most unsettling use of a vocoder since The Beatles’ on Revolver; hell, “Electric Funeral” pretty much laid the blueprint for doom metal in its desolate lyrics about nuclear war and Tony Iommi’s wah-wah pedal abuse. Geezer Butler’s basslines are spectacular, especially on the “War Pigs” and “Planet Caravan” instrumentals. Paranoid also anticipated (and probably influenced) metal’s interest in sociopolitical themes; “War Pigs” fires volleys at the bullshit of jingoism in the wake of the Vietnam War, and “Fairies Wear Boots” tells those Nazi punks to fuck right on off.
Paranoid has aged a bit, especially on its second half, and it would be disingenuous to say that its musical quality has not been somewhat overstated, especially in light of the contemporary heavy metal scene. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own share of classics – “Planet Caravan” is criminally overlooked – but there are certainly more impressive tracks and albums nowadays. “Rat Salad” is a mediocre drum solo whose flair cannot compare to anything in modern metal, and “Hand of Doom” meanders way too much despite its intensely relevant lyrics on drug abuse and self-harm. Ozzy was never Black Sabbath’s best vocalist in terms of carrying a tune, but what he does have is the heart and the bravado to back up the lack of technical mastery.
Of the classic Black Sabbath albums, Paranoid is the most recognizable in the mainstream, and for good reason. Check it out, if you haven’t already. It might not be as impressive as most modern acts and it has plenty of unintentional cheese,3 but it is deserving of your time.
1. War Pigs/Luke’s Wall4 5 – (7:58) – ★★★★★
2. Paranoid6 – (2:52) – ★★★★★
3. Planet Caravan – (4:34) – ★★★★★
4. Iron Man – (5:58) – ★★★★☆
5. Electric Funeral – (4:52) – ★★★☆☆
6. Hand of Doom – (7:09) – ★★★☆☆
7. Rat Salad – (2:30) – ★★☆☆☆
8. Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots4 – (6:13) – ★★★★★
1As if it weren’t already pretty much required listening.
2… although to say it wasn’t deeply indebted to those genres would be a big mistake, indeed. “Rat Salad” comes straight from the jam breaks of early psychedelic rock.
3‘LE’TRIC FUNERAAAHL. ‘LE’TRIC FUNERAAAHL.
4Unique to the North American pressings; the original tracklistic just lists them as “War Pigs” and “Fairies Wear Boots” respectively, without naming the instrumental outro/intro.
5 At approximately (3:10-3:25), you can hear the volume increase to a new level for the rest of the track. I’ve never been able to unhear it after noticing it for the first time, and it annoys the hell out of me.
6First song I ever learned on the bass!