Paranoid by Black Sabbath: 45 Facts About the Classic Album

Inside the metal milestone, from “Iron Man” to “War Pigs” + beyond.

On Friday the 13th of February, 1970, Black Sabbath invented the musical genre known as heavy metal from the opening notes of the song “Black Sabbath,” the first track on their debut LP, also known as Black Sabbath.

That “devil’s tri-tone” and the seven unprecedented (and since unsurpassed) slabs of monumental molten rock that followed it roared up into human consciousness and brought all Hell along in its wake.

Heavy metal was born, screaming. From there, any and all dark, deranged, and even evil musical extremes were possible. The only question was: what could Black Sabbath possibly do for a follow-up?

The answer arrived a scant seven months later. Paranoid, Black Sabbath catalogue entry #2, landed on record stores like a Hades-launched atomic bomb on September 18, 1970.

To celebrate four-and-a-half decades of the album that unleashed “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” the title track, and five more flawless metal anthems, here now are 45 facts about Paranoid by Black Sabbath.

1. To date, Paranoid by Black Sabbath has sold more than five million copies worldwide. It remains the group’s top-selling original studio album.

2. In its initial release, Paranoid peaked at #12 on the U.S. album chart. In the UK, it hit #1.

3. “Paranoid,” the song, was the Black Sabbath’s first original single. It hit #4 on the UK pop chart, and remains the band’s only Top 10 hit.

4. The single’s B-side was “The Wizard,” from the group’s debut album.

5. “Evil Woman,” also from the previous LP, was the actual first single issued by the band, but it was a cover of a song by U.S. heavy blues group, Crow.

6. In his memoir 2011 memoir, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath, guitarist Tony Iommi writes of a 1971 incident in which an American nurse killed herself while listening to Paranoid. The incident prompted some to accuse the album of forcing her hand. It was also a precursor to a 1984 self-inflicted death by a metalhead whose parents sued Ozzy Osbourne, claiming the song “Suicide Solution” caused the event. Ozzy won. Two years later, it happened again with another fan, and another set of litigious parents. Ozzy won that case, too.

7. Black Sabbath composed much of Paranoid simply by jamming on stage or in the recording studio. Tony Iommi fired off the famous “Paranoid” riff spontaneously and the group picked just ran with it on the spot. Drummer Bill Ward explains: “We didn’t have enough songs for the album, and Tony just played the guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.”

8. In a 2013 Mojo interview, Geezer Butler addressed an observation that has been made countless times since 1970—namely, that “Paranoid” isn’t really about thinking people are out to get you; it actually describes being chronically bummed out.

9. As Geezer put it: “Basically, it’s just about depression, because I didn’t really know the difference between depression and paranoia. It’s a drug thing; when you’re smoking a joint you get totally paranoid about people, you can’t relate to people. There’s that crossover between the paranoia you get when you’re smoking dope and the depression afterwards.”

10. Just as Sabbath spontaneously generated heavy metal upon arrival, the jet propulsion and frantic intensity of “Paranoid” would fully flower a few years deeper into the ’70s in the form of punk rock.

11. In mid-1970s Queens, New York, glam rock devotee and heavy metal freak Jeff Hyman took such inspiration from “Paranoid” that he bought an acoustic guitar to have a go at songwriting. Early on, Hyman found it easier to play the three power chords at the beginning of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper. He then switched those chords around, came up with some downbeat lyrics, and called the tune, “I Don’t Care.” Jeff Hyman later changed his name to Joey Ramone, and “I Don’t Care” was the first song ever composed (but not recorded) by the Ramones.

12. Although Tony Iommi’s rapid “one-two-three” charge at the end of the “Paranoid” riff makes it very tempting to sing “Par-UH-noid!” along with it, the song never actually names the word.

13. Punk pranksters the Dickies give into that temptation most amusingly on their 1979 speed-core cover. Singer Leonard Graves Phillips ends the song by stuttering, “Pa-pa-pa-par-a-noid!” In concert, he often substitutes, “Oh sh-t, I’m par-a-noid!” or “I’m f—kin’ par-a-noid!”

14. Other folks who have fun with “Paranoid” include the entire nation of Finland. Whereas concert-going jokesters in the United States will yell out “Free Bird!” as a comical request, the Finns shout “Soittakaa ‘Paranoid!’” In English, that means, “Play “Paranoid!’”

15. Among the movies to feature “Paranoid” on their soundtracks are Dazed and Confused, Sid and Nancy, Almost Famous, Any Given Sunday, We Are Marshall, and The Stoned Age (check out that last one, it’s an underrated ’70s stoner rock riot).

16. The VH1 special, 40 Greatest Metal Songs, ranked “Paranoid” at #34.

17. The VH1 special, 100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs, proved more thirty spots more generous, placing “Paranoid” at #4.

18. War Pigs was the Paranoid album’s original title, named for its opening track.

19. “Walpurgis” was the original title of the song, “War Pigs,” named for a witches’ feast night.

20.Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists,” Geezer Butler said of the song’s concept, “and to me, war was the big Satan. It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was [about] evil. So I was saying ‘generals gathered in the masses/just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought ’Walpurgis’ sounded too satanic. And that’s when we turned it into “War Pigs.” But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished.”

21. It’s often reported that Vertigo Records and Universal Music Group, Black Sabbath’s respective label and distributor, also pressured the group to change abandon “War Pigs” as the album title, fearing backlash from supporters of the Vietnam War.

22. Ozzy Osbourne debates such censorship claims, however, in his 2011 autobiography I Am Ozzy. He maintains that “Paranoid” had always been the lead single and had become a hit prior to the LP, so the companies just wanted to capitalize on that familiarity.

23. How much “War Pigs” aims directly at Vietnam remains questionable. Geezer says that the ritualistic-sounding anthem is “totally against the Vietnam War, about how these rich politicians and rich people start all the wars for their benefit and get all the poor people to die for them.”

24. Ozzy, on the other hand, has once again contrarily stated: “We knew nothing about Vietnam, it’s just an anti-war song.”

25. Imagine the different impact “Iron Man” might have made had the been stuck with the song’s original moniker: “Iron Bloke.”

26. Ozzy Osbourne hatched the idea upon first hearing Tony Iommi’s mammoth, history-making riff. The singer said the guitar “sounded like a big iron bloke walking around.”

27. Geezer Butler explains the song’s heavy-duty science fiction premise thusly: “Ozzy came up with the title ‘Iron Man’ and I wrote it about this guy who’s blasted off into space and he sees the future of the world, which isn’t very good. Then he goes through a magnetic storm on the way back and is turned to iron. He’s trying to warn everyone about the future of the world, but he can’t speak, so everyone is taking the mickey out of him all the time, and he just doesn’t care in the end. The Iron Man’s destruction of the people who ignore and mock him unwittingly fulfills his own vision.”

28. “Iron Man” debuted as a single in October, 1971, just in time for Halloween.

29. The B-side was Paranoid’s side-two opener, “Electric Funeral.”

30. Although “Iron Man,” the song, initially had nothing to do with Iron Man, the Marvel Comics character, the two have since become strongly and actively associated by way of the big-screen Iron Man movies.

31. Three full decades after the song’s initial release, Black Sabbath won a Best Metal Performance Grammy Award in 2000 for the live “Iron Man” from the album, Reunion.

32. Frank Zappa proved to be Black Sabbath’s highest profile rock star booster. Zappa met with the group several times, and proclaimed special love for “Supernaut” and “Iron Man.” Frank also introduced Sabbath on stage. When the Mothers played Birmingham, he invited Sabbath to the gig, and told Tony Iommi, “I’ve got a surprise for you tonight!” Once onstage, Zappa launched into a live performance of “Iron Man.”

33. Among the acts that have covered “Iron Man” live or on record are Metallica, Phish, the Cardigans, NOFX, Marilyn Manson (who switched in words about the serial killer “Son of Sam”), and… William Shatner!

34. Ozzy himself covers “Iron Man,” backed by Irish alt-metal band Therapy?, on the 1994 Sabbath tribute disc, Nativity in Black.

35. For 2000’s Nativity in Black II, Ozzy teamed with rapper Busta Rhymes for an “Iron Man” redo, “This Means War.”

36. Paranoid’s trippy, psychedelic, mellow mind-expander “Planet Caravan” showcases recording engineer Tom Allom gently playing piano and Ozzy Osbourne creating way-out treble tones and vibrato effects by singing through a Leslie speaker.

37. Pantera memorably covers “Planet Caravan” on 1994’s Far Beyond Driven.

38. The sprawling, jazz-inflected, epic-length “Hand of Doom” clearly contends with drug addiction. Some sources report that Geezer Butler’s lyrics specifically arose from the tragedy of U.S. servicemen returning from Vietnam hooked on narcotics. Other accounts claim the song’s inspiration came from the band noticing empty concert floor halls littered with syringes after they played. Either way, the whole thing is, in the most laudable sense, a buzz-kill.

39. “Hand of Doom” has proven to be an extremely popular cover song among extreme metal artists, resulting in versions by Slayer, Danzig, Eyehategod, Isis, Orange Goblin, and Him.

40. The notion that “Fairies Wear Boots” was about skinheads has long existed in rock lore. It is not true.

41. The song resulted from Ozzy and Geezer smoking really powerful weed in a park and having a vision of boot-clad fairies and dwarves happily dancing amidst the flowers and trees.

42. The opening passage of “Fairies Wear Boots” is titled “Jack the Stripper.”

43. “Jack the Stripper” was later co-opted as the name of a 1980 Saturday Night Live sketch co-starring host Malcolm McDowell and cast members Gilbert Gottfried and Denny Dillon. It is generally regarded as the absolute worst comedy bit in the entire history of the show.

44. Geezer Butler says that the instrumental “Rat Salad” resulted from Black Sabbath having to play epic stands in rock clubs early in their career. To fill time, the band would improvise and jam. “Bill used to fill out a whole 45 minutes doing a drum solo just to get rid of that 45 minutes,” Geezer recalled. “I have no idea where the title came from, though.”

45. One of the names used by Van Halen before they settled on their final moniker was a Black Sabbath homage: Rat Salad.

BONUS: On the 2003 episode of The Simpsons titled “The President Wore Pearls,” campaigning bully Nelson Muntz sings “I am Iron Man! Do-do-do-do-do-do-do vote for me!”

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