When I was listening to Black Sabbath’s debut album a few months ago I kept thinking, I totally get why teenage boys dig this shit! It’s dramatic, it’s scary, it’s bluesy, it’s loud, it talks about Lucifer. Why do teenage boys like the devil so much? Who knows? I don’t think most of them worship Satan, but an awful lot of heavy metal songs from the first couple decades reference the Beast, and boys everywhere were all about it.
The opening cut, “Black Sabbath,” empties out over us with a rainstorm. And then, then, starts the ominous, Friday night horror movie TV host soundtrack that sucks in all those teenagers. Almost 90 seconds into the song, 20-year-old Ozzy welcomes us with his powerful, fully- developed voice:
What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me
Turn around quick and start to run
Find out I’m the chosen one
Could it be…Satan?
Yeah, it’s Satan. And he is ready to fuck you up! He’s going to tell you about yourself as he drags you down to the fiery pits of hell, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Is this a metaphor for puberty?
“The Wizard” is a straight-up electric blues number. It reminds me of Canned Heat. Really fucking impressive piece of music, especially when it transforms that blues sound into what heavy metal would sound like for the next two decades. Lyrically it describes a wizard who uses his powers to defeat evil forces.
Evil power disappears
Demons worry when the wizard is near
He turns tears into joy
Everyone’s happy when the wizard walks by
Just keeps walking
Spreading his magic
This plays into the teenage male’s sense of superherodom. Everyone has good and evil in them, but after indulging the evil side with “Black Sabbath,” the boys want to show that they can do some good in the world and save everyone from destruction. How noble of them!
The “Wasp/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Basically/N.I.B.” medley is an emotional roller coaster. “Wasp” introduces us to the morbid “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” a little ditty about buying the farm. The fantastic “Bassically” is next, and I could fucking listen to that 41 seconds of Geezer Butler perfection all day!
“N.I.B.” is the classic Sabbath number. It combines absolutely every element that makes the sound we all know as Sabbath, starting with that wicked bass line and Ozzy’s Oh yeah! Everything you want and need and crave is right here. It’s amazing that their sound is so fully-formed on this first album. A lot of bands struggle to find their identity, but not Sabbath; this is truly one of the great debut albums of all time. And no other Sabbath song can out-Sabbath “N.I.B.”
And, of course, there’s Satan again!
Now I have you with me under my power
Our love grows stronger now with every hour
Look into my eyes, you’ll see who I am
My name is Lucifer, please take my hand
“Wicked World” is another bluesy number but it starts off with a jazzy drum bit that evolves into a brilliant piece of this Debbie Downer of a song about how everything everywhere ever sucks ass.
The world today is such a wicked thing
Fighting going on between the human race
People give good wishes to all their friends
While people just across the sea are counting the dead
Clearly this song is about war, which is one of the main topics of Sabbath’s second album, Paranoid (read my thorough analysis of it here). It’s really an indictment of America in particular, which was in the thick of the Vietnam War at the time Black Sabbath was released. Politicians get to choose who lives and dies, and while we can put a man on the moon people are still dying of diseases that should have cures by now. Women go out to work and are barely getting by, and kids don’t even know their fathers. Unfortunately, this song is as relevant in 2014 as it was in 1969.
This also is part of the appeal to certain teenagers, the timelessness—as sad as it is that such topics are timeless—of the lyrics. It sounds like it could have been written weeks ago. Where Chuck Berry wrote about girls and cars and rock and roll, things kids still relate to (though I’m not sure most kids these days think of rock and roll the way they did in the 50s and 60s, or even when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s) Sabbath wrote about war and destruction and addiction, the more agonizing parts of life. I’m not sure how many kids these days are into old Sabbath, and I doubt most of them have any idea about the Vietnam War, but people who were teenagers with me and before me certainly had a different idea of struggle and angst about that stuff. Yup, I’m saying that kids these days have it far easier. And their music is far shittier. Hard times make for great music!
But let’s move on to the last bit of brilliance on this record. “A Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning” is another sort of medley that starts off with a short bit of spooky poetry that devolves into some manic but welcome electric blues guitar. I can just imagine some 17-year-old boy circa 1975, Sabbath posters on the wall, the faint aroma of stale cigarettes and weed filling his bedroom, playing air guitar to this cut. He’s singing along to this song of love and loss, knowing that the girl he loved would never give him a second thought. He’s too cool to let anyone knows he has a broken heart, but he’s not ashamed to let Ozzy speak through him to express his pain.
You never said you love me
And I don’t believe you can
‘Cause I saw you in a dream
And you were with another man
You looked so cool and casual
And I tried to look the same
But now I’ve got to know ya
Tell me who am I to blame?
I was born without you, baby
But my feelings were a little bit too strong
Dramatic, yes, but teenage boys are just as filled with that shit as the girls are. They just don’t want to tell anyone, so they listen to music that can do all the talking for them. Someday I’ll do a more in-depth sociological study about why this music appeals to teenage boys across the decades. For now, I know what I think, and that’s because I’m a bit of a teenage boy myself. Music is my happy place, the most inviting and understanding place I know. I’m good at expressing myself, but sometimes I don’t want to do it in my own words. Thank God there are artists out there to express the crazy for me.