Anyone watching Liverpool’s recent 7-2 drubbing minus the irksome canned crowd noise would’ve heard the unforgettable opening salvo of ‘Paranoid’ across the Villa Park PA no fewer than seven times that evening; a reminder of enduring ties between four of Birmingham’s favourite sons and their beloved Villa, playing just a stone’s throw from where Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward spent their formative years.
‘Paranoid’ was initially penned as an afterthought as Sabbath struggled for new material after their eponymous debut album’s success. Its follow-up—originally titled War Pigs—was hastily rebadged thanks to this late-arriving snippet; record company execs wisely sensed an opportunity to promote ‘Paranoid’ as a single ahead of the main record’s release.
Their judgement proved shrewd. The 3-minute powerhouse single boasted killer Iommi riffs, Ozzy’s nagging Brummie urchin whine, propelled along by Ward and Butler’s road drill rhythm section. Heavier than the city’s famed bronze bovine statue, yet simultaneously infuriatingly catchy, within a month ‘Paranoid’ had gatecrashed the UK top 5. It paved the way for their sledgehammer album of the same name to proudly conquer the summit of mount rock, their first chart-topper.
The cheery lack of sophistication on ‘Paranoid’ is key to its staying power. Sheer dumb rawness is expertly married with tunesmithery. The song is influenced by Sabbath’s love of the fab four, buried under a mountain of concrete and swathed in factory fumes still tinged with the rotting flesh from Iommi’s severed fingertips—what’s not to love?
Frustratingly, ‘Paranoid’ shared the upper reaches of the singles charts with Deep Purple’s ‘Black Night’, cash-strapped heads perhaps forced into choosing between this brace of 24-carat bangers in a frustratingly anti-Tory vote split kind of way. Had these singles been released a couple of months apart, both would have probably reached #1.
Words by Michael Price
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