Chapter I of 50 by Mark Connors series. Mark talks about the iconic Black Sabbath album “Paranoid” and the The Beatles classic single “Long and Winding Road”
In the first of a series of features, novelist, poet and song writer, Mark Connors, writes about his favourite fifty albums and singles released in each of the fifty years he’s spent on this planet. From Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, to Kate Bush, Tori Amos and The Police, Mark Connors will guide through 50 years of great music that spans many genres, albums and singles that have either left a lasting impression on him or spoke to him at a particular point in his life.
1970 (Album) Paranoid – Black Sabbath
It’s 1982. I am browsing in the £1.99 section of Bostock’s, a discount record shop in Leeds. Even at 12-years-old I already have a serious and expensive addiction to buying LPs. Luckily, I don’t have to burgle houses to get my weekly fix but merely divert funds ring-fenced for other essentials.
I get £1.50 a day for my school dinner money. That’s £7.50 a week. If I have two school dinners a week, say, on a Monday and a Friday, that still leaves me with £4.50 a week. On the other three days, if I buy three packets of Worcestershire sauce crisps (10p each) and a bottle of Panda pop (10p) from the tuck shop for lunch, this will cost me a further £1.20, leaving me with a balance of £3.30. With my £1.50 pocket money, this leaves me with a disposable income of £4.80 per week. It costs me 15p to get to Leeds by bus on a Saturday. It costs £1.50 for a quarter pounder, fries and coke at Ranchburger where me and my friends go for lunch. Today, I have £3.15 in my pocket. This means I can buy an album for £1.99 and either save the rest till next week or spend it on sweets. Of course, should I decide to go without what passes for a nutritious meal in 70s Britain for the other two days next week, I can buy two albums at £1.99, or one of the slightly more recent albums found in the £3.99 section. Recent releases from the likes of Virgin and HMV cost at least £5.99 and are reserved for birthday and Christmas lists. I am yet to discover Amazing Records, a second hand place in a dingy basement of a musical instrument shop near the Grand Theatre, with no windows and a limited oxygen supply. This can be particularly harmful when the shop is full of patchouli clad and sweat rotten metalheads dressed in their steaming denim and leathers in the middle of summer. When I am introduced to Amazing Records, I will be lured into the bewildering worlds of picture discs, coloured vinyl and bootlegs.
Up to press, I have a collection of about 15 heavy rock/metal albums, consisting of bands like Motorhead, AC/DC, Kiss, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, Rush, Van Halen and Thin Lizzy. As I browse through the cheap section, there are a good few albums at £1.99 to choose from, none of which were released recently but there are some enticing choices nevertheless. My fingers stop on one album with a strange cover of a photograph with a man with a sword in motion blur on a black background. The album is called Paranoid by Black Sabbath. My friend, Paul, played me a compilation album of theirs called We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Roll and I recognise a couple of tracks I like, a lot. This album will prove excellent value as I’ll be listening to it occasionally for the next 38 years at least and probably for the rest of my life. £1.99 can go an awfully long way.
Paranoid was released in 1970 and became a blueprint for all Black Sabbath’s future albums. It starts with War Pigs, an epic classic metal song which still sounds as fresh and current as I imagine it did back then. Many of Sabbath’s tracks were born from a riff guitarist Tony Iommi would come up with in jam sessions while on tour. The band would join in and Ozzy, their charismatic and totally deranged singer, would scat some nonsense over the riffs which would usually yield a satisfactory melody and then, the bassist and lyricist, Geezer Butler, would then turn Ozzy’s nonsense into actual lyrics. This system worked well and gave the world some of the most memorable metal songs of all time. Indeed, legend has it that when Iommi played the first chords of what was to become Iron Man, Ozzy piped up (and of course, I paraphrase) ‘That sounds like some giant iron bloke walking about,” in his broad Birmingham accent. Geezer Butler turned a giant iron bloke into Iron Man and the rest as they say is (and please forgive the cliché) history.
Geezer Butler might not have been the best lyricist in the world but he was writing about civil rights and war long after Dylan had got bored of such subjects in the 60s. This stuff spoke to the kids who bought Sabbath albums in droves and turned a poor working class band from the Midlands into a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic. Paranoid is the album that ignited this success.
The title track, largely an afterthought, knocked off in a session merely to counter the other epics and longer songs found on the record so they could have something to play on the radio, was a massive hit throughout the world and is always one of the first tracks to be thought of when compiling a classic rock compilation of any note. And, at the risk of repeating myself, like War Pigs, it still sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released. It simply hasn’t aged or dated, in the way recordings by other rock bands of the early 70s have. I would put this down to the unique noise that Tony Iommi created. No one can match Iommi for coming up with these insane riffs time after time after time, riffs that have never aged.
It’s impossible to mention the album Paranoid, without mentioning the gem, Planet Caravan. The song again came from nothing, a jam with Iommi noodling some Django Rhenart inspired piece and Ozzy not so much singing, as whining over it. It’s a song for loners and stoners to lose themselves in. When Geezer Butler was interviewed in a ‘Classic Albums’ documentary, he informed the interviewer that the song is essentially about taking your girlfriend away for an interstellar weekend in a spaceship. Of course, this narrative isn’t even vaguely discernible when you listen to the track but the music certainly fits its purported theme. Such weekends avoid bank holiday traffic jams, if nothing else, so seem perfectly logical to a dope addled bassist/lyricist such as Geezer Butler.
With other Sabbath classics like Fairies Wear Boots (nothing to do with fairies – it’s actually about Ozzy getting the shit kicked out of him by skinheads while being high on LSD) the menacing Electric Funeral, even a drum solo, Paranoid is a seminal classic album without a pretentious second in its vinyl and acetone body. Sabbath never bettered it or even came close to doing so. If you get bored of listening to Paranoid you are bored with metal, if not life.
1970 (Single) The Long and Winding Road – The Beatles
The house I grew up in, in the 70s, was a melting pot of musical tastes. My mother listened to crooners like Sinatra and Frankie Lane, my father, Irish folk, like The Dubliners and The Furey Brothers. My brothers loved Wings, Elton John, The Stranglers, Blondie and most importantly, The Beatles.
The Beatles were the first band I loved and continue to love to this day. For the sheer variety of their back catalogue alone, I can’t think of another band who has a song for every musical taste imaginable: heart rending ballads, old fashioned rock n roll, songs riddled with complex harmonies, drugs inspired nonsense, even early heavy metal. They were pretty much done by the time I was born. Luckily, they lived on in our house. The classic compilation, 1967 – 1970 (also known as The Blue Album) could often be heard at high volume from any room throughout our modest terrace when one of my brothers would put the record on while in the bath.The single The Long and Winding Road, the final track on Side 4, written at a time when the band were in their dying throes, is a beautiful and sad song that for me, speaks of what it’s like to be lonely, even when surrounded by friends and family. Ultimately, it’s about the unattainable on the journey as a metaphor for life. Nothing too taxing, nothing particularly original but a simple articulation of what it’s like to live. As much as the ‘song’ is the metaphor for Jethro Tull in Life is a Long Song, the long and winding road is McCartney’s metaphor for life. He probably knocked it off on some wet Wednesday in a matter of moments but again, it’s a song I’ve listened to for over forty years, among many others from what I think is the best compilation album ever pressed.