Black Sabbath were a perfect badge for that puzzling frisson between early ‘70s rock’s gatekeepers and its actual fans. The gatekeepers, epitomized by the Rolling Stone staff, idolized the blandly folksy likes of James Taylor while compulsively slagging off the actual innovators who were making potent and lastingly influential music, not because the music was actually bad (though they’d tell you all day long that it was unlistenable), but because they couldn’t handle it’s heaviness. So you had a situation where the official chroniclers of the era’s music (with a few notable exceptions, of course) were 180º out of touch with the actual zeitgeist, handwaving the likes of Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath as primitives and degenerates while informing their readers that the tepid sounds of Seals and Crofts were in fact what was really happening in music. I actually don’t understand why RS was ever taken seriously by rock fans as a source of information. If not for Matt Taibbi’s political/economic writing, it wouldn’t even be on my radar today.
But Sabbath got a great dig in against that plurality of critics who seemed to live on a different planet from rock music’s actual supportive fans—in 1978, they issued a promotional book called Black Sabbath—The Ten Year War. My attention was brought to its existence through a thread on I Love Music’s forums, posted by one Scott Seward, who I’m guessing might be the writer whose byline used to appear in the Village Voice, but don’t hold me to that. The book was a 9” square, 24-pager that appeared in time to publicize the Never Say Die album—the band’s last studio recording with founding singer Ozzy Osbourne until 2013—and which basically amounted to a HUGE potshot at greater rockcritdom, chronicling the band’s existence with negative press clippings scattered among shamelessy Crumb-derivative illustrations by one “F. Gutierrez,” of whose existence or career I’ve located no other evidence. Images reproduced here are from Seward’s ILXor thread, where you can see the entire book. Good luck procuring one—eBay has one for $75, and the Amazon marketplace seems unaware of its existence.
The Rolling Stone clip: Black Sabbath: Cream on Ice:
NEW YORK—“They’re cheap,” says the maven of the city’s rock and roll culturati. “When I saw them at the Fillmore, I thought they were awful. They’ll never make it, I thought. Well, I was Wrong. The kids gave them a standing ovation.
Black Sabbath is hardly what you want to hear in the background while you’re getting your hair shaped in the maroon gloom of the stylist’s in preparation for an evening of chit-chat around the vodka-filled hookah. The sound of Black Sabbath, as those around them fondly point out, is almost physically threatening.
Black Sabbath is making it big this year and no one knows why.
I don’t know what that writer got for the line “hardly what you want to hear in the background while you’re getting your hair shaped in the maroon gloom of the stylist’s in preparation for an evening of chit-chat around the vodka-filled hookah,” but he or she should have gotten life in solitary confinement.
The rock music world showed its chaotic underbelly Saturday night in the Coliseum. The concert—for want of a more accurate term—featured Black Sabbath.
But Black Sabbath is almost too evocative for its own good. While its [obscured by Crumb ripoff drawing of a pencil] an extreme in rock unintelligability, the band [sic] frenzied approach to performing is enough to excite a crowd beyond control.
The tension between the band and the crowd passed a peak with “War Pigs” when I had to leave. Hopefully, Black Sabbath’s heavy handed music was forceful enough to prevent a full-scale takeover of the stage.
Seriously? It’s evidently not enough for these writers to trip all over themselves to delegitimize Sabbath at every possible opportunity (what “more accurate term” for a concert could there have been?), they also abandon their jobs when an audience exhibits excitement at a rock ‘n’ roll show? Fuck all these yacht-rock lamers with a B.C. Rich Mockingbird.
Just ten seconds into the first cut on the new Black Sabbath album, my bathtub drain miraculously unclogged itself for the first time in three months, “It is a far, far better reast that I go to, than I have ever known,” screamed the stenchy bathtub water as it raced down the drain away from the deplorable music. As the cut continued my toilet began to flush hysterically; the toilet paper turned black; the bulb over my medicine chest blew out; beneath the sink scores of cockroaches began to roll over dead. Yes, indeed! Black Sabbath had once again worked its dubious magic!
Meanwhile, I wish Black Sabbath great success with their forthcoming Drano commercial. At last, there’s a real break for clogged drain sufferers.
P.S. Lisa Robinson just told me I was criticizing Black Sabbath for the same reason people criticized Chuck Berry and Little Richard in the Fifties. I replied that I would apologize in the Eighties.
First, OK, dude, your bathroom is as fucking gross as your creative writing is overwrought. Second, I’m assuming that apology was never really forthcoming. One more; note that even when a critic is won over, he can’t contain his surprise at the sheer apostasy of liking a Sabbath record. This one is from a big name in rockcrit, the L.A. Times’ Robert Hilburn, and it reflects the beginnings of the sea change that the remainder of the book chronicles—the critical establishment’s eventual and grossly overdue acceptance of the band.
After seeing Black Sabbath in concert a couple of years ago, I was so convinced the band was ultimately worthless that I didn’t even bother to listen to its last album. How’s that for keeping an open mind.
In the true tradition of subjective journalism, I wasn’t planning to listen to this new effort either. But then I heard a record on the radio that featured such bold, hard-to-ignore intensity and such a challengingly dynamic singer that I waited until the disc jockey identified it. It was, gulp, the title track from this album [Sabbath Bloody Sabbath].
Secretly suspecting the vitality of the single track was a fluke, I put the album on the turntable and found—surprisingly—much the same vitality—particularly in Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals—in several of the tracks.
This seems a fitting end to this post: a video for Never Say Die‘s song “A Hard Road,” culled from footage shot during a 1978 soundcheck at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.
Thanks to Beth Piwkowski for this find!
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The Black Sabbath Show’: A lost cartoon from 1974?
Black Sabbath’s 1972 cocaine budget: $75,000
Here’s that Minor Threat/Black Sabbath mashup t-shirt you didn’t know you totally wanted