There is not another living soul on this planet who is as iconic in the Metal world as Ozzy Osbourne. Even if you have not listened to Ozzy Osbourne in your life, there is a fair chance that you have heard his name before. Given the saddening news that Ozzy will no longer be able to perform, Josh and I have decided to honour this man and his substantial achievements in a double blog post, with me covering up to 1979, and Josh covering from 1980 onwards. Some of this information will be recalled from his autobiography, which I read some years ago. However, it is memorable to say the least…
John Michael ‘Ozzy’ Osbourne was born on the 3rd of December 1948, and grew up in Aston, Birmingham, England. When considering Ozzy’s childhood, context is important. Post-war England was deprived and struggling. Although the country did not lose, it suffered in the process. Aston was an industrial ghost of the past. Ozzy commented that in Aston, you were growing up to work in a factory, and there was no other option. Birmingham became a centre of re-building England’s heavy industry, but this was not to be Ozzy’s destiny. Tony Iommi, the legendary guitarist of Black Sabbath, and Ozzy’s bandmate attended the same school as Ozzy. Ozzy recalled that Tony was a year older than him, and was much more popular. He remembered being amazed by seeing Tony play the guitar at school. Another aspect of Ozzy’s childhood that inspired him to pursue music was his time in prison. Prison was truly a place to be feared in those times, and Ozzy had to spend a small amount of time there for robbery. However, after this, he came out a different man. Black Sabbath had a difficult start of finding venues and managers who would take them seriously. However, Black Sabbath’s first album gave birth to the genre that we all know and love… Metal.
This article will not just be a story of the life of Ozzy Osbourne. We must also consider the music that Black Sabbath created to understand the monumental importance that they had in developing the Metal genre. After many bumps in the road, including Tony leaving to tour with another band, many difficult gigs, drink and drugs, and money, Black Sabbath eventually broke out of Aston and became one of the most infamous acts to grace the 70s. Well… infamous for some and loved by others. Picture the scene. 1970. Birmingham, England. Thunder. Rain. And then, the devil’s tri-tone played with Tony Iommi’s destructive trills and vibrato. A new sound had been born. Although there are many arguments for the first ‘Metal’ song, there is no doubt that Black Sabbath’s self-titled song is the most important and impactful Metal song. There were various factors that influenced the first eight studio albums by Black Sabbath. The most obvious of these is drugs. Whether it is the weed influence on “Master of Reality”, or the cocaine influence on “Vol. 4”, it shines dramatically in the music. Additionally, the band’s fifth album “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was recorded in a mansion that was rumoured to be haunted. Every part of the band’s lifestyle reflected their musical choices. Ozzy’s vocals improved with every record, peaking on “Sabotage”, especially in the final song ‘The Writ’. Tony’s goal when composing riffs was to write something that was better than the last thing he wrote. This pushed the legendary guitarist to write a significant number of iconic guitar riffs that are popular amongst many beginner guitarists, such as the opening riff in “Iron Man”. Black Sabbath’s slight downfall in the 70s was due to a number of factors. The quality of music severely dropped in “Technical Ecstasy”, Ozzy began having severe problems with drugs, alcohol and in his marriage, and their manager was ripping them off for substantial amounts of money. Although Ozzy was fired in 1979, he quit temporarily in the recording of the album “Never Say Die!” as he was unhappy with the musical direction of the band. However, after Ozzy’s firing in 1979, Black Sabbath never quite peaked in the same way. Let’s consider why.
The legacy of Black Sabbath is important in understanding why Ozzy Osbourne is so important in the Metal scene. Metal music has become like a tree, with multiple branches representing the different areas and sounds that the genre can supply. Yet it all originated with these four men from Birmingham. There are very few cases where one band has been responsible for pioneering an entire genre by themselves. You would have thought that with time, fresher and newer Metal acts would take over and become more popular, but despite Sabbath’s retirement, the band remains as one of the most popular Metal bands to this day. Therefore, their influence, which stems mostly from their first five albums, has stood the test of time. Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal style and skill was an integral part to what made Black Sabbath so successful.
In this time where a legendary performer can no longer perform, we should celebrate his legacy rather than feel sad for his deteriorating health. Ozzy Osbourne is an icon. A man that has done the best and the worst things. Black Sabbath’s 70s music will remain legendary for a very long time.
Written by Ben Reidy