The album is regarded as a classic, and one of the most influential of the heavy metal genre. It has been certified quadruple platinum with over four million copies in the US alone, making it Black Sabbath’s best-selling album.
The “Paranoid” single, released before the album, reached number four in the UK. Pushed by its success, the album hit number one in the UK, and is the only Black Sabbath album to have done so. The US release was held until January 1971, as the Black Sabbath album was still on the charts at the time of Paranoid’s UK release. The album broke into the top ten in the US in March 1971, and would go on to sell four million copies in the US alone, with virtually no radio airplay. Paranoid’s chart success in the US allowed the band to tour there for the first time in December 1970. This spawned the release of the album’s second single “Iron Man”, and although it failed to reach the top 40, “Iron Man” remains one of Black Sabbath’s most popular songs.
The album was again panned by music critics of the era. However, modern-day music critics are much more favourable towards the album than those of the time. An example is Allmusic’s Steve Huey, who cites Paranoid as “one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time”, which “defined the sound and style of metal, more than any other record in history”.
* In 1999, Q magazine (12/99, p.170) included it in their list of The Best Gothic Albums Of All Time, writing that, “[Black Sabbath] stamped their bombastic and doom-laden imprint on British rock forever.”
* In 1999, Vibe (12/99, p.162) included it on their list of 100 Essential Albums of the 20th Century.
* In 2003, the album was ranked number 130 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
* In 2006, the album was ranked number 6 on Guitar World magazine’s list of The Greatest 100 Guitar Albums of All Time.
* As of January 2009, the album is # 60 on Rate Your Music’s Top Albums of All Time list and #2 on their Best Albums of 1970 ranking.
After the release of their eponymous debut album in February 1970, Black Sabbath returned to the studio in June that year, again with producer Rodger Bain, to record their second album. The album was recorded at Regent Sound Studios and Island Studios in London, England. The album’s eponymous single “Paranoid” was written in the studio at the last minute. As drummer Bill Ward explains: “We didn’t have enough songs for the album, and Tony just played the “Paranoid” guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.” The song was written with no intention of it being a successful hit for the band, only to be a filler on the album.
The album was originally titled War Pigs, but allegedly the record company changed it to Paranoid, fearing backlash from supporters of the ongoing Vietnam War. At the time, the band felt that the song was lighter, with the potential to become a single. However, the band’s visual interpretation of a “war pig” was still featured on the cover; a distorted, eerie photograph of a man with sword and shield jumping out from behind a tree. This image confused many of the band’s fans, who thought that the image did not resemble the album title to any extent.
The original UK vinyl release was in a gatefold sleeve. The inner of the gatefold had a black and white photo of the band, posed outdoors on a grassy hill, and was their first appearance on album artwork. To spread the original picture over the gatefold, Ozzy Osbourne was separated from the other members of the band and a section of the grass was copied and dropped into the gap. This is only readily apparent if one compares it with the original photograph.
In comparison with their previous album, the songs on Paranoid were given more focus and direction, with less improvisation. However the lyrical content is equally as dark, exploring themes such as war, mental illness, drug abuse and sci-fi horror. Much of the album could be viewed as a kind of social commentary. Spin magazine wrote that the band “saw heavy rock as a way to emulate the horrors of a fallen world.”
The lyrics of the opening song, “War Pigs”, discuss war and the absurdities of those who make war without regard for those forced to fight it. It is often viewed as a protest song. Similarly, the lyrics of “Electric Funeral” discuss the bleak aftermath of nuclear warfare. These songs were written in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, and could be seen as quite representative of the political situation at the time.
The song “Paranoid” is uncharacteristically fast and simplistic for Black Sabbath in their early days. Supposedly the band members intended it only as an interlude or as “filler”. Its lyrics concern the stigma of mental illness. In a related way, “Iron Man” is about a time traveller from the future who has been turned to steel. He is outcast by society but eventually takes his revenge on humanity. It is also a reference to Vietnam war veterans, who upon returning from war were outcast by society and had no help re-integrating into normal life or dealing with their post war mental disorders.
The song “Iron Man” is thematically very similar to the Ted Hughes novel, The Iron Man. This book was made into an animated film which was called The Iron Giant.
Three songs on the album appear to concern dreams, hallucinations and drug use. “Planet Caravan” and “Fairies Wear Boots” are quite psychedelic in style and their lyrics are quite abstract. “Hand of Doom” was written as a message against heroin use. The song transitions between slow, soft passages and fast, loud passages as a representation of the drug being injected.
Edited by Timitzi on 26 Apr 2009, 18:37
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