January 1971: Black Sabbath Releases "Paranoid" in America

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(Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

In the early days of Black Sabbath, American fans were forced to wait a little bit longer to hear the band's music. The group's self-titled debut was released in February 1970 in England. It wouldn't hit US shores until June.

So when Sabbath was ready to release their second album, Paranoid, in September of 1970, the band's debut was still gaining momentum in America. Which is why it wouldn't grace record store shelves on this side of the Atlantic until January 7, 1971.

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The album proved to be worth the wait. Loaded with standout tracks, the record would make the band rock stars. The album's title track and first single, "Paranoid," would be the spark. Written by guitarist Tony Iomni in about 30 minutes when the group needed one more song for the full-length. When he first showed it to the band, they quickly rejected the idea for sounding too much like another band.

“We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album,” bassist Geezer Butler told Classic Rock in 2004. “So when Tony came up with the riff to ‘Paranoid’ me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went: ‘Naw, we can’t do that!’ In fact, we ended up having quite a big argument about it. Guess who was wrong? The fact that it became such a big hit for us—and is now probably our best known song—says it all, really.”

The new tune would send fans into such a frenzy that it gave the band a moment of pause."That single ('Paranoid') attracted screaming kids," Iommi said in the liner notes of the 1998 live album, Reunion. "We saw people dancing when we played it, and we decided that we shouldn't do singles for a long while after that to stay true to the fans who'd liked us before we'd become popular."

The band's label, Warner Bros, didn't exactly agree with the "no singles" edict, issuing the second single from Paranoid, "Iron Man," in October of 1971. While neither single exactly burned up the charts--"Paranoid" peaked at #61, "Iron Man" at #52--they become cornerstones of the band's legacy, and building blocks for hard rock and roll going forward.

Paranoid the album would do considerably better on the charts, peaking at #12 on March 19, 1971. Deep album cuts like "Hand of Doom" and the psychedelic ballad, "Planet Caravan," would become fan favorites.

The album's opening track, "War Pigs," has long been considered Black Sabbath's response to the Vietnam war. According to Butler, the meaning goes much deeper.

“Walpurgis is sort of like Christmas for Satanists, and to me, war was the big Satan," he revealed. "It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was [about] evil. So I was saying ‘generals gathered in the masses/just like witches at black masses’ to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought ’Walpurgis’ sounded too satanic. And that’s when we turned it into “War Pigs.” But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished.”


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"Marvin could sing the Lord's Prayer and it would have sexual overtones," confirmed co-producer Ed Townshend in the liner notes of the landmark LP.

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