Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest, hardest-rocking guitarist in heavy metal history: Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath. To commemorate the occasion, we’ve put together a list of five songs - one from each of Sabbath’s first five albums - that really celebrate Iommi’s way with a riff, so prepare to have your brain melted like a birthday candle on Iommi’s cake!
“Black Sabbath” (from Black Sabbath, 1970)
It just feels wrong to write a piece about the man whose guitar work helped define Black Sabbath and not include the title track from their self-titled debut album. The lyrics were penned by Ozzy Osbourne, but the concept came from Geezer Butler. Fascinated by the occult, Butler’s idea of décor was to paint the walls black and adorn them with inverted crucifixes and pictures of Satan. Cool, cool, cool. To add insult to injury, Osbourne gave Butler a book of the occult which was written in Latin, and after reading it one night, Butler claims the he awoke to see a large black figure at the end of his bed, and although the figure disappeared, Butler soon realized that the book had as well. Great story, even better song.
“War Pigs” (from Paranoid, 1970)
Written while the band was on the road in Europe and finding themselves with a lot of opportunities to jam, “War Pigs” evolved out one such jam and was turned into a proper song in the studio. Its original title was “Walpurgis,” and as for why it changed... Well, we’ll just offer up what Iommi said in his memoir, Iron Man:
[The original title] suggests that it might have been a supernatural song. This is not necessarily the case. Maybe it was just a working title, with no lyrics written for it whatsoever. I don’t know why Geezer changed it. The lyrics were definitely his department. I always liked what he did, so I never questioned him.
“Into the Void” (from Master of Reality, 1971)
The closing track on Master of Reality, this is one of those songs that just about every hard rock and heavy metal guitarist - including James Hetfield and Eddie Van Halen - both loves and holds up as an example of why Tony Iommi is one of the greatest axe-slingers of all time. They are not wrong.
“Under the Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes” (from Vol. 4, 1972)
What is it about Iommi saving some of his best riffs for album closers? In his biography of the band, author Mick Wall didn’t hold back when it came to his praise of this song, saying that it served as the sonic signpost for bands who wanted to follow in Sabbath’s footsteps. To that, we say they could’ve picked a lot worse sonic signposts.
“Spiral Architect” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973)
This is definitely a world away from what the band was doing when they first began, and it’s astounding to think that they’d gotten so far in only four years. The best story about this song, though, is tied to an instrument that’s not on it. In his aforementioned memoir, Iommi discussed how his original intent was to play bagpipes on the song, not taking into consideration that just popping ‘round to a music store, buying a set, and playing them isn’t as easy as all that. In fact, he struggled so hard to fill the bladder of the bagpipes that the band made what we can only presume was a drug-fueled decision to try and fill it using a vacuum. So, yeah, that was the end of the band’s big bagpipe plans. Still a great song, though.