As a solo artist, Ozzy Osbourne earned the moniker "Prince of Darkness" - but it was his work in Black Sabbath that got that darkness rolling. Alongside Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward, Ozzy helped establish what we now know as heavy metal in his first, definitive decade as Black Sabbath's frontman. (That original line-up would reunite several times from the '90s onward.)
We’ve put together a collection of 10 tracks from the band’s glory days to remind you of just how amazing Ozzy’s vocals could be, and how they defined the Sabbath sound as much as any of the instrumentalists did.
“N.I.B.” (Black Sabbath, 1970): In the 1992 documentary The Black Sabbath Story: Volume One, bassist Geezer Butler said, “The song was about the devil falling in love and totally changing, becoming a good person.” The title, however, originally wasn’t an acronym but, rather, a word: “Nib,” as in a pen nib, which is what the members of the band thought that drummer Bill Ward’s beard looked like. Since it really wasn’t an acronym, however, it was left to the fans to figure out what it meant, so over the years it’s come to be known as “Nativity in Black.” Fair enough.
“Planet Caravan” (Paranoid, 1970): If Osbourne’s voice sounds odd to you on this track, there’s a good reason: he sang through a Leslie speaker, after which producer Rodger Bain used an oscillator on it. The end result may have been slightly unnatural, but it’s definitely one of Ozzy’s most memorable vocals.
“Solitude” (Master of Reality, 1971): While the music on this track is particularly distinct for a Sabbath song, with Tony Iommi performing not just guitar but also flute and piano, Osbourne also finds his vocals tweaked once again, this time being run through a delay effect in order to double the vocal track.
“Changes” (Vol. 4, 1972): As a rule, the words “Black Sabbath” and “piano ballad” don’t generally go hand in hand when the band is being discussed by their more casual fans. That said, this track, which featured lyrics by Butler about Bill Ward’s breakup with his wife, gave Ozzy the opportunity to really get emotional with his vocals. Also worth noting: the song would later top the U.K. Singles chart when Osbourne covered the track with his daughter, Kelly.
“Snowblind” (Vol. 4, 1972): It’s very well documented that this song’s title came straight out of the material that was going straight up the band members’ noses at the time. Indeed, they wanted the album to be called that, too, but the label thought they’d be tempting fate and courting controversy, so they opted to go with Vol. 4 instead.
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973): The fact that the band found the initial riff of this track while they were working in the dungeon of Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire, England seems just about right for as disconcerting an album as this is. Slash – yes, the one from Guns ‘n’ Roses (as if there could be another) – called the ending of this song “the heaviest shit I have ever heard in my entire life,” and you can hear why.
“Killing Yourself to Live” (Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, 1973): If Kirk Hammett of Metallica calls this his favorite Black Sabbath track of all time, who are you to complain about its presence on this list? Yeah, that’s what we thought.
“Symptom of the Universe” (Sabotage, 1975): There’s a vocal percentage of the Black Sabbath fanbase which swears that Ozzy’s vocal prowess hit its height on this album, and there are moments on this track – particularly near the end – when you can understand exactly what they’re on about.
“Hole in the Sky” (Sabotage, 1975): In a piece about Ozzy’s all-time best vocal performances, Revolver said of this track that it “shows off just how impassioned the young madman has always been, especially in the band's salad days.” True, that.
“Megalomania” (Sabotage, 1975): Yes, it’s the longest song that Sabbath ever recorded, but it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a track that offers a slow, spooky build, features different sections, and yet by the time it wraps up after almost 10 minutes, you’d swear it didn’t last nearly as long. That said, keep your ears open somewhere just past the three-minute mark, because it’s one of Ozzy’s most phenomenal performances.