October 1971. While the exact release date is murky, that was the month that Black Sabbath released “Iron Man” as a single in America. Taken from the band’s second album, Paranoid (released back in September of 1970), the song sounded like nothing else happening in rock and roll that year—or ever. Ominous, foreboding and heavier than heavy, the song’s brutal riffs were matched by the song’s apocalyptic lyrics.
Originally saddled with the unfortunate working title of “Iron Bloke,” the track is a foundational building block of hard rock. Long before heavy metal would take the template to far technical and lyrically elaborate extremes, Black Sabbath created the matchless template.
“I was heavily into science fiction at the time,” bass player Geezer Butler told LouderSound of the song’s creation. “A lot of the stuff I was writing about was inspired by those sorts of stories. I was fascinated by what might happen to a man who’s suddenly transformed into a metal being. He still has a human brain, and wants to do the right thing, but eventually his own frustrations at the way humanity treats him drives this creature to taking extreme action. It’s almost a cry for help.”
Ultimately peaking at No. 52 on the Hot 100 in 1972, which is quite the accomplishment considering that year the biggest singles in the US included Gilbert “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “The Candy Man” by Sammy Davis Jr.
“I really do feel that when you listen to 'Iron Man,' what you’re getting is the essence of what made Black Sabbath such a special band,” Butler revealed. “It’s fairly simple, yet also has a lot of depth. I’m very proud of what we achieved here."
“Iron Man” is among the songs that appear on We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘N’ Roll, the first Black Sabbath compilation, released in 1976 here in America. A new generation of listeners discovered the song through use in the Iron Man movie franchise, appearing in the teaser trailer and end credits of the 2000 film as well as the extended trailer for Iron Man 2 and the Iron Man video game.