The first kind of music I was ever into was alternative rock, and man, does that music owe a lot to Paranoid. (If you’re a fan of grunge music and you haven’t heard Paranoid, you gotta give it a listen.) Paranoid is one of those albums whose influence is so obvious and profound that it’s hard to believe that an entire genre, metal, came from this one record. Well, that’s not entirely true. Black Sabbath did release a self-titled debut earlier in 1970, and it’s now considered to be the first heavy metal album, but Paranoid is, by all accounts, considered to be their finest and most enduring work. Not to mention it contains their three most recognizable hits: “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and, thanks (in part) to the recent blockbuster movie franchise of the same name, “Iron Man.”
I do my best to listen to as many albums as I can before writing these entries, but Sabbath’s other albums have eluded me for some time, and when I sought them recently on iTunes, they were nowhere to be found, so unfortunately, I can’t comment on some albums I would very much like to hear: Black Sabbath (1970), Master of Reality (1971) and Black Sabbath, Vol. 4 (1972), amongst others. I have, however, heard some cuts from each, thanks to a disc called Greatest Hits 1970-1978 I bought several years ago. One song in particular from Black Sabbath called “N.I.B.” has always blown me away. They would expand upon “N.I.B.” on Paranoid to create mammoth-sized power chord doppelgängers like “War Pigs” and “Iron Man,” and while Paranoid gets a lot of attention for its contribution to all things heavy, I think something that gets completely lost in the praise is that it’s really a very dynamic record.
Listen to the silky smooth “Planet Caravan,” a trippy — the vocals are distorted and pretty much indecipherable — and quite relaxing song. It reminds me of Pearl Jam’s “Indifference” from Vs. Speaking of grunge, get a load of the loud/quiet dynamic at play in “Hand of Doom.” Nirvana would popularize this technique to great effect a generation later, alternating between quiet verses and loud choruses on songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Lithium,” “Heart-Shaped Box” and “All Apologies,” amongst others. Of course, references to grunge wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of punk, which, in 1970, wasn’t really around yet, although so-called “proto-punk” bands like MC5, the Sonics and the Stooges were. Well, Paranoid‘s title track has always come across as rather punkish to me. Not so much the opening lick, but the swift downstroking during the verses.
Considering grunge is an amalgam of punk, metal and good old-fashioned ’70s arena rock, and Paranoid has these three things in palpable amounts, it’s not hard (for me, at least) to view Paranoid as a focal point, a massively important album that was important not only to those of its time, but to those whom it inspired a generation later. In 1970, music just didn’t sound like this: loud and abrasive, distorted and heavy. To hear Ozzy Osbourne howl his vocals through the din must have just been off-putting and bizarre. Led Zeppelin debuted their first two albums in 1969 and their third album in 1970, so hard rock wasn’t entirely new, but Zeppelin used much less distortion and was more bluesy; I have never considered them metal. But the one-two punch of Black Sabbath and Paranoid in 1970 clearly appalled rock critics, who dismissed Black Sabbath’s work. (And Zeppelin’s, for that matter.) Paranoid, probably more than any other album I’m familiar with, is proof that rock critics, when all is said and done, aren’t worth a damn thing when it comes to determining what will resonate with people.