10 Best Black Sabbath Songs
Picking the 10 best Black Sabbath songs is nearly impossible. If the legendary foursome — Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward — didn't invent heavy metal, well, they pretty much defined its vocabulary over the course of their first six albums. Their influence is felt on nearly every hard rock and metal band to this day.
So to celebrate the potential reunion of the original lineup we decided to try and list their best songs. To make things easier on ourselves, we made sure to choose one song from each of those classic '70s albums, and we banned all other singers except Ozzy. Also, in most cases we picked a runner-up song to try and save ourselves some abuse in the comments section. So, with rules explained, here's the 10 Best Black Sabbath songs:
‘Symptom of the Universe’
Tony Iommi proves he's never short on great riffs with this highly influential song from Black Sabbath's sixth album in just five years. The band cranks up the tempo a bit beyond their traditional pace, and as a result provides yet another vein of inspiration for future generations of rockers, specifically “new wave of British heavy metal” acts such as Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, to mine. Then, as if to prove their depth, they reverse-'Stairway' things by slowing down for a lovely acoustic section.
‘Sabbath Bloody’ Sabbath
Sabbath managed the delicate trick of expanding their primal sound with more sophisticated arrangements and instrumentation without losing their essence on this, the title track from their fifth album. Naturally, things kick off with a volcanic riff and pounding drums, but as the song continues these elements alternate with a dreamier section that finds Ozzy singing in a positively lovely manner. Rather than detract from the almighty riff, these interludes actually add to their strength, particularly when things get positively brontosaurus-like about three minutes into the song.
The stone(d)-cold classic of a third album that was 'Master of Reality' found the band condensing its trademark sound into an even tighter package. It contains many of the best Black Sabbath songs ever, including the appropriately mind-expanding sonics of this ode to marijuana. (Does the opening, cleaner guitar riff bring the Beatles to mind for anyone else?) Reportedly that's Tony Iommi, not Ozzy, coughing at the beginning, if you were wondering.
'Vol. 4' serves as the clearest transition point between Sabbath's more straight-ahead early records and the later, more expansive work found near the start of this list. The album features the straight-up piano ballad 'Changes' and the trippy epic 'Wheels of Confusion,' but it's the downright funky groove of 'Supernaut' that became the favorite of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham. You think that crazy percussion break at around 2:38 unduly influenced him?
Lots of people think this song title is short for 'Nativity in Black,' especially since a pair of star-studded tribute albums to Sabbath bore that name about a decade ago. But actually, the title referred to a nickname for drummer Bill Ward, based on his beard, which they somehow felt resembled a pen nib. The storming song casts Ozzy as the Devil himself, as he demonstrates just how easy it is to give into personal temptation and unwittingly make the world around you a much worse place.
Think Black Sabbath were evil, just cause they sang from the P.O.V of Lucifer? Heck no, they were practically hippies! Well, they dressed much better, but let's be honest, back in their early touring days they probably smelled just as bad. Regardless, philosophically they fit right in with the Woodstock generation, kicking off their second and best-selling album with this strong anti-Vietnam war anthem. The dynamic, stop-start urgency of the music gets the pain of military combat, and Ozzy's anger at the callous leaders tucked safely out of harm's way, across in extraordinary depth.
‘Children of the Grave’
Once again, the positive messages of one of Black Sabbath's best songs gets lost by critics hung up on the band's devilish imagery. True, this song, one of the most enduring mosh-pit anthems of all time, does indeed promise revolution and marching in the streets. But it's peace, not chaos, that our heroes are insisting on here, with parents being warned to “show the world that love is still alive” rather than instilling their children with fear.
This all-time classic Black Sabbath song, featuring one of the first riffs any budding young guitarist should try to learn, is more complex lyrically than you might think. In fact, it's almost worthy of a 'Twilight Zone' episode. According to fansite black-sabbath.com, 'Iron Man' tells the tale of a man who travels to the future and sees an apocalypse brought on by our own behavior. As he travels back to warn us, he gets turned to steel, and becomes unable to communicate. Naturally, we mock him, so he gets cynical and instead decides to speed up our pending destruction.
Ozzy Osbourne on harmonica, ladies and gentlemen! Jeez, why doesn't he do that more often? Sabbath's blues roots, and a strong indication of how far they intended to push the genre, were laid bare on this surging track from their debut album. The fleet yet powerful rhythm section of Bill Ward and Geezer Butler do themselves particularly proud on this track, keeping things moving as guitarist Iommi jumps in and out between Osbourne's (probably fictional, but who can say?) account of the day he met Gendolf from 'Lord of the Rings.'
This quick, blazing little burst of self-doubt, an obvious if not indisputable choice for Black Sabbath's best song, was reportedly whipped up in under a half an hour when the band realized they didn't have enough material for their second album. It ended up being the title track, and one of the most iconic heavy metal songs of all time, with everybody including probably your mother covering it at one point or another. It's much shorter than the band's typical songs, but it displays the strengths of each individual band member, and their collective chemistry, very effectively during its short life.