Top 10 Bill Ward Black Sabbath Songs
Drummer Bill Ward’s exclusion from Black Sabbath’s highly anticipated 2013 album, ’13,’ arguably generated more press –- and certainly more emotional outbursts –- than the long-awaited reunion of founding members Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler.
As a reminder of his importance to the band, we created this list of the Top 10 Bill Ward Black Sabbath Songs – using one standout song from each of the ten LPs he recorded with the heavy metal trail blazers.
Incredible as it seems, it’s been thirty years since Bill Ward recorded his last full album with Black Sabbath (in ‘98 he would work on two new songs cut for the ‘Reunion’ live album), and that was regrettably ‘83’s oft-insulted ‘Born Again.’ But you can’t blame old Bill for the unhappy musical marriage between his band and Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan, so let’s not dwell on the matter when the blazing LP opener, ‘Trashed,’ gives us a suitably powerful Ward performance with which to start our countdown.
‘Technical Ecstasy’ is frequently cited as Sabbath’s first major stumble in the studio, but here too Bill Ward delivered a consistently dependable percussive backing –- both versatile and technically spot on –- behind his band mates. And this despite his escalating battle with alcoholism. On ‘Gypsy,’ Bill kicks things into gear with a kinetic, Latin-flavored pattern before directing Sabbath’s shift into more familiar doom tempos with his steadfast time-keeping precision and tasty fills.
‘Swinging the Chain’
Now for a curveball in our Top 10 Bill Ward Black Sabbath Songs: instead of highlighting Ward’s percussion, our selection from 1978’s ‘Never Say Die!’ is one of his two lead vocal appearances with the band. But while the other –- ‘Technical Ecstasy’s Beatles-esque ‘It’s Alright’ –- found the drummer just getting by rather self-consciously, ‘Swinging the Chain’ shows a more confident and animated Ward moving from bluesy growls to ending falsettos, and even copping Ozzy's drunken wail along the way.
Black Sabbath’s awe-inspiring rebirth with new vocalist Ronnie James Dio was truly something for audiences to behold; but for Bill Ward, 1980’s glorious ‘Heaven and Hell’ was just the final straw on the way to rehab for his alcohol problems. Nonetheless, those health issues were never evident in Ward’s ever-reliable and multi-faceted contributions to the album – among which we’ll go ahead and underscore his tastefully busy and diverse percussive work behind the oft-underrated ‘Wishing Well.’
Arguably no song in the Sabbath canon exemplifies the band’s classic doom style better than ‘Sweet Leaf,’ the thunderous opening statement to 'Master of Reality' –- otherwise known as “the cough that invented stoner rock.” And it therefore stands to reason that Bill Ward’s deliberate stomp behind this lumbering behemoth would likewise provide a doom drummer master class, complete with the distinctive percussive “rat-tat-tats” that punctuate Tony Iommi’s mighty riff so memorably.
From 1970’s nearly-perfect ‘Paranoid’ album, ‘Rat Salad’ was essentially Sabbath’s answer to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Moby Dick.’ And while it may not stand up, quality-wise, with some of the other heavy metal classics featured in our list of the Top 10 Bill Ward Black Sabbath Songs, the mere fact that ‘Rat Salad’ provides a rare opportunity for Ward to cut loose and show his chops, unaccompanied, made it a slam dunk pick here, impossible to ignore.
Bill Ward’s superhuman strength with a pair of drumsticks in his fists never proved more devastating than on ‘Vol. 4’s’ crushing ‘Supernaut’ –- and his solitary hi-hat preceding the song only heightens the decapitating impact of what’s to follow. Far from being a one-dimensional head-banging Goliath, though, the song eventually breaks down into an eye-opening Ward solo spot that drags the lords of doom and gloom away on a brief Caribbean holiday -- say what? That’s Bill Ward for you.
‘Killing Yourself to Live’
This undervalued standout from ‘73’s ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ displays the full breadth of Bill Ward’s dynamic range -- even when playing under the unforgivingly bright glare cast by Sabbath’s cleanest and classiest LP production to date. Listen as he smoothly supplies steady support for the album’s controlled introduction until the time comes to whip out his battering rams during the fearsome chorus, before leading his band mates through a series of breathtaking start-stop transitions through to the song’s finale. Tremendous!
For a drummer who, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, all-too-often gets “no respect,” Bill Ward’s revealing performance on this first album relic has long given his staunchest supporters a chance to say, “Well, then listen to this!” A tune originally recorded by Aynsley Dunbar’s Retaliation, ‘Warning’ became a ten-minute monster jam in Sabbath’s hands, with room to spare for all three instrumentalists to show their wares -- including Ward, whose jazz influences and multipurpose chops are showcased as nowhere else in the band’s future discography.
‘Symptom of the Universe’
Our choice from 1975’s seminal ‘Sabotage’ LP could only be the pulverizing masterpiece that is ‘Symptom of the Universe’ –- a song that, in our humble estimation, also epitomizes the classic Bill Ward contribution to Black Sabbath. As a result, it snags the No. 1 spot in our list of Top 10 Bill Ward Black Sabbath Songs. Just listen as Ward commandingly drives the tune’s nervous tempo like a ten-ton locomotive, holding the entire careening train on track with his explosive fills while negotiating the dizzying riff transitions that follow, before laying back and calmly steering the caboose into the station during the song’s acoustic coda. If this doesn’t remind Sabbath’s other three founders of what they’re missing, we don’t know what will.