Formation of Black Sabbath
One of the most famous heavy metal bands was formed in Birmingham, England in the late 1960s by teenage buddies Anthony “Tony” Iommi (guitar), John “Ozzy” Osbourne (vocals), Terence “Geezer” Butler (bass) and William “Bill” Ward (drums). They started out as a blues-rock outfit called Earth.
The group began performing in England and around Europe as well. But when they learned that there was another band similarly called Earth, they decided to switch monikers. Eventually, they named themselves Black Sabbath after the song that Osbourne and Butler wrote, “Black Sabbath,” which was inspired by the Italian horror film directed by Mario Bava.
Black Sabbath garnered positive reviews from their live gigs, leading to their first recording contract with Philips Records in late 1969. Their first single was their cover of Crow’s “Evil Woman,” which failed to chart.
Rise to popularity in the UK and then the US, highlighted by “Iron Man”
Black Sabbath’s eponymous debut album was released on Phillips’s subsidiary Vertigo on February 1970. It eventually reached the UK Top Ten. It arrived in the US shores a few months later, and over there it reached at #23 on the Billboard 200.
Later that year, Black Sabbath released their second LP Paranoid which eventually shot to the top of the UK album chart. It spawned a UK top ten single, “Paranoid,” which has now become a rock classic. In the US, Paranoid reached #12, selling over four million copies in the process, going multiplatinum. It was to be Black Sabbath’s most commercially successful album to date. Another single off the album “Iron Man” failed to reach the top 40 (only managing at #52), but as time passed “Iron Man” has become (and remained) Black Sabbath’s most popular song. “Iron Man” is the group’s highest ranking song to rank on the Hot 100.
The group’s third LP Master of Reality was released in the summer of 1971. It was their first album to go to the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 peaking at #8. It sold over two million and therefore was given a double platinum status. Back home, Master of Reality reached #5.
The follow-up Black Sabbath Vol. 4 became another million-selling hit, peaking at #8 and #13 on the UK and US album charts, respectively, as did their fifth LP, the critically-acclaimed Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (which featured Yes’ keyboardist Rick Wakeman). This album reached #4 and #11 on the UK and US album charts, respectively.
Personnel changes and later career
Black Sabbath later had legal disputes with their now-former management who eventually sued the band, who felt they were being “sabotaged.” This paved the way for their sixth album Sabotage (1975) which featured a markedly heavier and more angst-y sound than its predecessors. It only landed at #28 on the US Billboard Hot 100 while it peaked at #7 on the UK album chart.
Their first compilation album, We Sold Our Soul For Rock n’ Roll, was released in 1976, and this time it went double platinum.
Black Sabbath’s next studio album Technical Ecstacy (1976) deviated from the band’s trademark dark and heavy sound. The band’s members, especially Iommi and Osbourne, had had differences over the production of the album. Iommi had wanted some horns and strings to add to their sound, which Osbourne had not really been keen about. Following the Technical Ecstasy‘s release, Osbourne quit to start a solo career. The album performed quite well on the UK (at #13), but over in the US, it failed to crack the Top 40 for the first time (at #51). The follow-up Never Say Die!(1978) was a relative commercial disappointment, at least in the US.
The band eventually found Osbourne’s replacement in Ronnie James Dio, former vocalist of Rainbow. The revamped lineup released 1980’s Heaven and Hell which somehow reinstated the band commercially, peaking at #28 on the Hot 100 (#9 on the UK), going platinum.
Ward quit in 1980 to be replaced by new drummer Vinny Appice. Black Sabbath released 1981’s Mob Rules which also made it to the Top 40 of the US Billboard 200. During the recording of the band’s second live album Live Evil, Iommi and Dio clashed about the mixing and the production of the album, and so Dio quit, with Appice following him.
In Dio’s absence, Black Sabbath recruited Ian Gillan, which ironically was the former vocalist of their fiercest rival Deep Purple. With Gillan, the band recorded and released Born Again in 1983. Although critical reviews of the album were mixed, it was a commercial success, peaking at #4 on the UK charts and reaching the Top 40 of US Billboard 200. Gillan soon quit, however, joining Deep Purple’s reunion gig.
In 1985, Ozzy Osbourne reunited with Black Sabbath, but Butler left. Iommi intended to record a solo album but due to pressures from the band’s label and management, the album, which would become Seventh Star (1986), was billed as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi.” It also featured Glen Hughes, another ex-Deep Purple member, as lead singer and guitarist.
In this arrangement, Iommi had Black Sabbath as his own vehicle. Over the next few years, members came and went. They included drummer Bev Bevan (of Birmingham fellows Electric Light Orchestra), vocalist Tony Martin, another bassists Bob Daisley, Laurence Cottle and Neil Murray. Geoff Nichols, who had been a regular keyboardist of the band since the late 1970s, only became an official member around this time.
Black Sabbath — with Iommi and returnees Dio, Appice and Geezer — releasedDehumanizer in 1992. The album made the band’s return to the Top 50. Its single “TV Crimes” peaked at #33 on the UK singles chart. 1998 witnessed the release of their live album Reunion that featured the band’s highest-charting single overall, “Psycho Man” (at #3 on the US Billboard mainstream rock charts)
In 1999, Black Sabbath reunited again this time for the Ozzfest tour, and after this band went on hiatus. The band was recording for a new album when it was shelved mostly due to Osbourne’s solo career commitments. Besides, his reality TV showThe Osbournes on MTV, became a big hit and introduced him to the younger audiences. Black Sabbath went into hiatus once more. Iommi, Butler, Appice and Dio formed their own band Heaven and Hell who recorded their only studio album Devil You Know in 2009. Heaven and Hell disbanded following Dio’s death from cancer in 2010.
At the beginning of 2010’s, four original Black Sabbath members were ready to record an album of all-new material and do a full tour. Iommi, however, had to undergo treatment for his early-stage lymphoma, and the band had to cancel some of their shows.
Iommi recovered from his illness, and sometime in 2012 the group performed at an indoor concert in their hometown of Birmingham. Ward eventually quit, and was replaced by ex-Rage Against of the Machine drummer Brad Wilk. In 2013, the group came out with their latest studio album to date titled 13, which debuted at #1 on both UK and US charts, as well as some parts of the world where the album had been released.
Black Sabbath was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the following year.