The Enduring Influence of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid Album

Black Sabbath's Paranoid Album is more than just a popular metal record. It is an album that will live forever.

Black Sabbath's Paranoid is one of the most popular and influential heavy metal albums of all time. Its legacy continues to inspire younger listeners, as older listeners continue to listen to it over and over. The single release of the song Paranoid was the group's introduction to much of the world. Along with War Pigs, the other enduring hit on the album, Paranoid is one of the songs that continues to define Black Sabbath over the decades. Let's look at some of the fascinating history surrounding this groundbreaking album.


A Song That Was Almost Never Released

One of the most interesting things about the song Paranoid is that it came very close to being scrapped from the album. This, in turn, would have meant giving the album a different name. Band members Ozzy Osbourne and Geezer Butler were both in favor of leaving the song off the album, thinking it was too similar to Led Zeppelin's Communication Breakdown.

Once they reluctantly decided to include Paranoid, naming the album after it was another last-minute decision. The original idea, to name the album War Pigs, was a concern to record company executives. This was 1970 when the Vietnam War was still going on, and protests were happening in England as well as the United States and many other countries. Vertigo Records, the company releasing the album, worried that this title might offend too many people, and hence the album name was changed to Paranoid.


How the Song Spoke to a Generation

Paranoid is an expression of teenage angst and alienation, though, as the song's endurance proves, people of all ages can identify with its message. By today's standards, the lyrics are fairly tame with no obscenities, sexual references or blatant violence. However, at the time, the sentiments were ones that weren't often publicly expressed. The lyrics are also very simple and straightforward with no attempt at grandiosity or metaphor.

Lines such as "All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy" and "Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal" require no deep analysis. Whereas many folk-rock groups of the 60s and early 70s also expressed similar sentiments, Black Sabbath was able to deliver the message with its loud and high-energy heavy metal package. What's really amazing about the song is not merely how popular it initially was, but how it has endured through so many changes in the music industry.


Thing You Might Not Know About the Song and Album

We've already highlighted how Paranoid was a surprise hit that almost never appeared on the album. Here are some other notable facts about the song and album.

  • The B-side of the single release Paranoia was The Wizard, from their debut album, self-titled Black Sabbath. 
  • The word "paranoid" never actually appears in the song by that name. Arguably, the song is more about alienation and depression than paranoia.
  • Paranoid wasn't the group's first single. This was Evil Woman Don't Play Your Games With Me, a cover from the American group Crow.
  • In Finland, there's a popular tradition surrounding the song Paranoia. Similar to how, in America, people shout "Freebird" during performances, in Finland, they shout "Soittakaa Paranoid!" which is a joking request to play that song.
  • Paranoid, which reached #4 in the UK charts, was Black Sabbath's only Top 10 hit.
  • The song has caused Black Sabbath its share of controversy, including lawsuits against Ozzy Osbourne, claiming that people committed suicide after listening to it. So far, no one has collected anything on these lawsuits. Indeed, the song, though grim, never alludes to taking one's own life.


The Enduring Influence of Paranoid

Paranoid, both the song and album, have proven to be one of the most influential and evergreen heavy metal accomplishments of all time. While loved by Black Sabbath and heavy metal fans, the song is one that's recognized by millions of people who can only name a handful of heavy metal tunes. Just a few of the TV shows and movies in which the song is heard include:

  • Any Given Sunday
  • Sid and Nancy
  • Almost Famous
  • The Angry Birds Movie
  • Dazed and Confused
  • The Stoned Age

As an early and iconic heavy metal song, it's certain that Paranoid will continue to be used in popular culture as well as played on radio stations that feature this genre


The Rest of the Paranoid Album

Of course, there's a lot more to the Paranoid album than just the title song. That and War Pigs, of course, are the songs most people walking down the street could name off the tops of their heads. However, real Black Sabbath fans appreciate the depth of the entire album. Some of the other noteworthy songs on the album include:

Iron Man - Although this song is now forever connected to the Iron Man superhero franchise, the two originally had no connection. Geezer Butler insists that he'd never heard of the Marvel superhero by the same name when he composed the song. Still, the song, like the comic, has a fascinating sci-fi theme about a time-traveler with superpowers.

War Pigs - An angry anti-war song. Although it's commonly associated with the Vietnam War due to the timing of its release, the song is really applicable to all wars.

Hand of Doom - This song, unlike War Pigs, actually refers directly to the Vietnam War in its lyrics. However, the main theme here is the tragedy of heroin addiction.

Fairies Wear Boots - This song was inspired by an incident when the band was attacked by a gang of skinheads.


Paranoid: An Album That Will Live Forever

Although Black Sabbath has more of a niche than a mainstream following, Paranoid is one album that continues to have a strong influence on society and helps to define heavy metal music. In February 2017, Black Sabbath officially retired and performed their last show and played Paranoid for the final time. Still, the song that inspired the album's name and, to a lesser extent, others on the album, continue to be enjoyed (or wallowed in, as the case may be) by music lovers of all ages.

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Grace Kirkby


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