Four years after forming, Black Sabbath released Vol. 4. The year was 1972. The year of Munich. The year of Watergate. The year of Bloody Sunday, of ERA, the attempted assassination of George Wallace, Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking visit to China, Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan. The space shuttle program began, and as of now the last man walked on the moon. It was a big year in the news.
It was also a big year in pop culture. The Godfather, Fiddler on the Roof, Diamonds Are Forever, Dirty Harry, and A Clockwork Orange all debuted. HBO launched its cable service, and Pong changed teenage male entertainment forever. It was a big year musically too. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was #1, Helen Reddy declared she was Woman (“hear me meow”), America played it safe and cool with “Ventura Highway,” The Doobie Brothers told us to “Listen to the Music,” Michael Jackson sang lovingly about a rat named “Ben,” Elton John bored us with “Rocket Man,” and Sammy Davis Jr. sang about a creepy guy that distributes candy.
So, Black Sabbath had a lot to live up to that year. Vol. 4 was, interestingly enough, the fourth album by the band. Kind of like Led Zeppelin IV was their fourth album. Except Led Zeppelin’s fourth album is actually not titled “IV.” That moniker was placed on it by people that can’t stand the idea of a nameless album that isn’t actually the first release by a group. Anyway, Vol. 4 was another solid building block by the boys in black. It was also the middle of their best period. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage are still two of our favorites. Technical Ecstasy was confusing and Never Say Die showed the band was getting bored. That was the end of the road for Ozzy too. Thank goodness. Both the band and Mr. Osbourne benefited by the separation. The first two post-Ozzy albums with Ronnie James Dio were very different from old Sabbath and very good. We won’t speak about the sadness that settled in over the next 30 some odd years.
Vol. 4 show some maturation and experimentation with “Wheels of Confusion” (the last 3-ish minutes are the bomb). “Tomorrow’s Dream” and “Cornucopia” lumber along blackening the sky with burning diesel, “Snowblind” and “Changes” (the latter is actually kind of a pretty song) are indulgent, “Laguna Sunrise” is a breath of fresh air, St. Vitus’ Dance is a frolic, and “Under the sun/Every day comes and goes” is urgent until we are all exhausted and ready to end the race. But … ah … right smack-dab in the middle is the masterpiece — “Supernaut.” What an incredible piece. That brief cymbal intro creates a goose-pimply anticipatory sensation every single time we hear it. When Tony Iommi opens his guitar’s maw and releases the battle cry riff, our focus is laser-like and we’re ready for the war machine’s wheels to start churning, which of course they do about 20 seconds in. Ozzy may be singing about space, but we imagine a monolithic mass surging forward on the ground with nothing in its way to stop it. It just rocks, this song. There’s an odd little interlude around 2:30 in. Kind of a catchy little piece – just not sure why it’s in there. But when we come out of it again, we’ve caught our breath and are ready to slog forward again. Lovely song. Pure Black Sabbath heavy metal.
I want to reach out and touch the sky
I want to touch the sun
But I don’t need to fly
I’m gonna climb up every mountain of the moon
And find the dish that ran away with the spoon
I’ve crossed the ocean, turned every bend
I found the crossing near a golden rainbow’s end
I’ve been through magic and through life’s reality
I’ve lived a thousand years and it never bothered me
Got no religion, don’t need no friends
Got all I want and I don’t need to pretend
Don’t try to reach me, ’cause I’d tear up your mind
I’ve seen the future and I’ve left it behind
Enjoy the music. If you get a chance, get a high quality version of the song and play it loud on speakers with woofers that can knock your grandma over.
We thought of another song tonight that we’d like to offer before the Johnny Nash chaser. The Sisters of Mercy, an English goth band from the 1980’s, wrote a cute little ditty called “Afterhours.” We may have been reminded of this song after listening to Supernaut because Supernaut has such strongly mechanized audio-imagery and Afterhours sounds like an empty factory chugging along eerily in the night. Afterhours is a B-side track from the 1984 12″ release of “Body and Soul.” Can we just say it is the cat’s meow? All parts creepy with a measure of despair thrown in. Here are the words:
One more night spent on your mirror
Black Maria, in your eyes
This stuff so strange and lonely
England fades away
In your eyes
Two o’clock in the morning
Through the stillness, through the heat
The cars go by on Fifth and
Get up off the floor and angel
Put your clothes on
It’s time for us to go
Let’s take a ride
Yes, let’s. See? Happy thoughts all around.
Huh. We found the single’s cover for “Afterhours” and it was Dante-esque which immediately reminded us of the Stig’s Inferno trade paperback cover. By the way, we will review Stig in a future post. It is hands-down one of the funniest independent comics from the 1980’s.
By, the way, if you click on the image to open it, you will discover that it’s width is 666 pixels. That was unplanned. It happened as if it wasn’t an accident. The Lord of Lies is at at it again. Curse you, Azazel!
And, now – on to the chaser. Johnny Nash is a popular raggae-tinged singer that made his mark in the 1960’s. Unlike Bob Marley who sang true raggae (he kind of put it all together actually) and would venture into challenging themes like war and slavery, Nash’s songs were much more sanguine. He was clearly a happy fellow or at least his songs made us feel happy anyway. In 1972, as Supernaut was being introduced to the masses, Johnny was releasing his own flavor of a successful song. “I Can See Clearly Now” is Nash’s biggest hit. It’s catchy. It’s uplifting. It’s just … nice. Have a listen.
Mmmm. Sunny and warm, huh?