Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz

Who would've thought that Ozzy would be the most successful member of Black Sabbath? Ozzy, with the biggest drug problem and the fewest songwriting contributions? Bat-chomping, ant-snorting Ozzy and not riff architect Tony Iommi? It'd be like having Art Garfunkel sell more records and write better music than Paul Simon. But on Blizzard of Ozz, backed up by a prodigious American guitarist and a patient but hard-headed manager whom we know today as Sharon, Ozzy recorded one of the all-time great metal debuts, a gateway metal album for generations.

For starters it's got "Crazy Train," Ozzy's signature song and a piece that seems to end up in more movies and football games every year. But it's also got the lawsuit-inspiring "Suicide Solution," the Socratic "I Don't Know" and the environmentalist "Revelation (Mother Earth)," which beat "Blackened" by nearly ten years. "Mr. Crowley" bashed all the subtlety out of Led Zeppelin's occultist leanings. There's even a classical guitar instrumental that hinted at the promise of Randy Rhoads. Ozzy rushed out two albums in the first two years of his career, perhaps because his handlers didn't think he'd live much longer, but Rhoads' neo-classical stylings never run dry on Blizzard.

Contrarians have argued that Ozzy is only as good as his guitarists, and he's certainly worked with some of the best. But like Elvis, Ozzy's mannerisms are so ingrained in popular culture that it's easy to forget what a visionary musician he was. Listen to those wacky harmonies on "Steal Away (The Night)" or the way he shifts the lunatic intro of "Crazy Train" into a cheerful singalong. Without Rhoads, he may not have had the melody, but without Ozzy, Rhoads would have been another Steve Vai, a guitartist's guitarist whose influence would never transcend music theory students. Outside of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth, there has never been a better musician/rock star team-up in metal history.

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