Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)

Chapter 53. The Mob Rules

In December 1980 we went to Tittenhurst Park in Ascot to record a song for the movie Heavy Metal. It was John Lennon’s old house. Ringo Starr had taken it over and rented it out to people like us, who could go there to write, rehearse and record. We got there right after Lennon was murdered, so it felt really, really strange. We were there for a week and had lots of time to check the place out. We looked around in the cupboards: ‘Oh, what’s in there? Ah, more gold discs!’

In the bedroom we saw ‘John’ written on one light switch and ‘Yoko’ on the other by each side of the bed. That was quite weird; you could just imagine them going: ‘Which one is mine now?’

The room we rehearsed in was the white room that you always see in those old films about John and Yoko. They had a little studio in the back part of the house and we just used their gear. We set Vinny up in the hallway and I had my amp in the studio. We used Lennon’s engineer as well, so we heard all these stories. It was quite a nice few days. It had a great atmosphere and we got some good vibes from there.

Heavy Metal was an animated film. They asked us to write a song for its soundtrack, but the movie wasn’t finished yet so they just sent us some black and white sketches of it and the storyboard. It was difficult to write to that, as you don’t have an idea of the timing of the scene. They just told us the length of the music they needed for this bit, and I suppose they animated more around what we came up with. We did an intro to go with this scene of these people before they turn into monsters. We made these effects, bubbling sounds and bass sounds and God knows what else, and then we went into the track ‘The Mob Rules’. We recorded it right there and sent it off to the movie people, who put it on the soundtrack as it was. We wanted to use it for our own new album as well, but our producer Martin Birch said: ‘Oh no, it won’t match up sound-wise’, so we ended up re-recording it. As a matter of fact, we re-recorded it twice, because first we had another great scheme of ours go wrong.

Martin said: ‘You know how much it costs to do an album? Why don’t you buy your own studio? Because then we could be in there for two months or three months or whatever, without worrying about the cost of it all!’

It was a great idea. We sent Martin over to LA to have a look at a studio he’d found, to see what it was like. He said: ‘It’s good. It just needs a new desk.’

We bought it and a bloody quarter of a million dollar sound desk, put that in, put the tape machines in and off we went to go and record in it.

It was crap.

We just couldn’t get a guitar sound. We tried it in the studio. We tried it in the hallway. We tried it everywhere but it just wasn’t happening. We’d bought a studio and it wasn’t working! We re-recorded a new version of ‘The Mob Rules’ but abandoned it. We finally just walked out and went to the Record Plant, where we had to pay again, so it cost us twice as much. Nobody could believe it: ‘I hear you bought a studio. So why are you in the Record Plant?’

‘Eh . . . well . . .’

We ended up selling the desk. We sent this crew to pick it up and somebody thought they were burgling the place and called the cops on them. While they were doing their job a squad team was outside, ready to arrest them. But it was all explained and all sorted out. And then we sold the studio. Can Am it was called. It’s actually a thriving studio now. I don’t know what they’ve done to it, but now it’s working somehow.

We wrote the rest of the songs for the Mob Rules album when we were in LA. We got a rehearsal room in the Valley somewhere, where we tried stuff and got ideas that we’d tape and take back to the house. I rented a place in Toluca Lake. After the rehearsals with the band, me and Geoff used to come back there, do a little bit of coke and work on some of the ideas. We’d put new bits to it, change stuff, add to it, try a few other ideas, and then the next day all of us got back together in the rehearsal room and tried it again.

Geoff wasn’t my only visitor in Toluca Lake. Glenn Hughes came over one night with this guitar player, Pat Thrall. Of course I had some coke. Glenn went: ‘Erm . . . You don’t have a bit of . . . would you?’

I’d say: ‘Yeah, I just have a little.’

I went into the bedroom, took a bit out of my stash, came back out again and said:

‘I’ve got this.’

‘Oh, good!’

And it was gone in no time at all.

Glenn went: ‘You haven’t got any more, have you, have you?’

Pat Thrall was absolutely shocked, because he had never seen Glenn in that state. They stayed until four or five o’clock in the morning, so I said: ‘Glenn, I’ve got to go to bed, I’ve got to be in a studio in the morning.’

‘Oh, just one more, just one more!’

I said to Pat: ‘You’ve got to get him home.’

He said: ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know how to handle him. What do I do?’

‘Just get him in the car and get him home!’

I hated doing it to Glenn, but I finally had to throw him out of the house: ‘Out!’

They would have been there to the death if I hadn’t done that. They did this project together: Hughes/Thrall. It didn’t last. I wonder why.

That house was a horrible place anyway. It was hot in Toluca Lake and when I moved in there was no air conditioning. I had already wondered why I got it at such a good price. It was like a sauna in there. The neighbours probably thought I was weird, because I put all this tinfoil up against the bedroom windows, trying to reflect the heat. It was dreadful. I couldn’t wait to get out.

I then moved into a hotel on Sunset Boulevard for a while. Ronnie came over and we put some ideas down in the hotel room. We found it was better to sometimes sit together swapping ideas, instead of working with everybody else around, because then they’re all waiting for you to come up with something.

Heaven and Hell had done extremely well and the tour was a great success. The band members were getting along fine, but it took some effort on everybody’s part to keep it that way, because the whole thing felt like it could blow up any minute. After the record became such a great success, Warner Brothers extended the contract at the same time, offering Ronnie a solo deal. That felt a bit odd to us, because we were a band and we didn’t want to separate anybody. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have a solo deal, but it just seemed like the wrong thing to do at the time. We talked about it and Ronnie was fine. And we just carried on.

By then Ronnie did come over a little more . . . I suppose, bossy. The way he conducted himself, the way he talked, it might have given that impression to the outside world, but he usually didn’t mean anything by it. Ronnie was just very outspoken. On the other hand Geezer and myself hated to be confronted with stuff. We have always been that way, trying not to offend each other, or anybody else. That backfired in the long run, because we wouldn’t say what we felt straight away. Instead we talked about it at first, and then it looked like we talked behind somebody’s back, which in turn caused all sorts of problems. Of course we wouldn’t respond to those immediately either, because we’d talk about it first, which in turn would cause some more problems, that we, of course, wouldn’t . . . Well, you know what I mean. It would ultimately lead to something that couldn’t be solved any more, no matter how much everybody did or didn’t talk about it.

Be that as it may, the recording of Mob Rules went smoothly. ‘Turn Up The Night’ was a fast song and a good way to start the album. Working with Ronnie, somehow the faster ones came easier than before. Another stand-out track was ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’. We wanted a real power track on the album, just like ‘Heaven And Hell’ was on the previous one, and that was it: another huge, long song.

The album was released 4 November 1981. When we originally looked at the cover with a picture by Greg Hildebrandt we said: ‘Wow, we really like this.’

The only thing we took out was the faces in the masks of the figures. There was a little controversy about some stains on the floor in the picture. According to some people it spelled out ‘Ozzy’. Somebody mentioned it to us and we went: ‘What?’

It was total rubbish. I never noticed anything and still wouldn’t know where to find it.

Although I seem to remember that most reviews of Mob Rules were positive, some critics wrote: ‘It’s just Heaven and Hell part two.’

You can’t please everybody.

‘It’s just a continuation of what you have done before.’

‘Well, yeah, it’s the band!’

‘I know, but it sounds like a continuation from your previous album.’

‘Yeah, it is. It’s the next album!’

Or if it’s not, then they’re going: ‘Oh, it doesn’t sound anything like the last album.’

‘No, it’s a different album!’

What are you supposed to do?