Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell with Black Sabbath - Tony Iommi, T.J. Lammers (2011)
Chapter 35. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
We recorded Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in Willesden, north London, and produced it ourselves. The ‘direction Patrick Meehan’ credit was on the album sleeve again. We felt there was less ‘directing’ than ever, as Meehan was expanding his business more and more and we were probably not getting the attention we should have had. That began gradually and the first cracks in our relationship started to show. I really worked hard on that album. I tried a lot of different stuff. It was a matter of constantly being in the studio creating sounds. Back then you had to make them yourselves and it took a while. Now, with the computer, it’s bang, okay, next.
The riff of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ was the benchmark for that album. It was a heavy riff, then the song went into a light bit in the middle, and then back to the riff again: the light and shade I’m always looking for. Ozzy sang very well on it, actually on all of the songs on the album. Very high!
Geezer wrote lyrics for the song with lines like ‘the race is run, the book is read, the end begins to show, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, nothing more to do’. I don’t know what inspired him to write that, but it could be about him thinking it was all over when we got writer’s block. But after that song the rest followed without any great problems. The other guys came up with ideas as well. Ozzy had bought this Moog synthesiser. It was like the top of the range, but he didn’t really know how to work it. I don’t know who could understand it either, it seemed really complicated to me. But he got this one sound out of it and he came up with ‘Who Are You?’. It worked really well. I just put a piano bit in the middle of that one. And the initial riff for ‘A National Acrobat’ was written by Geezer, and then I added bits to it. Geezer can write some great stuff. It’s just getting it out of him. This was probably the first one he did that got on to an album.
Rick Wakeman played on ‘Sabbra Cadabra’. He wouldn’t accept any money for that, so we paid him in beer. We’d always have a bit of a laugh with him. On the end of that song Ozzy’s saying stuff like ‘stick it up her arse’ and all that, just as a joke. It was never meant to be on the album as this track was supposed to finish well before Ozzy started ranting and raving, but, because Rick was playing on it, we just kept it going. Then we thought, we’ll be crucified doing an album with all that on it, so we put phasing over it so you can’t tell what he’s saying. But all that foul language is on there, just jumbled up a bit.
Apart from the single ‘Paranoid’, we couldn’t gain any radio airplay. One of the few who gave us a chance was Alan Freeman, the BBC DJ whose nickname was ‘Fluff ’. He liked us and played ‘Laguna Sunrise’ as the theme tune for his programme, The Saturday Rock Show. So when I came up with another quiet instrumental I thought, well, I’ll call this song ‘Fluff ’, after him.
On ‘Spiral Architect’ we used strings again, arranged by Will Malone. Will has a nice, weird way of thinking. It was again a bunch of serious people coming in and playing those strings. I didn’t play bagpipes on this song, although I tried. I just thought for a minute I could play them, so I sent one of the crew out to buy me some bagpipes at this Scottish shop. I started blowing, without any result. This went on and on; it was a real waste of studio time. I went: ‘Take them back to the shop, tell them they’re not bloody working!’
He took them back, the bloke at the shop played them and said: ‘Nothing wrong with these.’
I thought, oh no. I then attached them to a vacuum cleaner, to see if we could blow the bag up so I could just play it. But of course the only noise you got was ‘Wuuuuuhhh’, from the vacuum cleaner. I tried for ages, but all I could get was something that sounded like a dying cat: ‘Wiiiihhuhhwiiiuh.’ So in the end I gave up on that. Of course we could have got a Scotsman to do it, but we always tried things like these ourselves. The first time me and Geezer wanted strings, we thought we could play them ourselves, multi-track the instruments and make this into an orchestra. We got a violin and a cello and it sounded awful: ‘Wooohhooo, yieieiehieieieieh.’ I could hear what I wanted in my head but it wasn’t coming out in our hands. We tried until we said: ‘Oh fuck it, we’ve got to get an orchestra in!’
It was the same with the sitar. I couldn’t play that either. I had all these great ideas, but they never materialised. I’ve still got that sitar somewhere. Got rid of the bagpipes, though.
The album ended with a little bit of applause. Our engineer put that on and we thought, oh, that’s funny, and it ended up on there. Sometimes these little things did, and sometimes they didn’t. Actually, on one of the earlier albums, when we were working with engineer Tom Allom, we spent an hour and a half marching up and down these stairs, singing: ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.’ We were coming all the way down these three flights of stairs and there was a microphone at the bottom, so the sound we made was getting louder and louder. And Tom kept going: ‘No, no, go back, do it again.’
We were dead at the end, but we kept doing it: ‘Hi ho, hi ho.’
The idea was to walk down and eventually slam the door and ‘duh-duh-duh-duh’ come into a track. It looked like a good idea until we tried it and it sounded awful. So we scrapped it.
The album cover had great paintings by Drew Struzan, with the good on one side and the evil on the other. On the inside it had a picture of the band in what should have looked like an ancient room, except there was a three-point power plug down there on the wall. That sort of blew it a bit, really.
Even today, I find that the music, compared to the previous records, has more class about it, more arrangements, more shine if you like, and it’s more adventurous. It was a leap forward. We used strings and God knows what else; we really expanded. That’s why, for me, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the pinnacle. And then the next one would be Heaven and Hell, which created that same vibe for me again.