Black Sabbath: “Frenzied songs about death, destruction, demonic possession & black magick”

By on January 12, 2018

In Night Flight’s “Take Off to Heavy Metal History: Black Sabbath” — which originally aired on October 13, 1984, and you can now find streaming over on Night Flight Plus — we focused on the British band who, as announcer Pat Prescott tells us in her introduction, “almost single-handedly kept heavy metal music alive in the ’70s.”

Ms. Prescott also describes Black Sabbath‘s music as “The devil’s music: high decibel, tortured, frenzied songs about death, destruction, demonic possession and black magick.”

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This particular “Take Off” profile goes all the way back to the 1970s and the classic Black Sabbath lineup to show viewers some of their first filmed performances — not yet called “music videos” — of classic songs like “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs.”

It also traces the development of Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio from their days as the band’s lead singers to their current solo careers, as Ms. Prescott said back in 1984, as “rock’s top metal madmen.”

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Our “Take Off” also features three of Dio’s videos: “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Last in Line” and “Mystery.” You can also read more about one of Dio’s more interesting recording projects here.

We also included a rarely-seen live video performance of “Trashed,” with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame taking over the lead vocals (he’s featured on their eleventh studio album, 1983’s Born Again).

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Speaking of Ozzy, our legendary interview segment — about twenty-three minutes into this episode — is one of our most-requested vintage clips, and one of the best interviews we’ve got in our Night Flight vaults.

“Ozzy Osbourne is one of the most outrageous, controversial and outspoken rock stars in music today” Ms. Prescott says during the introduction to the interview, in which Ozzy briefly addresses the fact that he’s called the “prince of darkness.”

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Read more about Ozzy Osbourne and “backmasking” below.

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As you’ll see in this  “Take Off” episode, Ozzy also veers off into the interesting topic of “backmasking.”

That’s the name given for the deliberate insertion a “hidden” recorded message — usually no more than a single phrase or sentence — into previously-recorded tracks, which can only be heard if the recording is played backwards.

A throwback to the original vinyl days, you could listen to these hidden messages by manually spinning a vinyl record with your finger so that the stylus goes backwards in the record groove.

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We’ve listened closely to this Ozzy interview a few times and we believe this is what he’s saying:

“You know, In the United States of America, for instance, when you’ve suddenly become a success, then a minority of the people suddenly start to think, ‘Hey, this guy has gotta be singing backwards.’ So they’ll play the record backwards.”

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Ozzy begins making some very funny faces as he describes what he thinks it sounds like to hear his voice backwards, before describing the typical oddball Ozzy fan who have told him they’ve uncovered his hidden message:

“I’m into Scientology, man, do you know what your record sound like backwards?!,” Ozzy says, imitating this fan by twisting his face into hilarious expressions.

“And that’s what they want to do. I don’t understand these people, they’re all bananas.”

Ozzy’s voice gets louder when he adds: “Why don’t people say, ‘Hey, I liked the tune, man! I stomp my foot and get off on it,’ you know.”

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Backmasking was likely first popularized by one of Ozzy’s favorite bands, the Beatles, who used it to great effect on their 1966 album Revolver, on its last track, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (they also used it on a great b-side, “Rain”).

The effect was also used in the 1973 William Friedkin film The Exorcist, in which a tape of noises from a Satan-possessed young girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) was discovered to contain a backmasked message (although scary as hell at the time, the scene now can be played for laughs).

Since the 1970s, recording artists have been deliberately using backmasking for numerous reasons — often artistic but sometimes as a satirical “put on” — but in the ’80s, its use prompted some looney-tune fundamentalist Christian groups to call for the technique to be banned.

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These fundy Christian yahoos believed rock groups were using backmasking for the purposes of indoctrinating unsuspecting young listeners into Satanism.

Of course, that didn’t make a lot of sense, that these listeners would be able to hear the backwards-message subliminally as the song was being played forward, without having to take the belt off of our turntables).

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Somewhat related to this was the fact that Ozzy Osbourne was also sued, in 1986, by the parents of a depressed teenager named John McCollum of Indio, California, after their son was said to have committed suicide shortly after listening to “Suicide Solution,” a track from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz album.

The lawsuit — which focused more on Ozzy’s lyrics than on “backmasking” — alleged that a particular lyrics, “Get the gun and shoot!,” encouraged McCollum to off himself.

Osbourne said that the line was actually, “Get the flaps out” (“flaps” being British slang for female genitalia).

Ozzy was later cleared of all charges and the suit was dropped after the judge declared that Ozzy’s song was neither intended nor likely to produce the result of suicide.

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A few years later, Ozzy Osborne inserted a backmasking joke on purpose — “Your mother sells whelks in Hull!” — in his song “Bloodbath in Paradise,” parodying the line from The Exorcist where Linda Blair’s Satan-possessed character says “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!”

If you’re a Black Sabbath original lineup purist and Dio isn’t your thing, you can also check out our 1986 Black Sabbath Video Profile (as we previously told you about here) over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.