Ozzy Osbourne’s Live Releases: The Definitive Ranking
After nearly four decades of defining and redefining heavy metal and terrorizing small winged animals as a solo artist, Ozzy Osbourne will launch his final tour this spring. The two-year trek, which bears the impish title “No More Tours 2,” as a throwback to his early-Nineties retirement tour, will kick off in Mexico in May before making its way to the States in August.
“I’m not retiring,” the singer told Rolling Stone on Tuesday. “It’s ‘No More Tours,’ so I’m just not doing world tours anymore. I’m still going to be doing gigs, but I’m not going on tour for six months at a time anymore. I’d like to spend some time at home.”
Before he sets out on one last big trek around the globe, we’ve decided to rank all the official live releases he’s put out in the 39 years since he proved he was more than just the singer of Black Sabbath. In that time, he has worked with several six-string virtuosi, including Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde, the last of whom will be accompanying him on the final tour, and each of the guitarists left a unique stamp in their respective period in his career, inspiring Ozzy as a singer and lending to some unforgettable performances. Here’s how the 10 official documents shake out.
‘iTunes Festival: London 2010’ (2010)
Captured during the tour for Ozzy’s most recent studio album, 2010’s Scream, this largely forgettable digital-only release is the only official live document of his time with Firewind’s Gus G. as his sideman. And while the guitarist’s playing throughout is inspired, it sometimes sounds a bit derivative (including a few squealy harmonics the way Zakk Wylde played them) and the songs that made it onto the release are a predictable assortment of solo classics and Sabbath hits along with his then-current single “Let Me Hear You Scream.” What’s missing are the rare Jake E. Lee–era tunes like “Shot in the Dark” and “Bark at the Moon” that Gus played beautifully on that tour. Ultimately, the release has since become a rare beast: an out-of-print digital-only release. There isn’t even a quality rip of it on YouTube.
‘Speak of the Devil’ (1982)
After Randy Rhoads’ death in a freak airplane accident in March 1982, Ozzy’s manager and future wife Sharon was determined not to let him descend into depression and complacency, so she pushed him to find another guitarist almost immediately. First, he drafted Irish musician Bernie Tormé for a handful of dates before bringing in Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis for the rest of the Diary of a Madman tour. The band’s June 1982 gig at Irving Meadows, California was filmed for a home-video release, dubbed Speak of the Devil, offering a rare glimpse of the over-the-top castle set featured on the tour as well as the copious amounts of guyliner Ozzy wore then.
Later in the year, the band recorded a double-live LP also titled Speak of the Devil, at the much smaller New York City venue the Ritz. The record contained only Black Sabbath songs and it served three purposes: It fulfilled Ozzy’s contract with Sharon’s father’s label, Jet Records; it allowed him to release something that didn’t exploit Rhoads’ playing so soon after his death; and it would serve as competition to his ex–Black Sabbath bandmates, who were putting out their own live album, Live Evil, with his replacement, Ronnie James Dio. Sabbath’s album charted slightly higher in the U.K., while Speak of the Devil gamely outpaced Live Evil in the U.S. Ozzy has dismissed the release as a contractual obligation, even though his performances on songs like “Symptom of the Universe” and “The Wizard” are strong. Still, it sounds like a bit of an uninspired slog for the rest of the guys who were basically hired guns at the time.
‘Live at Budokan’ (2002)
Recorded at the fabled Tokyo outpost at the peak of Osbournes mania, this live album and DVD were meant to show casual fans that Ozzy was more than just a reality-TV star. His band at the show was particularly strong, with future Metallica bassist Robert Trujillo and former Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin going toe-to-toe with Zakk Wylde, and the way they maintain a loose pocket in songs like the live-rarity “Believer” and “Bark at the Moon” (a song that otherwise doesn’t have a pocket) make it a fun listen. Best yet, Ozzy’s voice is in top form throughout, and in the video, you can see how much fun he was having at the show.
‘Just Say Ozzy’ (1990)
When Ozzy hit the road in support of his first record with Zakk Wylde, 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked, he found himself needing a bassist, so he phoned up an old friend, Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler. At the time, Ozzy’s band had more original Sabbath members than Sabbath. Accordingly, the EP features two songs from the musicians’ alma mater – “War Pigs” and an especially lively “Sweet Leaf” – alongside three cuts from Wicked and a version of The Ultimate Sin’s “Shot in the Dark” that Ozzy has called his favorite recording of the song. Wylde’s playing and especially Butler’s surprisingly groovy bass line on the latter make Just Say Ozzy worth a listen. Butler would leave Ozzy’s band by the end of the year – eventually rejoining Black Sabbath, which reunited the Mob Rules lineup – but he’d later rejoin to play on 1995’s Ozzmosis. The footage above from the Moscow Music Peace Festival is not from Just Say Ozzy, but it’s a rare example of “Shot in the Dark” by the same lineup.
‘Bark at the Moon’ (1984)
Now long out of print, Bark at the Moon was Ozzy’s first-ever live video release, and it’s a shame given how high-energy he was at this Salt Lake City gig. The singer, sporting some surprisingly blonde plumage, pulls faces like a possessed man during the title song, mimes smoking weed during “Flying High Again” and puts his arms in the air in victory at the end of “Crazy Train.” Through it all, new guitar recruit Jake E. Lee twirls, stomps his feet and detunes his guitar while playing a million notes a minute in his “Suicide Solution” solo and songs like “Centre of Eternity” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel.” And all the while, poor drummer Tommy Aldridge for some reason has to sit atop what looks like a 50-foot staircase. It’s pure rock bombast and it deserves better than a shoddy YouTube transfer.
‘Live & Loud’ (1993)
In 1992, a year after putting out the stellar No More Tears album, Ozzy got a shock after he’d been wrongly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. He decided he wanted to retire and spend more time with his family, so he launched one final live bid: the No More Tours Tour. The double-live album and video release Live & Loud, both of which featured nifty heavy-metal speaker-grill packaging, featured a compilation of songs recorded throughout the tour, and given the weight of the occasion, the performances were particularly electrifying. The album’s version of “I Don’t Want to Change the World” won Ozzy his first Grammy, and the cover of Black Sabbath’s piano ballad “Changes” – which Osbourne’s band recorded only once on the trek, at Denver’s Red Rocks – became an unlikely rock-radio hit. “You know this is my last time out, yeah?” he asks the crowd at one point. “So let’s make this a fuckin’ night to remember, OK?” The applause is thunderous. But of course, he was back on the road within a couple of years on his Retirement Sucks tour. “How can I retire at the age of forty-six?” he asked hypothetically in his autobiography.
‘Live EP’ (1980)
Ozzy’s first solo live release contains three tracks recorded during his first post-Sabbath tour, at the Gaumont Theatre in Southampton, England. In addition to brilliant renditions of “Mr. Crowley” and “Suicide Solution,” bolstered by Randy Rhoads’ pyrotechnic soloing and Lindsay Bridgwater’s organ playing, the EP is essential for one thing: the only performance ever of the love song “You Said It All.” The band had written the tune on the fly specifically for the release, since its label wanted a new B side, and recorded it at a soundcheck, but its hefty riff, hooky chorus and unpredictable solo make it far from a throwaway. It’s as good as any song on Blizzard of Ozz, if not a little better than some of them.
‘The Ultimate Ozzy’ (1986)
Although there was a three-song picture-disc EP dubbed The Ultimate Live Ozzy that came out in 1986, it’s the home-video release The Ultimate Ozzy, which contains all of those songs, that earns its ranking here. Captured at the peak of guitarist Jake E. Lee’s stint with Ozzy, this video contains 12 live songs including a jaw-dropping rendition of “Killer of Giants,” as well as three music videos. Lee’s playing is top-notch throughout and the chemistry between him and Ozzy is undeniable, with Ozzy pulling Lee’s hair mid-song at one point. But within a year of its release Lee would be fired from the band – reportedly because he was miserable being away from his family – and replaced with Zakk Wylde, making this a valuable document of an oft-overlooked chapter in Ozzy’s career.
‘Ozzy Live’ (2012)
First released as bonus content on the 2011 reissue of Diary of a Madman, this now-standalone compilation of Randy Rhoads–era live recordings was a perfect reminder of why he was such an integral part of Ozzy’s early-Eighties sound. Unlike on Tribute, Rhoads’ guitar is front and center in the mix and his playing still sounds like it leaps off his strings, especially during his “Suicide Solution” extended solo. The recording also features some of Ozzy’s best vocal performances; he sounds positively giddy on “Crazy Train” and “Steal Away (the Night).” Since audio from this recording isn’t online, we’ve included a 1981 performance of “Mr. Crowley” above, filmed for a Rochester, New York, TV show, though it doesn’t hold a candle to the one on Ozzy Live.
Ozzy had intended to put out this double LP of live recordings from the Diary of a Madman tour as the original Speak of the Devil release, but he ultimately didn’t feel right doing so in the wake of Rhoads’ tragic death. He finally decided to release it when Rhoads’ mother, Delores, told Ozzy that she had been inundated with requests for live recordings that featured her son. Issued on the five-year anniversary of the plane accident, Tribute is the only solo Ozzy release to feature a double billing, placing Rhoads’ name alongside his. Rhoads’ playing throughout is marvelous, with fiery solos on “Mr. Crowley,” “Crazy Train” and a breathtaking extended bow in the middle of “Suicide Solution.” The renditions of “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid” are raucous and fresh, since Rhoads reportedly wasn’t a Black Sabbath fan and decided to put his own spin on them. The record also contains some of Ozzy’s best vocal performances, as he sounds positively rejuvenated after surviving his dismissal from Black Sabbath. It’s the sound of a man reborn, paired with the foil he’d been waiting for his whole life. And it’s one of those rare live albums that leaves you wanting more.