Readers' Poll: The 10 Greatest Black Sabbath Songs - Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Black Sabbath Songs

Your picks include ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,’ ‘Sweet Leaf’ and ‘Paranoid’

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Black Sabbath are returning this June with 13, their first album of original material with Ozzy Osbourne since 1978's Never Say Die! They're also embarking on a world tour that comes to America in July. Sadly, they have reformed without original drummer Bill Ward due to a business dispute, so Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk plays on the album and Tommy Clufetos is behind the kit for the tour. We asked our readers to vote for their favorite Black Sabbath songs last week. Click through to see the results. 


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10. ‘Black Sabbath’

It's difficult to overstate the importance of this song to both Black Sabbath and heavy metal in general. The band was inspired to write the song when they saw a movie theater playing the 1963 Boris Karloff film Black Sabbath. Bassist Geezer Butler observed that people loved seeing scary movies, but there wasn't much scary music out there. This was also the peak of the hippie era and the four working-class kids from Birmingham, England were sick of songs about peace and love. The group wrote a song called "Black Sabbath" and changed their name from Earth to the same.

The track is an absolute masterpiece and does feel like a mini audio-horror movie. There was nothing like it on the charts, and the group quickly began writing similar songs. Five decades later, "Black Sabbath" remains a high point of their live show. 

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9. ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’

Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was going through a rough case of writer's block when the group began recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in 1973. It's not hard to understand why. The group had released four amazing albums over the previous four years, all built around his riffs. He was feeling tapped out.

They rented a giant castle in Gloucestershire, England to see if it would inspire them. The locals felt the place was haunted, and it had an actual dungeon. "The vibe did lift my writer's block," Iommi wrote in his memoir, Iron Man. "As soon as we started working, the first song I came up with 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.' First day we were there, bang! I went, 'Bloody hell!'" The nearly-six-minute song kicks off the disc. Many fans feel it was the band's last moment of true greatness until Ronnie James Dio joined the band seven years later. 

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8. ‘Snowblind’

A lot of rock bands snorted insane amounts of cocaine in the 1970s, but none of them wrote a song about the drug that was as brilliant (and as blatant) as Black Sabbath's 1972 track "Snowblind." "Feeling happy in my vein," Ozzy sang. "Icicles within my brain/ Cocaine." The song is ostensibly about the dangers of the drug, but nobody in the band had any intention of stopping for quite some time. On the album sleeve, the band even wrote, "We wish to thank the great COKE-Cola Company."  

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7. ‘Supernaut’

Black Sabbath's 1972 song "Supernaut" is far from the band's most famous composition and it wasn't even a single, but the hardcore fans know it's an absolute masterpiece. It begins with one of Iommi's sharpest riffs and doesn't let up for five minutes. When the group met up with Led Zeppelin a few years later, this is the song John Bonham wanted to play with them. Sabbath drummer Bill Ward is a monster on this track, and it's a vivid reminder of how huge a role he played in their sound. It's a crime he isn't on this new album or tour. The fans didn't wait all these years for a partial reunion; his absence sullies the whole thing. 

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6. ‘N.I.B.’

Contrary to widespread belief, "N.I.B." doesn't stand for "Nativity in Black." It simply refers to Bill Ward's goatee in 1969; the band joked it was shaped like a pen nib. The song is about the devil, but in a nice twist, it's about Satan changing his ways and falling in love. They never reveal the name of the lucky lady who gets to take Lucifer's hand, though. "Follow me now and you will not regret," Satan says to his love. "Leaving the life you led before we met/ You are the first to have this love of mine/ Forever with me 'til the end of time." An eternity with Satan in hell doesn't seem like a great deal for this woman. He needs to think of some better pick-up lines. 

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5. ‘Fairies Wear Boots’

Black Sabbath were minor celebrities when they began writing the songs for Paranoid in 1970. However, not everyone in town loved the four guys with long hair who were suddenly making money and getting girls, especially a group of skinheads. The band was attacked one afternoon and Tony Iommi injured his arm in the melee. They wrote this song about the incident, referring to the attackers as "fairies." It was a brilliant form of revenge. 

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4. ‘Sweat Leaf’

Before the group spent their days getting snowblind, they liked to smoke a little "Sweet Leaf." They really, really liked it. "My life was empty, forever on a down," Ozzy sings. "Until you took me, showed me around/ My life is free now, my life is clear/ I love you sweet leaf, though you can't hear." Right before they recorded it, Tony Iommi took a bit hit of weed. "It bloody choked me," he wrote in his book. "I coughed my head off, they taped that and we used it on the beginning of 'Sweet Leaf.' How appropriate: coughing your way into a song about marijuana. . . and the finest vocal performance of my entire career!"

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3. ‘Iron Man’

You gotta feel bad for the "Iron Man" from Black Sabbath's 1970 classic. It's about a man who travels to the future and gets a firsthand look at the apocalypse. The process of traveling back turns him into an iron creature that is unable to communicate. Undaunted, he tries to warn everybody about the future, but nobody listens to him. (It's hard to blame them. Would you pay attention to some mute iron man wildly gesticulating as he attempts to warn you that mankind is doomed? They probably thought he was some crazy street performer.) So, Iron Man responds to this by going on a crazy, murderous rampage.

It's a wild story, but it hardly matters. The riff is one of the all-time greats. Beavis and Butt-Head even know it, and Ozzy has never been allowed offstage (solo or with Sabbath) without playing this song. 

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2. ‘Paranoid’

Black Sabbath were almost done with their second album when producer Rodger Bain told them it was a little short. He asked for one more quick song, and when the rest of the group stepped out for lunch, Tony Iommi began composing a new riff. The group loved what they heard, and Geezer Butler started writing lyrics. "I don't think we even know what the word 'Paranoid' meant at the time," Iommi wrote in his book. "That's why we left it to Geezer, because we considered him to be the intelligent one." They never thought the song would become a huge hit. "It probably took four minutes to write," said Iommi. "It's that basic, simple thing, that catchy theme, that seems to appeal to people." The label loved the song and insisted it be the first single, even changing the name of the album from War Pigs to Paranoid. It was their first hit in America and changed their lives forever. 

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1. ‘War Pigs’

The four members of Black Sabbath may have had little use for hippie music, but they certainly agreed with the movement's anti-war stance. "War Pigs" is their most famous political song, but it began its life as a satanic number called "Walpurgis." The label didn't love the lyrics, so they simply changed it to an anti-war song called "War Pigs." It was the height of the Vietnam War, and Geezer Butler had little trouble pouring all his anger and frustration onto the page. It's nearly eight minutes long and was never a single, but audiences latched onto the track and it became a crucial part of their live show. It remains their opening number to this day. 

In This Article: Black Sabbath

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