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Video Timeline: Forty Years of Black Sabbath

The groundbreaking band as seen through its rotating cast of frontmen

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Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

The news that the original line-up of Black Sabbath is reforming is certainly amazing, but it's important to remember that this is a band that's been through many, many incarnations. At various points in time, only guitarist Tony Iommi remained from the original band. Black Sabbath superfan and fansite webmaster Joe Siegler has an incredible history of the band here, but here's a video run-through of their four-decade saga.

If we went into every bassist and keyboardist change, this thing would have run longer than Barry Lyndon. We stuck to the singers – though even there, we skipped a few very minor ones who lasted just a handful of days. 

By Andy Greene

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2. The Ludicrously Brief Dave Walker Era (1978)

Relations within Black Sabbath broke down in late 1977 and Ozzy left the group. Tony Iommi recruited his old Birmingham buddy, Dave Walker, and they recorded some material for Black Sabbath's eighth album, Never Say Die!

"We were grasping at straws, really," Tony Iommi writes in his memoir Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. "We had to write an album, we had a studio booked and no singer!"  

Black Sabbath played an early version of "Junior's Eyes" with him on TV in 1978, but Ozzy soon returned to the fold and they sent Walker packing. Listen to Walker's take on "Junior's Eyes" here.  

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3. Ozzy Returns, Part One (1978-1979)

After giving Walker the boot, Ozzy Osbourne returned to Black Sabbath for another album before leaving once again. Here they are playing the title cut of Never Say Die! on Top of the Pops in 1978.

In Iron Man, Iommi admits that he's not very fond of the album. "There are some tracks that I like on it," he writes. "But it's hard to relate to that album because of the way it was done. It was a bitter time for us."

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4. The Ronnie James Dio Era, Part One (1980-1982)

When Ozzy was kicked out of Black Sabbath at the end of the Never Say Die! tour, few people thought that Sabbath could carry on with any level of success. But in the exact same year that AC/DC found new life with new singer Brian Johnson, Sabbath recruited former Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio and cut Heaven and Hell. It's an absolute masterpiece.

Original drummer Bill Ward left the band midway through the tour and was replaced by Vinny Appice. They followed the album up with Mob Rules in 1981 before a fight over a live album drove Dio out of the band.

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5. Ian Gillian Joins (1983-1984)

After Ronnie James Dio quit Black Sabbath, the group hooked up with former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillian for 1983's Born Again. The tour was plagued with difficulties, most famously when they ordered a Stonehedge set that arrived way too big to fit on most stages. The debacle inspired one of the most famous scenes in This Is Spinal Tap the following year.

When the tour wrapped, Gillian returned to Deep Purple. "Looking back at it now, it doesn't look like Ian was completely committed," Iommi writes in Iron Man. "I think he had a ball and did his best, but he knew all along that he was going to get out. And we never thought, oh, he's going to be here for ten years." The group played mainly Sabbath songs on the 1983 tour, but they did include Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" during the encores. Listen to the audio of Sabbath's "Smoke on the Water" here. 

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6. Ozzy Returns for Live Aid (July 13th, 1985)

Black Sabbath was without a real frontman in the summer of 1985 when Bob Geldof convinced the original line-up to reunite at Live Aid. "We were on at something like ten o'clock in the morning," Iommi writes in Iron Man. "I had a dreadful hangover so I put my dark glasses on, and then we played 'Children of the Grave,' 'Iron Man' and 'Paranoid' in bright sunlight. It was a great thing to do and we were certainly aware of the importance of the occasion, but it was over very quickly."

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7. The Glenn Hughes Era (1985-1986)

Tony Iommi originally planned on releasing 1986's Seventh Star as a solo album, but commercial pressures made him change the billing to "Black Sabbath Featuring Tony Iommi." No other original member of the group plays on the record.

After having some success with one Deep Purple vocalist earlier in the decade, Iommi recruited another one, Glenn Hughes, for the album. "It was difficult to work with him," Iommi writes in Iron Man. "Fucking hell, he did 10 times more coke than me." 

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8. Ray Gillen Joins (1986-1987)

The Seventh Star tour was a complete disaster, with Glenn Hughes often too fucked up to take the stage. The band had no choice but to sack him mid-tour. They brought in Ray Gillen, a complete unknown who played previously in a New York bar band. They finished the tour, but ticket sales were soft and Gillen left in 1987.

Here's one of the few circulating videos of Gillen fronting Black Sabbath. They're performing the title track to Seventh Star. The quality isn't great, but they weren't exactly bringing in Scorsese to film their gigs at this point. 

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9. Tony Martin Joins (1987-1991)

Tony Martin may not be one of the most famous men to front Black Sabbath, but he sang on more of their albums than anyone besides Ozzy. The Birmingham-born singer joined in 1987 and fronted the band for three consecutive albums: The Eternal Idol, Headless Cross and TYR.

These were lean times for the band and they were no longer headlining arenas, but they toured constantly. Many fans consider this to be a drastically underappreciated period for the group. 

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10. The Ronnie James Dio Era, Part 2 (1991-1992)

In 1992, Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio put aside their differences to record Dehumanizer. Fans were thrilled to see Dio back at the helm after a decade and the tour was a big success, but it was very short-lived. 

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11. Rob Halford Fills In For Dio (11/14/92 & 11/15/92)

In the fall of 1992, the successfully solo Ozzy announced his retirement from live shows and booked two farewell concerts in Costa Mesa, California. Black Sabbath agreed to open up the shows, but Dio found the prospect insulting and refused to take part. Luckily, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford was happy to step in, and he fronted the band for those two shows. Check out his take on "Children of the Grave."

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12. Ozzy Returns, Part Three (11/15/92)

On the final night of his farewell tour, Ozzy performed a brief set with the original line-up of Black Sabbath. It's unclear if Ozzy honestly believed he was going to retire – just three years later, he went on his "Retirement Sucks" tour. Here's video of the band performing "Black Sabbath," the song that kick-started the entire band back in 1969. 

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13. Tony Martin Rejoins (1993-1995)

With Ozzy "retired" and Dio off with his solo band, Iommi brought Tony Martin back into Sabbath in 1993. They cut two poorly received albums during this time and toured pretty persistently, but they headlined clubs, not arenas. Near the end of 1995, Iommi seemed to lose interest.

Despite Black Sabbath's many reunion tours over the past 15 years, 1995's Forbidden is technically the band's last studio album. Here's a video for "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" from 1994. 

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14. Ozzy Returns, Part Four (1997-2005)

In the summer of 1997, Ozzy invited Black Sabbath out on the road with Ozzfest. Every night, Ozzy played a solo set followed by an hour-long set of Sabbath classics with Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. Later that year, Bill Ward returned to the drum kit and the reunion was complete.

They toured the world many times over, once again headlining arenas. A heart attack briefly sidelined Bill Ward, but he bounced back like a trooper. Two new songs were cut for a live album in 1999, but a proper studio album never surfaced. Their 1999 tour was billed as the "Last Supper" but, in typical Ozzy fashion, they played again the very next year.

Black Sabbath went on to headline Ozzfest in 2004 and 2005. The last time they played together in public was at their induction to the UK Music Hall of Fame on November 16th, 2005. They all showed up at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction the following year, but they didn't perform. 

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15. The Ronnie James Dio Era, Part Three (2007-2010)

This group was technically called Heaven and Hell, but it was the same exact lineup that toured and recorded as Black Sabbath in the 1980s and 1990s, so it counts. In 2007, after months of rumors, the Ronnie James Dio line-up of Sabbath reformed to record three new songs for a greatest hits package and a world tour.

Unlike past outings, the set list was limited to material recorded during Dio's time in the band. Fans flocked to the shows, despite the fact that they wouldn't get to hear "Paranoid" and "Iron Man." The shows were absolutely amazing and in 2009, they recorded the album The Devil You Know. Sadly, the incarnation ended when Dio died of stomach cancer in May of 2010. 

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16. Ozzy Returns, Part Five (2011-?)

After Dio passed away, it seemed inevitable that Black Sabbath would reunite with Osbourne one more time. After endless rumors, the group held a press conference at L.A.'s Whiskey A G0-Go club on November 11, 2011 (yep, 11/11/11) at 11:11 a.m. They announced that Rick Rubin would produce their first album since 1978 and that a world tour was being booked for 2012.

So far, Black Sabbath's only confirmed tour date is England's Download Festival in June 2012, but many, many more should be announced soon.

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