Black Sabbath Bassist Geezer Butler Gets ‘Paranoid’
Over the years, Eagle Rock Entertainment has released informative DVDs about the making of classic albums by Iron Maiden, Sex Pistols, Motörhead, Def Leppard and Nirvana. But the company’s latest ‘Classic Album’ release, ‘Black Sabbath Paranoid’ might be its most insightful offering for headbangers, revealing how Black Sabbath gave birth to heavy metal and what historical, sociological and environmental factors contributed to the legendary album.
Noisecreep recently talked to bassist/co-songwriter/lyricist Geezer Butler about the record that helped define heavy metal.
After you finished your first album, ‘Black Sabbath,’ you toured Europe for six weeks, then went right back into the studio to record ‘Paranoid.’ Did you guys feel like you were on top of the world at that point?
No, it was more like the four of us felt like we were against the world. Our families had no hope in us whatsoever of ever making anything. And our friends used to laugh at the idea that we’d ever be successful at what we were doing. So you know, it brought us closer together and made us more determined to be successful, but we didn’t feel like rock stars or anything. It was quite the opposite.
Had you developed a studio protocol at that point, or did you follow what your producer Roger Bain and engineer Thom ‘Colonel’ Allom asked of you?
We literally went in and played as if it was a live gig. We didn’t know anything about studios or production or engineering. We just went in, set up and played live in the studio and they recorded us. We did it all in less than a week. It sounds easy, but it’s actually a really hard thing to do — to record a band live in the studio and get the whole feeling across. A lot of producers tried that, but dismally failed. But Rodger and Tom just had the knack of doing it. And they’d just come up with a few suggestions here and there, and we’d do it.
It’s no secret that you guys drank a lot and experimented with all sorts of drugs. Did that contribute to the creative vibe on Paranoid?
No, because we really weren’t doing anything back then besides sharing the occasional joint. We couldn’t afford it. We couldn’t even afford booze, so none of us were drinking yet. The music we were making was more a reflection of what we were thinking and experiencing at the time. We weren’t into flower power and good vibes. That was crap to us, because from where we were, everything was bleak and dark.
You touched on some political lyrics on ‘Paranoid,’ such as the Cold War and Vietnam.
Yeah, ‘Electric Funeral’ was about the Cold War at the time. It was always touch and go whether Russia would drop the atomic bomb on us or we would drop the atomic bomb on them. So atomic war was always imminent, we thought. So we were as far removed from hippy flower power as you could get. We were four working class people in the most industrial part of England, and all we had to look forward to was dead-end jobs in factories. And we thought at any second we’d be called up to drop in to the Vietnam War, because it looked like Britain was going to get involved in it as well. So there wasn’t much future in anything for us.
The album is called ‘Paranoid.’ Why is there a picture of a soldier with a shield on the cover?
The whole story of how we created that song is funny. It became the most popular song from the album, but it wasn’t something we though much of when we wrote it. In fact, we finished the record and then the producer told us we needed one more song to finish up the album, so we just came up with ‘Paranoid’ on the spot. Tony [Iommi] just played this riff and we all went along with it. We didn’t think anything of it. And then later the record company said, ‘Hey guys, this is the best song on the album. Let’s call the record Paranoid.’ But we had originally wanted the record to be called ‘War Pigs,’ and that’s what the record company was planning as well when [they] came up with the record cover, which is really horrible to begin with. We didn’t like it at all, but the label put it together, so we were stuck with it. The cover was bad enough when the album was going to be ‘War Pigs,’ but when it was ‘Paranoid’ it didn’t even make sense [laughs].
The song ‘War Pigs’ is also legendary. Didn’t that originally have a different title?
The song was written as ‘Walpurgis,’ which sounds a little like ‘War Pigs.’ But ‘Walpurgis’ is sort of like Christmas for Satanists. And to me, war was the big Satan. It wasn’t about politics or government or anything. It was evil. So I was saying “generals gathered in the masses/just like witches at black masses” to make an analogy. But when we brought it to the record company, they thought ‘Walpurgis’ sounded too Satanic. And that’s when we turned it into ‘War Pigs.’ But we didn’t change the lyrics, because they were already finished.