When it was released in 1972, Black Sabbath‘s Vol. 4 was a game-changer. Huge, steely, and catchy as hell, the record saw the band graduating from gloomy stoners and becoming the chart-topping rock stars who we now know and love. At the same time, like any album worth its salt, Vol. 4 had behind-the-scenes issues, with rampant drug use slowly taking its toll on the band. The result is a record that stands the test of time and continues to excite audiences, perhaps because of the turmoil that went into its creation.
This week sees Rhino Records releasing a super deluxe edition of Vol. 4, featuring the fully remastered album, booklets containing rare photos and behind-the-scenes stories, and 20 previously-unreleased recordings. To celebrate this collectors’ gem, we delved into the lore of this monumental record and examined some of the things you might not have realized went into its creation. Here’s what we came up with…
It was the first album Sabbath produced themselves.
Sabbath had relied on producers to help them capture their previous records, but this time around the band decided to take things into their own hands. “It’s the first album we’ve produced ourselves,” observed Ozzy Osbourne in a 1972 issue of Sounds. “Previously we had Rodger Bain as a producer – and, although he’s very good, he didn’t really feel what the band was doing. It was a matter of communication. This time, we did it with Patrick, our manager, and I think we’re all very happy.”
The band had massive amounts of cocaine delivered twice daily during recording.
Unlike previous releases such as 1971’s Master of Reality, Sabbath’s drug of choice on Vol. 4 was most definitely the Colombian booger sugar. “It would be almost impossible to exaggerate how much coke we did in that house,” said Ozzy in his autobiography I Am Ozzy. “At one point we were getting through so much of the stuff, we had to have it delivered twice a day.” Guitarist Tony Iommi added, “We used to have [cocaine] flown in by private plane.”
In fact, the band thanked cocaine in the liner notes.
Over all, Black Sabbath spent about $60,000 on the recording of Vol. 4 — and approximately $75,000 on cocaine. With all that drug use, it would have been unfair not to give the marching powder at least a shout-out. In the liner notes of the album, the band thanked “the great COKE-cola.” Note their tricky language — this way, no one could possibly understand what they’d been up to.
The interlude “FX” came from a tangled-up crucifix.
Today, Tony Iommi describes the band’s interlude track as “a total joke.” But its recording was based on some sacrilegious experimentation. After smoking hash, Tony Iommi’s crucifix got tangled in his guitar strings, and the addled band became fascinated with the weird sound it made. After adding an echo, the boys began hitting the guitar with various objects and recording the sounds.
Ozzy thinks it was Black Sabbath’s peak.
All drug use aside, Vol. 4 showed off the band at the peak of their career, and for Osbourne their creative best. In his autobiography, Ozzy notes that he thought the recording of Vol. 4 showed off the band at the height of their creativity, writing, “In spite of all the arsing around, musically those few weeks in Bel Air were the strongest we’d ever been.”
Rhino’s deluxe edition of Vol. 4 comes out Friday, February 12th. It includes newly remastered audio along with 20 unreleased studio and live recordings and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin