Why Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” Was Almost Never Recorded

Vertigo Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Black Sabbath’s immortal song “Paranoid” is one of the most important tracks in the history of heavy metal. The driving guitar riff, fist-pumping rhythms, and haunting vocals became the anthem that would define a movement.

It’s not much of a secret that the song was constructed at the last minute, with Geezer Butler telling Guitar World in 2004: “We recorded the whole [album] in about two or three days, live in the studio. The song ‘Paranoid’ was written as an afterthought. We basically needed a three-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.” 

What isn’t quite as well known is that the song was almost thrown away. As it turns out, several members of Black Sabbath felt that “Paranoid” too closely resembled Led Zeppelin’s track “Communication Breakdown.” Butler told Classic Rock: “We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album. So when Tony came up with the riff to ‘Paranoid’ me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went: ‘Naw, we can’t do that!’

In fact we ended up having quite a big argument about it. Guess who was wrong? The fact that it became such a big hit for us—and is now probably our best-known song—says it all, really.”

Needless to say, it’s a good thing that Butler and Ozzy listened to Iommi. The strength of the song was so readily apparent that Black Sabbath named the album after it. Paranoid was originally going to be called War Pigs, and that just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same.

Butler continues: “The irony is, Zeppelin also ‘borrowed’ quite a few riffs for some of their best-known songs too. But that’s the thing about rock ‘n’ roll, everyone does that, especially when they’re young and just starting out. It’s putting your own stamp on it that counts. And Sabbath certainly did that.”

Check out the comparison video below and judge the two songs side by side for y0urself!


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