If you go out onto the streets of Great Britain and ask passers-by to name the greatest British band of all time they will no doubt mention, The Beatles (The most overrated band to ever take a stage) The Rolling Stones, Queen, Led Zepplin, The Clash, The Smiths etc. But very few will mention Black Sabbath and I would like to know why. We should be shouting from the rooftops about the band and their legacy but instead the majority of the British music industry treat them like that Uncle who always drinks too much at family functions, they are tolerated because they are family but shunted into the corner.
It’s generally accepted that for a band to really hold a place amongst the greats they need to have at least one ‘classic’ album, a string of memorable songs, longevity, be brilliant live and have created a legacy that influences bands and artists that come after them. And in my view Sabbath have all of these. Plus and probably most amazingly of all they created a whole new genre!
When people think of Sabbath all they think of are the huge dirty riffs that characterise heavy metal but there is a lot more to them than that. The beautiful subtlety of songs like ‘Fluff’ from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Played at the wedding of guitarist Tony Iommi) and ‘Planet Caravan’ from Paranoid is often criminally overlooked. And while we’re on the subject of Paranoid as far as hard rock/heavy metal albums are concerned it’s nigh on flawless. They have numerous other very good albums but that one is undoubtedly a classic.
However the main thing which should place Black Sabbath up there with the very best is legacy. When the band emerged with their debut album in 1970 they came out with a sound which had never been heard before and the legacy of that sound and their early albums is still being felt today 44 years on.
The whole idea for this blog came to me while reviewing the new EP from and up and coming band called Khaos Theory. One of the songs on this EP is called ‘Never in the Sun’ and it has all of that Black Sabbath style, the riffs, the progressions and the key changes. How many other bands can say that their influence can be heard in the music of a band breaking through 44 years after they did?
So the question is why despite all of this why are Sabbath still looked down upon? I think it comes down to a few factors and I think these factors are all in their own way ridiculous. One of these factors is the music itself and the bands image. The band and their style aren’t exactly photogenic for a mainstream audience and their music can’t really be marketed at the music buying masses. (12 year old girls) Then there are the songs themselves. I will grant you that some of their songs aren’t filled with the sort of lyrically dexterity that will win awards but let’s not forget that The Beatles who are praised to the hilt recorded ‘Yellow Submarine.’
The final factor however I feel is the most important and is thus the most ridiculous of all. Geography. Black Sabbath are from Birmingham; and the Midlands and more specifically the West Midlands just isn’t cool enough. In terms of music, London is everything. Liverpool and Manchester are also deemed cool, but everywhere outside of that in the eyes of record labels is invisible. This was backed up this week when someone high up in the musical chain (A suit, probably in London who hasn’t been to a gig since The Smiths were in the charts) declared that despite having one of the most vibrant music scenes in the country ‘There’s no buzz around bands from the Midlands.’ You simply can’t make it up.
See, sometimes you can’t win. Not even if you’re last album went to number 1, you recently sold out arenas all over the world, you created a genre and your band includes one of the best guitarists in history. And you know what? It’s a damn shame.