When Black Sabbath released its self-titled debut album, their popularity exploded in the United Kingdom. Only four months after the first album’s release, the band was back in the studio, hoping to capitalize on Black Sabbath’s popularity. “A lot of the Paranoid album was written around the time of our first album, Black Sabbath,” bassist Geezer Butler told Guitar World magazine in March 2004. “We recorded the whole thing in about 2 or 3 days, live in the studio.”
Originally, the second album was to be called War Pigs after the opening track. But Black Sabbath’s U.S. recording label, Warner Bros., felt the album would be more successful if named after its lead-off single. That single was written in the studio as a three-minute filler to satisfy the label’s required album length. Bill Ward, the band’s drummer, explains: “We didn't have enough songs for the album, and Tony [Iommi, guitarist] just played the [“Paranoid”] guitar lick and that was it. It took twenty, twenty-five minutes from top to bottom.”
The album’s first track, “War Pigs”, is a scathing denouncement of war, particularly the Vietnam War, which was raging at the time the song was written. But the song (complete with mournful sounds of an air raid siren) is as relevant now as in 1970: “Politicians hide themselves away / They only started the war / Why should they go out to fight? / They leave that role to the poor, yeah.”
As recording progressed, Warner Bros. urged the band to write a marketable single. “Paranoid” was born. “We basically needed a 3 minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff,” Butler says. “I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy [Osbourne] was reading them as he was singing.” “Paranoid” consistently makes lists of popular rock songs. Ex-frontman for the punk rock group The Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten, once called it “one of the world's greatest ever singles.”
“Planet Caravan” is a quiet, melancholy departure from the heavy guitar-driven first two tracks. More of a ballad than a hard rock song, this third track is a psychedelic trip thru the solar system: “The moon in silver trees / Falls down in tears / Light of the night / The earth, a purple blaze / Of sapphire haze / In orbit always.” Then comes “Iron Man”, guitar-and-drum driven and simplistic lyrics: “Heavy boots of lead / fills his victims full of dread / Running as fast as they can / Iron Man lives again!”
“Electric Funeral”, “Hand of Doom”, “Rat Salad” and “Fairies Wear Boots” round out an album that was panned by critics at the time, but loved by fans. As time went on, however, critics have warmed up to the album. Steve Huey of Allmusic – an online album review site - calls Paranoid "one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time."
In both Canada and the United States, Paranoid has gone platinum, while in the United Kingdom, Black Sabbath’s home, it has gone gold. Though it has been through many lineup changes, Black Sabbath is still as popular as ever.