Black Sabbath

Iron Man

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Song Review by

Defining hard rock beyond Steppenwolf's "heavy metal thunder", Black Sabbath issued a lethargic, overpowering six minute anthem to a Science Fiction character which may have been inspired by the Marvel Comics' hero of the same name. The radio world was not ready for the volume of Alice Cooper meeting the tempo of Vanilla Fudge with Ozzy Osbourne spouting grade-school lyrics over a non-traditional song. At least when Alice sang "I'm 18" it was crafted with radio in mind. "Iron Man" had about as much chance of being a hit as an edited version of The Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray", but still somehow was released on a 45 RPM which made some noise on the charts in 1972. Don't look for it in Joel Whitburn's Billboard Book Of Top 40 Hits, though, as Black Sabbath never got to that plateau, at least not in their first thirty years, and Warner Brothers had to buy radio spots on hit stations to promote the group in the early days. That "Iron Man" would win a Grammy for Best Metal Performance over two and a half decades later when re-recorded live for the Reunion album is a testament to the importance of Black Sabbath, and how key this riff and composition was to the band's career. Opening with an ominous drum beat and droning guitar, a mutated vocal announces "I am Iron Man" before Tony Iommi's captivating boss riff ushers in six minutes of metallic mayhem. Ozzy's penetrating voice pushes through the gritty onslaught, a zig zagging collection of notes which sound like a truncated "Living Loving Maid" riff from Led Zeppelin in slow motion. The story line is extremely thin, the heady and mysterious ideas on the first Black Sabbath album replaced with words which would rival Ian Gillan's version of Deep Purple for stupidity. That the Rod Evans earlier incarnation of Purple employed more sophisticated words and arrangements says that maybe both groups decided to aim their hard rock songs at a very young 1970's adolescent audience. No one expected the words of Bob Dylan out of the mouth of the Oz, nor would fans of lines like "heavy boots of lead/fills his victims full of dread" be apt to be listening to Highway 61 Revisited. But it wasn't the words that attracted the fans to songs like "War Pigs" and "Iron Man", it was the sentiment, the sound, and all Ozzy needed was merely something to say to get his performance across. It's hard to conceive that radio would even touch a plodding stomp like this, opting instead for the lively crunch of Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water", but that "Iron Man" and the title track propelled the Paranoid album to great heights without much radio support is proof enough of the song's popularity and power.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Paranoid 1970 Warner Bros. 5:58
Paranoid [Single] 1970 Rhino 0:00
We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll 1976 Warner Bros. 5:57
Greatest Hits [Griffin] 1980 Power Sound 2001 5:54
No Image 1980 Warner Bros.
Mob Rules 1981 BMG / Noise / Sanctuary 0:00
Born Again 1983 Essential Records 0:00
Black Sabbath Greatest Hits 1986 Sanctuary 5:52
Killer Metal 1992
Various Artists
Priority Records
Cross Purposes 1994 EMI-Capitol Special Markets 0:00
No Image 1994 Spectrum Music
The Ozzy Osbourne Years 1994 Import
18 Screamers from the 70s 1995
Various Artists
Rhino / JCI Associated Labels 3:30
Between Heaven & Hell 1970-1983 1995 Sanctuary
Under Wheels of Confusion: 1970-1987 1996 Castle / Essential 5:56
Detroit Rock City 1999
Original Soundtrack
Mercury / Island / mercury 5:54
Black Mass 1999 Pilot 5:59
The Best of Black Sabbath [Sanctuary 2000] 2000 Sanctuary 5:56
Complete 70's Replica CD Collection 2001 Castle Music Ltd. 5:56
Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978) 2002 Rhino / Warner Bros. 5:56
Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978 2004 Rhino 5:58
Black and Blue 2005 Universal International
Lords of Dogtown 2005
Original Soundtrack
Geffen 5:54
Ozzfest 10th Anniversary [DVD] 2005
Various Artists
Greatest Hits 1970-1978 2006 Rhino / Rrw 3:29
We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 1 2006 Power Sound 2001 5:54
No Image 2006 Earmark 6:25
The Rules of Hell 2008 Rhino / Warner Bros. 7:19
The Greatest Hits 2009 Universal Music TV / Sanctuary / Universal Distribution 5:55
No Image 2012 Sanctuary / Sanctuary Records 5:55
The Vinyl Collection 1970-1978 2012 Sanctuary
The Complete Albums 1970-1978 2014 Rhino 5:58
The Ultimate Collection 2016 BMG / Sanctuary / Sanctuary Records 5:53
Absolute Rock Classics, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Eva 5:53
Heavy Metal Masters Live
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution