Black Sabbath

Paranoid

Composed by Geezer Butler / Tony Iommi / Ozzy Osbourne / Bill Ward

Song Review by

The title track from Black Sabbath's best and most popular album (which sold over four million copies), "Paranoid" was a minor singles-chart entry upon its initial U.S. release in 1970, not even cracking the Top 60, but has since grown in stature (partly with the help of album rock radio) to become a heavy metal standard, to the point where it was even used in American television commercials nearly three decades later. It was an immediate success in Britain, however, reaching the Top Five in 1970 and even re-entering the charts in 1980, making the Top 20. "Paranoid" is easily the most concise and up-tempo song on the album (and perhaps in the group's entire Ozzy Osbourne-era catalog -- in both categories), and while it isn't complicated, it does take surprising stamina for a band to maintain its relentless, morose intensity. After the intro riff (which is never repeated), the main body of the song is built around a simple riff consisting of three power chords, adding an additional fourth when the song changes sections. The rhythms are chugging, pounding, and squared-off, with nary a trace of the blues-rock feeling that informed some of the band's work; this is unmistakable, straight-ahead heavy metal, pure and simple -- and simple it is, too, which really only serves to increase the power of the band's delivery. That's especially true for bassist Geezer Butler, who always provided a driving underpinning in all the band's songs, and whose lines here alternately play around Tony Iommi's riffs or mesh with them in unison to create the feel of an hammering, unstoppable juggernaut. Ozzy Osbourne's vocals, meanwhile, almost threaten to fall behind the band's relentless pace at times, but he wails the lyrics with the urgency needed to sell the performance, and the occasional raggedness only serves to increase the intensity, as though the band -- and thus the song's character -- could fall apart at any moment. The social and psychological isolation of the protagonist is apparent throughout the song: he self-defeatingly pushes others away even as he yearns for support; he indulges in aimless fantasies without finding a positive direction that really fulfills him; he wallows in self-involved depression and concludes that "happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal." It's melodramatic, to be sure, but it also connected with countless alienated teenagers seeking expression of their anxieties, with enough extravagance to reflect the real-life intensity of those anxieties, but with just enough pure theatricality to allow distance and escape from them as well. That's probably the best explanation available for the song's enduring appeal, and it's a huge part of the reason that Black Sabbath continues to influence countless metal and alternative bands -- not filtered down through second or third generations, but directly from the original sources.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Paranoid 1970 Warner Bros. 2:52
Paranoid [Single] 1970 Rhino 0:00
No Image 1973
Various Artists
Warner Bros.
We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll 1976 Warner Bros. 2:50
No Image 1980 Warner Bros.
Mob Rules 1981 BMG / Noise / Sanctuary 0:00
No Image 1985
Various Artists
JEM / Passport
Black Sabbath Greatest Hits 1986 Sanctuary 2:46
No Image 1986
Various Artists
Vestron
Sounds of the Seventies: Guitar Power 1992
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:49
Dazed and Confused [Music from the Motion Picture] 1993
Original Soundtrack
The Medicine Label 2:47
Marquee Metal 1993
Various Artists
Alex 2:46
Cross Purposes 1994 EMI-Capitol Special Markets 0:00
Kerrang!: The Album 1994
Various Artists
Alex 2:47
No Image 1994 Spectrum Music
The Ozzy Osbourne Years 1994 Import
The No. 1 70's Rock Album 1995
Various Artists
Alex 2:48
Between Heaven & Hell 1970-1983 1995 Sanctuary
Electric 70's 1995
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 2:45
Under Wheels of Confusion: 1970-1987 1996 Castle / Essential 2:50
Chronicles: 70's Rock Classics 1998
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 2:48
Rage the Album 1999
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:47
Superhits of Rock: 1965 - 1979 1999
Various Artists
L & D 2:49
Black Mass 1999 Pilot 2:50
The Best of Black Sabbath [Sanctuary 2000] 2000 Sanctuary 2:49
Best of Rock, Vol. 2: The Ultimate Collection 2000
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:48
Singles Box Set 2000 Castle Music Ltd. / Essential / Sanctuary / Universal 2:48
The Best Pub Jukebox in the World...Ever! 2000
Various Artists
Virgin 2:47
Story of Rock: Radio 538 2002
Various Artists
B.R. 2:56
Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath (1970-1978) 2002 Rhino / Warner Bros. 2:49
Flashback: The Seventies 2002
Various Artists
BMG International 2:50
Dark Side of the 80s 2003
Various Artists
Telstar TV Records 2:47
Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978 2004 Rhino 2:52
Stadium Rock: The Anthology 2004
Various Artists
Intense
Greatest Hits 1970-1978 2006 Rhino / Rrw 2:48
Past Lives, Vol. 1 2007 Earmark 3:14
The Rules of Hell 2008 Rhino / Warner Bros. 3:46
The Greatest Hits 2009 Universal Music TV / Sanctuary / Universal Distribution 2:50
Jackie: The Party Album 2010
Various Artists
EMI / EMI Music Distribution 2:46
The Complete Albums 1970-1978 2014 Rhino 2:52
The Ultimate Collection 2016 BMG / Sanctuary / Sanctuary Records 2:46
Best of British [Universal]
Various Artists
EMI / Universal Distribution / Universal Music TV 2:47