Music-making in the 1960s and early 1970s was not as methodical and time-consuming as it would become in later decades. For bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it wasn’t uncommon to release two albums a year, recorded in between extensive live tours and other promotional duties. Even as the record industry began to boom in the 1970s, upstart artists continued to dutifully gather in the studio to put out as much material as possible.
Black Sabbath followed this same model. The band’s iconic first two albums, Black Sabbath and Paranoid, were released just six months apart from each other in 1970. While they were recording, Sabbath spent very little time perfecting the arrangements and compositions: Paranoid took one week to finish, while all of the material on Black Sabbath was recorded in a single day.
This kind of manic pace meant that new material had to come fast and furious. Two of the seven tracks that made up Black Sabbath were covers, while Paranoid required the instrumental/drum solo ‘Rat Salad’ to pad its run time. Even with the two-minute instrumental, Paranoid was still less than 40 minutes long. The band needed one more song, and it had to be made up on the spot.
“A lot of the Paranoid album was written around the time of our first album, Black Sabbath,” bassist Geezer Butler told Guitar World in 2004. “We recorded the whole thing 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.”
Butler later observed in the liner notes to the band’s Reunion album that the music to ‘Paranoid’ was written “in five minutes, then I sat down and wrote the lyrics as quickly as I could. It was all done in about two hours.” Although Butler wrote the lyrics down in a frantic rush, the song reflected the intense pressure that the band often countered with indulging in drug use, something that would become notorious within the band around the recording of Vol. 4.
“[‘Paranoid’ is] about depression, because I didn’t really know the difference between depression and paranoia. It’s a drug thing; when you’re smoking a joint you get totally paranoid about people, you can’t relate to people. There’s that crossover between the paranoia you get when you’re smoking dope and the depression afterwards.”
Despite being a hastily recorded piece of filler, ‘Paranoid’ became the crux of the album. The original of the LP was changed from War Pigs to Paranoid, and the song became the album’s first single. Landing at number four on the UK Singles Chart, ‘Paranoid’ established Black Sabbath as a major pop music draw, even if they were the darkest and heaviest band around at the time.
Check out ‘Paranoid’ down below.