By 1980, Ozzy Osbourne had been fired from Black Sabbath — ostensibly because of his unreliability. Sabbath would go on to recruit ex-Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio as his replacement and went on to make couple of storming albums (Heaven and Hell and The Mob Rules). But what of Ozzy?
When the Beatles split, the solo material that the four ex-members produced was (with the exception of a very few tracks) nowhere near as good as what the band had made together. When Roger Waters left Pink Floyd, he made interesting but sterile albums, and the remainder of the group made beautiful but insubstantial ones: again, the sum of the parts was less than the whole. But as when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, the Ozzy/Sabbath split yielded two parts that both went on to do good things. Here’s Crazy Train from Ozzy’s debut solo outing, Blizzard of Ozz:
Ozzy recruited the little-known guitarist Randy Rhoads from Quiet Riot, filling out the band with ex-Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley and Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake. Meaning no disrespect to the rhythm section, or to indeed Ozzy, there’s no denying that Rhoads is the star of the album. His guitar work is not merely technically wizardly, but creative — the complex, winding riff of Crazy Train is a fine example of a figure that’s both surprising and memorable. The solo (starting at 2:44) begins by outlining the chord sequence, then wanders off into dissonant territory before returning for the last couple of bars, all the while with a sense of being on the very edge of spiralling out of control. That reflects the song as a whole, which is supposed to be a warning about an out-of-control world careering off the rails. (Although you just can’t shift the sense that the band were having a ball writing and recording it.)
With Blizzard of Ozz, Ozzy showed beyond all doubt that you don’t need to be a good singer to make a great album. It suffices to be distinctive and to hire great talents. Having the well-known name Ozzy Osbourne on the album cover no doubt helped to shift units. But it was the contributions of the rest of the band that made the music actually work — with the characteristically weak, nasal vocals actually the least effective part of the sound.
One of the sadnesses of writing this series has been thinking of all the musicians who died young, often of the most appallingly avoidable causes. An incomplete list would include The Who‘s drummer Keith Moon (drug overdose at age 32), Jimi Hendrix (drug-induced asphyxiation on vomit, 27), The Beatles‘ John Lennon (assassinated, 40) and their manager Brian Epstein (drug overdose, 32), Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (asphyxiation on vomit, 32), Deep Purple‘s replacement guitarist Tommy Bolin (heroin overdose, 25) and original AC/DC singer Bon Scott (alcohol poisoning, 33). What a depressing litany.
But of all rock-and-roll deaths, that of Randy Rhoads must surely rank among the stupidest. While touring the second Ozzy Osbourne solo album, Diary of a Madman, the bus driver took Rhoads and the band’s make-up artist up in light aircraft and buzzed the tour bus. A wing clipped the bus and the crash instantly killed all three. Rhoads was 25 years old.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this (beyond the moral “don’t go on joy-ride flights when the pilot is unlicenced and out of his head on cocaine and has previously killed passengers in fatal crashes that he somehow survived”).
NEXT TIME: something less depressing.