Today is 11/11/11. Veterans Day to most people (and to me too), but also this day has been designated Nigel Tufnel Day. You see, because this day goes to eleven? Geddit?
Well, I’ve been listening to metal music all my life. Quite literally. My earliest childhood memories involve my nascent love for KISS. The Christmas of 1979 I got a Gene Simmons doll AND the Gene Simmons solo album under the tree. The music made me so berserk that I laid waste with badminton racket guitar to the bedroom I shared with my older brother. This got both of our KISS records taken away from us permanently. But by then it really was too late. My brother (being 6 years older than me) hit puberty and it was all about METAL for him, so he listened to lots of stuff in our bedroom that made an indelible mark on me. Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne, Rush, KISS, Night Ranger, Iron Maiden, etc. But Ozzy…those first two Ozzy albums are probably the ones that loom largest in my metal legend.
The other night whilst watching a special on the 1980-1982 era Ozzy on VH1 Classics my wife casually destroyed the Ozzy myth for me when “Crazy Train” popped up. “You know, that just sounds like pretty much all the other radio rock from that period, like Boston or something.” Pheweeeeeeewwwwwwww goes the sound of the air out the balloon. Because she’s right. “Crazy Train” is classic rock. But there’s so much more to those first two albums that Ozzy made with Randy Rhoads, Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley, especially once you get away from the songs that have been somewhat overplayed and get to the meat of those records.
By 1981 hard rock had gone underground. We’d been through punk and new wave and were just getting the first taste of MTV, the New Romantics and synth pop. The next wave of metal was a tape traders’ circuit. Ozzy was considered a has-been, having been kicked to the curb from Black Sabbath, pretty much the penultimate heavy metal band, and replaced by former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, then proceeding to reinvent themselves for the metal ’80s. If you’ve watched The Osbournes you pretty much know the story of how Ozzy’s former Don Arden tried to drop Ozzy, only for his strident daughter Sharon to take over Ozzy’s contract. Ozzy hooked up with former Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads and the rest is pretty much history. The template for modern hard rock was set with these two albums.
You cannot take them separately. Both albums were released in America in 1981 and feature the same lineup of players. The songs were a group collaborative effort, and what songs these were! Blizzard of Ozz fired the first shot, introducing the world to a more animate, less doom-laden Ozzy sound and to the singular guitar work of Randy Rhoads. These albums set the cast for what the 1980’s version of the fret-burning guitarsmith would sound like, as much so as Eddie Van Halen. The classical guitar flourishes, the ungodly finger speed, the one-handed hammer-on runs, the pinched harmonics, etc. It was all right there from the beginning. I look at Blizzard as more of a pop record. It has “Crazy Train”, which is pretty much the biggest hit Ozzy has had, plus the romantic ballad “Goodbye To Romance”. I don’t know if I’ve just heard “Crazy Train” too many times, but I just really can’t handle that song anymore. And it is for that reason that I might possibly not rate Blizzard as highly as I should, or it could be that the pure excellence of Diary of a Madman overshadows it for me. Because once I’m passed that song, I love this album. “Dee”, the beautiful neo-classical solo piece for Randy; the rocking and misunderstood “Suicide Solution” and “Mr. Crowley”; the somewhat gothic one-two punch of “Revelation/Mother Earth”; and the good times rocking on both “No Bone Movies” and “Steal Away (The Night)”. But man, when I reach for one of these it almost always for Diary of a Madman.
We talk so much about the impact of Randy Rhoads, but this album really feels more like a band thing than Blizzard, and you get it from the very first blast of drums in the intro to “Over the Mountain”. That song still just floors me. It has much of the cosmic hooey in the lyrics that I love so much from Ronnie James Dio, but perhaps not so fantastical. The guitar solo just slays and even has a little tongue-in-cheek quote of “Black Sabbath”. This was back when guitar solos were orchestrated, melodic and every bit as important to the song as the chorus. “Flying High Again” is perhaps not the hit that “Crazy Train” was, but I can handle this one better (though I usually skip it) because from there on out the record just steamrolls. “You Can’t Kill Rock & Roll” is probably my second favorite Ozzy solo song of all time and is most certainly my favorite rock & roll song about rock & roll. Talk about a rebel song, kinda wrapped into a ballad, but then it starts to rock, and Randy just burns all over the coda. And then into “Believer” with one of the most bad-ass bass guitar intros of all time (usually attributed to journeyman Rudy Sarzo who toured this album with Ozzy but that one is all Bob Daisley). Dark, gothic but in a neoclassical way, not unlike the latter ’70s Black Sabbath albums (which I find are unfortunately maligned by most fans but I farking LOVE Never Say Die). “Little Dolls” is a great lighter hearted rock song with another awesome Lee Kerslake drum intro. Listening to that one on headphones today I noticed that Kerslake double tracks that drum intro. No wonder it sounds so mighty! “Tonight” is the “Goodbye To Romance” of this album, but I don’t think it as potent, but the guitar solo smokes. “S.A.T.O.” right after just burns a blue shuffle with that gothic darkness and operatic largess that leads you up to the title track, which is pretty much the point of having this album. It is easily the best song Ozzy has ever recorded, and is perhaps one of the top 10 Metal Songs of All Time.
Instead of having the classical guitar thing kinda be out on its own like “Dee” or the occasional mind-boggling Bach-esque solo run, “Diary of a Madman” gets started with a rubato classical guitar intro that turns into a waltzing 6/8 dark, droning riff that drops the 6th note at the end of each run and then the band kicks in on it, and this song turns into a mini-orchestral gothic prog metal masterpiece, complete with violins, orchestral bells, and a choir. The bridge gives me goosebumps “a simple minded spirit/the mirror tells me lies/could I mistake myself for someone/who lives behind my eyes?” Who knew Ozzy could really write lyrics. I mean, most of Sabbath’s lyrics were written by bassist Geezer Butler (it has long been rumored that most of the lyrics for these two albums were written by Daisley rather than Ozzy). Then it kicks into that last little 8-bar run where Randy reminds you why his genius has never been replicated and then it stomps into the last bit with the strings and the choir slamming it at you full bore until the song just cuts off.
Less than four months after the release of this album Randy Rhoads would die in a freak airplane accident, silencing an incredibly gifted musician and pretty much wounding Ozzy’s music to the core. It wouldn’t destroy Ozz, his career would go on and he would make good albums. I happen to like The Ultimate Sin quite a bit and bits and pieces of stuff from the Zakk Wylde era. But no more would Ozzy make the sort of masterpieces that he did in 1981.
Which leads us to today’s curated selection, both Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman as captured from the original U.S. Jet Records vinyl pressings. For nearly ten years vinyl was pretty much the only way to hear the albums as originally recorded. In the mid ’80s both Kerslake and Daisley sued manager Sharon Osbourne for the songwriting royalties due to them, as all those 16 songs recorded on those two albums were written by the band, not just Ozzy. To get back at them, Sharon had touring bassist Robert Trujillo (now in Metallica) and drummer Mike Bordin overdub over Kerslake and Daisley’s parts, supposedly at Ozzy’s behest. Yeah. Pretty much every fan pitched a fit and refused to buy those reissues. A few months ago 30th anniversary editions of the albums were issued restoring the original masters. For me though, these are the definitive versions of the albums. So, Happy Nigel Tufnel Day!!
SOURCE: The original 1981 Jet Records pressings of both albums -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.