POSTCARD FROM THE GREAT MAGNETIC FIELD: Welcome to the alt.housers, glad to have you. Every time there's a blogsolidation and I get a new audience, I like to let everybody know about the greatest cultural crime in American history: the failure to put Black Sabbath in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's the scorecard, and I will brook no dissent:
1. Black Sabbath invented alternative rock. Sure, we might have gotten there through punk, but we didn't. Without Black Sabbath, there would be no Nirvana (via no Melvins), no Black Flag, no Pearl Jam, no Bush, no Creed, no Smashing Pumpkins, to name a few. Sure, some of that would be a good thing, but we didn't keep Simon and Garfunkel out just because of the Indigo Girls, did we? And for fans of the MC-5 who want to claim paternity for modern rock: please go back to bed.
2. Black Sabbath made protest rock accessible to non-hippies. Let me get this straight. Dylan's "Masters of War" is a trenchant commentary. Sabbath's "War Pigs" is a comic book fantasy? Listen to the two songs -- similar structure, lyrically and musically, except that War Pigs has the elegiac coda with the chilling crescendo finish, and of course is better done. Also, not that this is the only important thing, it's far more enduring and popular among everybody but critics. And I haven't even brought up Sabbath's other protest/issue songs -- Children of the Grave, Snowblind, Hand of Doom, etc.
3. Black Sabbath pioneered the heavy-metal ballad. "Laguna Sunrise" and "Changes," both on 1972's Volume 4, basically invented the sub-genre. "Laguna Sunrise" is a beautiful and simple acoustic guitar duet. "Changes" is a mopey breakup song. Both played completely against type, making it okay for tough guys to cry on future vinyl. No Sabbath, no "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." What would you do without "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"?
4. Black Sabbath invented cartoon devil-worship. Before Sabbath, you might get tarred and feathered just for saying something like "that Satan fellow, well, in my book he's okay." After Sabbath it was okay to go on the Muppet Show and make a deal for Miss Piggy's soul. No, it's not an urban legend. You may not like this, but you cannot deny the important cultural role that cartoon devil worship acceptance has played in our society.
5. Black Sabbath invented smokers' wing style. Remember when you were in high school and those guys used to hang out in the parking lot with puffy hair and mustaches and leather jackets with the sleeves pushed up to their forearms? Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler invented that. As far as I know, there are still guys standing in the parking lots today with that same look. It spread rapidly -- to John Oates, to Bucky Dharma, to Weird Al Yankovic. By the mid-80s you couldn't swing a cat at an AOR promotional convention without hitting a DJ sporting that style. That has to count for something.
6. Even when off its peak, Black Sabbath was great. When bands fire their original singers, they tend to get terrible quickly. Sammy Hagar sucked the fun out of Van Halen, and don't get me started on Gary Cherone. Joe Lynn Turner ruined Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. Not Sabbath. After Ozzy went solo, they picked up huge-voice/tiny man (inside and out) Ronnie James Dio for two really good albums (Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules) and a passable live album (Live Evil). When Dio was too much of a jerk to deal with, they signed up former Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan, who was, surprisingly, amazing. This trio is like the heavy-metal equivalent of the Three Tenors. The only other exceptions to the don't-replace-your-vocalist rule, as far as I can tell, are Iron Maiden and Squeeze.