Rat Salad: Black Sabbath, The Classic Years 69-75, by Paul Wilkinson
I’ve always been into music. From age 9 I started learning to play classical piano, and soon after discovered the joys of pop and the Top 30, listened to Radio Luxembourg on my tiny made-in-Hong-Kong transistor radio, then when I was 13/14 my folks bought me my first cassette tape player, and 2 musicassettes, namely Tubular Bells and Dark Side Of The Moon. Even though I played those tapes down to the base plastic ribbon, I still have them.
I also was allowed to use my dad’s library card to get records out of the library in Clydebank, where we were living at the time. Clydebank Library’s record section wasn’t that good on rock and prog at that time, but I did find two albums which had a lasting effect, one more than the other, and they were Thank Christ For The Bomb, by the Groundhogs, and Black Sabbath’s first LP, Black Sabbath.
Yes, I was a pimply teenager trying to deal with surges of hormones and angst, and the 1st Sabbath album just seemed to click with me. At the same time, I was just getting into reading the Cthulhu mythos stories by HP Lovecraft and thus Lovecraft and that Sabbath album are for me eternally linked. (Weirdly enough, I have similar connections between certain albums and books; Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra will always be the soundtrack for reading Lord Of The Rings, while the same band’s semilive album, Ricochet, feels perfect for reading Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy). Later on, I managed to accumulate tapes of the subsequent Sabbath albums, Paranoid, Master Of Reality, Vol 4, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Sabotage – then there was a gap and for some reason I got hold of Never Say Die before finally getting Technical Ecstasy, neither of which fired my imagination in the way that the previous ones did. I didn’t know that the band were following the Cosmic Law Of Rock Band Dynamics and were burdened with drug habits and musical differences.
Yet I always returned to Sabbath, especially since Tony Iommi seemed determined to keep the battered old battleship of rock afloat and on some kind of course. Dio came, did two great albums and split, then Ian Gillan came on board for one (greatly underappreciated) album and likewise jumped ship. Then there were the Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin and Ray Gillen eras, all of which produced some excellent dark, doomy and magnificent music. And through all of this, the Ozzy years still exert their yardstick aura against which the successors were judged.
And as you`d guess, there have been a variety of books on the matter of Sabbath, most of which I’ve avoided. Then I spotted one entitled Rat Salad by Paul Wilkinson in the Glasgow branch of FOPP, scoped out the cover front and back and bought it. Damn glad that I did, because as well as telling us a little about Paul Wilkinson’s own story and how he discovered the band, the book actually examines each album and each track on each album, giving a summarised musical analysis of how they’re structured and why (Paul W thinks) they work or don’t work.
An excellent book, thoroughly recommended.
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