Micheal Cobley

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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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5 Comments already, do join in...

  1. Paul Wilkinson Says:

    March 10th, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for posting. Have slipped Rubicon on in your honour.

    Very best,

    Paul Wilkinson
    Penniless writer and inveterate Sabbath fan.

  2. Phil Gresik Says:

    May 24th, 2009 at 11:37 am

    G’day Paul.
    Just a note to say how much i enjoyed your book.Even though ive been into the band since 77′ it gave me a different perspective and launched me into a Sabbfest of biblical proportions….Sabbs are one of those bands i treasure ,so i only play them from time to time to preserve their freshness and to be a soundtrack to eras of my own life.I really enjoyed reviving Tech xstacy and Nvr say die,i really do think theyre grouse albums…i would say i prefer the sound of those two lp’s over the sound on Sabotage.i mean Gypsy,All moving parts,Johnny blade,juniors eyes.shock wave are all full on to my ears.
    A few really good points were that Vol 4 was the turning point…i’d never really seen it like that,but the lp’s before and the lp’s after were quite different.In a way Vol 4 was not a well produced album,but typical of Sabbs it has an other worldly vibe that transcends technical merits(much like Born again).
    What do you think of H&H’s devil you know?
    Also am i going insane being commercial!!.its one of my least favorites and your points gave me a better understanding of why.
    I also really liked the information surrounding the other events (pollitical social) at the time of release and tours etc,gave some great perspective,especially what other artists albums were released at the same time,it highlighted just how fuckin heavy they were compared to their contemporys.
    Would love to see you do a book about Budgie!!
    So thanks heaps mate!!

  3. rockitboy Says:

    May 24th, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Phil – not sure if Paul W passes by my blog on a regular basis, but you never know!

  4. Dr. Kirk Says:

    May 19th, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Hi rockitboy! I came across your review as I was searching for how to contact Paul about his book. I also very much enjoy the point of view he provides, and it will help me establish some context to a class on heavy metal I’m teaching this fall. It will hopefully ease the “how do I teach an 18-year-old about the ’60s and ’70s when they’re very solidly in 2010″ part of the class.

    If you know how to reach Paul, I’d love to talk to him about getting involved in the class. Thanks!

    Brian Kirkmeyer, Ph.D.
    Assistant Dean, Engineering & Applied Science
    Miami University, Oxford Ohio, USA

  5. rockitboy Says:

    May 19th, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Hi Brian – thanks for dropping by. Not sure if Paul W looks in here occasionally, but i`ll if I can track down a contact for him. No promises, tho.

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