Sunday, November 30, 2014

Black Sabbath - The Wizard

When I was a kid discovering music I was drawn primarily to classic rock from the sixties and seventies, and one of my first loves was Black Sabbath. Like most young men of my time I feel in love with Black Sabbath through the songs I heard on the radio, their big hits like “Paranoid,” “Iron Man” and “War Pigs.” For the longest time my affinity for Black Sabbath resided entirely on the “Paranoid” album, the only CD of theirs I owned for a long time. Back in my youth I was very dependent on the radio and friends to introduce music to me, and without the sufficient funds it was often a gamble to buy a whole album without first knowing what was on it, I needed a hook, I needed an incentive, and for me in my dire need to expand my Black Sabbath catalogue the next step was introduced by Sabbath’s fourth big radio hit, at least where I live, “The Wizard.”

“The Wizard” is basically a perfect song for young me’s sensibilities. It had a highly unique intro that my brother and I could recognize after only the first note during a trivia contest (true story). It had blues influence which tied in with my love of the music of that time, most notably Led Zeppelin. The harmonica is a fantastic and underused music instrument. The distortion on Toni Iommi’s guitar is the exact amount necessary to create a unique sound that is catchy and fun and does not cross the line into distracting from the rhythm section. The song is about a wizard and fuck yeah wizards!

So without much hesitation the second Sabbath album young me purchased was their debut self titled album “Black Sabbath.” This was a good purchase, obviously, because the entire first half of the album is amazing with songs like “Black Sabbath,” “The Wizard” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep/N.I.B.” while the second half of the album is also really good. It was also a chronologically logical place to start discovering Black Sabbath, you know, at the beginning.

"Paranoid" and "The Wizard" that
would have been a really good single.
“The Wizard” is infinitely memorable. The way it opens with the long notes from the harmonica and allows Iommi, Ward and Butler to be introduced one at a time and then coming together in the first movement is... “magical.” It is probably the most blues inspired song by Sabbath and it gives a very unique sound even when compared to other Black Sabbath tracks. It is not a very heavy song, at least not by today’s standards but being “metal” does not by itself make a song good, style and pose; levels and variety of sound are “The Wizard’s” strong suites.

In many ways “The Wizard” is a silly song. Black Sabbath had a lot of intense songs about death, darkness, the devil and other dangerous themes beginning with a “d,” including dreams. So a song about a magic man making every one joyful with his presence is rather calm in comparison, but I like it. Not only is “The Wizard” a charming upbeat song it is very humorous when we pause to consider the lyrics.

The two immediate possible interpretations for “The Wizard” are literal and metaphorical; obviously, what other options do we have really? “The Wizard” is quite possibly, literally about a wizard spreading his magic and making everyone happy, or “The Wizard” could be, metaphorical be about a drug dealer spreading his unique form of “magic” and naturally making everyone happy. Judging from Ozzy’s attitude on both subjects I think it is fair to suggest that it is both, a wizard who is a drug dealer.

A psychedelic adventure?

It is often sited that, “The Wizard” is inspired by famous “The Lord of The Rings” sorcerer Gandalf the Grey. It is not too far of a stretch to imagine Gandalf as a drug dealer, after all he was found of the halfing’s leaf, and the whole walking by element fits well with Gandalf’s wandering ways. I think it is fun to imagine Gandalf as a haphazard drug dealer, spreading the joy of his “magic,” but truth be told I am not convinced Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard” is necessarily inspired by, or at all about, Gandalf the Grey. I think our cultural perceptions of the fantasy theme wizards are fundamentally inspired by Gandalf and Arthurian lore’s Merlin, so much so, that everything wizard related harkens back to them. So in a weird way every wizard, ever, is inspired by, or based on, Gandalf and/or Merlin, either directly or indirectly, but in this case I think the connection may be the later, indirect, and I do not know how much that really counts as being inspired by, or at all about, Gandalf, really.

Oh well, who cares? Gandalf selling pot is a great idea for a song and I am sure Ozzy would be happy if all just assumed “The Wizard” is about exactly that. That is what I like to believe anyway.

Image taken from some youtube video.  I could have just as easily made my own, but I didn't.
The important thing is “The Wizard” is one of Sabbath’s most unique songs both in style and theme and in my humble one of their best. I hesitate to say “The Wizard” is my favorite Black Sabbath song, but only because Black Sabbath have so many great songs. In the end, I think “The Wizard” is my favourite, but perhaps that just my affinity for Gandalf and pot talking.

- King of Braves

P.S. Also fun, Pride and Glory cover:

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