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Black Sabbath – ‘Supernaut’ | Record of the Day

Black Sabbath Volume 4 sleeve

I want to reach out and touch the sky
I want to touch the sun but I don’t need to fly

Supernaut, Black Sabbath

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In early 1972, when Black Sabbath began writing tracks for their fourth album, they had a problem with getting distracted. Their Birmingham rehearsal studio was a short walk from a pub. Consequently, the normal routine, after a cursory warm-up jam, was that Tony Iommi would be left alone to come up with something worth recording while Ozzy, Geezer and Bill went and got pissed. So, when their then-manager Patrick Meehan offered the band the chance to relocate to Los Angeles to dodge some tax and take advantage of the cheaper studio rates, Tony agreed straight away and dragged the rest of the band with him. No more distractions; problem solved? Not quite.

By that summer, the band members were living together in a Bel Air mansion rented from the Dupont family – owners of the Dupont chemical company – and had their practice space set up in the enormous ballroom overlooking the pool. This luxurious property soon became notorious to local drug dealers, groupies and hangers-on who crowded the house, night and day for a debauched party that lasted the whole summer. Every substance imaginable was on offer but cocaine quickly became the drug of choice.

Black Sabbath band shot 1970s

It’s no accident that the working title for the album was Snowblind. Cocaine was delivered to the studio in speaker boxes. Geezer said in 2001 that half the album’s budget went on coke. Tony later compared the huge mounds of powder around all the time to something out of Scarface.
In his autobiography, Ozzy said, “That coke was the whitest, purest, strongest stuff you could ever imagine. One sniff, and you were king of the universe”. That level of delusion and sense of invincibility is captured in Supernaut. You can hear it in the massive, unmistakable riff and in the roaring egomania of the lyrics:

Got no religion, don’t need no friends
Got all I want and I don’t need to pretend
Don’t try to reach me, ‘cos I’ll tear up your mind
I’ve seen the future and I’ve left it behind

It’s a sensational performance from the whole band. Tony, Geezer and Bill were perfectly locked in and delivering an outrageous, rocket of molten metal adrenaline. And Ozzy? Well, Ozzy never had any trouble selling the idea of decadence with his vocals. This is Black Sabbath at their absolute apex – at the tipping point before the delusion gave way to reality and the band began to fall apart. Supernaut is the undisputed highlight of Volume 4, the fourth Black Sabbath album in a sensational run of releases and one of the finest things they ever did.

In the end, their record label’s objections to the obvious drug reference forced them to drop Snowblind as a title for the album – though it’s still there as the first track of the album’s second side. They went for Volume 4 instead as a nod to Led Zep’s approach to naming LPs, which they promptly dropped in favour of conventional album titles after this. There is, however, a not-so-subtle thank you to one of the album’s chief influences on its back cover, “We wish to thank the great COKE-cola company of Los Angeles”.

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Nick Perry

Nick writes fact, fiction and opinion in various places including
his music blog noisecrumbs.com. His musical tastes cover indie, grunge, golden-era hip hop, punk, funk, psychedelia and a big portion of distortion. You can and should follow him on Twitter @NoiseCrumbs.

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