It may be a completely overworked cliché to compare things to Mount Rushmore (thanks ESPN!) but needless to say, if you’re coming up with a Mount Rushmore of heavy metal, Ozzy Osbourne is no doubt on it.
The Ozzy story is of course legend by now, and most metal fans can recite the greatest hits by heart: misfit kid from working class Birmingham ends up becoming frontman for heavy metal’s first significant band, is fired from said band after drug and alcohol habit spirals out of control, meets Sharon, hooks up with guitarist Randy Rhoads and forms the Blizzard of Ozz band, solo career takes off, bites the head off a dove, Rhoads dies in plane crash, peed on the Alamo, legendary booze and coke habit resurfaces, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
You can count on one hand the number of singers fired by their original band that then goes on to surpass the original band in sales. But that is what Ozzy did, starting with his first two releases, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman.
The real story of these rereleases is that Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne have restored the original bass and drum tracks as recorded by Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake. When the albums were reissued in 2002, Ozzy and Sharon had Daisley and Kerslake’s tracks removed and their parts played by Robert Trujillo and Mike Bordin, Ozzy’s rhythm section at the time.
It was a petty move from the Osbournes, an unnecessary grudge being held by two people who have all the money, respect and fame one could ask for. Granted Daisley and Kerslake had sued Ozzy for songwriting credits, but hadn’t Ozzy and Sharon already conquered the world by then? Would anybody listening to these records care who got songwriting credits?
Thankfully, the Osbournes have restored the albums to their original status, although none of the album photos show Daisley and Kerslake, all the shots are of Ozzy and Rhoads. That’s OK though, since the highlight of these albums has always been the unique chemistry and all-too-brief partnership of Ozzy and Randy Rhoads.
The late guitarist has long been celebrated for his technical virtuosity, witness the shredding on the bonus track “RR,” but listening to these rereleases, it’s easy to lose sight of how good a riff writer Rhoads was.
Blizzard of Ozz is still Ozzy’s best-selling album and contains his most iconic songs. Track after track has pretty much become a staple on hard rock radio since the album’s release.
You have “Crazy Train,” Ozzy’s signature song, a track that is known to just about anybody who listens to music. The iconic “Crazy Train” has been heard everywhere from TV commercials to being sampled by hip-hop artists to sports arenas. But check out the chunky power chords on “Suicide Solution,” and the ominous riff on “Mr. Crowley,” where Rhoads out-Tony Iommi’s Tony Iommi. There’s also the blues-rock strut of “No Bone Movies,” a song where the Blizzard of Ozz band is clearly having a lot of fun.
While Rhoads’ reputation has only grown since his untimely death, what people who listen to these records lose sight of the fact that Ozzy was a hell of a singer in those days. While Ozzy’s last album “Scream” is actually pretty good, the ravages of time have required producers to process and auto-tune the hell out of his vocals.
But here, Ozzy’s voice was very versatile instrument, able to carry the hard-driving “I Don’t Know,” morph into The Prince of Darkness for the eerie “Suicide Solution” (a song about alcoholism that, of course, the straights thought had subliminal messages urging the audience to kill themselves) and the fiendish “Mr. Crowley” (about black magic practitioner Aleister Crowley) but also show an emotional side on the ballads “Goodbye To Romance” and “Revelation (Mother Earth).”
The reissue of Blizzard of Ozz has three bonus tracks; “You Looking At Me, Looking At You,” the B-side to “Crazy Train;” a different mix of “Goodbye To Romance;” and a Rhoads guitar solo outtake, “RR.”
The remastered sound gives the album a fresh sheen. The album doesn’t feel dated at all, although the keyboard section on “Goodbye To Romance” seems very 80s. Tracks like “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train,” “Suicide Solution,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Steal Away (The Night)” rock as hard as they ever have. Of the bonus tracks, I almost prefer the guitar and vocal mix of “Goodbye To Romance” better than the album version. The minimalist style fits better the tender ballad better than the full band version.
After the success of Blizzard of Ozz, Ozzy and the band quickly followed up with Diary Of A Madman, a more progressive outing.
The album gets off to an energetic start with the double shot of “Over The Mountain” and “Flying High Again,” the latter of which features a tremendous Rhoads solo. The progressive aspects of the album show up on the album’s two epic tracks, “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” and the title track.
While Rhoads and Ozzy are obviously the stars, Daisley and Kerslake’s contributions are more noticeable on Diary Of A Madman, particularly on “Believer” and “Little Dolls,” which rock out with a real swagger. “Tonight” is the album’s big power ballad, while “S.A.T.O” features an acoustic intro before the band kicks in with propulsive momentum. The title track throws everything together: acoustic guitars, church choirs, you name it.
The Deluxe Edition of “Diary” comes with a bonus live disc from 1982 that gives a good example of what the Blizzard of Ozz band sounded like. At the time the disc was recorded, the band was on its second incarnation, with Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge having replaced Daisley and Kerslake. Despite the changes, the band rips through “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train,” “Believer” and “Mr. Crowley” with fierce precision. The final three songs are Black Sabbath covers, a shortened version of “Iron Man,” a good rendition of “Children Of The Grave” and finally, ”Paranoid,” a riff that was tailor-made for Rhoads’ guitar style.
Each band member gets a moment to shine: Sarzo on the bass intro to “Believer,” Aldridge’s drum solo on “Steal Away (The Night)” and Rhoads’ guitar spot on “Suicide Solution.” Of course, the star of an Ozzy show is Ozzy himself and the live disc is peppered with lots of “Let me see your hands!” and “I love you all!” There’s no DVD, so we don’t get to see Ozzy’s goofy stage jumps. Again, what’s striking is how good Ozzy’s vocals sound here. He really can hit the high notes on “Crazy Train.”
My only quibbles with the live disc are: 1) the version of “Flying High Again,” one of my favorite Ozzy songs, was a bit disappointing and 2) some of the crowd noise sounds like it has been added in post-production. The music is quality enough; did the Osbournes really need to pipe in crowd noise?
Ozzy has called Diary Of A Madman his personal favorite album. While I think Blizzard of Ozz is better, Diary Of A Madman is more advanced as Rhoads and Ozzy were really pushing the boundaries here. The shame is we never got to find out what they would do next.
Any metal fan worth their salt would do well to pick up these rereleases to hear one of metal’s icons at the peak of his ability. — Ryan Mavity