Black Sabbath (song)

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"Black Sabbath"
Song by Black Sabbath
from the album Black Sabbath
Released13 February 1970 (1970-02-13)
Recorded16 October 1969
Producer(s)Rodger Bain
Audio sample

"Black Sabbath" is a song by the English heavy metal band Black Sabbath, written in 1969 and released on their eponymous debut album in 1970. In the same year, the song appeared as an A-side on a four-track 12-inch single, with "The Wizard" also on the A-side and "Evil Woman" and "Sleeping Village" on the B-side, on the Philips Records label Vertigo. In Japan and the Philippines, a 7-inch single on the Philips label was released with "Evil Woman, Don't Play Your Games with Me" on the A-side and "Black Sabbath" on the B-side.[3]


According to the band, the song was inspired by an experience that Geezer Butler had in the days of Earth. Butler, obsessed with the occult at the time, painted his apartment matte black and placed several inverted crucifixes and pictures of Satan on the walls. Ozzy Osbourne gave Butler a black occult book, written in Latin and decorated with numerous pictures of Satan. Butler read the book and then placed it on a shelf beside his bed before going to sleep. When he woke up, he claims he saw a large black figure standing at the end of his bed, staring at him. The figure vanished and Butler ran to the shelf where he had placed the book earlier, but the book was gone. Butler related this story to Osbourne, who then wrote the lyrics to the song based on Butler's experience.[4] The song starts with the lyrics:

What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me.

A version of this song from Black Sabbath's first demo exists on the Ozzy Osbourne compilation album The Ozzman Cometh.[5] The song has an extra verse with additional vocals before the bridge.[6] It's one of the band's most frequently performed tracks, being featured on every single tour of their career.


According to AllMusic's Steve Huey, in the song Black Sabbath extracted the so-called "blue note" from the standard pentatonic blues scale and developed a heavy metal riff.[7] The main riff is a G5 power chord followed by an octave into a tritone away from the chord's root. The riff is fairly simple, highlighting the dissonant and dark sound of the tritone against a stagnant harmonic rhythm. [8] This particular interval, the tritone, is often known as the diabolus in musica,[9] for it has musical qualities which are often used to suggest Satanic connotations in Western music.[9][10][11] The song "Black Sabbath" was one of the earliest examples in heavy metal to make use of this interval,[9] and since then, the genre has made extensive use of diabolus in musica.[9][12]

The riff was created when bassist Geezer Butler began playing a fragment of "Mars" from Gustav Holst's The Planets suite. Inspired, guitarist Tony Iommi returned the next day with the famously dark tritone.[13]

The main riff of "Black Sabbath" is one of the most famous examples of harmonic progressions with the tritone G-C:[citation needed]

\relative c' {
  \time 4/4
  \tempo 4=68
  \clef treble
  \key bes \major
  <g d' g>2 g'2 |
  \grace {cis,16 d} cis2.~\startTrillSpan cis8~ cis\stopTrillSpan |
  <g d' g>2 g'2 |
  cis,2.~\startTrillSpan cis8~ cis\stopTrillSpan \bar "|."


"Black Sabbath" was ranked the second-best Black Sabbath song by Rock - Das Gesamtwerk der größten Rock-Acts im Check.[14] It was ranked the best song in Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne-era discography by Loudwire.[15] In 2020, Kerrang! ranked the song number one on their list of the 20 greatest Black Sabbath songs,[16] and in 2021, Louder Sound ranked the song number three on their list of the 40 greatest Black Sabbath songs.[17] In March 2023, "Black Sabbath" placed first on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time" list.[18]

"Black Sabbath" was the final song played by Boston rock radio station WAAF on 22 February 2020, its final day of broadcasting.[19] According to longtime WAAF host Mistress Carrie, the song was chosen because "the album came out weeks before we signed on the air, and Ozzy released a new album the day we signed off, and is the only artist to stay current for all 50 years of our history, and well... SATAN. If EMF was going to take our beloved signal, they were going to have to endure Satan first."[20]

Music video[edit]

A music video was made for the song, as part of the band's 1970 performance on the German show Beat-Club. The video was filmed in a studio with a village on the foreground.

Cover versions[edit]

"Black Sabbath" has been covered by the following bands:


  1. ^ Chris Nickson (3 August 2002). Ozzy Knows Best: The Amazing Story of Ozzy Osbourne, from Heavy Metal Madness to Father of the Year on MTV's "The Osbournes". St. Martin's Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-4299-5452-5.
  2. ^ Irwin, William (23 October 2012). Black Sabbath and Philosophy: Mastering Reality. John Wiley & Sons. p. 79. ISBN 9781118397596.
  3. ^ "Black Sabbath Evil Woman, Don't Play Your Garmes With Me Japanese Promo 7" vinyl single (7 inch record / 45) (751970)".
  4. ^ Osbourne, Ozzy (2010). I Am Ozzy. ISBN 9780446569897.
  5. ^ "Overview The Ozzman Cometh". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  6. ^ "Black Sabbath". Black Sabbath Online. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  7. ^ Huey, Steve. "Black Sabbath review". Allmusic. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  8. ^ Chesna, James (26 February 2010). "'Sleeping (In the Fire)': Listening Room fearless leader faces down fear". WJRT-TV/DT. Archived from the original on 29 June 2011. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d Marshall, Wolf. "Power Lord—Climbing Chords, Evil Tritones, Giant Callouses". Guitar Legends, April 1997, p. 2
  10. ^ Cooke Deryck, The Language of Music, chapter 2 "The Elements of Musical Expression- the Augmented Fourth". Oxford University Press, Oxford New-York, 1959, Reimpression 2001, p. 84.
  11. ^ Sadie, Stanley (1980). "Tritone" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1st ed.). MacMillan, pp.154-155 ISBN 0-333-23111-2.
  12. ^ Dunn, Sam (2005). "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey". Warner Home Video (2006).
  13. ^ Classic Albums: Black Sabbath - Paranoid (2010)
  14. ^ Rehe, Christoph (2013). Rock - Das Gesamtwerk der größten Rock-Acts im Check: alle Alben, alle Songs. Ein eclipsed-Buch (in German). Sysyphus Sysyphus Verlags GmbH. ISBN 978-3868526462.
  15. ^ Schaffner, Lauryn (13 February 2020). "The Woman on the Cover of 'Black Sabbath' Album Has Been Found". Loudwire. Retrieved 13 February 2020.
  16. ^ Law, Sam (7 September 2020). "The 20 greatest Black Sabbath songs – ranked". Kerrang. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  17. ^ Brannigan, Paul (22 November 2021). "Black Sabbath's 40 greatest songs ever". Louder Sound. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  18. ^ "The 100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. 13 March 2023. Archived from the original on 13 March 2023. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  19. ^ "The End Of WAAF Boston". Format Change Archive. 22 February 2020. Archived from the original on 23 February 2020. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
  20. ^ "10 Questions with ... Mistress Carrie & Mike Hsu, Ex APD/MD/Midday & PM Drive Host". All Access. 3 March 2020. Archived from the original on 15 August 2020. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Overview Anywhere". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  22. ^ "Overview Nativity in Black". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  23. ^ "Overview Sothis". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  24. ^ "Overview Future of the Past". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  25. ^ "Overview Tribute to the Gods". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  26. ^ "Overview Oculus Infernum". Allmusic. Retrieved 31 March 2012.
  27. ^ Gordon, Jeremy (24 April 2014). "Portishead's Beth Gibbons Covers Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath" With Metal Band Gonga". Pitchfork. Retrieved 6 May 2014.

External links[edit]