(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)
Amid his notable achievements in rock, Tony Iommi, the guitarist of Black Sabbath, has encountered his fair share of hardships. Influenced by drugs, creative clashes, and various other contributing factors, many of his prominent failures stand as poignant examples for aspiring musicians on what to avoid throughout their careers.
Considering the stark ups and downs in Iommi and Black Sabbath’s career trajectory, he frequently gets prompted to discuss some of these major setbacks. Among the most glaring is 1978’s Never Say Die!, marking the final album with original frontman Ozzy Osbourne until 2013’s 13. The album faced such harsh criticism that even bassist Geezer Butler labelled it as “easily the worst album” Sabbath ever produced.
That said, the band doesn’t solely recall Never Say Die! for its problematic production and Osbourne’s notoriety. It also contained some of their most unconventional tracks. A few were perceived as deficient in the band’s usual power, while others, like ‘A Hard Road’, weren’t even taken seriously by the band members themselves.
This reflective track, delving into life’s journey, represents both the debut and finale of Iommi lending his voice to backing vocals. In Iommi’s memoir, Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, he revealed the reason why this was the case, stating that whenever he sang, Butler couldn’t keep a straight face. Despite the lack of seriousness to which the song was created, however, its lyrics tell a different story.
For instance, the lines, “Why make the hard road? /Why can’t we be friends? /No need to hurry /We’ll meet in the end” seem more poignant when comparing the words to the band’s difficulties when recording the album. Iommi has since admitted that none of the members wanted Osbourne to leave but that no one was particularly forthcoming when it came to sharing their feelings.
He also said that this uncertainty, along with Osbourne’s return, impacted the album’s overall sound: “Two days before we were finally ready to record again, Ozzy decided to come back. But he wouldn’t sing any of the stuff we had written without him! Bill had to sing on one track because Ozzy refused to sing it. We ended up having to write in the day so we could record in the evening, and we never had time to review the tracks and make changes. As a result, the album sounds very confused.”
Looking back on the issues surrounding Osbourne, Iommi explained: “The problems with Ozzy continued, and eventually we knew we had to bring in somebody else. Geezer and Bill would say to me, ‘Either Ozzy goes or we go.’ At that point, Bill was becoming the businessman of the band, with his briefcase and his haircut, and he fucking goes and tells Ozzy, ‘Tony wants to get rid of you.’ [laughs]”.