Black Sabbath's 40 greatest songs ever

10. Into The Void

During the recording of Master Of Reality, Tony Iommi took the decision to tune his guitar down three semi-tones in order to give Sabbath a weightier, heavier sound. That decision would eventually birth the entire stoner rock and grunge movements. One of Iommi’s favourite Ozzy-era recordings, Into The Void’s lumbering riffs and tempo changes gave it a jarring, dislocated feel. That Soundgarden, Kyuss, Melvins and Monster Magnet would all later cover the track is a testament to its influence and enduring power.

9. Symptom Of The Universe

“It’s heavy, it’s savage, it’s aggressive, it’s melodic and it’s beautiful. It is everything that’s great about Black Sabbath rolled into six-and-a-half minutes. It’s probably the greatest and most brutal riff that Tony Iommi has ever written, Bill Ward’s drum fills are phenomenal, Geezer Butler’s bass lines are genius and add another layer of heavy, and Ozzy delivers what I think is his greatest vocal performance of all time. Lyrically it’s mysterious, intriguing and brilliant, and the structure of the song couldn’t be better.” - Ben Ward, Orange Goblin

8. N.I.B.

Geezer Butler’s instantly memorable, fuzzed-out bass riff might have been blatantly indebted to Cream, but N.I.B. found Sabbath inventing a new vocabulary for heavy, blues-based rock. Honed during the band’s early residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, the song moves from that simple opening riff into a crunching descending chord pattern overlaid with a sparkling Iommi solo before resolving back to that intro. 

Written as a tongue-in-cheek “satanic love song” by Butler, the song was originally titled Nib, a nickname bestowed upon Bill Ward on account of his pointy beard. Butler added in the punctuation marks to make the song sound more “intriguing”. A joke it might have been, but it worked.

7. Iron Man

“I’ve always been huge on Planet Caravan, but I gotta stay the course, as typical as it may be, and say Iron Man. I’ve homaged the guitar solo in one of our B-sides. The main riff could be one of the most important riffs in the history of heavy metal. I first really heard it on cassette, then I rummaged through my folks’ vinyl and found it. 

"It sounded way cooler on vinyl. Much creepier. I immediately learned the whole song on guitar over the next few days. This was basically my introduction to using drop tunings for ‘heaviness’ rather than blues, slide or folkier stuff. It left a lasting impression.” - Scott Holiday, Rival Sons

6. Paranoid

“It is just so blatantly Black Sabbath. It is so distinct; Tony’s guitar tone is so dirty and powerful. It’s become such a staple for Sabbath, which is ironic because according to them it was written as a filler for the album. I must have heard it right when it first came out in 1970. 

"In those days all the new stuff coming out was floating around everywhere. If you were in a band you knew what everyone else was doing. That was back when people used to buy albums and sit and listen to them start to finish. Music was much more important in those days.” - Alice Cooper

5. Children Of The Grave

In his 2009 autobiography I Am Ozzy, the Double O hails Children Of The Grave as “the most kick-ass song” Sabbath recorded on their first three albums. That annoying Americanism aside, he has a point. 

Chugging in on a classic, down-tuned Iommi riff, it’s both a song of its era (with Ozzy sounding not entirely convincing in his delivery of Geezer’s flower-power pleas for hopes and dreams of a brighter tomorrow for the children) and a blueprint for what would become the NWOBHM and later thrash metal. Stretching out suited Sabbath, and here their balance of brute force and fluid dynamics is showcased perfectly

4. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

“It’s a toss-up between Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Supernaut, so I’m going for the former. Great opening riff, great arrangement, and Ozzy at his best. I think I first heard it on the Alan Freeman rock show, although I didn’t actually own it until I was in my mid-twenties!” - Joe Elliott, Def Leppard

3. Black Sabbath

“I first heard this live at the Marquee club in March 1970. From the opening sounds of a storm, torrential rain and church bells, Tony Iommi starts with a trill riff that sends chills down your spine. The song is just plain heavy. 

"Two-thirds of the way in it breaks into a now trademark up-tempo Iommi riff, with a guitar solo at the end that is right in the pocket, and finishes on a Bolero theme. Six minutes 17 seconds of pure evil, and pure brilliance.” - Mick Box, Uriah Heep

2. Heaven And Hell

Majestic. Other epithets can be applied to the title track of the rejuvenated Sabbath’s first record with Ronnie Dio, but ‘majestic’ pretty much covers it. Introduced by a thumping unison riff from Iommi and Butler, the track quickly drops down to bass/drums to showcase RJD’s remarkable voice, before exploding into a widescreen chorus, a choral midsection, a dazzling, effects-laden Iommi solo and an exhilarating, galloping coda rounded off by several classical guitar flourishes. 

Epic, adventurous, dramatic and uplifting, it’s little wonder Dio cited it as his favourite-ever recording.

1. War Pigs

It’s ironic that Black Sabbath were often painted as misanthropic harbingers of destruction and misery, when in fact there was a hypermoralist, humanist core to many of Geezer Butler’s early lyrics. 

Originally titled Walpurgis, a title rejected by Vertigo as “too satanic”, War Pigs was born out of conversations Butler had with returning Vietnam veterans on American military bases in Germany. The bassist was trying to paint a fantastical, Hieronymus Bosch-style vision of hell on earth, skewering “war-mongers… the real satanists… the people trying to get the working classes to fight their wars for them”.

Spawned from a club jam session, the track began to coalesce when Tony Iommi hit upon its iconic two-chord riff, Butler and Ward’s swinging, jazzy rhythm acting as a counterpoint to the stop-start dynamic. Producer Rodger Bain and engineer Tom Allom also made an important contribution, underpinning Iommi’s spiralling solo with a contrasting guitar line and speeding up the end of the song to accentuate its chaotic feel – a decision the quartet were initially uncomfortable with, but let go, correctly believing that no one would listen to them anyway. 

And with that, a doomy heavy metal masterpiece was born. “No wonder we never got any chicks at our gigs,” Ozzy later quipped.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.