Black Sabbath almost junked Paranoid because they thought it sounded too much like Led Zeppelin

Black Sabbath, 1970s: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne
(Image credit: Chris Walter/WireImage)

The title track of their era-defining second album, Paranoid became a huge hit for Black Sabbath when they decided to make it their first single release in August 1970. It went to Number 4 on the UK Singles Chart, its barbed wire riff and howling vocals echoing through the ages as a track that reshaped rock music.

But, in further evidence that some musicians would make terrible music critics - especially when it’s their own music they need to judge - bassist Geezer Butler told Classic Rock’s Mick Wall that they very nearly binned the song that became their calling card. Him and Ozzy refused to play it when guitarist Tony Iommi originally came up with the riff, he explained. 

“It was right at the end of recording the second album, which was going to be called War Pigs,” he said. “We were short on material, and Tony just kind of came up with the riff on the spot. But Ozzy and I thought it was too close to Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin

"We always loved Zeppelin in them days, sitting round on the floor smoking dope and listening to that first album. So when Tony came up with the riff to Paranoid, me and Ozzy spotted it immediately and went: “Naw, we can’t do that!”. The fact that it became such a big hit for us – and is now probably our best-known song – says it all, really.” 

Phew! When Butler looks back on it now, he has a fresh outlook on the situation, realising that many of the riffs propelling some of Led Zeppelin’s songs forward were also “borrowed” from elsewhere. “That’s the thing about rock’n’roll, everyone does that, especially when they’re young and just starting out. It’s putting your own stamp on it that counts. And Sabbath certainly did that.” 

The success of Paranoid made Sabbath unlikely pop stars, which they weren’t entirely comfortable with. "We felt like traitors. We weren’t trying to appeal to the kids who watched Top Of The Pops. We did Top Of The Pops, and we felt so out of place. And at the gigs we started getting a lot of screaming young kids. When they heard our other stuff they probably shit themselves and ran out."

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.