The story of Diary Of A Madman is often overshadowed by what happened next. The years after its release were peak-Ozzy Osbourne. These were the years that made him notorious – where he was in the tabloids as much as the music press – and where his offstage behaviour threatened to become more famous than his music.
Like the time Ozzy bit the head off a dove at a record company meeting. (He had planned to release the doves in a dramatic gesture but, bored by the meeting, and discovering that one of the doves had died, he bit its head off and spat it on the table. Meeting adjourned.)
Or the time he mistook a bat thrown onstage as a toy and bit its head off. (Ozzy has always claimed that the bat was alive, but the man who threw it onstage says otherwise. Mark Neal told the Washington Post (opens in new tab) that the bat had been dead for some time and had begun decaying. "It landed in front of Rudy Sarzo, the bass player,” Neal said in 2018. “He looked down at it and motioned to Ozzy and, as they say, the rest is history.”)
Then there was the day he was arrested in Texas pissing on the Alamo. (Melody Maker’s Allan Jones was there: “What’s all the fuss about?” he remembers Ozzy asking. “Mister,” the policeman tells him, “when you piss on the Alamo you piss on the state of Texas… I mean, would you piss on Buckingham Palace?” “Actually,” replies Ozzy, “I did once.”)
And the terrible moment when it all came crashing down. March the 19th, 1982, when guitarist Randy Rhoads was tragically killed in a plane crash.
But all that came afterwards.
The story of Diary Of A Madman really began back in April 1979. Fired from Black Sabbath, his marriage falling apart, some people said that Ozzy’s career was over.
He thought so too. “I really did think: ‘This is the fucking end for me,’” he admitted to Classic Rock, decades later. “I’d been booted out. I just got fucked up every day for three fucking months. Never went outside. Never even opened the drapes.”
Sharon Arden, the daughter of Don Arden, Black Sabbath’s manager, convinced him to put a band together and offered to become his manager.
“One morning, Sharon just came round and told me: ‘Get your shit together. I’ll manage you’,” said Ozzy. “Once she was in the picture, things got rolling, y’know? Sharon absolutely deserves credit for getting that album out of me.”
In London, Ozzy met Bob Daisley, the bass player for Rainbow. They auditioned drummers and settled on Uriah Heep’s Lee Kerslake. Finally, they flew out a guitar player Ozzy had met in LA. He was a little guy who had a thing for polka dots and played in an upcoming band called Quiet Riot. He was called Randall William Rhoads, known to the world as Randy Rhoads, one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
Ozzy had found his band.
Debut album Blizzard of Ozz was recorded at Ridge Farm Studios in England. Released in September 1980 in the UK, it went to number 7 in the charts. When it came out in the states the following year, it went to 21 in the Billboard charts, while standout single, Crazy Train, went to no.9.
The band toured the US. By the time they’d finished, Blizzard of Ozz had sold a million copies and Guitar Player magazine voted Randy Rhoads Best New Talent of 1981.
Less than a year after they recorded Blizzard, the band were back at Ridge Farm studios to record the follow up: Diary of A Madman.
Ozzy’d had the Diary Of A Madman idea in the back of his mind for years, a loose concept that came from the madness in his life, and a genuine fear that he was losing his mind.
After months of touring, the band were on fire, and with all four band members contributing to the songwriting, the album came together quickly.
Ozzy was no longer in the shadow of Black Sabbath, but a solo star in his own right. The title of the first single from the album said it all: he was Flying High Again. On one hand, the song seemed like another of Ozzy’s drug anthems – and throughout this time he was indeed being 'a bad, bad boy' – but it could also be seen as a triumphant two fingers to everyone who had written him off.
“Daddy thinks I'm lazy; he don't understand
Never saw inside my head
People think I'm crazy but I'm in demand
Never heard a thing I said
Momma's gonna worry
I been a bad bad boy
No use sayin' sorry
It's something that I enjoy
Flying high again"
The guitar solo by Randy Rhoads, meanwhile, was like a gauntlet being thrown down to the guitar players of the 80s.
Album opener, and the second single from the album, Over The Mountain sounded heavy but came with a positive message about finding the magic in yourself.
"I heard them tell me that this land of dreams was now
I told them I had ridden shooting stars
And said I'd show them how
Don't need no astrology, it's inside of you and me
You don't need a ticket to fly with me, I'm free, yeah"
If You Can’t Kill Rock ‘N’ Roll showed a softer side to the band, the lyrics were no less heavy, as Ozzy and Bob Daisley took aim at what they saw as the lies of the music business. In between there was the menacing Believer, power ballad Tonight, the voodoo symbolism of Little Dolls, and the mysterious, riffy, SATO.
And then there was the album closer: Diary Of A Madman. An ambitious, six-minute epic, that ends the album in grand style
All of this would be over-shadowed by what happened next, but 40 years on, the music remains.
Diary Of A Madman is the sound of a timebomb ticking, the crazy train coming off the rails – and of a band at the peak of its powers.
Few bands ever flew as high.