It’s well documented at this point that by the time 1976 rolled around, Black Sabbath had demolished the majority of their brain cells. If you ever need proof of this, look no further than the immediate drop in quality between 1975’s Sabotage, which brought such classics as “Hole in the Sky” and “Symptom of the Universe,” and 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, which languished in the comparative mediocrity of “Rock and Roll Doctor” and “It’s Alright.” It’s like you could pinpoint the exact moment where they traded pot for cocaine for real (“Snowblind” notwithstanding) and where the music took a backseat to the chemicals their money could buy.
Of course, they toured for several more years before giving Ozzy Osbourne the boot in 1978, and got it together enough to put out Never Say Die before that, which though it was a far cry even from the heights of 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath let alone the sacred texts of their first four albums, was still a step up from Technical Ecstasy, which was arguably the nadir creatively of the band’s first Osbourne-fronted run — Black Sabbath‘s actual rock bottom would come years later, prior to reuniting with Ozzy in the late ’90s — and a record that while it showed some stylistic experimentation on a song like “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” wound up an utter bore.
Which brings me around to “Dirty Women” and Sabbath‘s Fall 1976 North American tour in support of Techincal Ecstasy. It’s a cut that Sabbath played even up to their latest US run, which heralded another reunion with Osbourne and the long-awaited new studio album, 13 (review here), and I don’t know if they wrote it so that the ladies in their audience would take their tops off in the arena crowds, but the softcore vintage porn they played while trotting out the chorus seemed hopeful. Probably less likely in 2013 — these are mothers who’ve brought their children to the show! — than it was in 1976.
I’ve chased down a couple bootlegs from that ’76 tour, and almost universally, Sabbath are a trainwreck. Osbourne was never one for remembering lyrics when the band were at the top of their game, but even up to Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward‘s playing, they’re like the dudes at their own party who threw up on the rug. Just a mess.
I’m not a big fan of the song “Dirty Women,” but in the context of that tour and of the utter self-directed wrecking ball that Black Sabbath became in that era, it’s perfect. Of the versions I’ve heard from that tour, the soundboard recording from Pittsburgh, taped Dec. 8, at the Civic Arena for the King Biscuit Flower Hour is my favorite. It’s raw and raunchy and caked in its own crust like nothing else from Sabbath that I’ve ever come across. When Osbourne starts in with, “Ohh dirty women,” he sounds like he’s about to fall over. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh or travel back in time and call a doctor. Amazing.
Take a listen: