Can We Talk About Ozzy Osbourne for a Minute?

ozzy osbourne

Yeah, I know. In the realm of heavy, there have been few topics as thoroughly discussed as just what to do with the legacy of Ozzy Osbourne. The founding and on-again-off-again frontman of Black Sabbath, solo bandleader and unparalleled metallic figurehead has had a half-century-long career with more than several lifetimes’ worth of ups and downs, highs and lows, and hyperbole-worthy triumphs and failures. Among living metal singers, he stands alone in needing only his name to conjure strong feelings on either side: Ozzy.

If you’re reading this, chances are I don’t need to lay out for you the ongoing influence of Osbourne’s work with Black Sabbath, whose first six albums played an essential role in forming the gospel on which heavy metal dogma was shaped. Likewise, Osbourne’s “solo” career, his bringing to light and fostering the playing and songwriting of guitarists like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde, has possibly been just as — if not more — influential. Artistically and commercially, the man is a giant in a way that no one else in heavy metal is.

My question is, how should we feel about Ozzy in 2017? Is it okay to love Ozzy again?

I remember going to see Ozzy in high school. I did the Ozzfest thing in the mid and late ’90s. Ozzy had his Prince of Darkness days, had put out the relatively strong Ozzmosis in 1995 and No More Tears in 1991, and yeah, neither of those records would have the impact of 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz, ’81’s Diary of a Madman or ’83’s Bark at the Moon — even 1986’s The Ultimate Sin and 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked had their moments (I don’t care what you say, “Crazy Babies” rules) — but for a guy who’d said he was retiring, there was still plenty of energy left in his work. He had more in the tank. And that showed live as well.

Was there ever a more charismatic metal frontman? Robert Plant — a peer — was always too pretty. Ian Gillan too poised. Lemmy was rawer and less directly engaged with the audience. Halford, Dickinson and Dio were always far better singers, but in his stage presence, Ozzy could have an entire arena on his side by doing little more than showing up and saying hi. He still can. He’s screwed up lyrics onstage for as long as he’s been playing songs. He’s become less and less able to carry a tune. It’s arguable he hasn’t had a decent record out under his own name this century, but as much as one can level cash-grab accusations his way at nearly every turn, isn’t there something appealing about the fact that Osbourne just can’t bring himself to quit? Can’t leave the stage behind? Can’t stop that direct link to his fans? And so long as people keep buying tickets, should he really be expected to?

When MTV began airing The Osbournes 15 years ago, it was impossible to know the damage it would do to Ozzy’s reputation, but real quick, he went from the Prince of Darkness, the guy who gave us “Suicide Solution” and “Over the Mountain,” to an utter buffoon. In some ways, he’s never recovered from that cringe-inducing scene of him shaking, lost in his own garden, calling for his then-wife and manager, Sharon. The show, which was hammered into the ground and dead-horse-beaten across increasingly painful seasons, was only one of many questionable business decisions throughout the years.

Do we even need to talk about replacing Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake’s tracks on album reissues? The list goes on. Ozzfest by then was on the wane. Sabbath’s late-’90s reunion had produced one mediocre single, some righteous touring, and then fizzled once again, and neither the 2005 covers collection Under Cover nor 2007’s Black Rain full-length did much to dissuade anyone from feeling like a slide into uninspired mediocrity was complete. What the hell had happened?

Was it decades of drug and alcohol use catching up? Had Ozzy simply lost it? As Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler reunited with Ronnie James Dio in Heaven and Hell, Osbourne seemed left in the dust, and his 2010 album, Scream — his most recent studio effort — was forgettable at best.

Hopes were high when it was announced Osbourne would reunite with Black Sabbath and that the band would set to work with producer Rick Rubin on what became 2013’s 13 (review here). The results were debatable, and debated, issues of integrity not at all helped by a lengthy, ugly and public contract dispute with original drummer Bill Ward. But even as Iommi was ailed with a cancer fight, touring ensued. Once again, Sabbath was bringing their show (review here) to the people. Landmark songs, some new stuff in the mix, and though he was off-key as ever, Ozzy’s charisma was still there, still intact.

Let me put it this way: We’re now a decade and a half removed from The Osbournes, and whatever else Ozzy has done, he’s really never stopped touring. It’s not like he needs the money, so isn’t it just possible he’s doing it because he loves it? He turns 69 in December. On the basic level of physical exhaustion, it can’t be a pleasant experience for him to be onstage for an hour-plus at this point, even with nights off between shows on tour. His well-documented history of substance abuse notwithstanding, he’s held it together better than some, and while the shape of the brand has changed, he’s still overseeing and headlining an Ozzfest Meets Knotfest this Fall in San Bernadino, California. The leadoff single from Black Rain was “I Don’t Wanna Stop.” Isn’t it possible that’s the truth?

I don’t know Ozzy and in my time have gotten to ask him precisely one question in an interview, so I can’t speak to his motivations, but whatever his ultimate reasoning is, I think it’s worth stopping for a minute and realizing how special his career has been, how pivotal his contributions to heavy music have been, and how much of his life he’s dedicated to bringing joy to his audience. Yeah, he’s made a pretty penny doing it, and done as much to tarnish his persona as to hone it over the years, but whether it’s through the sheer longevity of his relevance, the classic nature and ongoing influence of his work with Sabbath and the early incarnations of the Ozzy Osbourne band, or the smile on his face when he steps out in front of a crowd, it still seems to me that there’s plenty to appreciate about Ozzy in 2017.

That’s worth considering as well as all the rest when we think about the man, his music and the impact both have had on our lives.

Ozzy Osbourne website

Ozzy Osbourne on Thee Facebooks

Black Sabbath, Paris 1970

Black Sabbath, California Jam 1974

Ozzy Osbourne, “Mr. Crowley” live in 1981

Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Babies” official video

Ozzy Osbourne, Live in Minnesota, Aug. 2017

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9 Responses to “Can We Talk About Ozzy Osbourne for a Minute?”

  1. jullan says:

    “a half-decade-long career” lol

  2. Mike H says:

    I think regardless of any of the bad choices he has made career wise or all that he has done to tarnish his legacy, he deserves respect for what he has given us musically, be it his work or his influence. We have all made some less than admirable choices in life. He is human. Most of us would be dead having lived the life he has, much less still actively At this point…yeah…love the guy. It’s all good.

    On a side note you cannot underscore the horrific damage The Osbournes did to television and society. I don’t blame Ozzy though. I blame Sharon. It’s always all her fault…isn’t it?

  3. Mike H says:

    I think regardless of any of the bad choices he has made career wise or all that he has done to tarnish his legacy, he deserves respect for what he has given us musically, be it his work or his influence. We have all made some less than admirable choices in life. He is human. Most of us would be dead having lived the life he has, much less being active, not locked away in some nursing home letting some poor sap change our diapers and wiping the drool from our chins. At this point…yeah…love the guy. It’s all good.

    On a side note you cannot underscore the horrific damage The Osbournes did to television and society. I don’t blame Ozzy though. I blame Sharon. It’s always all her fault…isn’t it?

  4. SabbathJeff says:

    My 1st 2 gigs were the reunion tour in ’99; I was 15 yo. The 1st w/ Pantera, the 2nd with (“bands”). My Sabbath love/worship dates to around 20 years ago now. Oct. 20th ’98, b4 ever seeing a gig, I shook hands w/ all 4 in Philly, signing for the release of the Reunion record. For 2 YEARS, aged 13-15, I listened to Sabbath (& related) EXCLUSIVELY. SO deep was my love for this sound. My rebuilt collection now includes only the 1st 8 Sabbath studio records, & really, the 1st 6 are the ones I spin. We all saw the ‘Osbournes’ debacle. Can’t taint the legacy of 69-75 Sabbath for me. The survivors have grown old and made fools of themselves; at 33 yo, 2+ yrs clean and sober, I know I’ll become less sharp as I continue my life. Saw Neil/Crazy Horse early ’04 at Radio City, then heard he used the n-word years later when a fan rushed onstage. Saw Pentagram 3 times w/ Bobby, then he got arrested for something I’m trying to morally forgive; I’ll see the band without him now, not with, but that’s me, and may change, I can’t tell the future. Ozzy, Neil, Bobby, yeah, the more you live, the more mistakes you get to make. Some people get past, some don’t. Nothing changes my enjoyment of the music I love, barring really divisive/hateful (outside of misanthropic) lyrics, etc. Captain Beyond, S.T.O.P. and Crazy Bull just boogied the shit out of Kung Fu Necktie last night. The show must go on, and when it does, I try to get there. Having seen Sabbath with all 4, had 0 desire to see them with anyone NOT Bill behind that kit. Honestly, I’d rather go to ten awesome gigs for the price of one, 99 times/100. But that influence is so far reaching, it’s undeniable. I hear it in nearly every gig I get to bear witness to. A couple, in their 60’s, after raising kids, went to their 1st gig in 30 years last night; I met them at Captain Beyond. Husband’s fav band; the wife and he saw Sabbath with Ian Gillan, probably when I was incubating and or in diapers. Teach that peanut to honor the Sabbath, JJ. I imagine he’s already heard them. You’re gonna rock this shit. I’m glad you’re bringing the next generation to fix this fucked up society, because I’m getting neutered. Thank you for continuing your blog despite all of the life happening. I read it every day as I have for years.

  5. Seanofthedead says:

    For all his faults (and he has many) I have never once stop “loving” OZZY. I have also NEVER doubted his intentions and sincere appreciation for where he is in life at this stage of the game.
    He knows he is where he is thanks in LARGE PART to the talent of others (Iommi/Rhoads for the Riffs and Geezer/Daisly for their lyrics and yes Sharon for being a grade A C*NT that often comes off as bad as Peter Grant in his prime)……….

    His “Management” may have made some questionable decisions regarding his exposure to the mainstream, and some of his business dealings with fellow musicians are “unethical” at best but I don’t think that he has had much to do with that. He’s gone or record saying the whole re-recording of Blizzard was a bad idea that he wasn’t behind but his wife is his manager and he’s admitted that she is the boss when it comes to those types of business decisions.

    With more and more of the founding fathers of the scene we love passing away we all should really make an effort to appreciate them for all the have given us while they are still with us.

    -SOTD

  6. Lucifer Burns says:

    My best memories are from way before all of “that”.
    I saw Ozzy just once in Sabbath in 1978 and then again Solo in 1981, 82, 84 & 86.
    Then in Sabbath again in 1999.
    but it didn’t feel the same.
    I stick with my old memories of when he was just Ozzy, not OZZY.

  7. ST says:

    On one hand he is part of one of my most influencial bands, one of those turning points in my musical developement early on. Pretty much set the course really, I have Vol 4 tattoed on my arm for its impact on me as a kid.
    but damn on the other hand he’s a party to what can only be aptly compared to Pete Rose in Baseball. Cheating, for money, and we know its all because of his wife. Just a despicable human being for what she has done to Daisley, Kerslake, The Rhoads Legacy, and us. She effectively commited a Cardinal sin when she stripped those tracks off the 1st records to win a fraud of a defense of the lawsuit by Daisley and Kerslake. I’ve even spoken to Daisley about it, and no one would run the article on the matter out of fear of her black listing. OZZFEST ad money was too strong back then. And he signed off on it.
    But without him and the lads, my life, our lives would have been so utterly different I guess. So its like that great girlfriend that went sour. You enjoy the memory for a bit, but make a stinkface when the reality sets in. Its not the musics fault is what I try to take from it, lots of not so great people make awesome music. We will always have that…

  8. Chuck says:

    I cannot agree more JJ. Taking his body of work as a whole, including Black Sabbath, there are few who even come close to Ozzy. I think it’s reasonable to assume, too, that the longer an artist’s career, the higher the chances that there will be duds and bad lapses in judgment. Ozzy rules. Long live Ozzy!

  9. Mike says:

    Ozzy is still going to be Ozzy no matter what. I agree with the thrust of the article. The first six records are important and deeply influential. Sabbath never received any respect from the rock pseudoliterates that did their snippy reviews in Rolling Stone in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet they outlasted 90% of the critics’ favorites, and their records from that time still sound powerful and relevant today. Ozzy was a part of that and it couldn’t have happened without him. We can respect people for their accomplishments without approving of their behavior; that’s rock and roll, after all.

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