The rags to riches story of Ozzy Osbourne’s miraculous solo success
At the dawn of 1980 no one could have imagined that washed up, ousted Black Sabbath vocalist Ozzy Osbourne would bounce back with an album that would go on to outsell Paranoid. No one, that is except for Don Arden and his daughter Sharon.
Arden was the owner of Jet Records and the manager of Black Sabbath. His actual motive in keeping Ozzy in the fold was to eventually engineer a reunion. By the time that reunion finally occurred, Sharon was married to Ozzy, and neither was speaking to Don.
In 1979, Ozzy was at rock bottom. He’d been drinking and drugging himself into oblivion, and out of a job. For a dramatized version of this story, check out Ozzy’s 2020 video for “Under the Graveyard”—a standout track from his classy late career album Ordinary Man.
VIDEO: Ozzy Osbourne “Under The Graveyard”
With the Ardens bankrolling Osbourne’s next move, Ozzy set about assembling a band. The initial vision was to call the group The Blizzard of Ozz. It was only on the eve of release that Jet Records acted as dastardly as labels were expected to in those days, and rebranded the album as an Ozzy solo record.
The irony of course is that Ozzy had so little to do with the album creatively. Having said that, no one can discount the value of his voice, image, funding, and a few song titles and single lines of lyrics.
The first member of the Blizzard band to join forces with Ozzy was Australian bassist Bob Daisley, who had made his name as a member of Chicken Shack, Mungo Jerry and on the final Rainbow album to feature Ronnie James Dio.
Ozzy had his heart set on Gary Moore for guitar, but Moore wasn’t interested in derailing his solo career to bet on a long shot like Ozzy. A young guitarist from California had auditioned, and Ozzy couldn’t forget Randy Rhoads. Considering the success Van Halen was experiencing, Rhoads–who had a classical background and two Japan-only Quiet Riot albums under his belt–was an inspired choice to help Ozzy bring his classic metal style firmly into the eighties. Arden wanted an all-British group, but Ozzy put his foot down and Rhoads got the gig.
AUDIO: Quiet Riot The Randy Rhoads Years
The drum throne was still empty, and no one seemed to fit until Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake happened to bump into Ozzy in an elevator. That fortuitous event solidified one of the most inspired and powerful trios Ozzy could have hoped to back him up–though it only lasted two albums, ending with the tragic death of Rhoads, and replacement of the uppity rhythm section.
Blizzard of Ozz kicks off with the atmospheric crescendo of a gong hit in reverse before slamming into the razor-edged intro riff of “I Don’t Know.” Ozzy is credited with the song title, but like most of the album, the majority of the lyrics were by Daisley, and the music was a Rhoads/Daisley collaboration.
“What’s the future of mankind?
How do I know, I got left behind”
It’s easy to read these lyrics as a reflection on Black Sabbath moving on without Ozzy. But it’s in the lighter middle eight section that Ozzy muses, “You gotta believe in foolish miracles.”
According to Daisley, it’s actually a song refuting Ozzy’s ability to tell the future; some fans and critics were ascribing mystical powers to the befuddled front man. Overall, it’s hard to imagine a more honest sentiment from Ozzy than those three simple words: “I Don’t Know.”
“Crazy Train” follows, by far the best-known song from the album, and ultimately one of the most famous of Ozzy’s career. This song has become ubiquitous, though it only reached no. 49 in the UK. The tune got a big boost with a 1987 MTV music video during the era when Ozzy looked like Tammy Faye Bakker. Like so many songs by Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, it’s a master class in rock that has been ruined by FM radio overplay. Bonus points for great use of vibraslap, though.
VIDEO: Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train”
“Goodbye to Romance” was the first song written for Blizzard…, and was intended to be its first single. It’s also the first in a long line of John Lennon-inspired ballads that Ozzy loved to include on his albums. Rhoads confirmed that the initial melody was something he heard Ozzy humming, and the title was inspired by Osbourne’s appreciation of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” But it was Daisley and Rhoads who brought the song to fruition.
No slight to Kerslake or Daisley (who were famously erased from the album by the Osbournes in 2002) I think the 2010 “Guitar and Vocal” mix of this tune really shines brightest. That version especially spotlights Rhoads’ delicate and exacting classical guitar technique.
Fifty seconds of acoustic interlude “Dee” sits in the only place it could possibly fit on the album. The inclusion of this bit says volumes about how much respect Rhoads was being accorded, when for all intents and purposes Blizzard was his major debut, since Sony had buried his two late-70s albums with Quiet Riot.
Side One wraps up with the dark monstrosity “Suicide Solution.” Ozzy initially credited Bon Scott’s 1980 death as inspiration, but Daisley actually wrote this set of lyrics about Ozzy’s own struggles with alcohol. Somehow, despite the obvious criticism of substance abuse, Ozzy continued to drink, and parents and preachers cited this song as a bad influence on the children.
There was even an unsuccessful lawsuit against the band in 1985 from the parents of a young fan who committed suicide. Regarding the case, a salty Don Arden stated, “To be perfectly honest, I would be doubtful as to whether Mr. Osbourne knew the meaning of the lyrics, if there was any meaning, because his command of the English language is minimal.”
Side Two announces the unmistakable signature of fifth member Don Airey. His synth work had been heard on Sabbath’s 1978 album Never Say Die, and his resume in the long term includes Rainbow and Deep Purple. But it’s the chilling, Halloween-ready intro to “Mr. Crowley”–the only Blizzard-era song besides “Crazy Train” which has become a true radio staple—that counts here.
“Mr. Crowley” also reared its head in a live version on a 12” EP that included the B-side “You Said It All.” It’s easily a strong enough piece to have merited inclusion on the album, though the lyric is more catchy than atmospheric. The song was worked up during a concert sound check while Ozzy slept under the bleachers. Crowd noise was inserted on the EP and subsequently removed on some later releases.
VIDEO: Ozzy Osbourne “Mr. Crowley”
“No Bone Movies” was intended to be the b-side of the “Goodbye to Romance” single that never materialized. It was also a bone thrown to drummer Lee Kerslake who otherwise would have had no songwriting credits on the album; the rest of the songs were composed prior to his hiring. It’s a decent hard rock song with a corny, head-scratching lyric about pre-internet era porn addiction. If this song had been replaced with “You Said It All” history would be no different.
For my money, the best song on the album is the six-minute epic “Revelation (Mother Earth)” which truly approaches a Sabbathian level of doomed heaviness. The lyric reads as anti-war, and a warning against environmental ruin. The song also boasts one of Rhoads’ most glorious guitar solos from his short but meteoric catalog.
With scarcely time to take a breath the album’s final track “Steal Away (The Night)” kicks in with an up-tempo salvo that takes almost as little time to reach its chorus. This tune nods to one of Rhoads’ QR tunes “Breaking Up Is a Heartache.” This three-and-a-half minute thrill ride winds the album up on a high note.
Personally, I’ve always felt that, for all its merits, everything on Blizzard of Ozz was done even better on the follow-up, Diary of a Madman. The same goes for the leap from Iron Maiden’s debut to Killers. For whatever reason, Blizzard… remains Ozzy’s best-selling album from an unprecedentedly long and successful career.
1980 also brought the retooling of Black Sabbath, with Iommi, Butler, and Ward joining forces with Ronnie James Dio and producer Martin Birch. Sabbath managed to elegantly redefine their sound for the new decade with Heaven and Hell, though the group struggled to sell a fraction as many albums as Ozzy. Then again, they didn’t have to suffer beneath the iron fist of Sharon Osbourne…at least not until the reunion in the late nineties.
VIDEO: VH-1 on the Randy Rhoads plane crash
Randy Rhoads never got the chance to come to full fruition, and tragically passed in an airplane crash that should never have happened. He will be remembered forever based on two studio albums, and the live Tribute.
Though it is often assumed that Bob Daisley was painted out of Ozzy’s history after being replaced by Rudy Sarzo on the Diary of a Madman tour, he was actually brought back to write and perform on Bark at the Moon. He also helped write The Ultimate Sin, and both wrote and played on No Rest for the Wicked. Though Mike Inez of Alice in Chains is often credited as paying bass on No More Tears, that was Daisley too.
Keyboardist Don Airey is a current member of Deep Purple, who released a new album, Whoosh! in August of 2020.
Lee Kerslake finally lost his long battle with cancer on Sept 19, 2020, but not before Ozzy granted his dying wish by presenting him with platinum album discs commemorating the classic albums he played on as a member of the Blizzard of Ozz band.
Ozzy Osbourne has been struggling with Parkinson’s Disease and, for reasons I will never understand, has never managed to permanently retire.