Randy’s Last Stand: Diary Of A Madman Turns 40

Ozzy’s final studio LP with Rhoads is a testament to the might of his original solo band

Ozzy Osbourne Diary of a Madman Tour poster (Image: Pinterest)

The Blizzard of Ozz (band and album) reestablished Ozzy as a formidable metal phenomenon.

Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.

Ozzy was understandably nervous when Dio joined forces with Black Sabbath, and the resulting Heaven And Hell album was a creative and commercial success. But all of Ozzy’s gambles paid off. His songs were charting and his band was firing on all cylinders. And while the follow-up album Diary Of A Madman didn’t match the sales of the first album, it was a creative triumph, and ultimately guitarist Randy Rhoads’ definitive work. 

Less than a year after recording their debut, Ozzy, Rhoads, Australian bassist Bob Daisley and former Uriah Heep drummer Lee Kerslake were back in Ridge Farm Studio. Everything was done at a feverish pace as the band had been touring between studio sessions. Once again the burden of writing fell largely on the shoulders of Rhoads and Daisley, with the latter penning all of the lyrics. Daisley even titled all of the songs, but two. 

Based on his fine work on Blizzard, Max Norman was brought back to engineer. Originally all members of the band were to get producer credits. By the time the sleeves were printed, Daisley and Kerslake were relegated to the fine print for their songwriting contributions. Meanwhile the new touring rhythm section’s photos and names were given misleading prominence. 

Ozzy Osbourne Diary of a Madman, Epic Records 1981

Even today there is confusion about bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge’s parts, though they were not brought into the fold until after the album was recorded. There’s an even worse footnote to this story, because the Osbournes brought in Robert Trujillo and Mike Bordin to rerecord these parts in 2002. That awful mistake has been largely erased due to public outcry, and the failure of Daisley and Kerslake’s lawsuit to get the back royalties they were owed.

No matter how little Ozzy contributed creatively, it’s still his name and face on the cover. His unmistakable vocal melodies and wicked charisma creep out of every groove. Blizzard… sold more copies, and the recent 30th anniversary of No More Tears (and its long overdue reissue on vinyl) has somehow overshadowed the second album’s 40th anniversary.

In fact, the new commemorative edition of Diary Of A Madman is a digital-only release, boasting two live bonus tracks, “Believer” and “Flying High Again” as paltry offerings. Then again, all the goodies found their way onto the 30th anniversary edition a decade ago. The best sounding versions remain the first UK vinyl pressing, and, arguably, the 1995 CD remaster.

The album cover of Diary Of A Madman seems like pure camp now, with Ozzy looming in makeup and fringe while his young son Louis grins wickedly in the background, black magic tome in hand beside a bloody dove and cobwebbed candelabra. But to the preteen boys who bought this album en masse, it was a gateway to pure evil and heavy metal majesty.

The sleeve design was done by Steve Krusher Joule, infamous for his work on Black Sabbath’s atrociously awesome Born Again cover, and a ten-year stint at Kerrang magazine. He hand lettered the lyrics, and lifted the weird Theban alphabet from an old issue of Man, Myth, and Magic (a tabloid occult magazine that had also inspired Geezer Butler). A US televangelist later declared that Joule’s work was guided by Satan’s hand! The designer claims it was not Satan, but only good weed and bad speed.

 

 

The album kicks off with an aggressive, complex series of double kicks and tom rolls from Kerslake. Then the band launches into a form of metal that Black Sabbath had never attempted. “Over The Mountain” is a master class in early eighties metal that is neither thrash, nor NWOBHM, nor a precursor to fluffier hair or glam. It’s simply heavy metal in the most classic sense, spiced with a truly evil-sounding riff during the bridge before the solo. The band is so tight, the studio sound so good, it’s an infinite shame that this foundational lineup not able to make a third album together.

Next up is “Flying High Again” which gave the band an auspicious Number Two single in the mainstream US charts. And deservedly so. This song manages to be truly accessible, but never drained of blood. Rhoads’ solo on this is one of his best, climbing to Icarus-like heights, and proving that he was every bit Eddie Van Halen’s equal at the time. Daisley is on record saying that the lyrics were inspired by his experience as a young lad in Australia, being asked a question about drugs by a very “straight bloke.” Quite a compelling musical answer!

 

VIDEO: Ozzy Osbourne “Flying High Again”

One of the two songs Ozzy titled on this album was “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll.” While his use of the R&R phrase on Technical Ecstasy was embarrassing, here it is both epic and endearing. After a lovely acoustic intro, the song blooms over the course of seven minutes into a heartfelt power ballad. I’m going to assume that the awkward mouthful “And they don’t really know even what they’re talkin’ about” is pure Ozzy. The rest Daisley prophetically wrote about the perils of being lied to and ripped off by the record company.

Side One wraps with “Believer.” Daisley kicks things off with a lurching bassline, full of menace. Millions of kids heard the line
“You’ve got to believe in yourself / Or no one will believe in you” and knew that Ozzy was speaking directly to them. And that’s a wonderful thing about the Prince of Darkness. He might be an unbelievably successful superstar, but nobody thinks that he’s even capable of condescension (because he’s not). 

Side Two begins like side one, with Lee Kerslake showing off his knack for heaviosity on the kit. After that brute force statement the band comes in stomping along with his Neanderthal groove on “Little Dolls.” Daisley says it’s a song about voodoo that doesn’t contain the word voodoo. Perhaps that’s for the best since Sabbath’s Mob Rules included a song with that title the very same year. 

Diary of a Madman back cover art (Image: Epic Records)

Randy Rhoads was given too little time to track his leads on this album, with the solo on “Little Dolls” taking the biggest hit. He loved to double or triple-track his leads, an important signature. This song clearly has a single guitar in that place. It’s often said that it was only Rhoads’ early “guide track” that made the final album. Producer Max Norman refutes that, saying it was a final take, but there was no time to layer it. As the album was mixed while the band was already out on tour–and the recording rhythm section had already been dismissed–there was nothing to be done, and no one to save the day. Surely Ozzy can’t remember, and Rhoads is sadly long gone.

“Tonight” is another gorgeous ballad, with a towering Rhoads solo that winds its way up to the heavens, parting the clouds that rain down on poor Ozzy. Daisley’s lyrics are about a down and out guy whose morale is crumbling. That might have given listeners something to relate to, but Ozzy had no reason to feel anything but confidence while crafting this magnificent album. Johnny Cook’s keyboard on this tune is prominent. He’d played with Daisley in Mungo Jerry. Apparently Don Airey was busy at the time, though he returned for the North American leg of the Diary Of A Madman tour.

Ozzy changed Daisley’s “Strange Voyage” title to “S.A.T.O”. which has alternately been revealed to stand for either Sharon Arden (her maiden name) / Thelma Osbourne (Ozzy’s first wife) OR Sharon. Adrian. (her boyfriend at the time). Thelma. Ozzy. No matter how you slice it, it’s a bit weird considering Ozzy and Sharon were on the verge of shacking up. The song finishes with another prescient line from Daisley, “Is this voyage coming to an end?” Sorry Bob, but the answer was yes.

And then we come to the citadel in the clouds. Diary Of A Madman’s title track. While not the longest song on the album, it scales the greatest heights. If this was the sort of composition that Randy Rhoads was capable of, the mind falters when considering what Bark At The Moon (great as it is) might have been. On tour, Rhoads had been taking lessons from different classical guitar players in hopes of bolstering his already world-class skills. He’d also given notice that he was planning to remain with Ozzy for only one more album. We’ll never know if he would have followed through on that intention.

ELO’s arranger Louis Clark was brought in to chart for a 26-piece string section, recorded in a one-take session at Abbey Road. The song was already ornate and complex. When the band first showed it to him, Ozzy exclaimed, “Who the fuck do you think I am, Frank Zappa?” Thankfully he went along with it, and the world is a better place.

“Diary Of A Madman” is alternately epic, spooky, mystical, titanic, and ends with a damned chorus that sounds like “You Can Fly” from Peter Pan rammed through nine layers of hell. And just when there’s nowhere left to go, the song stops on a dime. Just like this article.

 

AUDIO: Ozzy Osbourne “Diary Of A Madman”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nathan Carson

Nathan Carson is a writer, musician, and MOTH StorySlam Champion from Portland, Oregon. A founding member of the international doom band Witch Mountain, Carson is the host of the FM radio show The Heavy Metal Sewïng Cïrcle, owner of boutique booking agency Nanotear, and author of the weird horror novella Starr Creek. More about his music, music writing, fiction and graphic novels can be found at www.nathancarson.rocks.

2 thoughts on “Randy’s Last Stand: Diary Of A Madman Turns 40

  • November 14, 2021 at 10:15 pm
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    Nice piece, Nathan, with good info. Not to mention “holy shit” engagement on Facebook.

    And it’s got me listening to Blizzard (a cassette I wore out as one of those pre-teen millions) in preparation for revisiting Diary.

    I had no idea how little Ozzy contributed to the writing! I guess it’s oddly reassuring that he recognized talents of others (I wonder how much of the credits and re-recording fiasco was record execs?) and focused on what he did best. (To this day I don’t know whether he actually attempted any on-stage bat biting.)

    One quibble: I had to look up this acronym (also the longest I’ve ever seen; isn’t there a statute of limitations?): NWOBHM.

    A next article educating on NWOBHM, please.

    Reply
  • November 14, 2021 at 10:38 pm
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    Just re-listened to the solo to Flying High Again. It’s pure genius. Randy’s shredding is obviously the star, almost incomprehensibly intricate but also tasteful. But can we also applaud the compositional excellence here? The whole song is this very straightforward chunka chunk thing in Ab major. But the solo switches to Fm, a half-step relative to Ab major, with a ton of other weird chords behind it. There’s so much more going on throughout this whole record, and the author’s appreciation for it all has lifted my own esteem for a record I’ve adored since it first appeared.

    Reply

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