It’s all about that opening guitar riff. Another one that every guitar player learns no matter if they play rock or country. I’ve never been a big fan of Black Sabbath but I do like some of the early music.
This was the title track to the second Sabbath album. The band wanted to call the album “War Pigs,” after another song on the set, but the record company made them use “Paranoid” instead because it was less offensive. The album art, however, is a literal interpretation of a “War Pig,” showing a pig with a sword and shield.
The song peaked at #61 in the Billboard 100 in 1971.
Black Sabbath waited two years before releasing another single, “Iron Man.” They did not want to become a “singles band,” with kids coming to their shows just to hear their hits. This also ensured that fans would buy the albums.
As the title suggests, this song is about a man who is paranoid. The driving guitar and bass create a nervous energy to go along with Ozzy Osbourne’s desperate vocal. Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, who wrote the lyric, explained the song’s meaning to Mojo magazine June 2013: “Basically, it’s just about depression, because I didn’t really know the difference between depression and paranoia. It’s a drug thing; when you’re smoking a joint you get totally paranoid about people, you can’t relate to people. There’s that crossover between the paranoia you get when you’re smoking dope and the depression afterwards.”
Although this was the first Black Sabbath-penned single, the band’s debut single was actually a cover of Crow’s “Evil Woman Don’t Play Your Games With Me” a few months before the “Paranoid” release. “Paranoid” was much more successful. It was released six months after their self-titled first album and had a huge impact in their native UK, going to #4 and becoming one of their signature songs.
The group never charted again in the UK Top 10, but that wasn’t a problem since album and ticket sales more than made up for it. Many UK rock bands, including Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, put little emphasis on singles.
Geezer Butler (from Guitar World magazine, March 2004): “A lot of the Paranoid album was written around the time of our first album, Black Sabbath. We recorded the whole thing in about two or three days, live in the studio. The song ‘Paranoid’ was written as an afterthought. We basically needed a 3-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.” >>
The word “Paranoid” is never mentioned in the song, but there is no logical title amongst the lyrics.
“The Wizard,” a song from their first album, was used as the B-side of the single.
In the UK, this was re-released in 1980 to capitalize on the success of Black Sabbath: Live At Last, which was released earlier that year. The album was taken from a Sabbath concert in 1975 with the original band members.
Black Sabbath played this in their set at Live Aid in 1985.
Megadeth covered this on the 1994 Black Sabbath tribute album Nativity In Black. Weezer included it on their 2019 covers set The Teal Album.
A surprising number of movies have used this song. Among them:
Sid and Nancy (1986)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Private Parts (1997)
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Almost Famous (2000)
We Are Marshall (2006)
Dark Shadows (2012)
This song is used in two music based video games: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 2, and Playstation 3, and also in the video game Rock Band for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. >>
In Finland, “Paranoid” has the same status as “Freebird” in the US or “Stairway to Heaven” in the UK. Regardless of the band or the type of music they play, someone will often shout “Soittakaa Paranoid!” (Play “Paranoid”).
Tony Iommi recorded Paranoid with a black eye after the band had gotten involved in a brawl with some punks. This incident is also referred to in “Fairies Wear Boots.”
In his book Iron Man: My Journey through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath, Iommi said he and Ozzy probably had no idea what the word “paranoid” even meant at that time. They left the lyrics to bassist Geezer Butler; they considered him the intelligent one.
Black Sabbath played (OK, lip-synched) this on Top of the Pops in 1970.
In 2002 Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Phil Collins, and Pino Palladino (of the Who) played this song in Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify
Can you help me, occupy my brain?
I need someone to show me the things in life that I can’t find
I can’t see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind
Make a joke and I will sigh and you will laugh and I will cry
Happiness I cannot feel and love to me is so unreal
And so as you hear these words telling you now of my state
I tell you to enjoy life I wish I could but it’s too late