When I got into hard rock and metal, Ozzy Osbourne‘s albums were some of the first I listened to and couldn’t get enough of. I honestly can’t remember if I discovered him on my own, or if it was through my friend Justin. I also can’t remember which album(s) I listened to first, but I know as time has gone by it’s the earlier ones I favor the most.
Note that I will only be reviewing the albums that I own. Also, this post will also highlight the musicians that have joined Ozzy in the studio and on stage.
Blizzard of Ozz
While I highlighted Randy in an earlier post, it’s clear how important the meeting of him and Ozzy turned out to be. Raised in a musical family, Randy had the knowledge of songwriting and music theory to go along with his increasing skills in guitar playing. Matched with Ozzy’s penchant to both create and recognize memorable melodies and rifts, the two became a truly dynamic duo, creating two albums worth of stellar material.
The first album has so many stand-outs; if I HAD to pick one, it would be Mr. Crowley, being more “intricate” and including an incredible solo from Randy. In my opinion the last three tracks are a little weaker, but being Ozzy’s first album why not see what works and doesn’t? Besides, the next album will have some of the most incredible songs of his career…
Diary of a Madman
Building off of the success and touring for the first album, 1981’s Diary of a Madman features the same band members, and it’s immediately obvious their playing is just that much more advanced. Randy especially was in top form (and from what we’ve learned since, he had pretty much gone as far as he could in this genre of guitar playing), and together with Ozzy crafted some of the most intricate and memorable tracks of his career, notably the title track. My pick from this album, however, is the opening Over the Mountain, featuring a great rhythm riff along with a blistering-fast solo from Randy.
On tour for this album, Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash (along with makeup artist Rachel Youngblood and pilot Andrew Aycock). Understandably tragic and needless, it was unknown what the future held for Ozzy and the rest of the band. The next few years would indeed be precarious, and Ozzy’s penchant for drugs and alcohol would only get worse, even as he still managed to find incredible musicians and maintain his singing voice.
Speak of the Devil
Released between studio albums, the 1982 live album Speak of the Devil can be considered the debut for bassist Rudy Sarzo (his only album) and drummer Tommy Aldridge (even though they’re incorrectly listed on Diary of a Madman’s liner notes).
Brad Gillis, guitarist for Night Ranger, took on the enormous responsibility of replacing Randy Rhoads*. In a word, his playing is monstrous. Listen to it! Great tone, no mistakes that I can hear, and just so fast and smooth. The only downside I can say is that his playing is too perfect. Guitar playing, especially live, needs that human touch. Incorrect notes, missed rhythm cues, they do contribute to a more “genuine” live music experience. Brad’s playing is simply flawless, for better or worse. Backing up Ozzy and Brad, Rudy and Tommy are just as proficient and relentless, all working together to create an amazing album, even if it’s “just” live covers of Black Sabbath songs. My top pick for this live album would have to be Symptom of the Universe.
* – after Randy’s death, guitarist Bernie Tormé was the first replacement, playing with the band until Brad’s debut; it’s mentioned he stayed and helped Brad learn the songs, and even sticking around ready to play on-stage if needed!
Bark at the Moon
Bark at the Moon is the first album to feature guitarist Jake E. Lee, and is the only studio album to feature drummer Tommy Aldridge. It also marks the first return of bassist Bob Daisley. I would consider Jake the only other guitarist to come close to Randy’s playing, in that while not technically the fastest he comes up with so many little interesting licks, fills, etc. that I NEVER get tired of playing these songs! Also like Randy there doesn’t seem to be too many effects going on, primarily a distortion. While the tile track is one of Ozzy’s most popular, my pick would be Waiting for Darkness; it’s a little more laid back and subdued, and Ozzy’s vocals just ooze melancholy and sorrow.
The Ultimate Sin
The Ultimate Sin marks the debut of drummer Randy Castillo, along with the only album with bassist Phil Soussan (he was also the co-writer of the song “Shot in the Dark”). Like the incredible cover artwork by Boris Vallejo, this album just feels so dark and wicked! While Jake’s guitar tone is even hotter and “sizzlier”, it does have pretty much most of the low end cut off. Luckily, Phil’s bass seems to be mixed in pretty well, along with Randy’s fantastic playing. While the title track is an absolute barn-burner, my pick would be Fool Like You.
Along with what is my favorite album cover artwork, I also think is the best rendition of Ozzy’s logo! I don’t know if that was also done by Boris, or someone else.
No Rest for the Wicked
No Rest for the Wicked is the first album featuring guitarist Zakk Wylde (bring forth the pinch harmonics!), along with the second(!) return of bassist Bob Daisley. All joking aside, Zakk is a monster on guitar; not just his speed, but rhythm, interesting techniques, and proficiency on piano gave Ozzy an equal in studio and on-stage that I don’t think was seen since Randy. My pick is Breaking All the Rules.
No More Tears
Compared to his previous albums, 1991’s No More Tears is what I consider to be Ozzy’s most polished and “commercial” album. With the chorus cranked up on Zakk’s playing (and likely on everyone else as well), the sound of this album is huge and spacious. Bob Daisley is still on bass (though Mike Inez was shown in promotional material), and this is the last album with Randy Castillo on drums.
As mentioned the sound on this album is Ozzy at his most polished, and that is both great and not-so-great. There is an audible “sheen” on each track that I wish could simply be EQ’ed away. On “I Don’t Want to Change the World”, it sounds like Ozzy and Randy are right up front, while Zakk sounds like he’s playing from a stage across the street. Other tracks aren’t quite as bad, with “Desire” and “No More Tears” smacking that guitar right in the listener’s face. The latter track is easily one of Ozzy’s top 5 (if not 3!) of all time, and Zakk’s solo is absolutely the pinnacle of his playing.
Of all the albums, this one might overall be my favorite, and I still have fond memories of listening to this CD (yes kids, that’s what we had back then) on my Sony Discman in the car. My pick for this album is Desire; it has a simple but powerful riff played by Zakk. If I could learn any song of Ozzy’s on guitar, it would be this one.
Ozzmosis was Ozzy’s next release in 1995. Featuring Zakk on guitar but a different bassist and drummer (Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler and Deen Castronovo), it’s also one of the few albums not featuring Ozzy’s ubiquitous logo (yeah that’s a minor nitpick, but it’s an awesome logo!). I may be wrong, but this is likely the first Ozzy album to be recorded digitally, and the album overall does sound pretty cold and sterile.
Zakk’s playing is still pretty good, and Deen is a great straight-forward no-frills rock drummer (to be honest I can’t really hear Geezer’s playing). The stand-out track is Perry Mason, and it’s….. ok. The rest I don’t remember all that much, and that’s not a good thing. I never really listened to this album very much, and these days I’ve honestly skipped it.
Ozzy’s life has indeed been a “crazy train”, and many would say it’s a miracle he’s still alive. His band has gone through numerous members, and many of them have passed on, both early on and more recently. By all rights he can happily retire when and if he’s ready to, but I would personally like to see him work with Zakk on at least one more album before calling it a day. Regardless, his work and music are nothing short of incredible, reaching across such a large span of time and involving an incredible number of talented musicians, each album its own unique sound and product of its time.