4) “A Hard Road”
Never Say Die! is pretty much everybody’s least favorite Ozzy-era Sabbath album, and understanding why doesn’t take much of a leap. The atmosphere surrounding its writing and recording sessions was fraught with tension, infighting, substance abuse and exhaustion. And once the band embarked on a tour in support of Never Say Die!, not only did they seem to lack faith in their latest output, but they were apparently being upstaged nightly by their opening act, newcomers Van Halen. As far as the album’s legacy goes, it’s still more or less the exclusive territory of diehard Sabbath fanatics and hipsters desperate to find new meaning in an old dud. The title track is the album’s best-known cut, and it’s easily its most enjoyable. I chose “A Hard Road” because, while it’s just beneath “Never Say Die” as far as exposure is concerned, it’s also literally the only other song on the album I’ll listen to. Iommi’s guitar tone’s got bite, and there’s a psychedelic spice to Ozzy’s performance that puts “A Hard Road” in conversation with some of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’s spacier cuts. I’m not gonna beg you to listen to this song, but then again… you might find something you like in the place where you least expect it.
5) “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor”
I’ll go to bat for Technical Ecstasy though. It often gets lumped in with Never Say Die! as strictly throwaway Ozzy-era material, but there’s more to it than that. The first time I heard “Dirty Women” was when the band performed it live on the Reunion album, and the guitar refrain at the end is one of my favorite Iommi riffs. But I like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” even more. This has gotta be the sleaziest, swankiest song this lineup ever wrote. It’s got an uncommon warmth running throughout, and while the undertones are dark enough, lyrically, the song has a celebratory bent that Sabbath’s lyricists rarely chose to pursue. Definitely an overlooked track.
This is the sprawling, nine-plus minute centerpiece of my second-favorite Ozzy Sabbath outing, Sabotage. Musically, it runs the entire gamut of everything this lineup was capable of. The expanse boasts dips and swells, crescendos and flourishes, crushing heaviness and airy, somnambulent spacewalks. In addition to “Symptom of The Universe,” “Megalomania” (once it kicks in) sees Iommi really start to lay the groundwork for the guitar rhythms and techniques that’d come to define early thrash. In addition to the studio version on Sabotage, there’s an amped-up live version on the second disc of the band’s 2002 retrospective, Past Lives, recently remastered and re-released here in the States. Ozzy’s ranting and cracking all over the place, and the band’s as tight as they ever were; you can visualize how frantic the performance had to have been just by listening. Awesome work.
7) “Under The Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes”
This is it, man. This is my favorite Black Sabbath song. All-time Sabbath song, I mean. This song is my shit. And although it’s not as slept-on as some other tracks on this list, it’s not as big as “Sweet Leaf” or “Paranoid” either, which is shameful. In addition to featuring what I think is Iommi’s most infectious, burly riff, the lyrics are a salvo for every young person who’s ever gotten fed up with eating the bullshit perpetuated by their parents, their government, their church, and every other authority figure with too heavy a fist and too far a reach. “Under The Sun” was dusted off and brought back out for the 13 tours, and there’s a pretty decent live version of it included on the new The End EP. But for my money, the studio version on Vol. 4 is as good as it gets. Fun fact: this song’s been covered by a handful of bands, but the versions done by Entombed and Soulfly (yeah, seriously) are particularly gnarly. Check out ALL OF IT.