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As frontman and all round badass Ozzy Osbourne turns 68, here’s 10 things you might not know about his pioneering band, Black Sabbath.
While it’s well known that the group began life as The Polka Tulk Blues Band, named after a talcum powder brand, you might not know that Sabbath almost called themselves the “Blues Band Margarine”, a riff on popular supermarket spread Blue Band Margarine. Thankfully, the Brummie boys eventually looked for inspiration elsewhere and in 1969 settled on Black Sabbath, after a 1963 horror film.
Ozzy’s apparent fondness for spreads came full circle in 2006 when he appeared in a comedy skit ad campaign for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, opposite impersonator Jon Culshaw. That wasn’t the only time he’s showed off his acting chops: the 65-year-old played an evangelical pastor who hates music in 1983 horror Trick or Treat, voiced a garden deer in 2011 cartoon Gnomeo and Juliet and recently appeared as himself with his Sabbath band mates in an episode of CSI.
Tony Iommi wrote Armenia’s 2013 Eurovision Song Contest entry. His ballad, ‘Lonely Planet’, came about when reps from the Armenian public television network contacted the 65-year-old – beloved in the country for rebuilding a music school destroyed by an earthquake – after the nation failed to make the finals of the previous year’s competition. Performed by rock band Dorians, the song came 18th with 41 points. Still better than Britain’s effort, mind, lagging one place behind in 19th. “I’ve always thought, ‘Oh no, not the Eurovision’, and here I am in it now,” a bemused Iommi told BBC News.
There’s a Brazilian version of ‘Where’s Wally?’ called ‘Where’s Ozzy Osbourne?’. Fans were challenged by a radio station in Sao Paulo to find the frontman in a huge cartoon illustration, which you can find here. Spoiler: he’s hidden below a decapitated bird, in a nod to the dove whose head he bit off in 1981 seconds after signing his first solo deal after leaving Sabbath.
Ozzy’s animal abuse didn’t end there. A year later, in 1982, he would bite the head off a bat in a famous incident in Iowa. Know that one? OK. Even wilder, it was revealed the singer once threw a shark carcass through a hotel room window when bored, soaking the room in blood. “With drugs you always get bored, so you must do something to one another,” said Iommi, defending the frontman. Fair enough.
The story behind the concept of the song ‘Iron Man’ is the best thing ever: “I was walking down the street one day and thought… what if there were a bloody great bloke made out of metal walking about?” explained bassist and lyricist Geezer Butler, after Osbourne put the idea in his head.
Ozzy’s solo music once saved the life of a Sabbath-loving autistic eight-year-old boy. Joshua Robb ran into the wilderness to escape allegedly abusive parents and police blasted ‘No More Tears’ from speakers to guide the child back to civilisation after walking more than a mile into woodland near his house.
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Geezer is friends with Hollywood actor Tom Hanks, having bonded over their mutual love for Premier League strugglers Aston Villa, sometimes attending games together. Geeze dedicated his Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction to the Midlands club in 2006, shouting from the podium: “Up the Villa!”.
Tony Iommi once blew up Virgin billionaire Richard Branson’s prize carp with left-over pyrotechnics from a previous Sabbath tour for a laugh. The incident occurred during the recording of Sabbath’s 1983 album ‘Born Again’, featuring new vocalist Ian Gillan, at The Manor Studios in Oxfordshire, owned by record-mogul Richard Branson. “He was not happy at all,” Iommi remembers, dryly.
The band would often set Bill Ward’s beard on fire as a prank, once resulting in third degree burns for the sticksman. And they wonder why he declined to join the band’s recent reunion.