Ozzy's Ultimate Sin
The Osbournes’ greed finally goes overboard, and it’s the fans who are forced to suffer, as is always the case.
It’s a great time to be Ozzy Osbourne. His MTV program The Osbournes, an affable, albeit unoriginal, Real World clone, became the most popular show in the channel’s history, and his family has signed on for another two seasons of rock star voyeurism, for the price of five million dollars. He put out a half-decent album, Down to Earth, his most palatable record in a decade. The annual summertime day-camp-with-moshing called Ozzfest has become a huge success, long outlasting both Lollapalooza and Lilith Fair. The book deal for Ozzy’s memoirs has netted him three million dollars. The Osbournes Family Album CD, basically a soundtrack for the TV show, featuring his daughter Kelly singing Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach”, will be released in June. Todd McFarlane even designed some pretty cool Ozzy action figures. His wife Sharon was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People by People magazine. Ozzy’s making an appearance in the new Austin Powers movie, and he now makes frequent guest appearances on The Tonight Show, happily hamming it up with Jay Leno for the squares in the studio audience who react like it’s a Branson variety show. And in a moment so surreal it would impress Rod Serling, Ozzy recently attended a dinner at the White House with George W. Bush, who claims to be a fan of the show, this coming 20 years after Osbourne notoriously urinated on the Alamo, in the state Bush served as governor.
It’s enough to make me smile incredulously, get up from my computer desk, and peek furtively out the window just to make sure that the Apocalypse hasn’t arrived yet (nope, nothing out there). A couple months ago, Ozzy’s multimedia successes had me happy for the guy; here’s someone who, after decades of drugs, booze, bats and birds-heads, finally cleaned up his act, and managed to land on both his feet and enjoy a newfound popularity. A month ago, I was given the chance to review some brand-new, remastered versions of his early albums. Why not, I thought . . . it’d be great to revisit the albums I grew up loving during my teen years. Who knew what I’d be getting myself into? I quickly learned of the shocking details behind the re-releases of Ozzy’s first two solo albums, and now I sit here with them playing in the background, and I’m simultaneously mortified, saddened, and very, very angry.
Simply put, Ozzy Osbourne and his manager/wife Sharon have perpetrated one of the most heinous frauds on the record-buying public I have ever witnessed. The new reissues of his first two solo albums, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman have not only been remixed, but re-recorded, replacing the bass and drums from the original recordings with new, shockingly inferior performances from Ozzy’s current touring bassist and drummer. These are two albums widely regarded as classics in the metal genre, albums fans have held near to their hearts for the past 20 years, and they have been tampered with. Tainted. Imagine if Jimmy Page replaced John Bonham’s drumming on Led Zeppelin IV. Or if a studio hack replaced Johnny Marr’s guitar work on The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead. Or an Abbey Road minus Paul’s bass, George’s guitar solos, or even Ringo’s classic drum fills. Why, in the name of all that’s holy, would Ozzy do this? The answer to this question is more trite than you’d think.
Trite, yes. A huge mess? Even more so. In 1986, bassist Bob Daisley, and drummer Lee Kerslake, who played on both albums, won a court case which awarded them songwriting royalties, but to this day, they have yet to be given proper performance credit for Diary of a Madman (bass and drum credits were originally given to Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge, even though they didn’t play a note). Over the past four years, Daisley and Kerslake have been fighting the Osbournes in court again over that same issue. The lawsuit has yet to be settled, but that didn’t stop Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne from delivering what they hope will be the final blow. In a press release this past April, Sharon was quoted as saying, “Because of [Daisley and Kerslake’s] abusive and unjust behavior, Ozzy wanted to remove them from these recordings. We turned a negative into a positive by adding a fresh sound to the original albums.”
Of course, Daisley and Kerslake flatly deny the allegations of harassment. In a statement on Daisley’s website, he says, “Speaking of who is unjust, I would like to add that after Lee and I . . . put our hearts and souls into the making of the above mentioned albums, our credits for our performances on Diary of a Madman were intentionally excluded and given to someone else. Performance royalties have never been paid to us.” In several recent interviews, Daisley also claims that, in addition to his studio work with Ozzy, he is responsible for all the lyrics in Ozzy’s solo catalog in the 1980s (something Ozzy admitted to in a recent Guitar World interview). It’s clear to anyone with half a brain that Daisley and Kerslake have been dealt the short end of the stick (songwriting credits on the best-of comp The Ozzman Cometh are repeatedly given to “Bob Daisy”), but for Ozzy and Sharon to settle amicably would, to them, be admitting defeat. So, as is always the case, it’s the fans who are forced to suffer.
Once upon a time, these albums were very good. Flawed, yes, but still timeless. After being fired from Black Sabbath in 1978, Ozzy was foundering, his career at a dead halt. After months of living on booze and blow in Los Angeles, his good friend Sharon Arden, the daughter of Sabbath’s former manager, urged him to get a band going again. Enter Randy Rhoads. It was the slight-of-frame, boyish Rhoads, who, only in his early twenties, was quickly making himself known as a rock guitar virtuoso, and deserves much of the credit for saving Ozzy’s career.
Recording with Rhoads, Daisley, and Kerslake, Ozzy released Blizzard of Ozz in 1980. Despite its barebones, demo-style production, Blizzard of Ozz was a solid comeback, loaded with memorable songs. “Crazy Train” and “Suicide Solution” became classic metal tunes, with the former becoming a classic rock radio staple two decades later. “I Don’t Know” and “Steal Away (The Night)” were scorching hard rock anthems, while the tender “Goodbye to Romance” and the gloomy “Mr. Crowley”, with its funereal synth intro by keyboardist Don Airey, showed Ozzy was capable of performing music as heavy as Sabbath’s, but with more accessibility and pop hooks. Ably supported by Daisley and Kerslake’s powerful rhythm section, Rhoads steals the show with his classic riffing and mesmerizing solos (most of the guitar solos on Blizzard of Ozz were double-tracked, and are a marvel to hear with headphones).
Diary of a Madman was released in late 1981, and though it lacks the attention-grabbing singles of Blizzard of Ozz, it is the superior album of the two. It sounds like the prototypical road record, with Ozzy dashing into the studio during a break in the tour, quickly laying down out a wickedly heavy album with a tight, well-seasoned backing band at its peak, and heading out on the road again. Only that it isn’t. By then, Daisley and Kerslake had been fired from the touring band, and replaced by bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge. While this version of Ozzy’s band was a great one in its own right (the proof is on the Tribute live album), it was Daisley and Kerslake whom Ozzy summoned when he had a few weeks to make a follow-up to his solo debut.
The chugging “Over the Mountain”, the sinister, yet philosophical “Believer” (Ozzy’s best song ever, in my opinion), and the underrated “S.A.T.O.” (that’s Sailing Over the Ocean, people) all benefit from Max Norman’s meaty production. The tongue-in-cheek “Flying High Again”, the cliched-but-charming “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll”, and the great power ballad “Tonight” provided the album’s more mainstream moments. A great album, absolutely, but all the optimism ended a few months later when Rhoads and Ozzy’s seamstress were killed in a plane crash.
So fast forward 20 years later, with me having to get down to how awful the reissues are. First off, the new drums and bass are performed by former Faith No More drummer Mike Bordin and former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Mike Trujillo, as thankless a task if I ever saw one. They can’t be blamed; they’re just doing their jobs, as Ozzy’s employees. However, the sound of their playing is just wrong, so blatantly wrong, it’s unbelievable.
On Blizzard of Ozz, the bass and drums are recorded so they sound as no-frills as the original recording, but they still stick out. Listen to the opening bars of “I Don’t Know”. Bordin’s drumming sounds weak, and Trujillo’s bass sounds tinny and tuned too low. If it weren’t for the tape of Rhoads’ guitar, it’d sound like Ozzy Open Mike Night. “Crazy Train” is the real stinker on the disc. The song is based on a bass/tom-tom intro, and it sounds awful from the start. The drumming again sounds weak, completely lacking in power, and the bass is too distorted (Trujillo’s use of a pick is very distracting). Heck, even the famous vibra-slap sound is replaced, but this time it’s a higher tone than the original. We’ve heard this song thousands of times over the years, and “Crazy Train” is not supposed to sound like this! “Goodbye to Romance” and “Mr. Crowley” sound sloppy, like Bordin is trying to speed them up, as opposed to Kerslake’s more restrained performance. The playing on “Suicide Solution” is actually adequately done, but Ozzy’s vocals are tinkered with, especially in the middle, where his infamous “Get the gun” line (according to the well-known teen suicide court case) is lowered in the mix so much it’s barely audible. The rest of the album is more of the same: spotty, some decent, some annoying (even the bonus b-side “You Lookin’ at Me Lookin’ at You” is re-recorded); the only track to escape re-recording is Rhoads’s gorgeous classical guitar instrumental “Dee”.
Blizzard of Ozz sounds like a failed experiment. Diary of a Madman, on the other hand, is a complete catastrophe. Kerslake and Daisley were the secret weapons on that album, and their absence is glaringly distracting. All it takes is one listen to the opening drum roll of “Over the Mountain”. Kerslake’s famous intro was weighty, full in tone, as he then propelled the rest of the song with a ferocious intensity. Bordin just sounds weak; his drum tone borders on shrill, and the new version sounds too lightweight, like switching from a Harley to a Vespa. Trujillo doesn’t come out unscathed, either. His version of “Believer”, a song completely based on Daisley’s amazing, unconventional bassline, is a travesty. Again, his bass is tuned too low, and his playing sounds like a teenager practicing in his basement, completely lacking in authority.
Even worse than the bass/drum substitutes is the fact that Max Norman’s excellent production has been seriously tampered with. The entire album’s mix sounds uneven, and several times you can barely hear Rhoads’s guitar. Ozzy’s vocals are pushed right up in the mix, and the bass often drowns out the guitar solos. This is the biggest act of production ineptness and stupidity since 1988, when Metallica’s James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich all but eliminated Jason Newsted’s bass from the final mix of . . . And Justice for All, as an act of hazing, of all things.
It’s obvious Sharon Osbourne is a loving wife and parent, and a very, very shrewd manager, perhaps a genius in her field. Most bands who appear at Ozzfest have to pay a $75,000 fee, and they’re still lining up to join the show, which shows how influential a slot in Ozzfest is when it comes to record sales. Ozzy, a recovering alcoholic, needs to be kept busy, and his wife has done a stellar job saving his career, let alone his life. But that doesn’t give the two any logical reason to rip off the fans like they have done. Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman have been raped of their soul, all just to spite some people they don’t like. How classy.
Do not buy these albums. If you’re a kid who has just been to Ozzfest and wants to get into Ozzy’s music, or if you’re an older fan who wants to finally replace those old records and tapes, buy the 1995 remasters of Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman instead, the ones with the shrunken cover photos, with “OZZY” spelled vertically in the border. Stay away from the CDs with the full cover photos. The new reissues will likely replace the originals for good, so if see the ‘95 versions still in your local record store, scoop ‘em up while you have the chance. Now those are classic albums.
Sitting here in front of my computer late at night, listening to the piece of money-grubbing, artificial, festering pile of sonic dung that this new karaoke version of Diary of a Madman is, some lines Ozzy sings have just managed to catch my attention: “How many times can they fill me with lies . . . Twisting the truth and they’re playing around with my head . . . And they don’t really know even what they’re talking about / And I can’t imagine what empty heads can achieve.” I now know what empty heads can achieve, Ozzy. It’s sitting here in front of me. Playing on my stereo. And it makes me want to retch.