Ozzy Osbourne made his best post-Black Sabbath music between 1979 and 1981, when, guided by his new manager and future wife, he formed a new band comprised of two British heavy rock veterans and a scrawny, unknown 23-year-old guitarist. That band yielded two of the most important heavy metal records of the ’80s, one a rock radio staple loaded with many of Ozzy’s signature songs, the other a dark, theatrical opus that ranks as a metal classic. However, while 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz and 1981’s Diary of a Madman sold millions in the ’80s, the subsequent reissues on CD have been less than stellar over the years.
After an unspectacular, sonically weak first pressing in the mid-’80s (as major labels rushed back catalog albums into production to take advantage of the growing CD fad), both albums were given a decent spit-and-polish in 1995, albeit with dramatically altered artwork for some unfathomable reason. Even worse, though, were the 2002 reissues which, as PopMatters reviewed then, were ruined by a feud between Osbourne, his wife and manager Sharon, and his former band members, bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake, who were suing for unpaid royalties. In an unbelievable display of hubris, the Osbournes removed all existing versions of the album from print and replaced them with versions of Blizzard and Diary with the rhythm section completely re-recorded by Ozzy’s then-current band members. Not only did the bass and drums of the new versions sound uncomfortably wrong in the minds of fans, the new mixes were atrocious. In the end, two beloved pieces of work were ruined, all to simply humiliate two people. The fact that a new generation of listeners interested in hearing these albums would be stuck with those abominations was a depressing prospect.
Nine years later, the Osbournes have finally attempted to set things right with a special set of reissues in celebration of that original band’s 30th anniversary. Both Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman have been expanded and given thorough, modern remasters, while fans in search of something more detailed are able to splurge on a lavish box set featuring such bells and whistles as the CD reissues, both albums on vinyl, a special DVD, and a coffee table book full of previously unreleased photos.
Released in September 1980, Blizzard of Ozz is adored by millions, and for good reason. Fired from Black Sabbath in the wake of the disastrous 1978 album Never Say Die, Osbourne formed a new band called Blizzard of Ozz, featuring former Mungo Jerry and Rainbow bassist Daisley and Uriah Heep drummer Kerslake, as well as young Californian Randy Rhoads on guitar. With no label support to speak of, the first album was recorded independently, and along with the no-frills recording, the camaraderie of the musicians and their “us against them” attitude lent the music a swagger that had long since vanished in Black Sabbath. Loaded with classic song after classic song, there’s a charm and ebullience to Blizzard of Ozz thanks to the rapid-fire riffing and solos by Rhoads, not to mention the ever-charismatic Osbourne, one of rock’s great frontmen.
The sequencing makes Blizzard an exhilarating listen, especially over the first 25 minutes. There’s the ferocity of “I Don’t Know”, the blend of menace and endearing self-deprecation of “Crazy Train”, the unabashedly lovely, autobiographical “Goodbye to Romance”, the towering “Suicide Solution”, the foreboding “Mr. Crowley”. While all the songs were a collaborative effort between Osbourne, Rhoads, and Daisley, Rhoads, in the most stunning debut by a rock guitarist since Eddie Van Halen in 1978, dominates the album from start to finish. The perfect foil for Osbourne, the unassuming yet musically flashy Rhoads wasn’t so much an innovator as he was a brilliant composer. Sure, his riffs on Blizzard are phenomenal — his serpentine performance on “Suicide Solution” remains his greatest work on record — but the solos are where Rhoads shows his greatest strength. A classically trained guitarist (we get a hint of that side on the touching instrumental “Dee”), Rhoads was a meticulous composer with a phenomenal ear for melody, and his infectious solos strike an impeccable balance between dexterity, expression, and hooks. In addition, the impact of the solos on Blizzard are even more striking because every solo is double-tracked, as Rhoads flawlessly performs the compositions in opposing channels.
Although the heavy metal epic “Revolution (Mother Earth)” and the rousing “Steal Away (The Night)” bring the record to a strong close, “No Bone Movies”, the last song written for the album, is a somewhat awkward fit among the other eight classic tracks. Although it falls a fraction short of perfect, that doesn’t diminish the impact of Blizzard of Ozz one bit. Typical of new reissues, the new master is punchier, slightly louder, but it’s tastefully done, the dynamic range never ruined.
Interestingly, the bonus tracks on Blizzard are scant. “Looking at Me, Looking at You”, a B-side from the “Crazy Train” single, was resurrected on the 2002 reissue and is brought back here, while the new isolated guitar and vocal mix of the Beatles-esque “Goodbye to Romance” is a beautiful showcase of Osbourne and Rhoads. Aside from a brief outtake of Rhoads shredding away on guitar, though, that’s it. Once again the live Mr. Crowley EP, featuring the underrated “You Said it All”, has been excluded. There is said to be a lot of archived recordings featuring Rhoads that have not seen the light of day – Daisley says he is in possession of a wealth of rehearsal and writing sessions on tape – and despite the strengths of this reissue, some fans will be left thinking they’ve been given the short end of the stick again. Those who don’t care about bonus tracks, however, will nevertheless be thrilled with the final product.
While it doesn’t have the signature songs that Blizzard has, Diary of a Madman is the superior album. Recorded merely five months after the release of Blizzard of Ozz and featuring a band tightened by an extensive UK tour in the fall of 1980, there’s a sense of urgency and aggression to Diary that the previous record sorely lacked (ironically six weeks was spent recording it opposed to Blizzard‘s four). You hear it instantly on the throttling opener “Over the Mountain”, Rhoads’s staccato rhythm riff propelled by Kerslake’s intense percussion as Osbourne sounds as insane as the album’s title indicates. While Blizzard was largely the Ozzy and Rhoads Show, the rhythm section a lot more restrained, Diary feels fully realized, every musician contributing equally, feeling like the work of a true band.
While the whimsical “Flying High Again” and the gorgeous ballad “Tonight” lighten the mood, the darker material dominates this album, captured brilliantly by producer Max Norman. “Believer” is a wicked little number, built around a lurching bass intro by Daisley that allows Rhoads to improvise with feedback and drones before entering with a majestic main riff that equals Tony Iommi’s finest work with Sabbath. Osbourne himself sounds inspired on the song, his vocal phrasing sounding maniacal and sympathetic at the same time. Osbourne has fun on the creepy “Little Dolls”, his vocal melodies clearly inspired by John Lennon’s late-’60s work, while “S.A.T.O” is one of the more unique songs in Ozzy’s entire catalogue, a lively galloper dominated by a fiery performance by Daisley and Kerslake. The concluding title track is a stirring climax, as Rhoads turns in one of his most affecting performances, first with a hair-raising, symphonic opening riff, and then with a solo that could easily be argued as the most accomplished of his career. Sadly, that career would be cut short, as he would die in a plane crash barely four months after the album’s release.
Unlike Blizzard, the double-disc “Legacy Edition” of Diary of a Madman pulls out all the stops. Not only is it presented in a fitting gatefold digipak and slipcase, but the second disc is something that will have fans elated. Recorded in 1981 during Ozzy’s first US tour since leaving Sabbath (no locations are provided), Ozzy Live is an incendiary collection of 11 songs that shatter the much more polished Tribute live album from 1987. By early 1981, Daisley and Kerslake had been replaced by bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge, and while nowhere near as fluid and cohesive as their predecessors, Sarzo and Aldridge are great live performers, and they both provide energy and flair that complements Osbourne and Rhoads nicely. Compared to some bootlegs where his voice was constantly cracking, Osbourne himself is in fine vocal form on these songs, while it’s fun to hear Rhoads let loose in a live setting, whether it’s delivering a note-for-note rendition of his “Crazy Train” solo or showcasing his talents even further on his extended solo during “Suicide Solution”. While the Blizzard of Ozz reissue will satisfy some and frustrate others, this new, definitive version of Diary of a Madman will thrill both fans and casual listeners alike.
As for the special “Collectors Edition” box set, which is only available through Ozzy’s official site, the real draw is the 30 Years After the Blizzard DVD. The 30 Years documentary is enjoyable and somewhat revealing, but at 42 minutes it could have been longer. Instead, it retreads much of the story that fans know all too well, and suffers from the complete omission of Daisley and Kerslake, whose contributions to the two albums were crucial. Still, it’s lovingly assembled; Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne offer some good commentary, while guitarists Zakk Wylde and Steve Vai provide valuable insight as to what made Rhoads such a special guitarist. The bonus footage on the DVD, on the other hand, is tremendous. The complete After Hours live studio performance footage, which many have already seen on YouTube, is present on DVD for the first time, but the real treat is the extensive unreleased footage. We’re treated to two songs from a 1982 performance in Albuquerque, New Mexico shot by a local news crew, as well as about 35 minutes of Super-8 film footage of Ozzy’s first show in New York in 1981. While the New York clips are a touch sloppy (the film had to be reloaded every three and a half minutes), not to mention grainy and shot from stage right rather than Rhoads’s stage left, any new performance footage of Rhoads is something to be treasured, and it’s wonderful to have these clips released to the public.
In the end, whichever route you want to take, either buying the individual albums or splurging on the $150 box set, the Osbourne camp and Sony Music have done an admirable job putting together a reissue package that does these unforgettable albums, not to mention the memory of Randy Rhoads, justice. After years of frustration for fans, all is right once more. And let us never speak of those 2002 reissues ever again.