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Legendary for all the wrong reasons

Another Classic Rock reprint in Louder Sound — the awful year for Black Sabbath that was 1984. Demise of the Gillan-fronted lineup is very much included.

When, during their debut UK show at the Reading Festival in August 1983, Sabbath encored with the old Purple warhorse Smoke On The Water, there was disbelief, then disdain, then ridicule. It later emerged that they had also considered playing Purple’s Black Night. More astonishingly, with ELO’s Bev Bevan having become the latest drummer to replace Bill Ward, at short notice, guitarist Tony Iommi (at Bevan’s quiet urging) had actually suggested they have a crack at ELO’s Evil Woman. “But every time Iommi counted it in, it would make us all fall about laughing!” recalled Sabbath’s keyboard player Geoff Nicholls.

The world tour, stretched over seven excruciating months, would become legendary for all the wrong reasons. A week before Reading, bassist Geezer Butler narrowly avoided arrest when he threw a Molotov cocktail from his hotel room window, destroying another guest’s Ford Cortina. Three weeks after Reading, cops were called to a fight at a club in Barcelona, begun after the bouncers took exception to Gillan ‘jokingly’ setting fire to one of their waiters. Running to escape the mass brawl, Butler was arrested after jumping into the back of a police car, mistaking it for a taxi.

Read more in Louder Sound.

28 Comments to “Legendary for all the wrong reasons”:

  1. 1
    Uwe Hornung says:

    It was an unlikely combination, but it worked surprising well musically. Born Again is both one of my favorite Sabbath and Ian Gillan albums. The surrounding circumstances – Gillan joining in drunken stupor, the wrong-scale Stonehenge set-up and unbuffered dwarfs, Big Ian’s disdain for the Sabbath image and the older songs – were of course all hilarious. But it was a nice little vacation for him and there are quite a few works in Sabbath’s canon commercially more unremarkable than this album which reached a stunning No 4 in the UK charts and a respectable Top 40 placing in the US. I also think that it is (justly) held in higher regard today than at its release, even here.

    And man, I really would have liked them to play this live, that would have been a hoot! 😂


    Bev Bevan caight a lot of flak for ‘not being a proper heavy rock drummer’ on that tour – for the record I think he did fine, he’s more my type of drummer than Vinnie Appice.

  2. 2
    Andrew says:

    I was at the Reading gig which I thought was fantastic, SOTW included. After Heaven and Hell and the Mob Rules, Born Again is my favourite Black Sabbath album acknowledging of course that the production quality is pretty awful. Remastering it may produce a very sought after output.

  3. 3
    sidroman says:

    They actually wanted Robert Plant in Black Sabbath? Good luck, Plant was already a successful solo artist, I can’t imagine him joining a dying band like Sabbath. I knew they were after Coverdale as well. I used to love Born Again, but unlike Slaves and Masters, Come Taste the Band, or Yes’s Drama, I don’t think it’s an album that stood the test of time or aged well. Listening to the live recordings Gillan didn’t know the lyrics half the time and would just scream instead, there was a version of him trying Neon Knights which was awful. An experiment that didn’t work, luckily Perfect Strangers followed.

  4. 4
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Ian’s voice wasn’t really all that suited to do the Dio stuff. But then Dio had a hard time doing the Ozzy stuff credibly (and always felt awkward doing it as he himself said) with which Big Ian had no issues.

    It’s interesting that Ozzy himself thinks that Born Again is the best Sabbath album without him. I don’t remember him ever saying a bad thing about Ian while he never stopped regarding and treating Ronnie as the upstart from upstate (New York).

    Sabbath doing SOTW as an encore? I saw that neither as an issue for Sabbath nor for Purple. By 1983, SOTW was a rock classic and Sabbath performing it as – mind you – an encore was no more inapt (or inept) than when in the late 60ies they still encored with Blue Suede Shoes.


    With an encore, you are allowed to do anything. And it was a nice nod to Ian’s legendary affiliation with that song. People were too sourpuss about it at the time I thought. Even SOTW is just a song at the end of the day.

  5. 5
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Plant, that great wordsmith from the furnaces of Birmingham, wouldn’t have needed to learn the lyrics properly either, but could have intermittently cried “Ooh baby!” and “ahahahahaha …”, it’s second nature to him really.😂

  6. 6
    Andy says:

    Working at a record store in the day, I used to recommend this album to all the metal heads. I think Motley Crue and Great White were the new thing then. They had no idea about this album, they’d come back and tell me they loved it. The store manager hated my taste in music and wouldn’t let me play it. Occasionally he’d allow Bent out of Shape.

  7. 7
    DeeperPurps says:

    Uwe @5……and if the band mates and fans couldn’t get over Gillan’s choice of wardrobe for his Sabs gig, just imagine how Plant’s mother’s blouse would have gone down!

  8. 8
    MacGregor says:

    Tony Iommi & the 1980’s eh? After the Dio era crashed & burned he was all over the shop in more ways than one. We were pumped big time back then when this was announced, well we were young & it was party time, a bit like the participants on this album & tour no doubt. It didn’t last long & at least Gillan was suited to the Sabs in certain ways. I don’t buy into all these stories about who else they were going to approach, a load of old cobblers as the English say. I remember playing the album to some older friends who loved Sabbath & Mark2 DP from the 70’s & they were appalled. Some scenarios can work, many do not. It isn’t a strong album in hindsight. The title track is the best one to my ears, Disturbing the Priest has a typical Sabbath & Gillan hardness & vibe to it. Trashed & Digital Bitch are good ‘rock’ songs, depending on my mood. Everything else is very mediocre to poor in many aspects. Not to worry, it is a classic ‘one off’ lineup album from a few of our favourite musicians. Well that is how I look at it these days. The songs are no where near the quality of what Iommi did later with Tony Martin. I prefer those ‘Sabbath’ lineup in many aspects. A lot of desperation from Iommi back then, he seemed lost in what he was doing in many aspects, too much partying at first, then record company hassles & trying too hard to compete with the modern day ‘metal’ scene. Headless Cross, Eternal Idol & Tyr have some really strong songs on them, even Cross Purposes I like in places. It is what it is. Cheers.

  9. 9
    Uwe Hornung says:

    The scathing tongue of DeeperPurps @7:


    “Finished with my woman ’cause she wouldn’t let me wear her blouse …”


    Yeah, Torn Again from Sack Sabbath was a good album …


    When I saw pics from that photo session on the back cover, my first thought was: “What the hellish fuck did they let him wear this time?!” 🙄

  10. 10
    Allen says:

    @8 MacGregor.

    Headless Cross, TYR and Cross Purposes are three underrated albums imo, overshadowed greatly by both the Dio and Ozzy eras.

    Psychophobia being on my list of favourite Sabbath tracks.
    I’ve not heard Forbidden in it’s entirety as yet, but actually sounds ok from what I’ve heard. Not as bad as people make out.

    Roll on the box set of these largely ignored albums that was announced very recently.

    As for Born again, the jury’s out on this one. It has it’s moments “Disturbing the Priest”, “Zero the hero” and “Hot Line”, but overall is a bit hit and miss.
    I wonder if the masters will ever be found, so it can be remixed from scratch?

  11. 11
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Allen, the masters have been found and are now in the hands of Iommi, they were discovered comparatively recently.


    I’m sure we’ll see a remix/lavish repackaging in the next few years.

  12. 12
    MacGregor says:

    @ 9 – I forgot about that ‘cave man’ image. The ‘neanderthal’ look, Gillan was not looking the part at all. We have to give him points for trying though. Spinal Tap indeed. I would prefer the ‘flower power’ look, but not in Sabbath of course. Remember some of Ozzy outfits from the 70’s? However we can forgive Ozzy there I suppose, it was the flower power era & the Sabs were not trying to look so dark & evil back then.@ 10 Allen – indeed the Sabbath albums with Tony Martin do get the job done in many ways & even Forbidden does have 3-4 good songs on it. A pity Martin’s voice sounds so strained on that record, he really did push the boat out as they say. He actually sounds a little hoarse on the Cross Purposes live tour video & cd release. Doing an Ian Gillan in singing too hard at times I suppose. It is nice to see the box set finally available for the punters, I don’t need it as I have all those on cd from their initial release. The Born Again masters have been found according to Iommi, just a matter of getting his hands on them I would think. Cheers.

  13. 13
    Allen says:

    @11 & 12,

    Cheers for the info on the masters. I was unaware they’d been found. I thought they were presumed lost forever.

  14. 14
    Nino says:

    In fact, Black Sabbath have never been my favorite band and the main culprits for this were the vocalists. From the very beginning, I could not stand Ozzy’s voice and singing style, followed by the pompous and overly theatrical Ronnie, and Tony completely was a pop version of his predecessors. The only album I own and really like in the BS catalog is Born Again. I don’t understand the point of such articles at all. It’s one thing when participants in an event tell funny moments, and another when someone else, in all seriousness, begins to retell a story that consists only of such moments.

  15. 15
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Meanwhile, somewhere in the West Midlands, a son of Italian immigrants wonders: “NOW WHAT DOES THIS FADER NAMED ‘TREBLE’ DO, NEVER SEEN IT BEFORE?!”


  16. 16
    Andrew says:


    For “pompous and overly theatrical” read powerful, accurate, musically competent and inspirational.

    Black Sabbath begins and ends with RJD for me. H&H and TMR are true works of art and literally saved BS from the garbage bin of rock history and gave them credibility. Ozzy was (and is) a joke as a frontman and vocalist and all of the singers after RJD were entirely unremarkable.

    Born Again was more of a stand alone project than a serious attempt to relaunch Sabbath and as such it does have some merit. Such a shame about the production quality though.

  17. 17
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Lieber Nino,

    Born Again is a major work in my eyes too (though probably one of accident and coincidental inspiration as opposed to a carefully laid out plan; no matter though, genius by luck is still genius), but of course the Spinal Tap circumstances at the time coupled with Sabbath’s earnest image (for chrissakes, these guys named themselves after an obscure Horror B-movie and Jimmy Page knew more about the truly occult and Aleister Crowley’s philosophy than all Sab members put together) invited ridicule. Also the incestuous nature of “former, past-his-prime singer of heavy rock behemoth A” joins “passed-its-prime heavy rock behemoth B” was asking for some causticl fun-poking, it was the English music press after all. And then the Electric Light Orchestra drummer joins too, simply on the basis that he is a fellow Brummie, not having any credentials playing this type of music (for the record, Bev did fine on the tour and rates it as one of the musical high points of his career, listen here:


    at 24:02).

    So, yes, you can pour derision over all of it – I was bemused too when I first heard about Ian joining the Brummies even though I liked both Purple and Sabbath (but I also remember being attracted to the music of Born Again before I ever knew who played it: I was in a record store looking around when the album was being played and I immediately liked what I heard and asked at the counter whether this was actually the new Gillabath project one had read about in the music press).

    What was missing in the Classic Rock/Louder Sound article piece was a final para though how

    – against all circumstantial odds the album did commercially remarkably well at the time (better than Sabbath or GILLAN releases before it),

    – the tour was a success curtailed only by Ian’s commitments to the imminent Purple reunion (whose perspective was probably reassured by Ian’s realization that his name was still good to put butts on seats with Sabbath),

    – the album is a milestone of proto-Grunge and became a few years later quite influential for the movement

    – and is today rightfully held in surprisingly high esteem by Sabbath and non-Sabbath fans alike, it has aged well and has a timeless one-of-a-kind quality to it. To me it is an album as strange, yet fascinating and compelling as David Bowie’s Station To Station.

    You will probably view this article here


    as a more balanced depiction, Nino! 😘

  18. 18
    MacGregor says:

    There is NO way Ian Gillan would have continued with that Black Sabbath ‘disaster’ if DP didn’t reunite. He would have done something else. He loathed that live gigging for different reasons. Geezer did also. The Born Again album lacks quality songs, that is it’s problem. And Gillan’s singing is over the top at times, too much hedonism as we know. Opinions divided, however BA has not aged well at all. It is a ‘forgotten’ album & a failed experiment in many ways. The only reason that album sold well in the UK especially would have been because of the previous Sabbath albums & members & of course Ian Gillan also being involved. That songwriting issue again. The choice of touring drummer wasn’t a problem at all. Bev Bevan did as well as most drummers would do in those circumstances. Born Again is well known as a low point in Black Sabbaths journey. As we all know it was a slapped together who gives a f..k project in so many ways. Not to worry. Hindsight eh? Cheers.

  19. 19
    Rev. Harry Longfallis says:

    #12, I read that Tony Martin was sick w/the flu when they recorded “Cross Purposes Live”. That did a number on his voice. They should have redone it later.

  20. 20
    Uwe Hornung says:

    But Herr MacGregor, stick with the numbers: Born Again had the best Sabbath sales in the UK since, wait for it, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath!


    No Dio era album came near


    and three Ozzy era albums – Sabotage, Technical Ecstasy + Never Say Die – sold less too.


    Everybody these days pretends like the Dio era of Sabbath was this resounding commercial success, it simply wasn’t. It was musically fruitful – if Dio coupled with Iommi is your thing. BTW, the Dio era of Rainbow was their commercially least successful too and Dio’s lengthy solo career didn’t deplete the world’s platinum resources either. Just to put things into perspective. Dio is this demigod in heavy metal circles only, but a fringe phenomenon with mainstream rock/pop music consumers. There I said it!

    Born Again was not a failed, it was a brave and daring album, pushing the envelope. No quality songs? The title ballad is a tour de force, I can’t imagine any other singer coming up with those lyrics, the melody and the expression, Gillan sings it like a wounded animal. Disturbing the priest and Zero the Hero are classics, Trashed and Hot Line

    to which Judas Priest gave a close listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8HD7WNExhY

    great riff-o-rama headbangers, Digital Bitch is a lovely romp (with once again great lyrics) and Keep It Warm, a heartfelt love & sex song

    [let Herr Dio muse about “lost children of the sea sailing across the air before they learned to fly making the mountains shake with laughter” 🙄, OMG, please come back Robert Plant, if not all can ever be forgiven 😑, it is most certainly forgotten … 😏]

    brings the album to a fitting closure. My only issue with the record at the time was that it wasn’t any longer.

    And I even liked the garish cover which echoed Roger Corman’s B movie horror psychedelia …



  21. 21
    MacGregor says:

    Opinions eh? The inclusion of Bill Ward to the lineup & also Ian Gillan & with Sabbath’s ‘phoenix rising’ of sorts following Dio’s stint, had the Sabs back in the spotlight in the early 1980’s, did it not? Also the rise of the ‘new wave of British metal’ at that time. Of course it was going to be popular then & as I have said before, back then we were pumped for it. Thinking it would be the greatest thing because of the musicians involved, but as we know that doesn’t guarantee things actually come to fruition. It just doesn’t last as we move on in time, not for me & others I know. And not ‘everybody’ pretends that at all regarding the Dio era lineup. Some like it, many do not. So many Sabbath fans don’t like BA, just the same as a few other BS lineups. It is the same with DP & other lineup changing bands. I mentioned here recently the title song BA is the strongest song on that album, a good song it is. However which songs are mentioned repeatedly as ‘iconic’ or ‘classic’ from the BA album. They are not mentioned when we read articles or listen to Sabbath aficionados opinions over the decades. Zero the Hero gets the riff mentioned by many however a boring song it is with it’s repeated riffing & feel. Ian Gillan’s vocal doesn’t really fit with Iommi’s riffing, same with Glenn Hughes. They get away with it at times, but it feels out of place in certain ways. I am not going to commence putting up lyrics from certain lyricists that make me or others cringe, they all wrote them at times, even Mr Gillan & on this album. It is a good rock & roll fun album in places BA, but far from a classic for most Black Sabbath followers. Very Gillan influenced & that doesn’t necessarily mean a good thing. Keep it Warm, Hot Line, both should have been on a Gillan album. It does have a slapped together feel to it, some very cliched riffs & songs if one follows what Tony Iommi has done over the years. It isn’t a bad album, it is just missing certain ingredients & doesn’t rate as highly as many other albums because of the songs. It did appear the be the end of the world though after that album. Although Iommi certainly kept that scenario going at times following Born Again. Not to worry as it gives us more variation for certain songs to listen to when we feel that way inclined. I will listen to the new remix when it appears, some songs at least as I did with that AI mix link posted here recently. Curiosity will always lead me down that path & I will enjoy a few songs from BA when I listen. But I don’t play the BA album when I need to hear a few classic Sabbath songs of higher quality. Cheers.

  22. 22
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Nothing will ever eclipse Ozzy’s body of work with Sabbath. His childlike naive, elongated and wailing melodies over Iommi’s doom-laden riffs, Geezer’s molten lava stoner bass (and lyrics) plus Ward’s swinging accompaniment were an original recipe. They were made for each other, I do not contest.

    So yeah, maybe they should have monikered Gillabath differently.

    As an off-the-wall, but very interesting lyricist and writer of vocal melodies defying expectations, late GILLAN/Sabbath-era Big Ian towered at his peak IMHO. Yes, he put his stamp all over Born Again (which might lead Ozzy and Ronnie fans to despair, but was a source of bliss for me!), you try doing that with a band as characteristic-sounding as Black Sabbath!

    This might come as a surprise to many knowing me as a Glenn Hughes-fanboy, but I actually think that Glenn’s vocals were the ones gelling with Tony Iommi’s music/style the least. Trying to defunk Glenn and tie his tonsils down to the rhythmically largely inert Sabbath sound was an incongruous and self-defeating exercise. A bit like asking Stevie Wonder to sing for Status Quo. “There is superstition … rocking all over the world!”

  23. 23
    MacGregor says:

    Born Again has plenty of drama in the music, lyrics & melodies, so it gets a vote for that indeed. Gillan was to the fore in a good way & Bill Ward returning was a nice surprise for me also. The intensity of it is for me probably best suited to my younger days, it was grand back then. I seem to be mellowing in that sense, not into the really heavy music anymore. Or maybe not as much, I still have the odd blast with a song or two when in the mood & nobody else is in the house. Disturbing the Priest is great for that & annoying the neighbours he he he, not that I deliberately set out to do that. Cheers.

  24. 24
    MacGregor says:

    The other really intense post 70’s Black Sabbath album is Headless Cross. powerful in your face vocals, heavy as hell guitar & Cozy’s barbarian at the gates of hell drumming. Also lyrically it is full on, Loved it back in the day, only listen to a song or two occasionally these days. Sabotage is the dark & dramatic album from the glorious 70’s, wonderful it is for so many other reasons also. Dehumanizer is also rather dark & gloomy & has that industrial sort of production & drum sound. There are NO dungeons & dragons lyrics (I hear Uwe sighing in relief). Also NO maids being rescued from towers or magicians & wizards etc. It makes me wonder whether Uwe actually owns that album, although I realise he isn’t a huge post 70’s Sabbath follower. Poor Ronnie, he had to leave out all that type of lyric as I do remember reading that Iommi stipulated that in pre recording negotiations. Not that I mind, even I knew those sort of lyrics had been overdone to an extent in Rainbow & early Dio era Sabbath. I hope Uwe hasn’t fallen into shock upon hearing my comments there. Cheers.

  25. 25
    Uwe Hornung says:

    “Intense” is a great way to characterize Born Again, Herr MacGregor!

    I own everything official from Sabbath, Dehumanizer of course too and the lyrics there are a relief – I didn’t know Dio was contractually required to write them like that! 😂 (He’s not per se a bad lyricist, I was fine with his words for Elf, I just found the fantasy restriction of his later work grating after a while.) Also have the reunion Heaven & Hell (as the new band moniker) album – I saw them on that tour too and (much!) prior to that, early 80ies, promoting the then fresh Heaven & Hell album. Seen Dio solo lots of times, various line-ups, the best one being unquestionable this one here:


    Of the Tony Martin era, Headless Cross is my favorite one too. Not being able to sing was never an issue for the man, he just wasn’t a real front man.

    As regards the Ozzy era, I rank

    – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage highest,

    – Master of Reality next,

    – Volume IV, Technical Ecstasy (It’s Alright is brilliant as is the coda riff in Dirty Women) and Never Say Die all about equal

    – while 13, the debut and Paranoid rank last with me, which is a weird positioning I know, but I like some elegance with my music and early, formative Sabbath was too “Blue Cheer”/Stoner Rock for me, sorry, I prefer hearing Cream at the correct turntable speed, not slowed down. 🤣 Rick Rubin tried to return them to that sound and I thought that as appropriate as Bob Ezrin getting the remaining Pink Floyd members in the studio together to have them re-record Arnold Layne!

    Diobath is basically another band, but I don’t think he really recorded a bad album with them ever. Seventh Star is to me the most mundane/unremarkable “Sabbath” album, even the flawed Forbidden is more interesting. Glenn Hughes cannot resurrect everything.

  26. 26
    MacGregor says:

    I agree regarding Master of Reality being where they started to do their own thing, for want of a better description. I have not replaced the first three albums with cd’s & doubt that I ever will. Although MoR I do think about buying occasionally. I have a liking for VOL 4 as it was the first album I fell for 51 years ago. Wheels of Confusion is a grand way to commence an album. Side two after the ordinary Snowblind song is good too. Under the Sun is a classic & the lyrics especially I can relate to as a frustrated young teen being brought up as a strict Catholic. Such evil music it was dragging us away from the church, he he he. It was a favourite at the 2013 concert, brought the house down actually. Fairies Wear Boots was good to hear then also. At least Sabbath found their niche early in that sense. So many bands took a few albums to get their thing happening. Those first two sound very dated though & that is why I haven’t purchased them. Although the ‘stoners’ out there love those first three albums it seems more than what followed. I really like Never Say Die, a progressive album with some jazz & classical etc on it, Don Airey to the fore there, wonderful. Cheers.

  27. 27
    MacGregor says:

    I forgot to mention the Rick Rubin comment from Geezer. ‘He did one thing well though, lying around all day on the sofa’ or words to that effect. I respect Rubin for his penchant for classic rock, however his lining up a collection of vintage amps for Iommi to use sounds comical. I wonder if he had a stock standard Gibson SG there for Iommi as well? What about Geezers bass, wasn’t that an old trusty Fender of which model I am unsure, Precision possibly. Where does that retracing the glorious 1970 era stop at? It sounds like all that relaxing on the sofa for Rick was a day dream of reminiscing indeed. Cheers.

  28. 28
    Dr. Bob says:

    Purple & Sabbath have been my 1a & 1b favorite band since I was a teenager in the early 80s. I was also a huge fan of the band Gillan. I was gobsmacked when I saw that Ian was the singer on the new Sabbath album. Despite all Spinal Tap stories, production values of the album, and tour, I loved the music they made and the live performance in NJ in the fall of 1983. BTW, my buddy & I were chanting SOTW prior to the envore and went nuts when they played it. The deluxe reissue with 9 live bonus tracks ranks as a top 20 album on my shelf.

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