In a previous blog concerning tunings Black Sabbath used in the 70s, I pointed out the fact that their 2nd album, "Paranoid," is tuned slightly sharp. Meaning, it's not tuned perfectly to E Standard - all of the notes are slightly higher than they really should be. As a result, it technically fits into no known standard tuning! This may mean nothing to the average non musician fan - but let's put it a different way...what if you found out that one of your favorite albums of all time was sped up during the mixing process? That would mean every time you heard the song "Paranoid" or "Iron Man" or "War Pigs," you weren't hearing it at the actual speed it was played by the band in the studio - you were hearing it slightly sped up! Wouldn't you be interested to hear it for the first time at the CORRECT speed? What I am trying to say is, you may NEVER have actually heard the album "Paranoid" correctly due to someone messing with the tape in the studio! And given the fact my previous blog on Sabbath tunings was one of the more popular, it seemed to me some may be interested in another blog dedicated to the tuning on "Paranoid" specifically, since I only glossed over it previously. It was also a good excuse to satisfy my own curiosity on the topic. While I am not claiming to have solved any great mysteries here, exploring this topic was fun and hopefully ends up being a good read for some of you die hard Sabbath fans out there.
According to Wikipedia, "Paranoid" was recorded in June of 1970 - 4 months after their debut album came out [though the debut was actually recorded in October of 1969]. Black Sabbath's first album is in E Standard tuning, clearly. But if you go onto youtube and search for Black Sabbath 1970 Paris, you will find them playing an entire set tuned half a step down to Eb - just 6 months after "Paranoid" was recorded, and about a year after their self titled album was recorded. In fact, Ozzy is still singing the old lyrics to "War Pigs" there (which was originally entitled "Walpurgis.") The band can be heard checking their tuning between songs. Tony and Geezer frequently checked their tuning, and were always very aware of where they were at. Tony in particular, would have been painfully aware of the particular tuning being used, since his finger tips had been partially sliced off of his fretting hand just prior to their first album being recorded. So if they were in the studio recording "Paranoid" and the strings were on the sharp side, Tony would have physically felt the difference in his finger tips. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the band tuned UP [wrong] for "Paranoid." There's also the fact they tuned DOWN to Eb within months of recording the album, further indicating that tuning UP was not where their minds were probably heading after recording the first album. So, are there any logical reasons why someone might have wanted to speed the tape up purposefully? I can think of a couple, but before exploring those reasons, let's digress a bit.
"Their debut album, Black Sabbath...Released on [Friday] 13 February 1970 in the United Kingdom..."
"The inner gatefold sleeve of the original release was designed by Keith McMillan (credited as Marcus Keef) and featured an inverted cross with a poem written inside of it. Allegedly, the band were upset when they discovered this, as it fuelled allegations that they were satanists or occultists...however, in Osbourne's memoirs, he says that to the best of his knowledge nobody was upset with the inclusion"
"when we brought it to the record company, they thought 'Walpurgis' sounded too Satanic." - Geezer Butler
"What the fuck does a bloke dressed as a pig with a sword in his hand got to do with being paranoid, I don't know, but they decided to change the album title without changing the artwork." - Ozzy
So the record company, Vertigo, decides to include an inverted cross inside the record sleeve for Black Sabbath's debut album. Vertigo also decides to release the album on Friday the 13th. Then, less than 6 months later, Vertigo tells the band to change some lyrics because they are "too satanic?"
"Generals gathered in their masses, just like witches at black masses."
Apparently, Black Sabbath's first album was not very well received by critics initially. So I suppose it is plausible that Vertigo, who initially pushed the whole "satanic" image, may have wanted to pull this back a bit in order to take a slightly different approach to the marketing of the band's 2nd album. But it's hard to understand how switching lyrics from being "satanic" to being "political and kind of satanic" in a time of a very unpopular war [Vietnam War] and when the Manson Family Murders were in the news headlines [they famously scrawled "pig" in Sharon Tate's blood on a door at the scene of the Laurel Canyon Murders] was viewed as "less controversial" by the record label. If anything, the revised lyrics and song title covered 2 of the most controversial topics of the hour, rather than just 1!
The Paranoid album cover features an "artistic" version of what was probably supposed to look like a soldier in the future. Although Ozzy mentions in the above quote that the soldier is "dressed as a pig," this doesn't seem to be true on the album cover, although one of the blurry faces in the background could be wearing a pig mask - but hard to tell. Whatever the case, Ozzy's quote at least suggests that this was the original concept - to have a soldier wearing a pig mask, obviously reflecting the original title of the album, War Pigs. If the artwork made it so far that it could not be changed by the time the album was renamed "Paranoid," I doubt anyone at Vertigo/Warner Brothers cared that much who they offended. It seems more likely, given the song "Paranoid" was written hastily and at the last minute, that the label thought this would be a good single for the album. It's short, catchy, has a very straightforward beat, and it's not controversial lyrically. Therefore, changing the title of the album from "War Pigs" to "Paranoid" seemed more about marketing than politics. The point of this long digression is to illustrate that the band was being told what to do on just about every level. So the idea that someone not in the band may have taken the liberty of screwing around with tape speed is not really that hard to swallow. But the question is, why?
As most reading this know, "War Pigs" ends with a somber riff played over and over. The studio version is about 7 minutes and 58 seconds long. That's a pretty long song in 1970, when prog rock barely existed! By speeding the tape up at the very end of the song, this brings it just under 8 minutes. Now put your mind in the head of someone who wants to MARKET this extreme [for the time] music effectively and sell albums. Someone mixing it probably thought, "bleak as hell lyrics, sounds like a nuclear holocaust, and over 8 bloody minutes of music! Let's at least get this song down under 8 minutes so people don't turn the thing off before hearing the 2nd track, which is the hit single!" Obviously, the end of "War Pigs" is sped up to finish the song quicker. I think most fans would agree that while it sounds odd, there is a strange charm to it which we have all grown to appreciate. But I can't be the only person who still remembers hearing that for the first time and going, "what?" If the band thought the ending was too long, or that the song was too long, they'd have changed it. But they didn't, not even up to the very last tour they did [the ending to "War Pigs" is actually shortened on the live Hammersmith clip on the "Don't Blame Me" Ozzy video. Another example of editing done to shorten the ending] So while it seems very likely that someone thought the end of "War Pigs" was dragging, did this same "someone" also think the entire album was dragging?
According to Wikipedia, Paranoid is 42 minutes and 7 seconds. In 1970, vinyl records were the preferred format to listen to a recording. The ideal length of a 12" record is between 35 - 45 minutes. As the needle approaches the center of the disc, sound fidelity is thought to diminish. So that is the physics behind these time figures. As you can see, "Paranoid" was on the verge of maxing out the ideal length of the record. With all of this in mind, I performed a few experiments, hoping to reveal some answers.
Some record players, especially ones designed for DJs to use, come with a pitch adjuster of some sort. Above you can see mine. The green light is lit when the pitch adjuster is at 0, which is "regular speed." I played along to the song "Paranoid," which is supposed to be in E standard. I tuned my guitar to E Standard, and of course I was flat compared to the recording. I then tuned up slightly to match the song, checked my tuner again, and as has you may have guessed, it showed that my strings were slightly sharp. I then timed the song with a stopwatch, and came up with 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
I then tuned my guitar back down to E Standard and played along to the song "Paranoid" again. But this time, I used the pitch adjuster to force the record to match MY tuning. As you can see above, the green light is no longer on because the record is set to play slightly slow now. How much slower exactly? Well the stopwatch told me the song was now 2 minutes and 48 seconds. About 3 seconds slower.
Then I wondered, "what if Sabbath tuned down to Eb for the album?" What if the album was "sped up" to put it back in Standard E and was simply sped up too much? I tuned my guitar to Eb standard, and forced the record player again to match my tuning and got 2 minutes and 53 seconds. About a 8 second difference.
Although slowing the record down to match an Eb standard tuning sounded pretty cool and heavy, I don't think they were tuned that low yet. It just doesn't sound quite right. However, I am pretty convinced the band WAS tuned properly and that the tape was sped up after the fact because it sounds great when the pitch is slightly slowed, to match E Standard tuning. If you've got a digital version of the album and the ability to slow it down, I'd try 1.3% and that should be pretty close. But as far as the reason for doing this? The album was getting close to the maximum desired length, so I suppose it is possible it was sped up in order to give it a little leeway. But the difference between the actual length of the songs as performed and the sped up length of the recording is not great, so I'm going to call this theory inconclusive. However, it seems equally silly to assume the tape was sped up accidentally. How do you "accidentally" speed a tape up during the mixing/mastering process without being aware? I suppose it's possible since the difference was so slight. But for now the truth will have to remain a mystery!