Sunday, January 13, 2019

Certain Songs #1423: Ozzy Osbourne – “Crazy Train” | Medialoper

When Ozzy Osbourne left Black Sabbath in a haze of cocaine and hurt feelings after 1978’s moribund Never Say Die, fans of the band assumed that was pretty much it for all concerned. Instead, Sabbath recruited Ronnie James Dio and made their best record since Sabatoge and Ozzy — always a zillion times more savvy than he ever came across — found himself an early post-Eddie Van Halen guitar whiz named Randy Rhodes and recorded his solo debut, Blizzard of Ozz.

Interestingly enough, Ozzy’s U.S. record company must not have had a lot of faith in him at that time, as there was a six month gap between when Blizzard of Ozz came out in the U.K. in September, 1980 and when it finally came out in the U.S. in spring of 1981. Which jibes with a memory I have of first hearing “Crazy Train” on the radio on Good Friday, 1981. Or maybe I heard it on the radio after we got a whole half day off from work!

While a glance at the lyrics shows that “Crazy Train” is yet another early 1980s song worrying about getting blown up in a nuclear war, it was the chorus that everybody jumps on, as Ozzy had decided to replace his “prince of darkness” image with “yes, I’m going insane, wanna come along?” Now to be fair, mental health was always a huge subject with Black Sabbath, but Geezer Butler wrote a lot of those lyrics, which didn’t stop Ozzy from leaning into that angle for his solo career. Because who knew in 1980 that Geezer wrote the lyrics when Ozzy personified them so well?

Mental wounds not healing
Life’s a bitter shame
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

And so that became his brand: crazy Ozzy. Or at least, that’s how I saw it: I’ll admit that I checked out after Randy Rhodes died — hell, I’m not even sure if I ever heard any of his solo albums all the way through even with Rhodes — and the next time I thought hard about Ozzy Osbourne, he was a reality TV star, reinventing himself once again for a new millennium. And yeah, I watched The Osbournes like everybody else, laughing at Ozzy’s inability to do . . . well, pretty much anything, even if I’m sure it it wasn’t all that real.

Anyways, that was still two full decades in the future when “Crazy Train” hit the airwaves, sporting a huge tornado of a riff that wouldn’t be out of a place on a Sabbath record countered by licks and solos that would have been. And “Crazy Train” also had a relatively straightforward pop-song structure — verse-chorus-verse, even a bridge before the guitar solo — that was missing from the more complex song structures Sabbath routinely essayed.

Whether or not Ozzy adapting the Van Halen metal-as-pop playbook helped precipitate hair metal is something I’ll leave for people who know more than I do about the subject, I just know that “Crazy Train” was the last time I enjoyed Ozzy as a musician.

“Crazy Train”

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