Gillian Story bridges the arts and business worlds with a decade of not-for-profit and arts experience, and since 2017 has been a program manager at Sun Life. She is currently an MBA candidate in U of T’s Rotman Executive stream.
If I went back in time and told my undergraduate self, immersed in Beethoven and music theory, that over a decade later I would be in business school, no doubt I would be met with utter disbelief. Yet that’s exactly what happened last fall, as my executive MBA became the next step in my career’s transition from music therapy to arts administration to the corporate world. Along the way, I’ve been able to honour my love of music through playing in a band and staying involved in the arts with volunteer work.
I’ve also come to appreciate that many lessons I’ve learned through being involved in music are equally true in my current world:
A great teacher is worth everything – find lots of them: Music students will move across the world to study with the right teacher, because the right mentors and teachers inspire you to new heights, and unlock doors of knowledge that might otherwise remain closed forever. Following the advice of trusted mentors in both the arts and business worlds led me to taking the MBA, and the experience has felt like being given a key to new worlds I never even knew I wanted to explore: who would have thought economics and accounting would become two of my favourite subjects? Further, just as musicians continuously learn from playing together, I find myself constantly learning through my classmates, adding so many more layers to the experience.
It’s all about the band: At some point, we all have to learn how to play with others. Whatever the challenge – live performance, budget constraints, final project – success almost always lives and dies by the people around you, and how well and effectively you all work together. I’m surrounded by an incredibly diverse group of classmates – diverse in every sense: experience, age, gender, ethnicity – and the most incredible things happen when you embrace and actually use that diversity to tackle greater challenges than you could ever manage alone. Everyone has to be playing in the same key, but we all have our individual parts: the Rolling Stones wouldn’t have gotten very far if Mick, Ronnie and Keith were all stuck on playing lead guitar.
You can’t just play the same song over and over: No one wants to be a one-hit wonder. In music, once you’ve truly learned that devilish Chopin piece, it’s not time to rest on your laurels: mastering something is really just a sign it’s time to tackle the next challenge. By all means, take a moment to celebrate, but then it’s time to build on what you’ve learned. Each hard-won success is just a step on the journey, not the end of the road. Starting the EMBA felt like launching into learning the hardest piece I’ve ever played, but getting to the end is going to be one of the greatest achievements that my classmates and I will ever attain. More than that, it will be the launching pad to the next, exciting stage of our lives – one that will echo and come back in different choruses and refrains throughout our lives.
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Fifty years ago, a Detroit DJ accidentally started the biggest hoax in rock & roll history: the “Paul is dead” craze. It blew up on October 12, 1969, when Russ Gibb was hosting his show on WKNR. A mysterious caller told him to put on the Beatles’ White Album and spin the “number nine, number nine” intro from “Revolution 9” backwards. When Gibb tried it on the air, he heard the words, “Turn me on, dead man.” The clues kept coming. At the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” John says, “I buried Paul.” What could it all mean?
It meant the Beatles were hiding a secret: Paul McCartney got killed in a car crash back in 1966, and the band replaced him with an imposter. The rumor spread like wildfire, as fans searched their Beatle albums for clues. Fifty years later, “Paul is dead” remains the weirdest and most famous of all music conspiracy theories. It became a permanent part of Beatles lore—a totally fan-generated phenomenon that the band could only watch with amusement or exasperation. As Paul told Rolling Stone in 1974, “Someone from the office rang me up and said, ‘Look, Paul, you’re dead.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don’t agree with that.’”
Needless to say, it wasn’t true — Paul is not just gloriously alive, he’s still peaking as a songwriter and performer, debuting at Number One last year with Egypt Station. But after the Detroit radio broadcast, people pounced on the story. Two days later, the Michigan Daily explained the Abbey Road cover as a funeral procession: the Preacher (John in white), the Undertaker (Ringo in black), the Corpse (poor Macca). And bringing up the rear, George in blue denim as the grave-digger—man, even in the conspiracy theories, George gets shafted with the dirty work.
Here’s how the rumor went, as summed up by Nicholas Schaffner in The Beatles Forever: Paul died on November 9, 1966. He drove away from Abbey Road late the night before — a “stupid bloody Tuesday” — then blew his mind out in a car. He was Officially Pronounced Dead (“O.P.D.”) on Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock, which is why George points to that line on the Sgt. Pepper sleeve, while Paul wears an “O.P.D.” patch. But the other Beatles decided to hush up the news, so Wednesday-morning papers didn’t come. Somehow, they kept Paul’s death a secret, replaced him with a look-alike, then dropped sly hints about the cover-up scam. The imposter wrote “Hey Jude” and “Blackbird,” which means he’s the guy who probably should have had Paul’s job in the first place.
Fans began whispering about all the clues on the just-released Abbey Road. Look at that cover — Paul’s barefoot, out of step with the others, holding a cigarette in his right hand. (The real Paul was a lefty.) The Volkswagen with the “28 IF” license plate — that’s how old Paul would have been if he were still alive. (He was 27.) No theory was too ridiculous to get taken seriously. Fans eagerly believed “walrus” is Greek for corpse (it isn’t — it’s Scandinavian) or that “goo goo goo joob” is what Humpty Dumpty says in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, before his fatal fall off the wall. (Nope, sorry.) “I Am the Walrus” ends with a live BBC broadcast of a fatal scene from Shakespeare’s King Lear, with Oswald groaning, “O, untimely death!” (That one’s true—John just taped it off the radio one night and liked how it fit the song.) And in “Glass Onion,” John sings, “Here’s another clue for you all / The Walrus was Paul.”
When the rumor blew up, Paul was neither dead nor a walrus. He was in seclusion on his Scottish farm with Linda, Heather, and their six-week-old daughter Mary, known to the world as the infant cradled in his leather jacket in Linda’s most famous photo. With a newborn baby to care for (a first for Paul), he was in no mood to indulge the media frenzy. As he told Rolling Stone, “They said, ‘Look, what are you going to do about it? It’s a big thing breaking in America. You’re dead.’ And so I said, leave it, just let them say it. It’ll probably be the best publicity we’ve ever had, and I won’t have to do a thing except stay alive. So I managed to stay alive through it.”
John Lennon, calling the same Detroit radio station on October 26th, fumed, “It’s the most stupid rumor I’ve ever heard. It sounds like the same guy who blew up my Christ remark.” John denied any coded messages (“I don’t know what Beatles records sound like backwards; I never play them backwards”) or that he was the preacher at a funeral. “They said I was wearing a white religious suit. I mean, did Humphrey Bogart wear a white religious suit? All I’ve got is a nice Humphrey Bogart suit.” John’s pique was understandable — he was releasing his solo single “Cold Turkey” (the record where he finally ditched the “Lennon-McCartney” credit) and his Wedding Album with Yoko. The last thing on earth he wanted to talk about was Paul’s bare feet.
The attorney F. Lee Bailey hosted a TV investigation, cross-examining witnesses like Allen Klein and Peter Asher. Beatles scholar Andru J. Reeve, in his wonderful history of the phenomenon, Turn Me On, Dead Man, gives transcripts of the TV trial. When Klein was asked why John said, “I buried Paul,” he claimed, “On that particular take, his guitar buried Paul’s sound.” (Imagine: Allen Klein not giving a straight answer.) The record racks got flooded with quickie exploitations, like Jose Feliciano’s “So Long Paul” (under the name Werbley Finster) and “Brother Paul” by Billy Shears & the All-Americans. The best of these tunes: “We’re All Paul Bearers,” by Zacherias and the Tree People. It was actually a decent Buffalo Springfield imitation, with the lament: “See the patch insinuation ‘O.P.D.’ on his sleeve / Wearing black sweet carnation while bringing mystery.”
Something about the Beatles had always inspired death rumors, even in the early days. As Mark Lewisohn reports in Tune In, when original bassist Stu Sutcliffe quit in 1961, “Mersey Beat printed a letter from a fan asking if it was true that this member of the Beatles had been killed in a car crash.” But this one was different. The novelist Richard Price, in a hilarious 1984 memoir for Rolling Stone, recalls listening to a 1969 college-radio show with fans sharing their off-the-wall theories. (“‘Here Comes The Sun’ played backwards at 78 rpm says, ‘Woe is Paul.’”) He calls the DJ, just for the kick of hearing his voice on the radio. “You know what eighty-four per cent of all the coffins in England are made of?…It might even be eighty-seven per cent…Norwegian Wood.”
At first, the Fabs’ long-suffering press officer Derek Taylor brushed off the latest hoax: “Ahh, they’re always trying to start one of those. It’s happened before. The calls will stop coming in a few days.” But this time, the calls didn’t stop. Richard DiLello’s book The Longest Cocktail Partygives an inside account of the chaos that hit Apple. With Paul off the grid in Scotland, Taylor kept denying the gossip with all his usual charm: “The Paul McCartney who wrote ‘And I Love Her’ still loves you, and is still alive, and has a lot to write. There are a thousand songs unwritten and much to do.” But in the Apple office, he added: “We’ll start our own rumor that the public is dead from the neck up, and they’ve been using a stand-in facsimile of a brain for the past three and a half years.”
Life magazine sent reporters out to stalk McCartney on his farm; after throwing a bucket of water on them, Paul agreed to an interview and photos, just to make this mess go away. In the November 9th cover story (“Paul McCartney Is Still With Us”), he casually added, “The Beatles thing is over.” But nobody noticed. That’s how over-the-top the whole hysteria was — Paul could drop a bombshell like this and people missed it, because they were too busy scrutinizing his chin or jaw for proof this was a fake. As he toldMojo in 2009, “I think the worst thing that happened was that I could see people sort of looking at me more closely: ‘Were his ears always like that?’”
By 1970, nobody seriously believed Paul was dead. But for some reason, the story remained hugely popular, long after it was debunked — it became a timeless ritual of fan culture to check out the clues for yourself. Countless Paul-bearers over the years have held up a butter knife to the back cover of Abbey Road, so we could see the reflection of a human skull. (It’s there, to the right of the “S.”) Or put on Side Two of the White Album, dropped the needle on the vinyl right after “I’m So Tired,” and spun it backwards to hear the words: “Paul is dead, man, miss him, miss him.” Hell, the cover of his first solo album was a bowl of cherries — as in “Life is just…” — but the bowl was empty, which could only mean Paul was starting the world’s first posthumous solo career.
As we all know now, John was saying “cranberry sauce,” not “I buried Paul,” and the “O.P.D.” patch said “O.P.P.,” a gift from the Ontario Provincial Police. But that didn’t spoil anyone’s fun. As Schaffner wrote, it’s “a genuine folk tale of the mass communications era.” The story outlived Russ Gibb, who died in April 2019. (Paul did not comment.) It also outlasted the band — as it turns out, something major really did happen to the Beatles on November 9, 1966. It was the day John met Yoko.
Fortunately, Paul is still around to celebrate this anniversary — he’s always been bemused by the whole thing, even calling one album Paul Is Live. It was more than just a rock-star rumor—it inspired ordinary fans to turn into detectives, and permanently changed the way people consume music. “Paul is dead” walked so “Tupac is alive” and “Stevie Wonder can see” and “there are 12 different Avril Lavignes” could run. Every time Taylor Swift hints you should count the palm trees in her new video, she’s tapping into the 28 IF legacy. (She buried John Mayer.) The whole phenomenon, however accidentally, shows how crazy and devoted fan love can get. And that’s really why the “Paul is dead” legend lives on. It’s a tribute to all the life in the music. Long live the Beatles — and long live Paul.
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Scott Freiman’s first record was by the Partridge Family. An uncle quickly rectified that, lending the 10-year-old copies of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and the White Album, and Freiman has been hooked ever since.
Working as a composer and engineer, Freiman has developed a series of well-received lectures on the music of the Beatles, including “Deconstructing Sgt. Pepper,” “Looking Through a Glass Onion” (about the White Album) and “Tomorrow Never Knows” (on Revolver). It’s been a lifetime of fanaticism in the making: “I mentioned what I was doing to a high school friend, and he said, ‘Oh, I always knew you’d be doing that,’” Freiman says.
Freiman’s focus is strictly on the band’s music. “If someone says, ‘I have a napkin that John Lennon once used,’ that doesn’t interest me,” he says. “I’m all about the creative process.” Click through for 10 things you may not have known about the Beatles’ music.
1.Paul Played Lead Guitar on ‘Ticket to Ride’
Known as a great bass player, Paul McCartney played lead guitar on several Beatles tracks, including “Ticket to Ride,” “Taxman,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and “Good Morning Good Morning.”
2.The ‘Kazoos’ on ‘Lovely Rita’ Were Played on Pocket Combs Wrapped in EMI Toilet Paper
The toilet paper was “very thin,” says Freiman, “because EMI was cheap. They sent Mal Evans to the bathroom to get it.”
3.The Bridge on ‘A Day in the Life’ Was Inspired By ‘Hey Joe’
Paul McCartney was a big fan of Jimi Hendrix from the guitarist’s arrival in the U.K. Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” directly inspired the descending bridge on “A Day in the Life”; Freiman identifies it as a “quadruple plagal cadence.”
4.The Intro to ‘I Feel Fine’ Was Borrowed from Bobby Parker’s ‘Watch Your Step’
John Lennon was a fan of the Louisiana R&B guitarist Bobby Parker, whose hit song ‘Watch Your Step’ the Beatles played on stage in 1961 and 1962. The riff inspired “I Feel Fine.” “Led Zeppelin used the riff even more obviously, on ‘Moby Dick,'” says Freiman.
5.‘Her Majesty’ Originally Appeared As Part of the ‘Abbey Road’ Medley
When the 23-second “Her Majesty” was excised from the medley that makes up side two of Abbey Road, it was tacked onto the end of a tape. Hearing it pop up there, the band members decided to leave it as a “hidden” track on the album. “It’s missing the last chord because that’s the first chord to ‘Polythene Pam,’” says Freiman.
6.John and George Sang ‘Frere Jacques’ on ‘Paperback Writer’
As part of the background vocals.
7.George Played Bass on ‘She Said She Said’
It’s a rare ensemble Beatles recording that Paul McCartney did not participate on.
8.Paul Played Drums on ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’
“Dear Prudence,” too.
10.The Flamenco Guitar Intro on ‘Bungalow Bill’ Was Actually a Mellotron
Beatles fans have speculated which band member played the guitar at the beginning of “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill,” but according to Freiman, it’s just “someone pressing a note on a Mellotron and triggering a tape loop of flamenco guitar.”
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“I’m not going to be singing rock & roll when I’m 60,” Mick Jagger told his accountant 50 years ago, matter-of-factly, when he was merely an ex-economics student who’d started a rock band. Jagger’s dogged defiance of his own proclamation — the frontman turned 76 earlier this year and the Rolling Stones wrapped a major three-year tour last month — became a source of lifelong motivation for that very accountant, Laurence Myers, who’s now publishing a memoir about his own zig-zagging career in the music industry.
That book is Hunky Dory (Who Knew?), out this week, which recounts Myers’ journey from an apprenticeship at a small London accounting firm to his stint working with the Stones — which included sharing his management office with the struggling, up-and-coming band when the members were kicked out of their own — to his decades as an industry-spanning entertainment executive in his own right. Meyers believed in David Bowie so much that he signed the artist from near-obscurity and invested his own money into helping him make promo discs, which led to major-label deals and eventually the albums Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory. He helped shepherd acts like the Animals, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, The Sweet, and Billy Ocean into stardom by putting them in the right studios and handing them the right contracts. He witnessed the better part of music’s major moments in the Sixties and Seventies firsthand, and his memoir serves as an insider’s history, if a somewhat wistful one, of those impossible-to-replicate times.
“I became the go-to accountant for the music business when it was brand new, the wild west,” Myers, now 83, tells Rolling Stone. “I quit being an accountant because I didn’t like it, but after that I got to know the business even more. The inspiration for this book was that my grandchildren would always hear me say ‘Did I tell you about that time?’ and they’d say, ‘You boring old fart, write a book.’” While dozens of accounts of the time period have been penned by artists, Myers takes readers into the scene as a behind-the-scenes industry player. Chapters explore his relationships with various artists, as well as the deals he helped mastermind and the opportunities he, in amusing retrospect, missed. One example: Myers threw away most of the 500 copies of the original Bowie promo without a second thought, not knowing that they would sell in the future for as much as $10,000 each.
“My book is subtitled ‘Who Knew’ because — who knew? Every other paragraph seems to be saying it. I didn’t predict where things would go. At the time, Mick talked about his future and the possibility of not seeing rock and roll,” Myer says, recalling how Jagger, who’d attended the London School of Economics before diving into music, once asked him for help with moving into a career in the insurance industry. But luckily, “the Stones never stopped,” Myers says, pointing to their endurance in the zeitgeist even in 2019. “Nostalgia is just huge. People who bought their records as kids are now grown up and more affluent and they feel comfortable at a Stones show, a Led Zeppelin concert.”
Myers’ book ends in the 1980s — not because his adventures did, but because that was when he began stepping away from the music industry out of lack of personal interest in the new types of music that were emerging. “Rap and its various forms are the biggest watershed change in the music business, but I love the old pop songs,” Myers says, though he concedes that he does find himself in awe of how deeply certain contemporary works of music connect with a new generation. In recent years, the veteran has found himself turning toward film and theater, most recently worked as a producer on Judy, the biographical drama of July Garland starring Renée Zellweger. While he doesn’t have much to do with the music business these days, he does enjoy watching from the sidelines: “Some of the rappers these days, they’re poets, great poets, and they’re saying meaningful stuff and they make kids feel like they have a chance of saying something in music,” he says. “I think that will always be inclined to continue.”
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When Black Sabbath first attempted to tour America in 1970, they had a Hell of a time. “We had to face the mayor of [every] town,” drummer Bill Ward once recalled. “We were banned all the time. They were afraid of us. They thought we were going to put a spell on you.”
Although Mick Jagger and Sammy Davis, Jr. had already publicly flirted with satanism, Black Sabbath — whose members all wore crosses to ward off evil — were much too scary for the United States. Their self-titled debut album sported a witchy woman on its cover, their eponymous song detailed an ill-fated dalliance with a demon (“Please God help me!”), and, in the U.K., their label took things one hooved step further by printing an inverted cross on the inside sleeve with a passage about a dead, black swan floating upside down in a lake as a preamble for what was inside. The group had nicked its name from a 1963 Boris Karloff horror movie, and both its name and fright-flick lyrics sparked confusion and new mythologies nearly everywhere they went.
Over the years, rumors have abounded that Church of Satan founder Anton Szandor LaVey hosted a parade in their honor in San Francisco that year (not true, the Church’s High Priest, Magus Peter H. Gilmore tells Rolling Stone — though there was a Sabbath float in a gay pride parade in the Golden Gate City that year), and then there were whisperings that the Manson Family were fans of the band, which makes no sense since the Tate-LaBianca murders were a year earlier. And then there were the misunderstandings that had nothing to do with black magic: Ozzy Osbourne recalled in his autobiography how when the band played Philadelphia, a group of African American concertgoers were disappointed the band didn’t live up to their expectations. “You guys ain’t black,” one of them told Osbourne. Black Sabbath were a mystery, and it was the mythology of Black Sabbath that built heavy metal.
Many bands can claim responsibility for the genre’s bludgeoning guitar lines and intensely intense vocals (Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin are obvious go-to’s, and critic Lester Bangs once curiously cited the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat as a starting point), but the group most responsible for metal as the world knows it today is Black Sabbath. The song “Black Sabbath,” the first track on their first album, begins with eerie sound effects of rain and church bells (a brilliantly gothic detail that foreshadowed the darkness to come) before exploding with guitarist Tony Iommi’s lumbering, Godzilla stomp of a riff and Osbourne pleading to heaven to deliver him from Satan — lyrics he based on a nightmare bassist Geezer Butler had had. They wanted to feel scared and they wanted you to feel scared. Over the next eight years, they used that song as a prototype for new sounds — speeding it up, funking it up, stretching it out, wringing the blues out of it, inverting it into lucious folk music — essentially creating the Rosetta Stone for metal with their early discography.
The band’s first eight albums, the ones made by Osbourne, Iommi, Butler, and Ward, are still vital, enigmatic, and inspiring. On an album like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, the band transitions from the blunt-force riff pugilism of the frightening title cut (dig that almost Black Flaggy breakdown, “Nowhere to run to … “) to the intricate, contemplative “Sabbra Cadabra” within a few minutes — and it makes perfect sense.
Those albums, compiled into Rhino’s new limited-edition LP box set, The Vinyl Collection: 1970 – 1978, represent the multifaceted essence of not just Black Sabbath but metal and hard rock as a whole, proving why they weren’t just the first but also the greatest metal band. And vinyl is the best way to experience the music since you can ponder the quixotic artwork (who is the witch on the cover of Black Sabbath? why are there airmen on Never Say Die? what was Bill Ward smoking when he wore see-through red tights for the cover of Sabotage?) and feel the pacing and admire the grooves of the music as the LP spins on the turntable. (And to sweeten people’s appreciation, the box set also includes replica tour programs from the Seventies, which oddly include Osbourne and Iommi sniping at each other in the interviews within — it shows how the prickly pair made the band’s chemistry work.)
But it’s the music that remains most powerful. You can hear the breakneck thrashing of Metallica and Slayer in “Children of the Grave” and “Symptom of the Universe,” the manic riffs of the Sex Pistols and Ramones are steeped in “Paranoid,” and the downer-rock groundwork of grunge reverberates through songs like “War Pigs” and “Into the Void.” Although Black Sabbath went on to record brilliant albums with Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan in the Eighties, the group’s original lineup sowed the seeds for a whole musical culture in the previous decade on their first eight LPs.
The reason the music was so game-changing — and so excellent — was because it was a reflection of who these four men were offstage. The band members have each made much of their working-class backgrounds, growing up in post-War Birmingham, England. Iommi accidentally lopped off the fingertips of his fretting hand, forcing him to relearn the guitar and draw inspiration from Gypsy-jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Osbourne came from a big family and worked as a car-horn tuner and in a slaughterhouse before spending time in jail for burglary; eventually his dad bought him a PA, setting him on the road to music making. Butler grew up in an Irish-Catholic household but suffered from undiagnosed depression causing him to feel like an outcast. And Ward had a humble upbringing where his parents encouraged his drumming. When they formed Black Sabbath (né Earth, smartly né the Polka Tulk Blues Band) in 1968, they all were avowed fans of the blues and heavy rock like Jimi Hendrix and Cream but as Butler once said, “We just took it one step heavier.”
The secret to Black Sabbath’s sound in the beginning was that they wanted to be big. The first original song they they remember writing was “Wicked World,” a skittery blues number about what an abomination the planet was in 1969 with poor people dying in the gutter. But it’s on the second song they wrote, “Black Sabbath,” where they consecrated their approach. Iommi and Butler (formerly a guitar player) colluded to make the riff sound massive, like more than the two of them playing at once, and Ward approached his instrument not so much like Ginger Baker but like an expressionist painter, adding drama to each of Osbourne’s pleas for salvation. The first single they put out, included in the box set as a bonus cut on its mono-only Monomania compilation, was a cover of American hard rockers Crow’s “Evil Woman,” a chunky blues number advising cruel-hearted ladies to steer clear of the band members. It was two years after Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman” (and the same year as Santana’s) and two years before Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” — and none of this means anything since Black Sabbath courted every kind of women throughout the Seventies, regardless of their evil affiliations.
But beyond the cover versions, each band member found his groove. Iommi was the riffmaster general, capable of whipping out a song like “Paranoid” in an afternoon; to this day, Osbourne says that while he and Iommi have had their personal differences, nobody writes riffs like Iommi. The guitarist once said that he would sometimes put himself in a grim mood on purpose in order to write riffs, but his impish personality and love of pranks suggests they just come naturally to him. Osbourne was the king of melodies, sometimes copying the riff, sometimes going way out. Butler was the wordsmith, the “Irish poet” as Ward has dubbed him (even though Butler unapologetically rhymed “masses” with “masses” in “War Pigs”), writing about his general malaise with the world. He and Ward together were the band’s glue, creating a heavy groove that no other band has matched. Together, they concocted a curious mix of footslogging blues and ornately gothic melodies that paradoxically both paid tribute to and showed a great fear of death and the underworld.
And then there was their look. If the peace and love generation dressed themselves like an acid trip, Black Sabbath were like a PCP nightmare with their garish clothes, Osbourne’s fringe jacket, and their mid-Seventies wizard garb. They looked as scary as they sounded. You knew that their racket was unwittingly born of a beautiful dysfunction, a natural urge that came out of the four of them together.
Music critic Lester Bangs infamously closed his Rolling Stone review of the album Black Sabbath (which was incidentally released in the U.K. on a Friday the 13th) with the punchline that Sabbath were “just like Cream! But worse.” He eventually became a fan as the group became more nuanced, but he missed out on the directness that separated them from Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce. Where Cream had a song like “Sunshine of Your Love,” Sabbath used a similar riff for Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” and infused it with dark psychedelia and a thicker wallop. Their music was much more barebones and much more like a slap in the face; Cream were genteel London noblemen by comparison.
Butler wrote lyrics about H.P. Lovecraft–inspired trippiness (“Behind the Wall of Sleep”), astral projection and love (“Planet Caravan”), war (“War Pigs,” “Hand of Doom,” “Children of the Grave”), and feeling like an outcast (“Paranoid”). He avowed the band’s love of Jesus Christ in the wake of a British sorcerer allegedly hexing them (“After Forever”) and his love of drugs (“Sweet Leaf”). “Into the Void,” one of the band’s heaviest early songs, was an elegy for a dying planet: “Back on earth the flame of life burns low/Everywhere is misery and woe/Pollution kills the air, the land, the sea/Man prepares to meet his destiny.” It was the opposite of megahits in 1971 like Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” and the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
“Sabbath was everything the Sixties weren’t,” Metallica frontman James Hetfield once beamed. “Their music was so cool because it was completely anti-hippie.”
In their defiance, Sabbath embraced nuance. Just look at the grooves of 1970’s Paranoid or 1971’s Master of Reality, and the folky ballads are immediately noticeable next to ragers like “Lord of This World,” as are effects like the gurgly voiced “I am Iron Man” that opens one of their most famous songs or the choking weed cough of “Sweet Leaf.” It’s a paradox of detail and dudeliness. A mono version of the Master track “Into the Void” on Monomania is even thicker and heavier than the one on the record, and you can feel the power they were starting to tap into with their music on the way the verse riff on “After Forever” returns with an extra dimension of bass-guitar smackdown. They were masters of their own reality.
On 1972’s unimaginatively titled Vol. 4, the group broke new ground and recorded some of their most creative sounds. It was the band’s proud cocaine moment (“We wish to thank the great COKE-Cola Company of Los Angeles,” read the liner notes) and they paid tribute to their powdery muse on “Snowblind.” But there was a new depth of sound on the weighty “Wheels of Confusion” and thumping “Supernaut.” The ballad “Changes” featured a piano and a mellotron with an orchestral string sound, and it was disarmingly fragile. The record closes with “Under the Sun,” a tune that grinds slower and slower and slower as it ends until you’re looking up from the dirt. “Life is one long overdose,” Osbourne sings.
The group had leveled up, and its music would grow more and more complex on 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and their last masterpiece, 1975’s Sabotage (which sports a deceptively corny album cover despite the impossibly hard-hitting riff on “The Thrill of It All”). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’s “Killing Yourself to Live” is like a Black Sabbath glossary that finds Osbourne screeching, “I’m telling you, believe in me” — and you want to with all the blues riffs, Sgt. Pepper psychedelia and its surprising breakdown. In the middle of it he whispers “smoke it” in one speaker, and “get high” in the other, and you don’t know if it’s peer pressure or an admonition. That album’s “Who Are You?” is a buoyant synth track Osbourne dreamt up, complete with a proto-industrial rattle, and the record as a whole variously features Iommi playing synth, flute, organ, bagpipes, and piano, while Ward expanded his repertoire to bongos and timpani.
And on Sabotage, they invert the folky, Latin jazz jam at the end of “Symptom of the Universe” by pairing one of their heaviest-ever songs, “Hole in the Sky,” with a quirky acoustic jam called “Don’t Start Too Late.” And once again, you can see in the grooves how complicated a song like the gloomy “Megalomania” on Sabotage is by the way the rungs contort. “Symptom,” too, contains some of Butler’s trippiest lyrics, in which he asks you to “take [him] through the centuries to supersonic years” and “swim the magic ocean I’ve been crying all these years,” making it one of the band’s biggest headfucks. The megagothic “Supertzar” is an instrumental piece Iommi dreamt up, complete with a 55-voice choir, and it was majestic enough for the band to use it to open their shows on the tours that followed.
Drink, drugs, and too many years on the road got the better of them on their two final releases of their initial run, 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, and 1978’s ironically titled swan song for Osbourne, Never Say Die!, and the music is noticeably less inspired but still rocks as hard (if not a little harder) than Led Zeppelin’s two final albums. Oddly, the Never Say Die! single “A Hard Road,” with its slick swagger got them back on Top of the Pops, eight years after they played “Paranoid” on the U.K. music show, making them pop stars. But the intra-band bacchanalia proved too much for the group and they oustered Osbourne for his herculean drug use (even though they were all using), ultimately giving him the opportunity to defy all odds and become a bigger solo star than the band in the Eighties all while they started over with Ronnie James Dio and inspired a new wave of heavy metal fans with their Heaven and Hell album.
At their peak — whether that’s their first trilogy of heavy-hitting albums or the technical ecstasy of their work in the mid-Seventies — Black Sabbath were the touchstone for everything that followed. Although the band members have each scoffed at the metal tag over the years, they’ve never denied their influence on the genre and the bands whom they have inspired.
In the five decades since they formed, Black Sabbath’s music has been interpreted in many different ways. Metallica reveled in the complexity of their mid-Seventies recordings. Megadeth zeroed in on the hits (“Paranoid” and “Never Say Die”) and thrashed them up. Pantera surprisingly tackled the ballad “Planet Caravan.” Van Halen, who went out on their first big tour supporting Sabbath, once flirted with calling themselves Rat Salad after an instrumental on Paranoid. Cypress Hill, Ice-T and Busta Rhymes all sampled Sabbath. And the band Sleep is basically a Sabbath tribute band, formed at a time when the band was less fashionable. Moreover, Weezer, Green Day, Charles Bradley, Blondie, Foo Fighters, Replacements, the Roots, Beastie Boys and Courtney Love, among dozens of others, have covered their songs. Without these eight records, music would sound drastically different.
Weirdly, some of the band members don’t fully appreciate the work they put into their records. “I was always disappointed with our albums because of the fact that we were a fucking great live band,” drummer Bill Ward said in the liner notes to the 1998 live album Reunion. “I felt we always lost something by trying to record what we did.” But long after the original lineup fell apart, it’s what they put on their LPs that cemented their legend.
Since 1979, the original members of Black Sabbath have reunited and broken up and carried on with solo records. Everything finally came full circle in 2013, when they released 13 (sadly without Ward and not included in the box set) showing they still had it in them to conjure their dark spirits for tracks like “Damaged Soul” and “God Is Dead?” that could have come out anytime in the Seventies. The album was a worldwide smash, notching the Number One positions in the U.S. and U.K. The determination, and the willingness to work through their differences, harks back to a lyric on Vol. 4’s “Under the Sun,” and one that captures the spirit of the band:
“Just believe in yourself you know you really shouldn’t have to pretend/ “Don’t let those empty people try to interfere with your mind/ “Just live your life and leave them all behind”
Long may this message echo through centuries into supersonic years. Hail Black Sabbath, Lords of This World!
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Last year, “Luke,” a music-industry veteran who oversees label radio campaigns, received a dispiriting message: A onetime “starter station” — a radio outlet willing to give a song a chance before it’s a proven hit — was now working with an independent promoter. The new relationship meant that the independent promoter controlled access to the radio station, and Luke had to pay to get one of his artists added to the station’s playlist.
“Ever since, you have to pay $1,000 to $1,500 to get any work [on his stations],” Luke says. “They’re very steadfast about [discussing] nothing in an email. They call me up, like, ‘We can do $1,000 for this station. Do you want this [station] too for this amount?’ We’re working a campaign, so as much as it sucks, we have to pay the toll.”
As detailed last month in Rolling Stone, pay-for-play continues to be a common practice in the radio business, with money or goods passing from the record labels to the radio stations to influence airplay. The pay-for-play transactions are primarily funneled through intermediaries known as independent promoters (or “indies”). The indies form relationships with stations to administer the pay-for-play programs and enable the labels to engage in pay-for-play without direct transfer of funds or goods to the stations, thus blurring or concealing the actual nature of the transaction.
In the aftermath of Rolling Stone‘s previous investigation, several radio-industry veterans reached out to report that over the past year, the number of indie promoters demanding pay-for-play is growing. “Enough time has passed [since the last payola lawsuits, in the mid-2000s], nobody’s gotten in trouble for a while, and nobody is scrutinizing this as tightly as they used to be,” says “Matthew,” a longtime alternative radio promoter. “Things are getting a little more lax.”
“Indies, in my perspective, have too much clout,” adds “Mark,” another program director with more than two decades of experience in radio.
Independent promoters have been around for decades. The New York attorney general’s investigation of payola in the mid-2000s found that indie promoters often “help perpetuate the fiction that this [promotional] support is not actually being delivered by the labels in exchange for airplay.”
There are different kinds of indie promoters, but some establish exclusive relationships with specific stations. “If you want to get anything done at that station, the program director will say, ‘You have to go talk to [the indie],’ ” Luke says. “Then you end up getting an invoice — I’ve seen some total bullshit invoices — like, ‘This is $800 in water bottles, this is $1,500 in T-shirts.’ ” Luke believes these goods “are never actually made” — the invoices just serve to conceal the pay-for-play.
Stations that operate this way are sometimes called ” ‘put’ stations,” Matthew says. As in, “You can just put them on a record whenever you want.”
Two promoters are known for operating put stations in the pop space. “I don’t even know if they listen to [the] music [they promote],” Matthew says of the pair. “It’s just a transaction.” One of the two promoters, according to Matthew, “has an arrangement with some stations where they just have a category for him in their overnight slot, and he can put whatever he wants in there.”
Mark describes a slightly different transaction between the stations, the indie promoters, and the record labels. “[The indie] goes to the record company and says, ‘Hey, this station is moving an artist from a light rotation to a [heavier rotation], but unless you pay me, it won’t happen,’ ” the program director says. “They try to disguise [the transaction] as research” expenses, he adds.
While Rolling Stone‘s previous article focused on pay-for-play in the Top 40 and “urban” formats, insiders say that this type of promotional activity is common across radio. Luke estimates that “probably a quarter” of the stations that report to the alternative chart “have a dedicated indie,” rattling off five names that allegedly control stations in that space.
The Triple-A format also has a promoter who allegedly controls “quite a few stations that will give you an add just for promotional support that comes in the way of an invoice for some random item that I’ve never seen,” according to Luke.
As the restrictions loosen in radio, the winners are the independent promoters with exclusive relationships — and the stations under their control. “That is a six-figures-a-year deal [between them],” Mark says.
The benefit to artists is much harder to determine. Mark says most paid spins come overnight, when hardly anyone is awake. Luke agrees. “There’s some stations if you pay the toll, you’re getting spins at two in the morning,” he notes. “It’s not even moving the needle.”
But according to radio veterans, a rising spin count can be a sign of commercial vitality when pushing a song to other radio stations, even if airplay comes late at night. “When you have that budget to play with at the majors, it doesn’t matter if people actually hear [your song on the radio], as long as you can say you got the ‘most added’ [record that week] or whatever you need for a marketing push,” Luke says. So spins that are paid for at night might — eventually — translate into plays during daylight hours when people actually listen.
Some of the major radio chains, like iHeartMedia, claim they rarely interact with indie promoters, theoretically consigning this seamy promotional behavior to the margins of the heavily consolidated radio industry. (iHeartMedia previously told Rolling Stone that “we don’t typically work with indie promoters because we have so many other opportunities to work directly with labels and independent artists.”) But insiders suggest those statements don’t align with the reality on the ground.
Although there’s no indication that any iHeartMedia station is currently involved in pay-for-play, “I’m starting to see the pendulum swing that way where some of these guys who aren’t supposed to have indies are working with them again under the radar,” Matthew says. “You’ll hear [one program director] only talks to this [indie promoter] now. And you say, ‘But that’s an iHeart guy.’ Well, it’s happening now — there are definitely indies claiming stations from big radio companies.” iHeartMedia declined to comment and directed Rolling Stone to its previous statement.
Programmers like Matthew are frustrated by the pay-for-play system, but they often remain sympathetic toward the stations that make these exclusive deals. After all, they tend to be small-market outlets struggling against a massive wave of consolidation in radio — a few Davids fighting to stay alive among large media Goliaths.
“If you’re a small company and you have a dozen stations, all of a sudden you’re adding a million [dollars] to your bottom line” if you make one of these deals with an independent promoter, Matthew says. “You’re like, ‘Hell, yes, we’re doing this.’ You just tell your program directors, ‘This is the deal, I don’t care what the records are, you add five a week.’