Why Black Sabbath's Paranoid is one of the greatest guitar solos of all time
Up among the top 10 in our 100 greatest guitar solos is the legendary Black Sabbath riff-master Tony Iommi
To read the full list of our 100 greatest guitar solos of all time, click here.
From: Black Sabbath – Paranoid, 1970
We can’t not choose it. It’s too big, too classic and too… well, good to ignore. Tony Iommi’s distorted, head-swirling yet fiercely hooky technique – combining mystique and heavy-hitting power – has influenced scores of guitarists across metal, stoner, hard rock and other genres and sub-genres. Indeed it feels relatively rare for a present-day rock or metal band to not mention Black Sabbath as an inspiration, largely thanks to Iommi’s involvement. And when it comes to his solos, the one in Paranoid is the most iconic, the most singular in its drive.
If this were a feature on the greatest riffs, it would be virtually impossible to pick one Iommi winner, such is his all-round prowess and pioneering playing style. But more so than any of his other solos, the one in Paranoid sticks out for everyone, not just rock fans – with its fearsome blend of blues scaling, exotic-sounding touches and tasty notes played on bends (probably using Iommi’s then-favoured Gibson SG and Laney amp pairing). It’s clever and colourful without sounding overworked, delivered with grit and energy that somehow makes him sound louche and furious at the same time.
A predictable choice for this list? Maybe, but it couldn’t be more justified. A stone-cold classic.
Q&A with Tony Iommi
When he wasn’t setting bandmate Bill Ward on fire, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi kept himself busy inventing then defining the sound of metal lead guitar. Fuelled by the influence of blues-rock greats such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck, Iommi used one of the most unique set-ups in rock to create a sound that was way heavier than anything that had come before. Here he geeks out on gear, heroes and how a brown-eyed handsome man taught him how to solo.
Can you remember what got you hooked on playing lead guitar?
Chuck Berry was the first thing I really liked. In my generation you tended to grasp onto anything someone was playing a solo in. You’d think: “I can learn to play it.” Everybody liked Johnny B. Goode. It was the same type of solo he played in a lot of his songs, but that was the link then. I mean, we all played it, from me, the Stones, probably even Clapton.
Which was the first guitar solo you learned to play?
It probably would have been a Chuck Berry solo. I can’t actually remember. It’s a bloody long time ago!
Which of your solos do you most enjoy playing live?
At the moment I’m really enjoying doing Dirty Women [from Technical Ecstasy, 1976] one of the lesser-known tracks. I get a chance to jam in that one. In most of the other songs it’s very regimented because the solos are part of the song; on War Pigs and all those, people can sing the solo. So Dirty Women is a jam and it lasts as long as I want to play. Once I move away from my monitors the band know we’re moving onto another bit.