Sunday, September 19, 2010

Black Sabbath -- "War Pigs" (1971)


Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerer of death's construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning

As much as any band, Black Sabbath defined "heavy metal."  MTV called them the greatest metal band in history, and VH1 named them as the 2nd-greatest hard rock band ever (after only Led Zeppelin).  They've sold more than 100 million records worldwide. 


Paranoid, Black Sabbath's second album, was released in the U.S. in January 1971, and eventually sold four million copies.  It was panned by critics at the time, but most modern-day reviewers have a different opinion.  One called it "one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time," a record which "defined the sound and style of metal."

"War Pigs" is the first song on the album -- the title track and "Iron Man" are the other two cuts that everyone has heard.

At my high school reunion this summer, I found out that one of my classmates -- let's just call her . . . oh, I don't know . . . how about "Linda"? -- had seen Black Sabbath perform at the Fillmore East in New York City in February 1971, at the beginning of their first extended American tour. 

As soon as I heard her story, I begged her to write it all down and let me post it here.  She graciously agreed, and I'm very happy to present her account as my first guest post ever.  "Linda," take it away:

Stephens College is a small, private women’s college in Columbia, Missouri, that I attended briefly in 1970-1971. It was sometimes called “the Vassar of the Midwest.” The most popular majors there in the early 1970s were Fashion, Theater and Dance.

Columbia was home to not only Stephens, but also Columbia College (another women’s school) and the much larger University of Missouri. It was a fairly typical college town. The main downtown street, Broadway, had the usual banks and offices and one good-sized department store, but there were also head shops, coffee houses and hippie clothing stores.

Do you remember UFO jeans? Anyone? They were wide bell-bottomed jeans that had a small American flag patch on the back pocket, and were considered very cool in 1971 – at least in Columbia. 

1970s-style Jack-in-the-Box
Our favorite local restaurants were Jack-in-the-Box (where else can you get the nutritious combination of tacos and french fries, which was my usual order) and Cornbread’s Café, a rather dingy but cool diner-type hangout favored by local hippies and hippie wannabes.  [Editor's note: Alas, neither restaurant has survived.]

A limited number of incoming freshmen at Stephens (I was one) were accepted into a program where we all lived in the same dorm, Searcy Hall, and all took the same five core classes, which were held in classrooms in the dorm. (We were allowed to choose one elective, so we weren’t stuck in the same building 24 hours a day.) 

[Editor's note: Searcy Hall has attracted quite a bit of attention since Stephens turned it into a pet-friendly dormitory several years ago.  Virtually all the students who live there today have dogs, cats, or other pets sharing their rooms.]




"Yer' Album" cover
One of our core classes was Humanities, which included music appreciation. Our professor was a short, fussy man who expected us to share his passion for classical music. One early assignment was for us to bring in a favorite record for the class to listen to and then critique. Big surprise -- we all brought rock albums. We started with James Gang and Black Sabbath records . . . and that was the end of the music appreciation part of the class. The poor professor was so completely disheartened by our choices that he quickly moved on to art appreciation.

Stephens was fairly progressive in some ways. Women’s liberation, a relatively new concept in 1970, was not only tolerated but encouraged.

However, vestiges of the 1950s remained. Meals were served at small family-style tables in dining halls by uniformed student waitresses. A dress code was strictly enforced -- e.g. no unhemmed or ragged jeans at dinner or at any meal on Sundays.

Curfews were strictly enforced: we had to be back in our dormitory by midnight on Sunday night, 11:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 1:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday. In loco parentis was taken seriously, at least for freshman. And freshmen were not allowed to have cars. Can you imagine telling your college age student now that he or she can't take his or her car to college? 

Each February, three unlucky professors accompanied the girls of Searcy Hall on a five-day trip to New York City. The ostensible purpose of the trip was cultural enrichment and expansion of our educational horizons. To those of us who were born and raised in small midwestern towns, the prospect of spending five days in the big city was incredibly exciting. Most of us had never been to a large city except in the company of our moms and dads.

New York City subway car
Before my parents would sign the consent form at Christmas break, I had to endure a number of lectures about the dangers inherent on the streets of New York and how to avoid said dangers. Busses and subways were to be avoided at all costs, and under no circumstances was I to be out after dark unless accompanied by one of the professors.

Yeah, right. I put on my serious face and nodded in agreement, but inside I was saying to myself, “Oh man, I’m finally going to get to do all the things I’ve read about and seen on TV and in the movies!”

Hip, big-city chick
We were given a suggested packing list. Provocative clothing was forbidden, presumably so we would not inflame the passions of the males we might encounter in NYC and risk being subjected to all sorts of depraved and lewd attacks (which would have exposed the college to a possible lawsuit). And, of course, nothing that looked too ratty or ragged (that is, hippie-ish) was allowed. We were, after all, representing Stephens College and the proper young women who attended it.  So, naturally, we packed our shortest mini-skirts, hotpants, bell-bottoms, platform boots and anything else we thought would make us look less like hicks from the heartland and more like hip, big-city chicks. 

As I recall, we flew to New York City on Braniff Airlines. They were known for their colorful planes and even more colorful and avant-garde interiors and stewardess uniforms:




Flying was a big deal then. Passengers were treated like royalty, with hot meals served on real china. You even had a choice of entrees. And this was just in coach, mind you. I can only imagine the grandeur beyond the curtain that separated us from the first-class cabin.

We stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel, a 20-story hotel with over 1000 rooms that still stands on Madison Avenue at 45th Street in the heart of Manhattan. The façade and lobby were quite grand, but the rooms were actually a bit shabby and outdated. (The hotel was extensively renovated in the mid-1990s.)

The Roosevelt Hotel
[Editor's note:  The Roosevelt was a big deal when it was in its heyday.  Guy Lombardo and his band first played "Auld Lang Syne" on New Year's Eve in the hotel's Roosevelt Grill in 1927.  Lawrence Welk also performed at the Roosevelt for many years.  In 1947, the Roosevelt became the first hotel to have television sets in all its guest rooms.  Governor Tom Dewey used the Roosevelt as his New York City residence, and listened to the 1948 election returns – when he was upset by Harry Truman – from his room there.  The hotel has been used as a location in a number of movies (including the The French Connection) and television shows (including "Mad Men.")] 

"Mad Men"
One of the first things my group of friends and I did after unpacking was head downstairs to the piano bar for a cocktail. The drinking age in New York at that time was 18, so that was probably my first legal drink (except for the beer I ordered at Nina's Green Parrot in Galena, Kansas, over Christmas vacation, right after I turned 18).  I ordered a martini, which I could barely force down without gagging.

One of my more sophisticated friends requested the piano player to play “Three Coins in the Fountain.” I have no idea if she actually wanted to hear that particular song or if she had just heard the title in a movie and thought it would sound worldly to ask for it. When I called my mother later that night, I made the foolish mistake of telling her about our cocktail hour.  I had to endure another lecture, of course. 

We did have required excursions and tours while we were there. Our Philosophy professor, the only male on the trip, accompanied us to Harlem. The Guggenheim Museum and New York Stock Exchange were other must-sees.

Our group had the distinction of being escorted out of the viewing platform overlooking the NYSE trading floor. If memory serves, a cute young guy down on the floor waved to us. One of the girls decided to take out her camera to get his picture, in spite of the numerous and prominent "ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED" signs all around us. The moment the flash went off, the security guards swarmed in. This was obviously a serious infraction, but I remember a lot of giggling as we were being removed from the premises. I hope we didn't ruin it for future Stephens' groups -- all the cute Wall Street types were worth seeing!

Other museums and places of interest were recommended by each of the professors, but we actually had quite a bit of free time to explore the city on our own.  We tried to experience every big-city fantasy -- perhaps "cliché" is a better word -- that we could think of.

I had been wanting to get my shoulder-length, wavy hair cut for some time. Stick-straight hair was in style then and mine refused to cooperate. Almost all the big department stores back then had hair salons (called "beauty shops" in those days), so I called the most famous store I knew of, Saks Fifth Avenue, and made an appointment at their flagship store, which was only a few blocks from the hotel. 

My stylist was a gorgeous young French woman named Gabrielle -- even her name had such cachet! She gave me the perfect Jane-Fonda-in-“Klute” shag haircut. That haircut cost $25 of Daddy’s hard-earned money, an outrageous sum at the time, but I would have paid any amount (especially since it wasn’t really coming out of my pocket).

Jane Fonda in "Klute"

Music was a huge part of teenage life then, as it still is today -- just the technology has changed. We would take our favorite albums (vinyl rules, baby!) and gather in someone’s room, turn on the black light and listen to music for hours. In retrospect, that could have had some bearing on my lackluster academic performance the second semester, I suppose.

Most of us who hung out together had similar taste in music. Bands I remember listening to the most were Three Dog Night, Santana, Traffic, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green-era) and a relatively new band called Black Sabbath. In those pre-internet days, I knew very little about Black Sabbath-- probably just what was on the record jacket. I just knew that they were different; louder and more explosive than any other of the bands we were listening to at the time.

I had read about legendary music promoter Bill Graham opening a music venue in New York in 1968. Graham had previously opened the Fillmore West in San Francisco, which was a mecca for the psychedelic bands of the 1960s.  His Fillmore East was in an old building in the East Village that had previously been a movie theater, and it quickly came to be known as “the Church of Rock and Roll.”

Bill Graham's Fillmore East 
The Fillmore was at the very top of my personal "must see" list for my New York trip. I called to find out what bands were playing while we were there. When the man said Black Sabbath would be there for two nights (playing two shows each night), that was all I needed to hear. I reserved tickets for myself and three other like-minded friends for the early show (so as not to risk missing curfew and room check at 1:00 a.m., just like we were back on campus) on the second night, which was Saturday, February 20, 1971 – our last night in New York before returning to Columbia.

The girls who went with me to the concert were all from the Midwest. One was my roommate, Betty -- a pretty, dark-haired girl from a small town in Oklahoma. She had the temper of a cobra and the vocabulary of a sailor, but we got along perfectly well.

Betty's parents owned several dress shops, so she had a closet full of the latest styles in clothing and shoes that happened to be my size, too. It took me weeks to work up the courage to ask to borrow something from her closet. (No one ever really wanted to cross Betty.) She lectured me about how she expected the item of clothing to be returned in exactly the same condition as when I took it, but in the end, she let me wear it. From then on, I had the luxury of basically an entire second wardrobe.

Another girl who went with me to the concert was Lyn, also from Oklahoma and also a very attractive girl, a former high school cheerleader with a sweet, bubbly personality. I doubt that people who didn’t know her well would have ever guessed she’d be remotely interested in going to a Black Sabbath concert. (Of course, the same thing could have been said about me. As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.)

Details about the third girl have disappeared in the mists of time. Sorry to say I don’t even remember her name, only that she was from Iowa or Nebraska, I think, and overheard me talking about the concert and asked if she could tag along.

Morey Amsterdam
After an early dinner at a French restaurant, where we made the only celebrity sighting of the trip -- Morey Amsterdam of “Dick Van Dyke Show” fame -- we went back to the Roosevelt to change into our midwestern version of hippie threads. The only coat I had brought was hideously inappropriate, very dressy with fur cuffs and collar. I begged a girl who had brought the plain gray maxi coat she had purchased from an army surplus store to trade with me just for the night. She graciously agreed, saving me from the embarrassment of showing up at the concert looking like I was going to dinner at a country club. 

[Editor's note: I never talk about clothes or hairstyles in my posts.  Maybe I should.]

We caught a cab to the East Village and I’m sure I provided the cabbie with at least an evening’s worth of amusement when I asked him if he would be coming back to pick us up after the concert.

Sir Lord Baltimore
We purchased our tickets (around $5.00 each, I think) and walked in. One of my friends (the beautiful but bitchy Betty, so everyone kept their mouth shut) was habitually late for everything, so we left the hotel later than we should have and we could already hear a band playing when we got inside. The warm-up bands that night were Sir Lord Baltimore (one of the first bands to lay claim to the moniker “heavy metal”) and the J. Geils Band. 

Although the Fillmore was only half full at most, our seats were up in the nosebleed section. The guy at the box office probably figured we wouldn’t know the difference, but we just moved down to better seats that were empty.

There was already of thick haze of smoke in the air when we arrived. Pot smokers were pretty common in a college town like Columbia in 1971, but most people weren’t brazen enough to flaunt it in public, so we were a little shocked (but, of course, acted very blasé about it). I remember virtually nothing about the band that was playing when we got there. Guess I had my eye on the prize -- Black Sabbath! 


Finally, Black Sabbath was introduced and took the stage. There was no elaborate stage set; just the band (appropriately dressed mostly in black) and their gear. Monstrous-looking amps! I wish I had written down the set list, but I was completely transfixed by the music and the light show and really just the whole experience of being there. I know they played “Paranoid,” “Iron Man,” and “War Pigs.” 

The last of those was a huge crowd-pleaser. There were obviously a lot of anti-Vietnam War people there, judging by the slogans I saw on some t-shirts. They would have been declared obscene back home in Missouri, but evidently that kind of freedom of expression was better tolerated in the East Village. 

Ozzy Osbourne
The light show was really spectacular. (Probably even more so for those who were partaking of the demon weed!)  It was billed as “Pig Light Show” on the Sabbath tour schedule and was the house light show for the venue.  All different colors of lights and random images looked like they were melting down the screen behind the band -- very psychedelic. Ozzy did very little talking on stage -- just an occasional, mumbled “thank you” is all I remember. Yes, he was already mumbling even back then! 

I never did tell my mother about this particular adventure and don’t intend to. There are some things a parent is just better off not knowing!

[Editor's note: I couldn't agree more.]  

Thanks to "Linda" for sharing her story.  While she was watching Black Sabbath at Fillmore East that Saturday night in 1971, I was probably sitting in my dorm room, playing spades and watching "All in the Family" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."  You know, the usual Saturday night sausagefest.  So I'm very envious -- not only of her Black Sabbath experience, but also of her close encounter with Morey Amsterdam and especially her Klute-style haircut.

Here's "War Pigs":



Here's a video of Black Sabbath performing "War Pigs" in Paris in 1970, just a few months before "Linda" saw them perform in New York City:




Faith No More covered "War Pigs" on their The Real Thing album, which was released in 1989.  Here's a video of Faith No More performing "War Pigs" live:



I could be wrong, but I don't think the original "War Pigs" is available as an MP3 from iTunes or Amazon.  If you'd like to buy the Paranoid CD from Amazon -- and if you didn't buy it in 1971, you HAVE to get it -- click here:

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