Do You Know Your Sabbath?
Title : Rat Salad
Author : Paul Wilkinson
Genre : Biography
Rating : 4 of 5 Star
Black Sabbath were a phenomenon. No other band in the 70s and early 80s conjured up dark and devilish images from a musical artist standpoint than Black Sabbath did. Their music was by no means easy listening stuff and although the band members have repeatedly denied any literal dabbling in the occult, the general perception was that they were ‘Satanist’ true and through. That was perfectly okay in the grand scheme of things for everyone involved with the band – negative publicity was good publicity. No?
Aside that, some of us became sworn followers, some of us enjoyed a few tracks of theirs every once in a while. We also had those who pretended that they did but remained clueless to the ‘genius-ness’ of the music. And then there were those, who loathed and despised the Band too. But honestly, real fans like me didn’t really care – to us Sabbath epitomised the music of the era! – and they were awesome.
Anyway, Rat Salad was a Christmas gift to me four years ago (or there about). A family member came across this unique biography and decided that I’d enjoy it – I am a big fan, you see.
Enjoy the book I certainly did, by the way. I finished it in one sitting! The author, Paul Wilkinson is an extremely devoted Sabbath fan no doubt. He particularly chose the years between 1969 and 1975 to write about, because in his opinion, these were the best periods of Black Sabbath. I wholeheartedly agreed with him but I also thought the two later albums in the 80s with Ronnie James Dio, were brilliant too.
Nevertheless this bio was more towards analysing the songs recorded in the first 6 albums of the band’s career. The Band’s history is well-known now and countless info-materials are available in that regard. So instead, what Wilkinson wrote about in ‘Rat Salad’ were track by track recounts of the musicianship, lyrics, vocal arrangements and the like – intensely scrutinised.
Now before I go further, to appreciate ‘Rat Salad’ you more or less needed these attributes first, in my opinion;
- You’re a Sabbath fan
- You like music of this genre – dark, heavy and brooding
- A musician yourself and/or understand the terminology
- You have a PhD in English and/or had obtained a high score in English 1119
Alas, if you’re a Black Sabbath fan like me then the probable stumbling blocks with Rat Salad will stack up for you with the musician’s jargon used by Wilkinson and his advanced English, of course.
By this I mean, Wilkinson used words like vituperative; enjambment; mellifluous; crepuscularity; mellotron and etc. etc. to explain himself. And then he further elaborates with terms such as ‘lowered C sharp tuning’, ‘minor tonic’ and ‘subtonic shift’ and so on and so forth to paint the song structures for you. Boy, these were not easy comprehension for me; I tell you.
Having said that, the author does pre-warn you about the book’s content in his ‘Foreword’ section. So I wasn’t perturbed and discouraged. And I think neither should you be either because there are good arguments about Sabbath’s talent in this book that’s well worth your time and effort.
Okay, although the primary topic for ‘Rat Salad’ was aimed specifically at the music and their compositions (first 6 albums), Wilkinson does offer background tales for the albums in question and the songs that inspired them. It wouldn’t have helped the book much otherwise if he hadn’t.
He also cleverly added the historical goings-on of that period; to help draw a picture of what the band members and fans alike experienced at that time. Events like the Vietnam War, IRA and troubles in Northern Ireland, America’s space program, Nixon’s Watergate scandal, Margaret Thatcher and the British politics did sort of influence Black Sabbath’s musical material and creative direction so to speak.
The author also talked about his own childhood and the music scene of the 1970s, to add flavour to the book. I truly welcomed these fun and fact filled intervals indeed. Honestly, it made the ensuing tedium of song by song analysis that much more bearable.
So all said, Rat Salad was a fine book and I applaud Paul Wilkinson for this accomplishment. I always considered Black Sabbath a brilliant and intelligent band. ‘Rat Salad’ cements that for me now. These early albums that Iommi, Osbourne, Ward and Butler gave me, were a pleasure then, as there are today and will continue to be as the years roll on.
By offering the world this analytical study of the Band’s songs in those 6 recordings, Paul Wilkinson exemplifies the understated musical genius of Black Sabbath. 1969 to 1975 were, a classic era indeed – it provided a new dawn for the heavy music to come. So here’s to the blackest of Sabbaths!
My other recent book reviews
- Sharon Osbourne: I didn’t fire Sabbath drummer (entertainment.msnbc.msn.com)
- Black Sabbath Reunion Continues Without Bill Ward (wzlx.radio.com)
- VINNY APPICE: It Would Be ‘Hard’ To Turn Down Opportunity To Play With BLACK SABBATH Again (roadrunnerrecords.com)