Saturday, July 23, 2005

Ozzy v. McCartney:

Why has Ozzy Osbourne, in the long run, produced consistently better material than Paul McCartney? This question is especially ironic given that McCartney is a better musician and has a creative genius that Ozzy could never approach. Also, Ozzy counts Paul as a seminal influence. Well, it's precisely because Ozzy is not the creative talent that McCartney is that Osbourne has produced better material.

There is an interesting observable pattern among many great songwriters: They only have so many good songs in them and at some point dry up and start putting out bad or mediocre material. This is arguably more of a rule than an exception. And the exceptions are few; Elton John may be one. Neil Young too. Perhaps Bob Dylan, but given that Dylan's voice has deteriorated so badly I really can't judge whether some of his recent material is good or not because I don't have much of an interest in listening to it. McCartney however is typical of the many figures of a bygone era whose greatest material is long past. Think about how great the second half of Abbey Road was, how great it would be if Paul could churn out an Abbey Road every four years or so.

Ozzy Osbourne on the other hand, I don't think ever wrote an entire song by himself. And there are many songs in which he didn't write at all but still received a co-writer credit. He has, to his credit, legitimately co-written many good songs, but needs to collaborate with better musicians who can fully develop his ideas. And if an artist -- especially a big name -- always relies on other talented songwriters for his material, then he can pretty much assure not running out of good material. You do need an ear for good songs and Ozzy has that.

I think Frank Sinatra too primarily relied on others for his material. I distinctly remember Simon from American Idol talking about this phenomenon on Bill O'Reilly. They didn't mention Ozzy, but rather Sinatra; I thought to myself this describes Ozzy to a "T."

All in all, Ozzy has produced good music, sometimes great, over the long run. While not a great singer in a technical sense, you don't need to be a great singer to rock, just have a cool sounding voice, be able to carry a tune (no one wants to listen to someone who can't hit the right notes) and be able to put a lot of emotion into it. And Ozzy can do that. More importantly, Ozzy has always surrounded himself with great musicians and great writers. First with Black Sabbath where Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) were the primary songwriters. And then with many greats in his solo career.

Right off the bat after being kicked out of Black Sabbath, Ozzy assembled a studio team of phenomenal musicians and writers for his first two solo albums (metal classics). The late great Randy Rhodes on guitar, Lee Kerslake on drums, Bob Daisley on bass, and Don Airey on keys. And yes, Rhodes, Daisley, Airey, and Kerslake were responsible for writing most of that material.

Now he plays with Zakk Wylde on guitar, another phenom on guitar. Ozzy and Sharon really do have a talent for picking the right people to prop Ozzy up and that's probably why he's been so successful in his solo career.

Some interesting occurrences over the years: His relationship with Daisley, Kerslake and Airey didn't last long. They were Class A musicians and felt short shrifted in terms of their contributions and Ozzy taking the credit. They split acrimoniously and Daisley and Kerslake sued Ozzy for unpaid royalties.

So when it came time to remastering those two classic albums, Ozzy had Kerslake's and Daisley's drum and bass tracks removed and replayed and rerecorded by his current musicians. This was a shitty thing to do. He essentially ruined the CDs and screwed Daisley and Kerslake who, creatively, were every bit as important to those albums as he. It also prompted a class action lawsuit. (See Daisley talking about it, part 5).

Currently Bob Daisley, Lee Kerslake and Don Airey are playing in a band, Living Loud, with guitar great (my favorite) Steve Morse, and Austrian singer Jimmy Barnes, of whom I've never heard until now, but apparently is pretty big in Australia.

I'd like to get their DVD and CD but they are only available through Australia and payable in Australian dollars. I think I'll wait till Jan 06, which is the expected release date of their stuff in America on EMI/Capital.

Many of the tunes they do are straight from those two Ozzy CDs, and this is understandable given how much Airey, Daisley and Kerslake contributed to the writing of those songs. For me, I can't wait to hear Steve Morse's interpretation of those Randy Rhodes guitar parts.

The Living Loud website has some brief audio and video clips.


richrath said...

Jon, I'm not much of a metal fan, though I do enjoy the old Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (you know, OLD metal!!). But this is the second time I've seen you mention Steve Morse as your fave guitar player, and I'm really glad someone's doing that.

Talk about an Unsung Hero! No one I know, at least under 40, these days knows anything about Dixie Dregs or Steve Morse and his other work -- pity. Must be the price of being "Old." My friends and I -- 25 years ago -- so totally grooved on that stuff, just blown away by the technical brilliance of the whole band.

I might check out those new Aussie records when they come out next year, I think Morse-doing-Rhodes is a must-hear.


Jonathan said...


I've seen Morse four times and will try to see him every time he comes around to my area.

And I'm glad at least one of my readers appreciates him!