The best thing I’ve heard this week came from 1975. It was by a group many 'next-big-thing' obsessives might only dust off for occasional, ironic listens, a band fronted by an icon known in his later days as the face MTV's The Osbournes, a torch-bearer of the reality TV universe we’ve suffered through for the past decade.
It was Black Sabbath, playing “Sabbra Cadabra,” live, for a glorious 20 minutes and 23 seconds. The original song, no matter how goofily titled, is one of the great cuts from the metal progenitors’ Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album. The live version, straight off a bootleg from Asbury Park, NJ from Aug. 5, 1975, is 3.5 times as long and many more times as awesome. It begins like this: The band is lazily tuning up and Ozzy is ranting for more than a minute. I’m getting impatient. Then, heaven-sent, comes Tony Iommi’s singular, playful intro riff. It’s timeless, the type of lick both kitschy aughts nostalgia acts like The Darkness and modern arena giants like Muse go back to the box for again and again. It’s, in short, incredible.
Soon enough -- after a series of blessedly in-tune Ozzy shrieks, a mammoth drum solo followed by a trenchant guitar solo -- and my subway ride is over. My headphones are sad, quiet.
And that was, and shall remain, the musical highlight of my week. I realize this all adds up to a perfect storm of what feels in part like nonsense -- the assertion that a crappy bootleg track is superior to a venerated studio recording, coupled with a fusty “they don’t make ’em like they used to” mentality. So don’t get me wrong -- I’m as excited for the new record by math-metal wizards Mastodon as the next shredder (the last album’s vocals sounded suspiciously like Ozzy, actually…), but at least on this particular week, the trophy goes to the Old School.