Randy Rhoads died 40 years ago today (March 19). Gone far too soon at the age of 25 in a tragic plane crash, Rhoads will be forever influential to hard rock and metal guitarists for his early work with Quiet Riot and most notably his work on Ozzy Osbourne’s first two solo LPs, Blizzard Of Ozz and Diary Of A Madman.
Rhoads’ classical music influences helped add artistry to metal in a way that few guitarists did at the time or have since, and it was something Osbourne recognized and cherished from day one.
“When he played my brain went, ‘Either this is the greatest gear ever or this guy really is the best guitarist in the world!'” said Osbourne in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. “It took me a very long time to get over his death…Randy gave me a purpose, he gave me hope. I was fed up fighting people. I just had the greatest respect for him.”
The respect was evident in the video below of Ozzy talking with son, Jack Osbourne, about first meeting Rhoads. Ozzy says, “I truly believe if he hadn’t got killed when he did, he’d be up there with the big guys. He was f—ing phenomenal!”
Ozzy Osbourne: His Top 40 Solo Songs Ranked
The kick-off song from Ozzy’s last album for a decade, ‘Scream.’ Producer Kevin Churko (Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch) gave Ozzy’s sound a bit of a modern metal sheen here, with a more processed guitar sound, a funky cowbell line, and even some guttural vocals, although the song soon veers into a pretty intense jam that could have been an outtake from a classic Black Sabbath era.
The title track from one of Ozzy’s less-popular albums, this song is a highlight mainly because of Ozzy’s quick return to harmonica playing. Ozzy isn’t really an instrumentalist, but he also played harmonica on Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” 37 years earlier.
We can hear the complaints coming already about the inclusion of this one: lighten up and have fun with this, Ozzy clearly did. It’s one of many goofy Ozzy collabs: he’s also worked with Was (Not Was) and Kim Bassinger (“Shake Your Head”), DMX and Ol’ Dirty Bastard (“Nowhere To Run”), the Wu-Tang Clan (“For Heaven’s Sake 2000”) and even Miss Piggy (“Born To Be Wild”). And yeah, Post Malone.
No one has more “working class” cred than Ozzy; the artist formerly known as John Michael Osbourne grew up to a poor family in post-World War II Birmingham, England, one of six siblings living in a two-bedroom house. This understated version of the John Lennon classic doesn’t need power from big guitars or drums; the pain in Ozzy’s voice tells the story.
By the early ‘90s, hair metal was dead. Generally speaking, so were power ballads. But “Road To Nowhere” saw Ozzy looking back on his life (much like in the newer and better “Ordinary Man”); the lyrics rang true and felt less cheesy than many of hard rock’s slow jams that dominated radio in the late ‘80s.
Ozzy’s fourth solo album was a difficult one; he’d just emerged from rehab and he was fighting with current and former members of his solo band. The title track and lead-off song from the album was a strong start to the record, most of which didn’t really hold up.
The last song and the easy highlight from Ozzy’s most pop-metal album.
By 1988, everyone -- regardless of music taste -- knew who Ozzy Osbourne was. But this ballad was the first time he’d had a legit pop hit. His duet with former Runaways guitarist-turned-pop-metal-hitmaker Lita Ford was a number 8 hit (decades later, he’d reach number 8 again with “Take What You Want,” a collaboration with Post Malone (a song that, you’ll note, did not make this list).
Ozzy revisited this underrated Black Sabbath piano ballad as a duet with his daughter, Kelly. Altering the lyrics is usually an awful move, but there’s a bit of sweetness here, listening to the famous father and daughter singing to each other.
This was Ozzy’s take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” (“Your higher power may be God or Jesus Christ/It doesn't really matter much to me/Without each other’s help there ain't no hope for us. The song, co-written with Mick Jones of Foreigner and Aerosmith collaborator Marti Frederiksen was definitely aimed at radio, and ended it up with more gravitas than anyone could have imagined, as it was released just a month after 9/11.
Ozzy has tons of live albums where he revisits his Black Sabbath songs with his current band, but as great as Ozzy’s bands are, it’s tough to match Sabbath. But this version of “N.I.B.” is fun, because you can hear how much fun Les Claypool and Primus are having, jamming with the “Prince of F***ing Darkness.”
Black Sabbath released their self-titled debut in England in February of 1970 (it would be released in the U.S. in June of that year). Meanwhile, Mountain released their debut, ‘Climbing,’ including this jam, in March of 1970. Both albums are pillars of hard rock and metal. Ozzy’s take on Mountain’s classic is a blast, and features Mountain main man Leslie West on guitar (along with Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains, who played on the entire ‘Under Cover’ album).
Ozzy had been yelling this at his fan for decades, it only made sense that he turned it into a song. It’s basically an anthem for rock fans, and who better to sing it than Ozzy?
From the first songs released from ‘Ordinary Man,’ Ozzy seems to be in a reflective mood, which makes sense for a 70-something-year-old metal icon.
Ozzy’s original backing band -- bassist Bob Daisley, drummer Lee Kerslake and of course, guitarist Randy Rhoads -- were unbeatable for the short time that they were together. And even if they weren’t as scary as Black Sabbath, Ozzy still sounds haunted here, wailing from the perspective of a doll being tortured by a sadistic master using needles and pins. “It's a pity/You'll pray for your death/But he's in no hurry.”
Ozzy apparently hated the version created for the flick; electronic artist Moby produced the track, but he was being too harsh. It was better than most of his previous album, 1995’s ‘Ozzmosis.’
Probably the scariest prog-rock epic ever; it’s from King Crimson’s 1969 debut, ‘In The Court of the Crimson King,’ and both Ozzy and guitarist Jerry Cantrell really get to sink their teeth into this, as does jam-band steel guitarist Robert Randolph, who guests on the track.
As Ozzy and Elton John are wrapping up their touring careers, they united for this song where they look back on their insane lives. Cynics might say that 70-year olds can’t sing metal (or rock), but this is an honest and powerful song that a younger person could not sing. It’s a miracle that both of these guys lived to hit the big seven-oh, and neither of them are in any danger of dying “an ordinary man.”
It provided the perfect ending to Ozzy’s classic solo debut, charging straight out of “Revelation (Mother Earth),” it leaves you wanting more. Luckily fans just had a few months to go before the followup, ‘Diary of A Madman.’
In 1992, if you had Ozzy, Lemmy and Slash in a room, a ballad probably isn’t the first thing that you’d come up with. But Lemmy had been writing with Ozzy at that point - including Ozzy’s “Mama, I’m Coming Home,” and this was an extension of that partnership. Given that Ozzy was enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity in ‘92 and Slash was (and still is) one of the hottest guitarists on the planet, this should have been a huge hit.
This, of course, is something of a mantra for Ozzy, and also for guitarist Zakk Wylde, who returned to Ozzy’s band for the ‘Black Rain’ album.
One of the two ballads that redeemed ‘Ozzmosis,’ Ozzy co-wrote this with Bryan Adams’ collaborator, but the Canadian hitmaker didn’t crank out lyrics like “There are no unbeatable odds/There are no believable gods!” Ozzy’s passionate vocals, along with Zakk’s George Harrison-esque guitar solo makes this one of Ozzy’s most interesting and powerful songs of the ‘90s.
In which Ozzy addresses a porn addiction: “Can't kick the habit obsession of smut/Voyeur straining in love with his hand/A poison passion a pulsating gland.” Poetry with a purpose!
You might think that ballads are wimpy, but would you have said that to Ozzy, Lemmy and Zakk, who co-wrote the song? This one avoids the sap that ballads by the hair metal bands specialized in.
Beneath the thunder of Randy Rhoads, Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake, “Tonight” is a classic ballad. Not a power ballad, but a Sinatra ballad, circa ‘In The Wee Small Hours.’ While Ozzy’s original writing team - Ozzy/Randy/Daisley - are rightfully thought of as the scribes of timeless metal classics, their songs really transcend genres. “Tonight” also features one of Randy Rhoads’ greatest solos.
While Ozzy looked a bit cartoonish on the cover of his second solo album, on the title track he revealed that his struggles with mental illness -- something that discussed openly in 1981 -- were real. The lyrics include the line “Voices in the darkness/Scream away my mental health,” are much scarier in retrospect; we now know that he has struggled with addiction, depression and anxiety. Ozzy was always theatrical, but those painful groans at the end of the song were real.
Legend has it that the song stands for “Sharon Arden, Thelma Osbourne” -- Arden being Sharon’s maiden name and Thelma Osbourne being Ozzy’s first wife. With that in mind, lyrics like “I can't conceal it like I know I did before /I got to tell you now the ship is ready/Waiting on the shore” -- and their sense of moving on -- makes more sense. Whatever the song is about, it’s one of many classics on Ozzy’s flawless second album - which will always live in the shadow of his debut.
Bob Daisley got co-writing credit -- rightfully -- for the songs on ‘Diary Of A Madman,’ but for years, he didn’t get credit for playing bass on the album. The original album credited Randy Rhoads’ ex-Quiet Riot bandmate Rudy Sarzo (who joined for the tour but didn’t play on the album). Today, that’s been sorted, and rightfully so, as “Believer” features a nasty Daisley bassline that he deserves his credit for.
An anthem for any kid who has a hard time expressing himself/herself, but they find their truth in rock and roll. It’s timeless.
Ozzy was counted out by many after he was ousted from Black Sabbath; this song became an anthem celebrating his incredible and improbably success in the wake of his debut solo effort, 1980’s ‘Blizzard Of Ozz.’
Is it about the late AC/DC frontman Bon Scott, as Ozzy has suggested? Or, is it about Ozzy himself, as bassist Bob Daisley (who wrote the lyrics) suggests? Either way, it isn’t advocating drinking or suicide, although Ozzy was sued by the parents of a young man who took his own life, allegedly after listening to the song. If anything, the song is a warning about the dangers of alcohol dependency.
For a very unconventional singer, Ozzy Osbourne has pulled off a lot of great ballads in his solo career. “Goodbye To Romance” is one of his best, and it wouldn’t sound out of place in a cocktail lounge, minus the solos by guitarist Randy Rhoads and keyboardist Don Airey.
Another mantra from Ozzy, thanking the fans and the music for getting him into his 50s. Written by Ozzy with producer Tim Palmer, it features one of Zakk Wylde’s most monstrous riffs.
The highlight of Ozzy’s brief era with guitarist Jake E. Lee. While following in the footsteps of Ozzy’s late guitarist Randy Rhoads would be impossible, Lee at least co-wrote and played on one song that held up to the Rhoads era.
The opening track off of Ozzy’s second solo album, it immediately let the world know that “Blizzard Of Ozz’ wasn’t a fluke. Like much of the first album, it featured a commanding Randy Rhoads riff along with a soaring solo.
Zakk Wylde’s finest moment. By the end of the ‘80s, Ozzy was in danger of becoming obsolete; 1986’s ‘The Ultimate Sin’ and 1988’s ‘No Rest For The Wicked’ made him seem out of step with a music scene that was getting heavier and that was, frankly, embarrassed by and disdainful of the hair metal that dominated the ‘80s. The song and video saw Ozzy staking his claim as the godfather of heavy music, and also showed that he could compete with his musical offspring.
The first song from the first Ozzy solo album announced that he actually might be able to have a great second act, post-Black Sabbath. It also announced the arrival of a new guitar hero in Randy Rhoads, who not only didn’t try to mimic Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, he seemed to be a rare metal guitarist who wasn’t even influenced by him. Black Sabbath could never be topped, but Randy Rhoads (and bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake) helped Ozzy to get out of their shadow.
This ode to Aleister Crowley would be great no matter what, but it’s Randy Rhoads’ solo -- his greatest ever -- that really puts this song over the top, and earns it its status as one of Ozzy’s greatest.
Ozzy and his band put everything and the kitchen sink into this one -- which was impressive given that they produced the album themselves. Randy flexes his classically inspired acoustic chops here, but also plays some fearsome riffs. Don Airey uses then-modern synthesizers, but also grand piano. Lee Kerslake throws percussive instruments like chimes in, but also pounds the drums furiously.
Ozzy’s solo career might not have been more influential than what he did with Black Sabbath, but with “Crazy Train,” he soon began eclipsing his former band in popularity. It has one of the greatest riffs in metal, one of Randy Rhoads’ greatest guitar solos; Bob Daisley’s bass is minimal but scary and it’s one of Lee Kerslake’s best performances. But Ozzy’s melodic wailing is what makes the song a classic, and the best of his post-Sabbath career.