That Time Ian Gillan Got Born Again
Today is Ian Gillan’s birthday, and although it’s obviously tempting to venture back into the Deep Purple catalog and spotlight several of the classic tracks from his time with that band, we’ve decided to take a left turn and instead focus on Gillan’s decidedly shorter stint as the frontman of a different classic rock band: Black Sabbath.
When Ozzy Osbourne departed the band during the sessions for the album that would ultimately become Heaven and Hell, he was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, who fought the good fight for that album and the follow-up, Mob Rules. After that, Dio headed off to start his own band – and, yes, they were called Dio! – but when he hit the road, he kind of left Black Sabbath in the lurch in terms of a lead singer.
There were, at various points, discussions of David Coverdale or possibly even Robert Plant being the new singer, but it was Sharon Osbourne’s father, Don Arden, who suggested that Ian Gillan might make for a suitable replacement for Dio, At the time of Gillan’s arrival, however, it was not a foregone conclusion that any resulting album would be labeled with the Black Sabbath name…or at least it wasn’t to the band, anyway. (Arden was reportedly the one who pressed the issue.)
In his memoir, Tony Iommi recalled that the process of writing songs with Gillan at The Manor, Richard Branson’s studio, was unique in terms of Black Sabbath tracks, in that “Ian’s lyrics were about sexual things or true facts, even about stuff that happened at The Manor there and then. They were good, but quite a departure from Geezer (Butler’s) and Ronnie’s lyrics.” Gillan’s vocals were also a departure from what his new bandmates had been used to, with Iommi noting to Guitar World in 1992 that Gillan was “a great singer, but he’s from a completely different background, and it was difficult for him to come in and sing Sabbath material.”
“I was the worst singer Black Sabbath ever had,” Gillan said in 1992, which – no matter how you may feel about his vocals – still seems a bit harsh, especially when one listens back to Born Again, which has found considerably more fans over the intervening years than it did upon its initial release. Lars Ulrich of Metallica has called it one of the band’s best albums, and even Ozzy said of the album in 1984 that it was the “best thing I’ve heard from Sabbath since the original group broke up.”
If the only thing you know about Born Again is the devil-baby cover art, then you may want to ease your way into the proceedings by watching the video for “Trashed,” which was released as the album’s lone single.
It’s hard to say it’s truly a shame that Gillan’s tenure with Black Sabbath wasn’t any longer, given that his departure paved the way for an eventual reunion with Ozzy, but