Paranoid was not only Black Sabbath's most popular record (it was a number one smash in the U.K., and "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" both scraped the U.S. charts despite virtually nonexistent radio play), it also stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Paranoid refined Black Sabbath's signature sound -- crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock -- and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics. Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paranoid have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards like "War Pigs" and "Iron Man" (which sports one of the most immediately identifiable riffs in metal history). The subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath makes it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music. Even the qualities that made critics deplore the album (and the group) for years increase the overall effect -- the technical simplicity of Ozzy Osbourne's vocals and Tony Iommi's lead guitar vocabulary; the spots when the lyrics sink into melodrama or awkwardness; the lack of subtlety and the infrequent dynamic contrast. Everything adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as though the anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in its path, including its own limitations. Monolithic and primally powerful, Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.
Steve Huey, Rovi
The moment the gospel choir kicks in on ‘Ain’t It Fun’, urging some poor unfortunate to not go crying to their mother, signals that this is a Paramore album like no other. Following on from the breakup of the original line-up in 2010, singer Hayley Williams returns with a record that’s more commercial than ever, but unafraid to rock out the fuzzy guitars on tracks like ‘Now’ and ‘Part II’. Produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who has worked with Garbage, Air and Nine Inch Nails, the album marries a bright, upbeat hyperactivity with Williams’ often downbeat lyrics to create a winning, No Doubt-style fusion of poppy highlights and sure-fire stadium hits such as ‘Still Into You, Grow Up’ and ‘(One of Those) Crazy Girls’.
Dave Pollock, Google Play
Green Day couldn't have had a blockbuster without Nirvana, but Dookie wound up being nearly as revolutionary as Nevermind, sending a wave of imitators up the charts and setting the tone for the mainstream rock of the mid-'90s. Like Nevermind, this was accidental success, the sound of a promising underground group suddenly hitting its stride just as they got their first professional, big-budget, big-label production. Really, that's where the similarities end, since if Nirvana were indebted to the weirdness of indie rock, Green Day were straight-ahead punk revivalists through and through. They were products of the underground pop scene kept alive by such protagonists as All, yet what they really loved was the original punk, particularly such British punkers as the Jam and Buzzcocks. On their first couple records, they showed promise, but with Dookie, they delivered a record that found Billie Joe Armstrong bursting into full flower as a songwriter, spitting out melodic ravers that could have comfortable sat alongside Singles Going Steady, but infused with an ironic self-loathing popularized by Nirvana, whose clean sound on Nevermind is also emulated here. Where Nirvana had weight, Green Day are deliberately adolescent here, treating nearly everything as joke and having as much fun as snotty punkers should. They demonstrate a bit of depth with "When I Come Around," but that just varies the pace slightly, since the key to this is their flippant, infectious attitude -- something they maintain throughout the record, making Dookie a stellar piece of modern punk that many tried to emulate but nobody bettered.
Every so often, a piece of music comes along that defines a moment in popular culture history: Johann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus did this in Vienna in the 1870s; Jerome Kern's Show Boat did it for Broadway musicals of the 1920s; and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album served this purpose for the era of psychedelic music in the 1960s. Saturday Night Fever, although hardly as prodigious an artistic achievement as those precursors, was precisely that kind of musical phenomenon for the second half of the '70s -- ironically, at the time before its release, the disco boom had seemingly run its course, primarily in Europe, and was confined mostly to black culture and the gay underground in America. Saturday Night Fever, as a movie and an album, and a brace of hit singles off of it, suddenly made disco explode into mainstream, working- and middle-class America with new immediacy and urgency, increasing its audience by five- or ten-fold overnight. The Bee Gees had written "Stayin' Alive" (then called "Saturday Night"), "Night Fever," "How Deep Is Your Love," "If I Can't Have You," and "More Than a Woman" for what would have been the follow-up album to Children of the World, and they might well have enjoyed platinum-record status with that proposed album. Instead, Robert Stigwood asked them in early 1977 to contribute songs to the soundtrack of a movie that he was financing, a low-budget picture called "Tribal Rites on a Saturday Night." More out of loyalty to him than any belief in the viability of the film, they obliged; the group's involvement even survived the decision by the original director, John Avildsen, that he didn't want their music in the film -- instead, Stigwood fired him and brought in the very talented but much more agreeable John Badham, the movie's title was changed to Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees' music stayed, and the result was the biggest-selling soundtrack album in history, a 25 million copy monster whose sales, even as a more expensive double-LP, dwarfed the multi-million units sold of Children of the World and Main Course. Strangely enough, for all of the fixation of the movie and its audience on dancing, the Bee Gees' new songs were weighted equally toward ethereal ballads, which may be one reason for the soundtrack album's appeal -- it delivers what its audience expects, plus a "bonus" in the form of the soaring, lyrical romantic numbers that were, as with most ventures by the Gibb Brothers in this area, virtually irresistible. Despite the presence of other artists, Saturday Night Fever is virtually indispensable as a Bee Gees album, not just for the presence of an array of songs that were hits in their own right -- and which became the de facto soundtrack to a half-decade of pop culture history -- but because it offered the Gibb Brothers as composers as well as artists, their work recorded by Yvonne Elliman ("If I Can't Have You"), and Tavares ("More Than a Woman"), and it placed their music alongside the work of Kool & the Gang and MFSB; in essence, the layout of the soundtrack release was the culmination of everything they'd been moving toward since the Mr. Natural album. Even the presence of David Shire's "Night on Disco Mountain" and "Salsation" and Walter Murphy's "A Fifth of Beethoven" don't hurt, because these set a mood and a surrounding ambience for the Bee Gees' material that makes it work even better. Heard on CD as 79 minutes of music, Saturday Night Fever comes off like an idealized commercial-free radio set of late-'70s dance music (and, in that regard, the decision to leave Rick Dees' "Disco Duck" off the soundtrack album was a good one for all concerned, except Dees). The album has been out several times on CD, including a Mobile Fidelity audiophile disc that's rarer than hen's teeth and 1995 remastered, newly annotated audiophile edition from Polydor. [Rhino issued a remastered edition in 2007.]