Retrocon 2024

How Black Sabbath Survived the '80s Without Ozzy Osbourne

In 1979, Black Sabbath was one of the biggest and most successful rock bands in the world. They were a metal powerhouse and trailblazers across genres, including sludge, doom, and more. '70s audiences had lapped them up, and it seemed like '80s music fans were set to do the same.

Then the band made a fatal misstep: they fired their lead singer. Ozzy Osbourne may have been many things, but one of his great selling points was that he was an undoubted crowd pleaser and an unmatched talent.

It was like the Beatles carrying on without John Lennon (we all know it would never have worked) or the Foo Fighters without Dave Grohl. Yet somehow Black Sabbath survived and even thrived. We look at how one of rock’s most iconic bands carried on minus its most charismatic frontman.

The age of Ronnie Dio

If you’re looking for the story of Ozzy Osbourne in the 80s, you won’t find it here. We all know how that went down and what came after. Not only going on to enjoy a successful singing career but later reality TV stardom, the onetime Black Sabbath frontman used his charm and talent to carry himself through the decade and beyond.

He became such a renowned name as a solo artist that he remains a cultural phenomenon in 2022, continuing to make frequent appearances on television and in the media. He’s even managed to inspire slot games, such as the one available to play at Hard Rock Casino. For anyone looking for an internet play provider, Bonusfinder has a great list of them here, with up to 50 no-deposit spins available for those who wish to try the game for themselves. Ozzy fans have no shortage of ways to engage with the rock legend.

Going into the 80s, however, Osbourne wasn't the star headlining Black Sabbath. That accolade belonged to Ronnie James Dio, ex-Rainbow singer and frontman on the band’s first album without Ozzy — the iconic Heaven and Hell.

According to Tony Iommi, the band’s guitarist and the only member to have appeared in every incarnation of Black Sabbath, they went with Dio because they liked the way he worked and were impressed by his voice. Instead of seeing him as a replacement for Ozzy, they looked to Dio to take them in a new direction and create a different but equally iconic sound.

It must have seemed like quite the gamble, and yet the album they released together went on to become the group’s best-selling of all time, despite the fact many fans proved hard to win over. Speaking in an interview years later, Iommi would recall how audiences would initially shout for Osborne when Dio appeared on stage.

A succession of singers

Unfortunately, Dio’s time with the band was short-lived, with the singer leaving in 1982 following behind-the-scenes power struggles. Michael Bolton would then try out for the spot (with no success), with remaining members Iommi and Geezer Butler feeling he simply wasn’t the right fit.

Eventually, Black Sabbath settled on Ian Gillan, though the album they released together was poorly received, with the singer’s style seeming at odds with the rest of the band. They flirted with one frontman and then another, before finally reuniting with Osborne for Live Aid in 1985.

Still, the reunion was short-lived, with Ray Gillen joining in 1987. Black Sabbath then limped through a succession of ill-fated front men, including Tony Martin. It was an embarrassing way to drag through a decade, and yet it didn’t spell the end for the band.

In fact, the '90s and '00s would see epic reunions between Iommi, the sole original Black Sabbath member, and three of its biggest stars: Osbourne, Dio, and Butler. Together, they’d show they still had what it took to make them great, no matter how much time had passed or how the music scene around them had changed.That, to our mind, is why they’ll forever remain an iconic '80s band and will always deserve a place on our ultimate 80s playlist.

All photos courtesy Depositphotos

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