05. The Ultimate Sin (1986)
In Between the Ups and Downs: A newly-sober Ozzy walked into a minefield of contentious behavior and personnel changes for his second album with lead guitarist Jake E. Lee. The shredder, who received no royalties or writing credits for Bark at the Moon, wrote the lion’s share of The Ultimate Sin — originally titled Killer of Giants — while the Ozzman temporary kicked his various habits in rehab and refused to hand any of it over unless he was paid royalties.
Drummer Jimmy DeGrasso and bassist Bob Daisley both cut demos for the album and were fired before recording began. Daisley would be missed, but his replacement, Phil Soussan, co-wrote the album’s instant-classic single, “Shot in the Dark”. Naturally, he wound up in a legal dispute with Osbourne over an accounting dispute, never to return. Lee saw The Ultimate Sin through to the end and played on its support tours before getting the ax from Sharon Osbourne via telegram, which may be for the best since, although respectable, his work here is a step down from Bark at the Moon.
Osbourne has all but disavowed this album’s existence, maybe due to its tumultuous writing and recording process, but there are other factors, as well. He’s said in interviews that he was never happy with producer Ron Nevison’s end product. The truth is, The Ultimate Sin was doomed from the start — Lee’s style sounded outmoded in 1986, the same year that Metallica’s Master of Puppets and Slayer’s Reign in Blood brought thrash to the masses. Metallica opened for Ozzy while he toured in support of the album, and, by all accounts, they mopped the floor with him at each date.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: For some reason, the lead single — and best song — comes tacked on at the end of The Ultimate Sin. That all said, the wait is well worth it to hear “Shot in the Dark”. Soussan wrote the song for his previous band, Wildfire, which played a much more radio-friendly style than Osbourne’s band. While “Shot in the Dark” still sounds metallic, the track’s AOR origins show in its guaranteed-to-get-stuck-in-your-head chorus.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: Nuclear paranoia is the overarching theme of The Ultimate Sin. It’s no new topic to Ozzy, a former hippie with a well-documented peacenik streak. On “Thank God for the Bomb”, Osbourne’s desire for a nuke-free future becomes less of a subtext and more of a text-text. He ought to have remembered: metalheads hate the moral majority. Getting preached at by the Prince of Darkness is no fun, it turns out.
04. Bark at the Moon (1983)
In Between the Ups and Downs: It’s a miracle that Bark at the Moon even exists, let alone that it’s as good as it is. Ozzy was at his most raucous during the Diary of a Madman tour in 1982, and by many accounts his drinking at the time was untenable — this was when he bit the head off of a bat and urinated on the Alamo grounds, all just before lead guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a freak plane accident on March 18. In the subsequent turmoil, bassist Rudy Sarzo split to rejoin UFO. Ian Gillan’s guitarist Bernie Torme and Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis both filled in on guitar, but neither wanted to work on the third solo Ozzy record. For a minute, Dokken’s George Lynch was in consideration for the lead spot, but lost out to a leather-clad newcomer.
Enter guitarist Jake E. Lee, a San Diego native who played early on in Ratt, as well as the criminally underrated Rough Cutt — he was almost added to Motley Crue, as well. Lee and bassist Bob Daisley together wrote almost all of Bark at the Moon while an inebriated Ozzy stood at the sidelines. Neither of them received any writing credits, to their mutual dismay.
For all the issues with Jake E. Lee’s songs on The Ultimate Sin, his work on Bark at the Moon is stellar. Lee managed to maintain the pop-metal sound that Rhoads innovated while also expanding on the brooding drama that flavored Diary of a Madman. At the same time, it sounds as though Lee was abreast of what Black Sabbath had been doing with Dio since Ozzy’s departure. The driving riffs and fast tempo that Lee works in on songs like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel” and “Now You See it (Now You Don’t)” make Bark at the Moon the “truest” metal record in Osbourne’s solo career. King Diamond’s solo work, Ghost’s masked melodrama, and every power metal band with a hint of darkness all owe some debt to Bark at the Moon.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: Lee and Daisley may have been cheated out of their credits and publishing, but “Bark at the Moon” remains a high-water mark for them both — their playing is frenetic, expressive, and memorable. It’s so lovable that it was a radio hit in Reagan’s uptight America despite having maybe Ozzy’s most blasphemous lyrics. “Howling in shadows, living in a lunar spell/ He finds his heaven spewing from the mouth of hell,” Ozzy howls. The Norwegian black metal bands, then teenagers, were taking notes.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: Ballads — Ozzy isn’t great at them. Sure, some of his best tunes are melodramatic karaoke classics like “Mama, I’m Coming Home” or his suicidal duet with Lita Ford, “Close My Eyes Forever”. Those, however, are outliers. More often, Ozzy bleats out a clunker like “So Tired” — four minutes of yelps, canned strings, and unremarkable piano playing. Lee can barely get a solo in edgewise. Osbourne would have been better off taking a nap than spending his time on this stinker.
03. Diary of a Madman (1981)
In Between the Ups and Downs: Randy Rhoads recorded the final statement of his remarkable and tragically short career, Diary of a Madman, in a flash. The entire record, written by Rhoads along with bassist Bob Daisley and drummer Lee Kerslake, was recorded in less than a month, cobbled together from leftover takes from Blizzard of Ozz, as well as material written on the road. These tribulations make the end product even more remarkable. More subtle and dramatic than its predecessor, Diary of a Madman is a triumph.
Like its predecessor, Diary explodes out of the gate with a pair of instant classics. “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” show Rhoads at his most potent. Both songs, alongside the proggy “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll”, were hit singles. Unlike its predecessor, though, Diary ditches many of the ballads in favor of more subtle songs, most notably its title track, the crown jewel in Ozzy’s solo discography.
Ozzy himself is the weakest link. Not for the last time, his voice sounds strained, and many of the songs presented a challenge for his upper register. However, at times his nervy performance is harrowing and underscores the album’s paranoid undertone.
Unfortunately, Osbourne’s voice wasn’t the only thing strained while making Diary. Daisley and Kerslake both exited the band and were not credited on the album — Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge, respectfully, received the credit.
If Kerslake and Daisley had been able to continue with Ozzy, and if Rhoads had survived, this list might look very different. For all their disagreements, the quartet made a potent team, one which produced two must-listens and likely had more gas in the tank. As it stands, Diary of a Madman closes the book on the first incarnation of Ozzy’s band in stunning fashion.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: There’s no contest here. The title track to Diary of a Madman is Ozzy’s finest recorded moment outside of Black Sabbath. A miniature rock opera, the tune opens with an acoustic intro and crawls into an explosion as good as anything Andrew Lloyd Webber ever wrote. Ozzy sings like he’s about to go into withdrawal at any second, which serves the song — there’s a parallel to what Peter Murphy was doing with Bauhaus at the same time, here. Just after the four-minute mark, Rhoads whips out the best riff of his whole career and plays it only twice — a tease for metalheads, just like the rest of his too-short career.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: Diary of a Madman starts with a bang and keeps delivering. Once the trio of opening singles end, “Believer” and “Little Dolls” keep the engine humming. And then “Tonight” brings the momentum to a screeching halt. For what it’s worth, as far as Ozzy ballads go, this one isn’t terrible — Rhoads’ solo burns like a roadside flare — but the strength of Diary lies in how it stripped the fat from its predecessor. Skip this one, go straight to “S.A.T.O.” and keep the crazy train rollin’.
02. No More Tears (1991)
In Between the Ups and Downs: Forgive all of Zakk Wylde’s transgressions for the sake of No More Tears. His sophomore album with Ozzy Osbourne is a confident masterpiece every bit as bold as the Randy Rhoads albums, in part because, for the first time in a decade, the band doesn’t sound like they’re trying to write Diary a second time.
This time around, Ozzy enlisted a ringer — Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister co-wrote three of the best tracks on the record. One of them, “Hellraiser”, was so good that he even re-recorded it with Motörhead. But Kilmister’s biggest contribution is “Mama, I’m Coming Home”, the rare example of a brilliant Ozzy ballad. “Mama” peaked at #28 on the Billboard Top 100 and contributed to the album’s quadruple-platinum certification. Rumor has it the proceeds from “Mama” kept Motörhead liquid during the rest of the ’90s.
But there’s so much more to No More Tears than the singles. “Desire” and “Won’t Be Coming Home (S.I.N.)” could have been radio hits on their own. “Zombie Stomp” presaged all of Rob Zombie’s solo career. Opener “Mr. Tinkertrain” is Ozzy at his most appalling, singing an innuendo-filled barnstormer from a pedophile’s point of view. Almost 30 years later, it’s maybe the most shocking song Ozzy ever sang, full stop. It would be better off forgotten if the tune itself weren’t so darn good.
Ozzy hasn’t been as good since. Longtime bassist and lyricist Bob Daisley left halfway through the following “Theatre of Madness” tour. Drummer Randy Castillo played on the pursuant “No More Tours” trek, which, at the time, was meant to be Ozzy’s last. By the time Ozzy decided retirement sucks — and found out he didn’t have multiple sclerosis — Castillo was through recording with him. As such, No More Tears is the mid-point of Ozzy’s career and the last shining moment of his golden era.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: Outside songwriters pretty much make No More Tears the blockbuster it is. That also goes for the title track. Future Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez and producer John Purdell helped make “No More Tears”, with its indelible bass line and moody keyboard bridge, another instant hit. More notably, it was a successful song indebted to both glam metal and prog rock released the same year as Nirvana’s Nevermind. “Mama, I’m Coming Home”, a more straightforward track, is a close second.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: You know from the country-friendly intro that “AVH” is going to be cheesy. Wylde delivers an energetic verse riff, but Ozzy can’t match his intensity on the chorus. “Riding on a train that I can’t control,” he sings, multi-tracked a few times to fill out his voice and making his second “Crazy Train” shout-out on the album (the first is on “Desire”). Wylde’s solo is impressive, though, and on any other post-’80s Ozzy record, this would be a standout, but No More Tears has better songs in store.
01. Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
In Between the Ups and Downs: In 1979, Ozzy Osbourne was a mess. The singer had just been sacked from Black Sabbath and was holed up in Los Angeles, hell-bent on spending his £96,000 severance on booze and coke — the use of which had gotten him booted from Sabbath in the first place.
One year later, Ozzy was a star again. His first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, was a hit. What happened in that year?
Sharon Arden happened. The daughter of record mogul Don Arden, Sharon flew to LA, became Ozzy’s manager (and later wife), and helped the Prince of Darkness form a new project. They enlisted former Uriah Heep members Lee Kerslake and Bob Daisley. After failing to court former Thin Lizzy and G-force guitarist Gary Moore, Ozzy received a tip from friend Dana Sturm: check out Randy Rhoads, the guitarist from Quiet Riot — a young, energetic, and virtuoso axeman. Ozzy asked him to audition and hired him after just hearing his warm-up exercises, according to his memoir, I Am Ozzy.
The band, originally named Blizzard of Ozz, produced their debut album in a month at Ridge Farm studio in Rusper, England. When producer Chris Tsangarides did not create results the band liked, they promoted his engineer, Max Norman. Together, they cut a slice of metal magic: eight songs and one guitar solo that at once paid homage to the hard rock of the ’70s but moved the genre forward into a commercial — but still dark — direction.
When the album was released with Ozzy’s name in a bigger font than the band name, Blizzard of Ozz became the first, and greatest, installment of Ozzy’s solo career. Powered by the unstoppable single “Crazy Train” as well as moody ballads like “Goodbye to Romance” and “Revelation (Mother Earth)”, the album has since gone quadruple platinum.
Kerslake and Daisley didn’t see much return on their time investment and sued Ozzy for unpaid royalties in 1986. Adding insult to injury, Ozzy had Rob Trujillo and Mike Bordin re-record their parts for the album’s 2002 reissue. Subsequently, this metal classic has been returned to its original form.
Don’t Wanna Stop Listening: When it comes to controversial pop-culture icons, Ozzy related with the celebrated occultist Aleister Crowley. Naturally, the Ozzman paid tribute to the amorous magician on “Mr. Crowley”, the most unsettling and moody song from Blizzard of Ozz. Ozzy moans some of his wittiest lyrics here — the line ”Won’t you ride my white horse?/ It’s symbolic, of course” pays homage to the horsemen of the apocalypse as well as Ozzy’s coke habit with a wink and a nudge.
Mental Wounds Still Healing: “No Bone Movies” isn’t a bad song, but it just might be the least original composition on Blizzard of Ozz. Sure, it’s more essential than “Dee”, but as a guitar solo excerpted (a common practice at the time) that’s an unfair comparison. Even the likewise forgotten “Steal Away (The Night)” has more ferocity. Rhoads shreds over the back half of the song, but his soloing is undercut by an obnoxious gang-shout chorus.
Pick up albums from Ozzy Osbourne’s solo discography on vinyl and other formats at Reverb LP.