In 1980, Black Sabbath established a powerful new era with Ronnie James Dio on vocals. Unfortunately, drummer Bill Ward’s alcoholism took a turn for the worse during the Heaven and Hell touring cycle, and he was replaced with Vinny Appice, who had cut his teeth playing with John Lennon and Rick Derringer. “With Vinny in the band, the songs had a slightly different feel,” Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi tells Apple Music. “Bill would play behind the riff, but Vinny would be driving it. So it was a different approach when we wrote Mob Rules.” For their second album with Dio—and first with Appice—Sabbath built their own studio in Los Angeles. But it didn’t work out as planned. “It was disastrous,” Iommi recalls with a laugh. “We bought this bloody studio, put all the gear in—a $250,000 mixing desk—and fitted it out. We got in there to start playing and it was crap. We couldn’t get a proper sound. So we ended up going to the Record Plant, which was great.” Below, Iommi comments on some key tracks from 1981’s Mob Rules.
Turn Up the Night “We were getting more comfortable working with Ronnie. Him being a very forceful singer, there’s more attack. So my writing style changed to this more attacking vibe, really. ‘Turn Up the Night’ was one of those that was a bit more aggressive, and then Ronnie would sing this great vocal to it. It all worked.”
Voodoo “I had a slightly different sound on this solo, but I didn’t sit down and work it out. If I tried them out they'd never sound the same. So they were always off the cuff. Somebody like Brian May can play his solos all note for note, but I never really did that. I’d just do them as I felt them at the time. How I tended to do it in the studio was to get the actual vibe of the track and then try various solos. And usually, it would be the first or second that we’d use—otherwise they tended to get too much routine and they’d get worse.”
The Sign of the Southern Cross “He had that sweet little voice for that acoustic part in the beginning, and then you’d come in with the riff and he’d get aggressive. It was a great approach. I really do like this song, but then I like 99 percent of all the stuff we do. From this period, the song ‘Walk Away’ I wasn’t that mad about. But ‘Sign of the Southern Cross’ felt really comfortable to me, and it’s a powerful song.”
The Mob Rules “This was the first song we wrote for the album—we actually did it for the movie [Heavy Metal]. We wrote and recorded it in a couple of days. So it was the first song we’d done with Vinny in the band. It really sparked us for where we were going to go with the album. So that was the title track, and off we went. But it’s a great, forceful track—just heads down and off you go.”
Falling Off the Edge of the World “I loved doing this one, because I could experiment. I got this violin sound at the beginning, and I’ve never been able to get it again. I had this little gadget in the studio, this little booster, and I just overloaded everything. And people thought it was a violin.”