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Black Sabbath's Rarest Song "The Rebel" - Will We Be Hearing It Soon? (11/26/2006)

The following story was published on Rob Dwyer's

"The Rebel" is without a doubt one of the most sought after Black Sabbath songs ever recorded. Although a small fragment of this very un-Sabbath like song can be heard on THE BLACK SABBATH STORY VOLUME 1 video, most fans have never heard this still unreleased 1969 demo. Although there really isn't any substitute for actually hearing the song yourselves, I've written this article in hopes of illuminating this mystery track until that times come.

One of the most frequently asked questions about "The Rebel" is whether the song could be considered as an EARTH demo. Although the actual acetate credits the recording to BLACK SABBATH, the song was recorded during a transitional period. It has been alleged in several recent Black Sabbath biographies that the band decided upon changing their name from EARTH to BLACK SABBATH while they were on route to The Star Club in Hamburg in early August 1969. To avoid the inevitable confusion arising from this sudden change, the band performed many prior bookings as EARTH. In fact, their final gig as EARTH was performed in Kilcaldy, Scotland just one day after recording "The Rebel".

The recording session for "The Rebel" took place at Trident Studios in St. Anne’s Court in Soho , which was an 8-track facility at the time. Overseeing the session was Gus Dudgeon, who had also worked with Locomotive and would later produce albums for Elton John and David Bowie. The band was less than impressed with Gus, who kept using Locomotive as the benchmark for anything they did. It was than that engineer Rodger Bain was offered his first chance to produce a record…and the rest is history. The band had just returned from a German tour to begin rehearsing. Manager Jim Simpson suggested that they record "The Rebel", a song that was written by Norman Haines. Norman played keyboards in Jim's band Locomotive. Haines also took part in this session, playing organ and piano. Two months later, the band recorded yet another Haines composition called "When I Come Down", which was retitled "When I Came Down" for the Sabbath version. The band weren't pleased with either of these songs, but went along with the sessions so their manager would have something to shop to the record labels. Neither song represented the heavy rock direction they were already formulating OR their EARTH-y blues based roots.

I've actually been fortunate enough to hear some newly discovered material, but have been sworn to silence for the past 6 months or so. I'm not going to give away too many surprises just yet, but I will tell you that "The Rebel" is among the newly found tracks. And there isn't just one version. There are 8 complete takes in stunningly excellent quality!!! Forget the crappy quality sample on THE BLACK SABBATH STORY VOL. 1, this is the real deal. This 29-minute session tape includes 18 takes of the song, including 8 complete renditions of the song & 1 rough mix with overdubs. Many of the additional takes were aborted within the first 30 seconds, usually because Norman Haines had goofed his piano introduction. The engineer can be heard talking between takes, either to speak with the band or count takes. You can also hear some laughing and chattering from the band. At the conclusion of one abortive attempt, you can even hear Ozzy exclaim, "Aw f*ck!!" Musically, the song places Ozzy's vocal in the forefront. His performance is truly the highlight here. You can’t help but smile to hear a younger Oz with his now trademark tone singing back in 1969. Ozzy’s voice has a certain charm that can even hold your attention regardless of how mediocre the lyrics of the song might be. The words are a bit more trite and sentimental than something Geezer would have written, yet Ozzy's vocal redeems them. Tony & Geezer are much more subdued than usual on “The Rebel”, where they seem to be laying back and playing more of a supporting role. On later recordings, their volume went UP and usually often dominated the proceedings – but not here. Bill Ward isn’t quite as content to melt into the tapestry, adding some additional percussion during the bridge sections. In addition, Norman Haines provides the piano introduction and additional playing throughout the song. He isn’t very loud in the mix on the earlier takes, but does get turned up as the sessions progressed. Most of the session takes are simply additional attempts to capture an ideal rendition of “The Rebel”. None of these takes seem to contain much in the way of overdubs or solos. Tony is playing straight chords throughout these takes and doesn’t add any lead guitar bits or solos. Towards the end of the tape (possibly take 17) there is a rough mix of the song that includes some overdubbed guitar breaks, solos and a bit of wah wah pedal from Tony. Norman adds an organ track as well. Additionally, they added some backing vocals that sound like a boys choir?! The added twist of these choir-like backing vocals really changes the character of the song quite a bit, leaving me to prefer the raw early takes before the gaudy embellishments.

Transcribed by Rob Dwyer

Piano Intro - Band enters chugging on E

C#m - C#m - F#m - F#m / D - Bm - A (guitar holds chord) / E (bass only to lead in the verse)

Verse 1

"Do you (A) live your life (Bm) precisely by the (D) rules of the (A) game?
Is your (A) mind an open (Bm) page or will it (D) always be the (E) same?
Is your (A) choice to pass the (A/G bass) voice, deny the (D/F# bass) herald his (E) job?
If you're (C#m) huddling with the (F#) rebel, would you (D) cheer the (Bm) under- (A) dog?

Verse 2

When the (A) better half is (Bm) careful (?), do you (D) take the cheapest (A) way?
Would you (A) recognize your (Bm) conscience when there's (D) danger in fair (E) play?
Is your (A) mind in twilight (A/G) guiding the constant (D/F#) ??? ??? ??? (E) fog
If you're (C#m) huddling with the (F#) rebel, would you (D) cheer the (Bm) under- (A) dog?


(Bm) I won't ask you again if a (C#m) chill comes to your hand
(D) Someday I'm going (A) back to a (G) world I under- (E) stand

Verse 3

When the (A) morning light came (Bm) too late, did you (D) ever blame (A) yourself?
Would you (A) leave the unpre- (Bm) pared bed every (D) time for someone (E) else?
Is your (A) word in silence (A/G) heard to pass (D/F#) away the quick and (E) mild?
If you're (C#m) huddling with the (F#) rebel, would you (D) cheer the (Bm) under- (A) dog?

E - - - /C#m C#m / F# F# / D - Bm / E - - - / E - - -

[Bridge repeat]

[Repeat Verse 3]

E - - - /C#m C#m / F# F# / D - Bm / E - - - / E - - - / A (song ends with a single strum on A)

(Editor’s Note – No matter how many times I listened to the 2nd line of verse 2, I could not figure out exactly what Ozzy was singing there!)

While the band has made little effort to release or shed more light on this somewhat embarrassing chapter, they did tease us with just the first 28 seconds of “The Rebel” in the 1992 video retrospective THE BLACK SABBATH STORY, VOLUME 1. Since then, hardcore Sabbath fans have never ceased their pleading for the release of COMPLETE versions of "Song For Jim", "The Rebel" & the more recently discovered track "When I Came Down". For years, we have been told that acetates for "Song For Jim" and "The Rebel" are in the sole possession of original manager Jim Simpson. Ozzy joked in one interview that they had considered building a moat around his home in order to prevent their release! With comments like these coming from within the band, it seemed quite unlikely that we'd be hearing these complete songs anytime soon. In May 2005, a live recording of "Song For Jim" emerged from an ancient audience tape recorded in Dumfries, Scotland on November 16th, 1969. Sadly for fans, the master recording was quickly snapped up by The Osbournes and only a few lucky Sabbath collectors have been privy to hearing this rare track. Here's the good news. Sanctuary Records has been digging for unreleased outtakes to include with some planned reissues and box sets for 2007. Although the band has denied the existence of any extras or unreleased songs, there are actually numerous alternate takes and mixes from the Ozzy era in the vault. Sanctuary plans to re-issue the first three Black Sabbath studio albums with bonus tracks in March 2007. I’m not certain whether any of these renditions of “The Rebel” will be amongst the extras, but these newly discovered tapes offer a very promising possibility!

The song itself provides yet another long missing puzzle piece to the early history of Black Sabbath. “The Rebel” has remained shrouded in mystery simply because due to Sabbath’s reluctance to a share a moment in time that wasn’t up to their usual standards. For them, it was simply an experiment, as well as an opportunity to record the band. Yet the band wasn’t above playing ballads or experimenting on later records (“It’s Alright” or “Changes”, for instance), so “The Rebel” isn’t necessarily that much of a departure within that context. It just didn’t impart the sort of direction or image the band desired for the launch of their recording career. This article is not meant to be just another tease, so I hope you don't take it that way. Please DO NOT ask me to post song samples or anything further because I do not have the right to do so. I've shared just about every detail that I can beyond that, so this article will have to suffice for now.


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