Horror movies, occult books – a rich source of material for Classic Heavy Metal bands since forever, and none more so than Black Sabbath themselves, where Ozzy Osbourne first made his name as a singer. A band named after a horror movie to begin with, Black Sabbath milked the topic for all it was worth. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise to see Ozzy returning to drink from that particular well during his solo career as well – although Ozzy being Ozzy, he did it in his own style, involving a liberal sprinkling of cheese, rather than dwelling too much on the darker side of things.
Best example? In Classic Metal Hawk’s opinion, definitely ‘Bark at the Moon’, from Ozzy’s third solo album of the same name.
The song tells the story of someone – or something – who once terrorized a town of simple God-fearing folk. With the Good Lord at their back they defeat and kill the monster and see him confined to the grave for (they hope) the rest of eternity. But as with any good horror movie, there’s no killing off evil, at least not at the first time of asking, and here, the creature duly rises from the grave, returning to seek revenge on his foes. (We’re invited to think that the monster in question is a werewolf. The song lyrics never mention the word explicitly, but they don’t really need to. You have the title, ‘Bark at the Moon’ invoking the lunar transformation, plus a decidedly werewolf-y looking character adorning the single cover.)
New Guitar Legend
It’s a great song – though with a minor critique to get out of the way first. The Hawk can’t help finding the mix of the intro section a little irritating – as though the producer couldn’t decide whether to give priority to the guitar or the keyboard, and ends up having both competing with each other. There are a few more loud synth effects sprinkled through the song for effect, most of which seem equally unnecessary. The song is at its best during the guitar driven sections, with the keyboard lower in the mix to support.
Obviously, there’s a reason for the guitar sounding a bit special. ‘Bark at the Moon’ was the first chance the fans got to hear Jake E. Lee in action, a new addition to Ozzy’s recording line-up after his previous guitarist Randy Rhoads had been killed in a plane crash.
Joyride in the Air
(Not just any run-of-the-mill plane crash either. On tour in the US to support Ozzy’s previous album, ‘Diary of a Madman’, one of the bus drivers, Andrew Aycock took Rhoads and costume designer Rachel Youngblood up for a pleasure flight in a light aircraft (though without first getting authorization to take the plane).
More of a joy ride as it turned out. Aycock decided to buzz the tour bus whilst it was out on the road, performing low passes almost close enough for the bus and plane passengers to reach out and touch each other if they’d wanted to. He messed up his final attempt, clipping the bus with his wing, with enough force to make a whole in its side. The plane flipped, hit a tree and then crashed into the side of a garage doing anything up to 150 knots – everyone on board was killed.
The subsequent inquiry into the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticised Aycock for his ‘poor judgement’, and noted that his medical certification had expired, invalidating his pilot’s license – meaning he shouldn’t have been at the controls at all that day. It was a tragic, yet very avoidable accident, but, The Hawk supposes, a suitably ‘rock and roll’ way to exit this mortal coil. It also created a vacancy that would be filled by Jake E. Lee, a different player than Rhoads, but no less talented for that.)
Back to the song. Those guitars – the precision staccato riffing throughout was quite an innovative sound back then, and not too many players could pull it off so accurately without losing the ‘feel’. And the solo – starts nice, melodic, hitting all the right chord tones. Then Lee builds to some violently fast shredding in the end part. Special. But it’s Ozzy’s vocals that really make the song come alive. The Hawk can’t quite put a claw on the exact reason – just something in his wailing tone that is excellent for telling a story, especially one with an ‘evil’ slant. It’s been a trademark all through Ozzy’s career.
The music video for ‘Bark at the Moon’ adds a whole new layer of entertainment. Here, Ozzy ditches the werewolf imagery completely, and replaces it with a mad scientist vibe, conjuring up Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel. Think ‘Dr. Osbourne and My Ozzy’ instead. The video was filmed partly at the Holloway Sanatorium – a stately home turned mental asylum near London, which is a great location choice that adds plenty of atmosphere to the mad scientist story. The sanatorium has now been turned into a well-to-do gated residential community with on-site sports facilities, which feels like a pity, but increasingly the way of things these days.
Returning to the video, first, we see Dr. Osbourne taking a secret potion and transforming into the fearsome Mr. Ozzy, to the horror of his strait-laced wife. (Mr. Ozzy does actually look a bit like a werewolf after the transformation is complete, though there’s no sign of any full moon, so this could be a coincidence). Then, Mr. Ozzy is bundled through the gates of the aforementioned Holloway Sanatorium wearing a strait jacket – he’s dumped in a padded cell, with experiments involving electrocution following quickly.
There’s a flashback to the ‘buried in the grave incident’ from the song – a turn of events that would surely be enough to get anyone’s goat. Then at the end, a seemingly cured Dr. Osbourne is released to be reunited with his loving wife – only to turn back and see Mr. Ozzy howling down from the roof.
Is Mr. Ozzy really a violent alter ego of Dr. Osbourne? Or has he become a separate being in his own right? That’s one for the fans to decide.
The makeup on the video was handled by none other than Rick Baker, who had recently found fame for his work on the hit movie ‘American Werewolf in London’ that had come out a couple of years previously. For someone who thought he’d end up as a down and out again after being fired by Black Sabbath, Ozzy was moving in some illustrious circles by this point in his career.
Werewolves In Folklore
For anyone who does prefer the main character in the song as a werewolf, it’s interesting that the song presents him as a specifically revenge-seeking werewolf. That’s Ozzy playing his own tune, so to speak – in most folklore tales of werewolves, they are generally not calculating, vengeance-gathering machines. Normally, the werewolf is a normal person by day, who simply loses control on the night of the full moon. Following the transformation, they are helpless to resist the trail of destruction they leave in their wake.
That type of werewolf character arc survives to modern literature, exhibit A being none other than the Harry Potter series, with its resident werewolf, Professor Remus Lupin. Lupin becomes a werewolf after being bitten by another, Fenrir Greyback, as a child. He mostly controls his transformations by drinking a magic potion, but if the potion is unavailable and he transforms, he is dangerous. In fact, in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’, Werewolf Lupin has to be stopped from attacking Harry and his friends by his uncle, Sirius Black, transformed into a dog. Obviously, Lupin would never knowingly harm Harry, which shows us how little a typical werewolf is able to think rationally enough to plot revenge on anyone. J.K. Rowling borrows heavily from myth and folklore throughout the Harry Potter series, and brings us a werewolf faithfully reflecting most of those tales.
So marks deducted from Ozzy on the werewolf authenticity scale there.
(Real) Song Credits
Finally, whilst we’re discussing Jake E. Lee, special mention must go to Ozzy’s wife, Sharon Osbourne, for attempting to coerce Lee out of his rightful credit for ‘Bark at the Moon’. The song, like a few others on the album, was written jointly by Ozzy and Lee, with bassist Bob Daisley also contributing. But it’s only Ozzy who received an official writing credit. Why? Seems Sharon Osbourne threatened to fire Lee from the band unless he signed a contract relinquishing all credits. Daisley himself accepted a similar buyout. But now we know the truth from the horse’s mouth – when Ozzy released ‘The Ozzman Cometh’ in 1997, he stated in the sleeve notes that, ‘ I had the vocal line for this [song] and Jake came up with the riff. It was the first song we wrote together.’
Sharon Osbourne is quite the piece of work, No? Classic Metal Hawk has already covered the story of how she short-changed fans by ruining an Iron Maiden set at Ozzfest, in retribution for a (mostly imagined) personal slight against Ozzy. Maybe there are more such stories out there waiting for the Hawk to tell them on his blog – watch this space.
‘Bark at the Moon’ has been covered a fair few times, including an interesting version from US punk outfit The Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13 – it takes a few seconds before you clock it’s the same song Ozzy recorded (and certainly there is no Jake E. Lee equivalent in the Frankenstein Drag Queens), but check it out if you have a minute.
Last Word to Ozzy…
Last work here must go to Ozzy, though, who apparently had a little catchphrase that he’d repeat for the band on regular occasions – it summed up his approach to both music and life, and helped inspire this song.
‘Eat s*** and bark at the moon’Ozzy Osbourse
The Hawk can’t help wondering if Ozzy had himself in mind when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Bark at the Moon’, whether the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing was a bit auto-biographical. It would be a good fit, right, considering what we know about Ozzy’s career.
Share your thoughts on that, or just on the song in the comments below – it’s a cracker either way. Or send feedback direct to The Hawk.