The song is about the disjointed feelings the group’s bass player, Terence “Geezer” Butler, felt before, during, and after smoking cannabis.
“Paranoid” was an album filler. In much the same way as “Walk This Way,” which was also originally just something to fill out Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” album a few years later, it became a bigger hit than any of the other songs on the album. The lyrics are dark and foreboding, indicating the struggles that Butler was feeling when he smoked cannabis. Although the song never actually uses the word “paranoid” in the lyrics, the song describes what Butler was feeling while high. He says that he didn’t know the difference between depression and paranoia at the time. He couldn’t feel as if he could relate to others. Further, the lyrics speak of not being able to love anyone and that it was too late.
The Band’s Opinion of the Song
Not only was the song simple filler for the album, but it was also slapped together in just 20 minutes and done live. Guitarist Tony Iommi just riffed something. Butler was inspired and wrote the lyrics, and off they went recording this little three-minute filler song. Butler notes that lead singer Ozzy Osbourne was reading the handwritten lyrics off of a sheet of paper as they did the song in one take. Butler also says that a lot of the material on the album dated from a few months before when they were working on their first album, which was called “Black Sabbath.” The irony of something slapdash becoming more popular than the material upon which the band had worked for months wasn’t lost on any of the band members.
The definition of “hit” when it comes to “Paranoid” isn’t the same as it would be for a Top-40 song. In fact, it only ever reached No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the United States, the song has always been a “niche hit,” immensely popular with heavy metal fans, particularly those of Black Sabbath, but never quite hitting the mainstream. Overseas, it was another matter. The song was No. 1 in Germany and Denmark, No. 2 in Switzerland and the Netherlands, and No. 3 in Austria. When the song was released as a single, it reached No. 4 on the singles chart in the United States.
“Paranoid” appears in many television programs and films. Most of these have dark themes, such as in “American Horror Story” and “Supernatural,” but it’s also appeared in police shows like “Hawaii Five-0” and “Training Day.” In films, the song shows up in “Dark Shadows,” “Any Given Sunday,” and “Sid & Nancy.”
Finished with my woman ’cause
She couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane because
I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things
But nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind
If I don’t find something to pacify
Can you help me
Occupy my brain?
I need someone to show me
The things in life that I can’t find
I can’t see the things that make
True happiness, I must be blind
Make a joke and I will sigh
And you will laugh and I will cry
Happiness I cannot feel
And love to me is so unreal
And so as you hear these words
Telling you now of my state
I tell you to enjoy life
I wish I could but it’s too late
Songwriters: Michael Butler / Ozzy Osbourne / Tony Iommi / William Ward
Listeners of Metal music, might also appreciate the song Nothing Else Matters by Metallica