The Ultimate Sin, Ozzy Osbourne’s fourth solo album was marred by controversy — stemming not from the then-active PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) who sought to “label” potentially “dangerous” images and music, but rather from within the band.
The album’s backstory includes a few key personnel changes. It marked the last appearance of guitarist Jake E. Lee, who also played on 1983’s Bark at the Moon after joining the band in 1982 as the supposed permanent replacement for Randy Rhoads, tragically killed in a plane crash in March of that year.
Additionally, it was the debut of late drummer Randy Castillo, who was with the Oz-Man through 1993’s Live & Loved. It was also the only Osbourne record to feature bassist Phil Soussan, who co-wrote Shot in the Dark.
Before making the record, Ozzy did a stint in rehab, and upon his release, Lee had written numerous songs for the album that would become The Ultimate Sin. In a 1986 Guitar World article, Lee explained: “I more or less wrote entire songs. I didn’t write melodies or lyrics because Ozzy is bound to do a lot of changing if I was to do that. I put about 12 songs down on tape and when he got out of the Betty Ford clinic it was, ‘Here ya go, here’s what I’ve got so far.’ I’d say half of it ended up on the album.”
Furthermore, nearly all the lyrics (apart from Shot in The Dark) were penned by bass player Bob Daisley. In an interview with BraveWords, Daisley said, “I did write the album with Jake, and then Ozzy and I had a falling out, and he fired me, and he was going to fire Jake as well. A few weeks later, he called me and he had Phil Soussan on bass, but I’d already written a lot of the music with Jake so they knew they had to credit me on the songs anyway. So I guess he thought he may as well get his money’s worth and asked me to come back and write the lyrics also. I did that as sort of a paid job. I write it, you pay me and take it and go.”
However, Daisley wasn’t credited for his writing contributions on the initial 1986 pressing of the album, though this was subsequently corrected, meaning there are 500,000 albums in circulation that don’t credit the bassist as the chief lyrical architect. Additionally, Phil Soussan filed a lawsuit against the Osbournes for unpaid royalties on Shot in the Dark.
That said, music and friendship trumped differences for Daisley at least, who returned to Ozzy for No Rest for the Wicked and No More Tears.
Producer Ron Nevison, who had previously helmed albums from UFO, the Michael Schenker Group and Heart, produced The Ultimate Sin, capturing the tough yet catchy songs with deft production. From gentle guitar intros, to Lee’s shredding solos on songs like Secret Loser, to the classic chorus of the memorable Lightning Strikes, many songs, including Never Know Why, became staples of the Oz-man’s solo career. The album was a solid if not groundbreaking entry in the Sabbath singer’s catalogue.
Apparently Ozzy initially intended to title the record after the nearly six-minute Killer of Giants, the seventh song on the record, but changed it to The Ultimate Sin at the last minute.
Killer of Giants was an anti-war ode: “If none of us believe in war / Then can you tell me what the weapon’s for? / Listen to me everyone /If the button is pushed there’ll be nowhere to run.” Add to that Thank God for The Bomb and you can see what was on lyricist Daisley’s mind.
The nine songs and 40 minutes of music that comprise The Ultimate Sin hit No. 6 on the Billboard 200, and to date, has sold more than 2 million copies. Upon its release, Rolling Stone reviewed the record, invoking such backhanded compliments as “Despite the fundamentalist-baiting tactics of a packaging scheme that screeches sex, death and damnation (the kids, of course, love this ersatz Satanic cartoonery), the innards of The Ultimate Sin reveal the Oz as a loony comic character whose malevolent shtick is but a scrim covering a benevolent and compassionate soul.”
Happy birthday to The Ultimate Sin, whose Never Know Why perfectly puts clueless rock/metal detractors in their place: “It’s just a feeling how we excite / You cannot rule everybody in sight / But you condemn, don’t understand / And you’ll never know why / Oh no, you’ll never know why / We rock, rock, rock.”