By 1997, Ozzy had reclaimed his crown as the prince of darkness. The successful Ozzfest, including a partial Black Sabbath reunion (Mike Bordin instead of Bill Ward) had introduced Ozzy to a wave of nu-metal youngesters. Why not cap the year off with a greatest hits album? It wasn’t Ozzy’s first (1989’s Best of Ozz preceding it) but it was his first for most of the world. Incredibly, given the Ozzy camp’s ability to muck up important releases from time to time, it was a particularly good package.
The Ozzman Cometh has had a number of issues over the years, but we won’t get into the ones that came after Sharon meddled around with re-recorded tracks. Initially there was a limited edition 2 CD set and a standard single disc. The lucky fans in Japan got an expanded 2 CD set with two bonus tracks. That’s the one you see pictured here. It comes in a non-standard extra thick jewel case due to the extra Japanese booklet inside.
The big deal of this new compilation was the inclusion of recently discovered early Black Sabbath tapes — “Ozzy’s 1970 basement tapes”. Wikipedia tells us that these are actually BBC recordings: “The John Peel Sessions” of 26 April 1970. These have yet to be included on any Sabbath deluxe, so you have to be sure to get The Ozzman Cometh to complete your Sabbath collections. “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs” commence the set right out of the gate. These tapes are raw but clean, and Geezer Butler has remarkable presence. It’s a very sharp picture of what young Black Sabbath sounded like. The lyrics are still a work in progress for those who love such differences, but Ozzy sounds even more like a man possessed. “War Pigs” is still in its “Walpurgis” form, the “Satanic” version, and this is the clearest you will likely hear it.
Onto the hits: Ozzy’s grudge against The Ultimate Sin was apparently already in play. On the US CD, only one track from the Jake E. Lee era was included and it’s “Bark at the Moon”. In Japan, “Shot in the Dark” is substituted in replacing Zakk Wylde’s “Miracle Man”, bringing the Lee content to two. However the Randy Rhoads era is the star of the disc, with his version of “Paranoid” lifted from the Tribute album. Included are, for the most part, the expected usual Rhoads songs: “Crazy Train”, “Goodbye to Romance”, and “Mr. Crowley”, but no “I Don’t Know”. Instead it’s the more interesting “Over the Mountain”.
As for Zakk Wylde’s legacy, it’s hobbled by the missing “Miracle Man”, since “Crazy Babies” doesn’t adequately capture his madness. “No More Tears” is present as a single edit, and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is necessary for any hits CD catering to people who just want some Ozzy songs they like. It’s unfortunate that “I Don’t Want to Change the World” from Live & Loud takes up space. The Zakk era ends with two good songs: “I Just Want You”, the excellent dark ballad from Ozzmosis, and “new” song “Back on Earth”. You had to have a new song, and according to the liner notes this was an unreleased one from the Ozzmosis era featuring Geezer Butler on bass. Fortunately it doesn’t sound like an inferior song, just one too many ballads for the album. (It’s written by Taylor Rhodes and Richie Supa.)
The second CD contains more treasure. “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” are bonus Sabbath songs from the same Peel session. Like the first two, they are crisp and probably essential to any serious fan of the original lineup.
Japan got two extra songs from movie soundtracks, enabling you to get them on an Ozzy CD. The first is the excellent “Walk on Water”, Ozzy’s only studio recording with Zakk Wylde’s replacement Joe Holmes. If you wanted to know what an Ozzy album with Holmes would have sounded like, here’s a good indication. It would have been not too dissimilar from Ozzmosis but with some really different guitar playing. Sure sounds like Mike Bordin on drums! The other soundtrack song is “Pictures of Matchstick Men” featuring Type O Negative as the backing band. It’s pretty forgettable.
The Ozzy interview from 1988 is 17 minutes of nothing special. Here’s an interesting fact for you. When stores were solicited for this album in 1997, I can distinctly remember the papers saying the interview would be a new one conducted by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I no longer have that piece of paper, and memory is what it is these days, but that’s what it said. For whatever reason the 1988 one was used instead. Go ahead and let me know how often you play it. You can tell it was taped in the UK, at a rehearsal or soundcheck, because you can hear Zakk wailing away in the background.
The Japanese CD also comes with a neat sticker sheet with all of Ozzy’s album artwork on it. I think the US CD has some screen savers. I’d rather have the stickers.
Ozzy and company did the greatest hits thing right and have never actually done it this well since. May as well track down a 2 CD Ozzman Cometh and get those Black Sabbath tracks you’re missing.