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Did Black Sabbath Steal the Opening Riff from ‘Paranoid’?

Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi has come up with a number of truly majestic metal riffs over the years, but it appears that in at least one case, someone else might have gotten there first.

Dangerous Minds notes that the signature riff that opens one of the band’s best songs, the title track from its 1970 album Paranoid, sounds pretty much the same as the opening to “Get Down,” a recording made by four-piece Michigan garage-rock combo Half Life in 1969. Recorded in a single take and lost to obscurity after it failed to gain any traction on Detroit radio, the track is now available as part of the compilation A-Square (Of Course): The Story of Michigan’s Legendary A-Square Records.

As Dangerous Minds’ post notes, “Paranoid” came together in the studio under similarly quick circumstances. “The whole story of how we created that song is funny. It became the most popular song from the album, but it wasn’t something we thought much of when we wrote it,” bassist Geezer Butler is quoted as saying. “In fact, we finished the record and then the producer told us we needed one more song to finish up the album, so we just came up with ‘Paranoid’ on the spot. Tony just played this riff and we all went along with it. We didn’t think anything of it.”

Of course, the idea that Sabbath somehow pilfered a chord progression from a little-known band half a world away doesn’t really hold water, and the post doesn’t make a serious argument for plagiarism. If anything, the similarities between the songs underscore how easy it can be for our shared musical building blocks to fall together the same way — and together, the two songs make for a pretty interesting listen. Check out “Paranoid” above, and listen to “Get Down” right here:

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