Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” is one of the group’s most famous songs, distinguished by Tony Iommi’s heavy blues-rock guitar riff that opens the track and propels it along to its chugging verses.
As it so happens, the riff from that 1970 hit is uncannily similar to the riff in “Get Down,” a song released the year before by Half Life, an obscure four-piece garage-rock act from Detroit. Half Life recorded the song in a single take and released it on A-Square Records, an independent label that released records for a number of rock acts in the Detroit–Ann Arbor area. “Get Down” failed to take off, and probably would have been lost forever were it not for its inclusion on the compilation, A-Square (Of Course): The Story of Michigan’s Legendary A-Square Records.
Oddly, “Paranoid” came together in a similarly quick fashion. As has been well documented, Sabbath wrote the song in the studio for their second album after learning they were one song shy of a full LP.
“The song ‘Paranoid’ was written as an afterthought,” bassist Geezer Butler told our sister publication Guitar World. “We basically needed a three-minute filler for the album, and Tony came up with the riff. I quickly did the lyrics, and Ozzy was reading them as he was singing.”
The song was so good that the album, originally titled War Pigs, was renamed Paranoid. The track became a hit, of course, and helped to build Sabbath’s popularity.
While it’s far from likely that Sabbath stole the riff from Half Life, whose song made little to no impact even within the Detroit area, it’s interesting to note how similar the two songs’ main riffs. Check it out for yourself below.