Behind the Song: Black Sabbath, “Changes”

It would have been impossible to imagine in 1972 that a band who helped originate heavy metal, with songs based on the supernatural, the occult, and wholesale drug use, would record a ballad that would become a theme song for an animated TV show two generations later. But that’s what happened with Black Sabbath’s song “Changes,” which originally appeared on the band’s album Vol. IV

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For several years, the chorus from “Changes,” performed by the late soul artist Charles Bradley, has been the intro music to the Netflix animated comedy Big Mouth, about a group of tweens dealing with puberty. It’s likely that most younger viewers, while they may think the melody sounds familiar, don’t realize that this song was originally a slow, piano-based piece about the pain of marital breakup. Appropriately credited to all four Black Sabbath members – vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward – the song dealt with emotional changes, not the hormonal ones that Big Mouth centers around. 

In his 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy, Osbourne explained how a guy who later became known for biting the heads off of flying animals came up with a heartfelt song like this one. “We wanted to impress ourselves before we impressed anyone else. If other people happened to like what we were doing, that was just a bonus. That’s how we ended up doing songs like ‘Changes,’ which didn’t sound like anything we’d ever done before.”

“When a lot of people hear the name ‘Black Sabbath’ all they think of is the heavy stuff. But there was a lot more to us than that – especially when we started making an effort to get away from all that black magic shit. With ‘Changes,’ Tony just sat down at the piano and came up with this beautiful riff, I hummed a melody over the top, and Geezer wrote these heartbreaking lyrics about the breakup Bill was going through with his wife at the time. I thought that was brilliant from moment the we recorded it.”

In his 2011 autobiography Iron Man, Iommi gave his side of the story about how the band composed the song. “I’d never played the piano before and I started learning it right there and then … I came up with ‘Changes.’ Ozzy came in and said, ‘Oh I like that’ and started singing to it. We got the Mellotron in and Geezer started playing that, like an accompaniment, an orchestral thing. And that was it, we decided to record it. It sounded really weird; I couldn’t believe it was us. Geezer and me were learning, it was a challenge.”

Before Charles Bradley died in 2017, he recorded “Changes” for his album of the same name, and his version also appeared in the first season of the HBO series Big Little Lies. Big Mouth has reportedly been renewed for the fall season on Netflix, so we’ll see if that intro is used once again. 

Osbourne said that the song has never grown old for him. “I had to keep listening to it, over and over again [when we recorded it]. I’m still like that today; if I put it on my iPod I’ll drive everyone nuts by singing along to it for the rest of the day.”

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