I wrote back on 'Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter' about how satisfying it was to see Iron Maiden at number one, regardless of the quality of the actual song itself. Or rather, how satisfying it was to see a bona fide metal track there at the top (in my eyes it's a vindication of sorts that teenage years spent in denim and leather weren't entirely misguided). Being a Black Sabbath song (originally appearing on 1972's 'Volume 4' album) sung by a genre icon in Ozzy Osbourne then 'Changes' should in theory ring similar bells with me. Moreso really; if Maiden were once regarded as part of the 'new wave of British heavy metal' (or NWOBHM for those in the know), then Sabbath were and remain defiantly old school with 'Changes' itself culled from their early glory years, a time where the Vertigo swirl on the label signified that the music within the grooves didn't see the top ten as its priority.
Rare for their output, 'Changes' is a piano led ballad with nary a power chord of doom in sight. "I feel unhappy, I feel so sad. I lost the best friend that I ever had"; straight and to the point, it's a simple song sung from an unhappy place, and while Ozzy himself delivers it in the same flat Brummie wail he delivers everything in, what his knitting with boxing gloves clunk loses in subtlety he gains with a direct authenticity heightened by the knowledge that the band were clearly stepping outside their comfort zone in offering it up on the album in-between the business as usual grind of 'Tomorrow's Dream' and the piledriving slam of 'Supernaut'.
Ozzy left Sabbath in 1978 for a solo career of diminishing returns that increasingly cast him in role of cartoon goon rocker more famous for his extra curricula activities than his recordings until, in 2002. he managed to break free of genre celebrity/infamy to become a national treasure/village idiot. The reason? An MTV fly on the wall 'reality show' called 'The Osbourne's' where a shambolic looking Ozzy was filmed at home with his family, blissfully unaware that in going about his confused daily business he was garnering more laughs than fanlove while his numerous dogs usefully supplied their own apt review of the entire enterprise by shitting all over his floors (much to Ozzy's dismay/our amusement).
Embarrassing and unbecoming - yes it was all this and more, yet it's precisely because of this show that Ozzy gained his first UK chart topper after over 35 years in the business, albeit with a little help from an appearance by daughter Kelly. And 'appearance' is right - in fact, her presence here sounds like she has been superimposed directly onto the original recording via digital trickery the way (for example) Natalie Cole was able to 'record' all those creepy duets with long dead father Nat. The difference is of course that Ozzy isn't dead. Neither were the remaining Sabbath members Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Tony Iommi (who actually wrote the song) who are nowhere to be seen on what is essentially a faithful cover of a Black Sabbath song.
Does that matter? Well I think so - this might be a re-recording of the 1972 original, but there's precious little difference between the two as far as the music goes -'Changes 2003' could have been the sort of discarded cut from '72 that usually surfaces on the 'Remastered Deluxe Version' of album re-releases and billed as 'demo' or alternate version' (and I suppose it's testament of sorts to Ozzy's vision that you couldn't put a cigarette paper between the differences in his vocal on both recordings) so some recognition wouldn't have gone amiss. But let's be honest here - Iron Maiden might have got to number one on their own terms with no compromise, but only a fool would think a straight re-issue of a thirty year old Sabbath album track would have been so successful; it's Ozzy's fame and persona alone that took this to number one with Osbourne Jr providing the commercial hook to make this more palatable to a wider/younger audience whose only exposure to the pair would have come via MTV.
But Kelly's presence creates a disturbance in the force sufficient enough to make this 'Changes' a different proposition to the 1972 cut. For a start, whereas Natalie Cole (from my earlier scenario) could sing a bit, Kelly honks her own lines on 'Changes' like a stroppy teen seal in a tin bath in a way that makes Pa's vocal float like Tony Bennett. 'Her own lines'? Ah yes, the other key difference between this and the Sabbath original are a set of partially re-written lyrics that shift the song from a monologue detailing the end of a relationship to a father/daughter dialogue that celebrates/mourns her coming of age and independence. "She is my baby, I love her so. But it's too late now, I've let her go" - it's pure corn on the cob with the schmaltz factor bursting the thermometer in its desperate attempt to bring the television series into the recording studio (and in turn into Ozzy's 'other' career) and recast the slapstick into heartfelt. There's no doubt that 'Changes' would love to leave a legacy as a credible alt version of (Cat Stevens') 'Father and Son', but alas, though Ozzy still has presence enough to carry a degree of authoritative credibility, Kelly's re-worded lyric ("We've shared the years, we've shared each day. I love you daddy, but I found my way") degenerates the whole project into little more than a re-working of 'Orville's Song', albeit with two puppets instead on one; all I hear in 'Changes' is the murky cash-in of an opportunistic showbiz gimmick and it annoys me far more than seeing the name 'Ozzy Osbourne' at number one has any right to do. "We're going through changes" - you certainly were Ozzy, and not for the better either.
* For those not in the know, a 1982 hit for ventriloquist Keith Harris who had a weird on-screen father/son relationship Orville, an execrable, attention seeking green puppet duck who wore a nappy and was always on the look out for any bit of sympathy he could get. Sample lyric:
"Orville: I wish that I had a mummy and dad but I don’t,
Keith: You don’t?
Orville: I don’t!
Orville: I often pretend my sadness will end but it won’t,
Keith: It will,
Orville: It won’t!
Keith: Look, Orville,
Keith: Now that I’m here with you, there’s nothing that you can’t do. So why don’t you make a start and hear what I’m saying, Orville?"