Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970)

One of the world’s most famous and influential heavy metal groups, Black Sabbath shocked the world when they released their debut album in 1970 and brought occult themed rock into the mainstream. The original line up included Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iomni, Gezer Butler and Bill Ward.,

There is no doubt amongst music fans that Black Sabbath is one of the pioneers of hard rock, and one of the most important, and most influential, bands in the history of music. But when they released their first album in 1970, it really wasn’t as overly groundbreaking as its often given credit. Hard rock had been around for awhile via Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf and Deep Purple and the occult in music had been established long ago with Robert Johnson, and continued via the music of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Coven and Arthur Brown. But what Black Sabbath had done that perhaps the other artists hadn’t done at that time was capture the imagination of the mainstream. Black Sabbath’s distinct brand of music, which combined hard rock, blues and mysticism, was quickly embraced by a new, more jaded, generation of music fans.

Who, or what, was the woman on the cover of Black Sabbath’s first album? Was she a ghost? A vampire? A witch? Something worse? In the age before the internet an entire mythology about this mysterious figure emerged, adding more lore to the Black Sabbath legend.

One of the most dynamic draws to their self-titled album, beyond the strong song writing, great blues rock guitar at the hands of Tony Iomni and the gritty vocal power of lead singer Ozzy Osbourne, was the enigmatic cover of the album. A photo of Black Sabbath did not appear on the front or the back cover. Instead, was the image of a bleak landscape featuring an old mill, and the mysterious figure of a dark cloaked lady, just slightly out of focus. The haunting image was so different than anything seen on an album cover before that it surely caught the attention of an audience that reveled in darker media – the same audience that would gravitate to Black Sabbath’s music.

Almost immediately, in an age before the internet and mass information, the album cover, and especially the mysterious woman, became the subject of legends, stories and mythology which only amplified the iconism of the image.

The cover of Black Sabbath’s first album was shot by artist Keith “Keef” McMillan,.

First of all, it should be noted that the woman was distinctly different from the images of women popularized in music of the era. Far removed from the mod scene of Canterbury Street, the flower children of San Francesco or the go go dancers of Los Angeles, she had a murky uncomfortable darkness to her. With her dark eyes, long black hair and death shroud that covered her, she was out of a Hammer Horror movie, or an EC comic book. She was more “Dark Shadows” than “Hullabaloo,” What was she supposed to be? A vampire? A witch? A ghost? A banshee? Something worse? She encapsulated mystery, magik and sex in a morbid fantasy. For a lot of misunderstood youths, that was far more appealing than Nancy Sinatra or Susan Dey.

One story about the mysterious woman was actually Ozzy Osbourne in drag, but compared to this 1984 photo shoot, its very unlikely.

Often the members of Black Sabbath were asked about who she was, or what she represented, but in actuality they did not know the answer. The photograph had been taken by an artist only identified as Keef, and Black Sabbath were not present for the photo shoot and had never met the mysterious figure on their debut album.

Soon stories about who the woman was began to emerge, many stranger than the last. One popular rumor is that the model, who nobody claimed to know, had been raped and murdered shortly after the photo shoot, while another variation of the story said that she was member of a cult, who was sacrificed shorty after the image had been taken by angry occultists who were mad that she had participated in the photos.

Another wild, but not entirely improbable rumor, was that the woman was in fact Ozzy Osbourne in drag. If you look hard at the image, and blur your eyes a little bit, perhaps the woman might eventually look like a young Ozzy…. especially if you do a truck load of drugs before looking at it

Finally, an often repeated story was that the woman was never intended to be on the cover, and when Keef went to shoot the old spooky mill that the image of the woman mysteriously appeared in the picture as a ghostly specter.

The location of the photo was the Mapledurham Water Oxenshire, England on the River Thames. Visitors can still see the 15th Century mill today which has been fully restored since the famous photo was taken.

To me, I always thought the figure represented the woman that Ozzy sings about in the song “Warning,” which may not be the best song on the album but has always been one of my very favorites. In “Warning” Ozzy sings:

“Now, the first day that I met ya

I was looking in the sky

When the sun turned all a blur

And the thunderclouds rolled by

The sea began to shiver

It must’ve been a sign for me

And the wind began to moan

To leave you well alone.”

A closer look at the Black Sabbath woman. In 2020 the identity of the woman was finally revealed to Louisa Livingstone who, at age 19, was hired by Keef to pose for the photo. To celebrate the albums 50th Anniversary, Keef released this outtake from the famous photo session, debunking the popular myths and rumor’s revolving about the woman’s identity.

However, in 2020, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the album, the truth was finally revealed when Keef came out of nowhere and spoke for the first time about the famous photo he shot in 1970.

The photo had been taken in Oxfordshire, England on the River Thames at the Mapledurham Water Mill. Originally built in the 15th Century. The mill still stands today, and has been restored and is in much better shape since the iconic photo was taken. The photographer was Keith “Keef” McMillan, and for the assignment he hired a local 19-year-old girl (some sources say she might have been twenty) named Louisa Livingstone to model for the photo. The pair went out to the mill in the early morning hours, and Keef ran around throwing dry ice into the Thames, and eventually used a fog machine for effects.

What blows my imagination is that, apparently, Louisa was wearing nearly nothing under the cloak, and more racy versions of the image were taken, but Keef felt that the erotic nature of those photos seemed to detract from the mystery of the photo. If those alternative photos still exist, they’ve never been seen by the public. Keef was probably right, but wouldn’t you love to see them?

In 2021 Louisa Livingstone got her own pop vinyl from Funko, solidifying her influence in pop culture.

The identity reveal of Louisa Livingstone made world headlines in 2020, and it was also revealed she was a musician herself, but made electronic music and was not, in fact, a fan of Black Sabbath’s music, nor heavy metal in general.

But while the truth of the woman might not be as exciting as the legends, the photo is still one of the most eerie and iconic images in music history. So iconic that in 2021 Louisa gained another pop culture honor when the Funko company made a pop vinyl figure in her image. A telling tribute to one of heavy metal’s unlikeliest female icons.

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