Last month, Ozzy Osbourne took home two trophies at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards: Best Rock Album, for his 13th solo LP, Patient Number 9; and Best Metal Performance, for the Tony Iommi collaboration “Degradation Rules.” They were Osbourne’s fourth and fifth Grammys, and they may have softened the blow of his recent forced retirement from touring due to ongoing spinal problems. His exit from the road is a shame, but it’s somewhat of a miracle that he could retire as a septuagenarian in the first place. His own songbook has been predicting his death for decades.
Osbourne first left Black Sabbath in 1979. His departure took place in a haze of addiction and acrimony, and if going solo didn’t exactly inspire him to clean up his act, it at least reinvigorated him musically. He teamed up with wunderkind guitarist Randy Rhoads for a white-hot solo debut called Blizzard of Ozz. Rhoads died at 25 in a 1982 plane crash, shattering Osbourne and proffering a what if on par with The Day the Music Died. Death also stalked the music. On Blizzard of Ozz, Osbourne sang the controversial “Suicide Solution,” which led to a lawsuit from the parents of a young fan who tragically took his own life. Nearly every album has included lines looking back at the wreckage of his misspent years, or marveling at his continued existence. “I can’t believe I’m still here / I know I should be dead, yeah,” Osbourne sings on Black Rain cut “11 Silver.” That album came out 16 years ago, and 27 years after “Suicide Solution.” Osbourne’s still with us.
For all the real-life darkness that’s surrounded Osbourne over the years, his solo albums have typically been lively pop-metal affairs, and a friendlier entry point to heavy metal than Sabbath’s apocalyptic clamor. Osbourne’s pop sensibility has yielded results ranging from genius (eternal arena anthem “Crazy Train”) to disastrous (a pair of Post Malone collabs), but for better or worse, it’s helped define a career with no equal in the history of heavy music. We’ve ranked all 13 of Osbourne’s solo albums below.
13. Under Cover (2005)
Covers albums are more often contractual cop-outs than thoughtfully assembled records, but Under Cover just might be the nadir of the form. No one is asking Ozzy Osbourne to cover crate-digger deep cuts, but his song choices are so embarrassingly obvious that they could have soundtracked a Forrest Gump sequel. (Osbourne’s rendition of “For What It’s Worth,” an actual Gump needle drop, lands with a dull thud.) More than anything, Under Cover feels unenlightening. What can we learn from the fact that Ozzy Osbourne loves “Sunshine of Your Love” and “Working Class Hero”? Absolutely nothing. Moving right along.
12. Down to Earth (2001)
If you spent any time in a used CD store in the early 2000s, you’ve seen Down to Earth — likely multiple copies, with new, lower price stickers affixed every few months. Osbourne’s 2001 full-length was an especially unmovable piece of secondhand stock, despite going to No. 4 on the Billboard 200 upon its initial release. The all-star lineup of Zakk Wylde, Faith No More’s Mike Bordin, and a pre-Metallica Robert Trujillo can’t overcome the generic songwriting or the overwhelming sense that Osbourne doesn’t really want to be there. By 2001, Osbourne’s traveling summer festival, Ozzfest, was a perennial cash cow — he didn’t need to make an album. Down to Earth sounds fittingly obligatory.
11. Ordinary Man (2020)
Pop superproducer Andrew Watt took the helm for 2020’s Ordinary Man, and despite his best intentions, it’s an overbaked mess. For the first time in Osbourne’s discography, there’s no band here, just an endless list of contributors. Watt’s Rolodex-rock approach means Charlie Puth, Post Malone, Travis Scott, Slash, Tom Morello, and an army of session musicians are forced to wrestle for space beneath Osbourne’s hyper-processed vocals. A few of the songs work, like the Elton John-featured title track and the stupid but self-aware “Scary Little Green Men.” But by and large, Watt hadn’t yet figured out how to work with his idol. He’d get better at it soon.
10. Scream (2010)
Despite playing in his band for eight years, Firewind guitarist Gus G only appears on one of Osbourne’s albums. That’s 2010’s underwhelming Scream, which sadly doesn’t do enough to utilize the Greek shredder’s neoclassical chops. Whenever G gets to solo for more than a few bars, you can hear a road not taken for Osbourne, one that surely would have been less lucrative but might have impressed more power metal fans. As it stands, Scream is a middling album with one massive single – “Let Me Hear You Scream,” which appeared in Madden NFL 11 and sounds the part – and a whole bunch of competent 21st-century Osbourne tunes.
9. Black Rain (2007)
Black Rain is either the best bad Ozzy Osbourne album or the worst good one. Its position in his discography is odd, sandwiched as it is between the dire Down to Earth and Under Cover and the mediocre-at-best Scream and Ordinary Man. In 2007, something must have just been clicking for Osbourne, Wylde, Bordin, and former Rob Zombie bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson. As its title and cover suggest, Black Rain is one of the heaviest albums in Osbourne’s solo discography. 2007 was the deadliest year of the Iraq War, and the title track captures the mood of that moment, updating Sabbath’s Vietnam-era “War Pigs” as a bluesy dirge. Even the ballads, like the doomy “Lay Your World on Me,” feel freighted with darkness. The exception is the tenacious “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” still Osbourne’s best pop banger this century. The deeper cuts mostly don’t work, but the peaks are still high enough to reservedly recommend the album.
8. Patient Number 9 (2022)
Osborne worked with Andrew Watt for a second time with 2022’s Patient Number 9. Thankfully, the results were much better than on Ordinary Man. Watt again leaned on famous pals for flashy features, but this time, the guests are squarely in Osbourne’s wheelhouse. Instead of Post Malone and Travis Scott, we get Eric Clapton and the late Jeff Beck, in one of his final recordings. You can’t help but hear the joy Osbourne takes in collaborating with his peers and heroes. (Tony Iommi and Zakk Wylde also appear on the album, and it sounds like a family reunion.) At an hour and change, Patient Number 9 perhaps inevitably loses steam in the back half. But there’s a half-dozen truly killer songs here, including the Iommi collab “No Escape from Now.” It’s more Sabbathian than anything Osbourne’s done in years, including the last Black Sabbath album.
7. Bark at the Moon (1983)
Nobody could have replaced Randy Rhoads. At 25, he was already one of the most revered rock guitarists on the planet, and his death could have easily stopped Osbourne’s solo career in its tracks. It’s to Jake E. Lee’s credit that he stepped into an impossible situation and delivered. Bark at the Moon is far from perfect, and Osbourne is still clearly reeling from the loss of his sideman, but Lee’s playing on the album is terrific. The title track’s driving main riff remains one of the finest in Osbourne’s catalog, and the balance of tongue-wagging verve and tasteful melodicism that Lee brings to songs like “You’re No Different” and “Rock ’n’ Roll Rebel” is more than worthy of Rhoads.
6. The Ultimate Sin (1986)
According to Lee, he composed most of Bark at the Moon but was shut out of a writing credit by Ozzy’s famously shrewd wife and manager Sharon Osbourne. The guitarist insisted on receiving credit for follow-up The Ultimate Sin, the first album that truly pushed Osbourne out of the Rhoads era and into the future. With Lee nudging the sound toward the sharp-edged hair metal of Ratt and Dokken, The Ultimate Sin is bright and ebullient without losing its essential Ozzness. The bouncy “Shot in the Dark” achieves pop-metal perfection, while “Thank God for the Bomb” and “Killer of Giants” dilute the album’s spoonful-of-sugar approach with a little extra medicine. Lee was fired shortly after the release of The Ultimate Sin, making the album a relic of a doomed era.
5. Ozzmosis (1995)
Putting Ozzmosis ahead of the Jake E. Lee records is probably too hot a take for most folks, but the obsessive relistening I did while working on this list confirmed it. Where Bark felt transitional and Sin didn’t totally fulfill the promise of its pop pivot, Ozzmosis is comfortable and lived in. It marked the third straight Osbourne album with Zakk Wylde on guitar, and Ozzy’s old Black Sabbath bandmate Geezer Butler plays the bass. The Ozzman himself sounds great, with the same rich, belting tone that helped make No More Tears a triumph. He’s rarely sounded better than he does on the chorus to “Ghost Behind My Eyes” or the bridge of “Tomorrow,” to say nothing of the brilliant oddity that is “Perry Mason.” Ozzmosis is also a rare document of Osbourne gesturing toward a graceful middle age that never quite materialized. By the following decade, he’d be more famous for Ozzfest and The Osbournes than he was for his albums. On Ozzmosis, he’s just a musician, playing songs with his friends and figuring out how to move forward creatively. I’ll let you guess which one I find more interesting.
4. No Rest for the Wicked (1988)
There’s a song on No Rest for the Wicked called “Breakin’ All the Rules,” but the only rule Osbourne’s fifth album breaks is the one against having a pinch harmonic squeal interrupt every moment of breathing room for 40 minutes straight. That’s actually a compliment! After Jake E. Lee’s exit, Osbourne brought in a new guitarist whose blonde mane and cherubic youth reminded people of Randy Rhoads. Zakk Wylde didn’t play like Rhoads, though. In fact, Wylde systematically eliminated anything he thought would make him sound like anybody else, removing sweep picking, harmonic minor scales, diminished scales, and two-handed tapping from his repertoire before recording No Rest. What was left was pentatonic scales, Southern rock-inspired chicken-pickin’, and a whole lot of squealing. Songs like “Miracle Man,” “Devil’s Daughter (Holy War), and “Crazy Babies” hum with the electricity of a new guitar hero’s arrival. Wylde’s style might not sound quite as fresh in 2023, but 35 years ago, there was nothing quite like it.
3. Diary of a Madman (1981)
If Diary of a Madman can’t quite top Blizzard of Ozz for pure star power, its bench is certainly every bit as deep. On his second (and final) album with Osbourne, Randy Rhoads confirmed that he was much more than a shredder and a showman. The soul-stirring “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” and the eerie title track are brilliantly composed multi-part epics built around Rhoads’ generational talent, and the opening one-two punch of “Over the Mountain” and “Flying High Again” proved that his riffs could be just as sharp as his leads. There’s not a weak song in the bunch, and it’s clear the Rhoads/Osbourne collaboration would have reached even greater heights had Rhoads lived. What a bummer.
2. Blizzard of Ozz (1980)
Every solo debut is, at some level, a kiss-off to the musician’s former band. A good first solo album says, “This is what we could have had, but you blew it.” It’s a good thing Black Sabbath hired Ronnie James Dio and saved face because Blizzard of Ozz is an all-time rebound. Tony Iommi may have invented heavy metal guitar, but in Randy Rhoads, Osbourne had found someone who could make Iommi sound old-fashioned. “I Don’t Know” crackles out of the speakers with a spirit that the past few Sabbath albums hadn’t been able to conjure, and it’s only the beginning. Osbourne, Rhoads, Bob Daisley, and Lee Kerslake then proceed to rip through “Crazy Train,” “Goodbye to Romance,” “Suicide Solution,” motherfucking “Mr. Crowley” and “Revelation (Mother Earth).” Only the dopey “No Bone Movies” and the album-closing comedown of “Steal Away (The Night)” keep Blizzard from being a perfect record. But the highs are so ridiculously high that it still gets the nod over the slightly more consistent Diary of a Madman. It’s still not quite the best Ozzy Osbourne album.
1. No More Tears (1991)
In his five-decade career, no album has played to Ozzy Osbourne’s strengths better than No More Tears. Osbourne in his vocal prime fronting the Zakk Wylde-led band from No Rest for the Wicked with crucial songwriting contributions from Motörhead’s Lemmy Kilmister is one of the great alchemical synergies in metal history. On rockers and ballads alike, everyone is fully dialed in here. The world-weary perspective that creeps into songs like “I Don’t Want to Change the World” and “Road to Nowhere” reveals a thoughtful, reflective Osbourne, one that’s pointedly at odds with the madman who bit the heads off bats and doves in the ’80s. The towering centerpiece is “No More Tears,” a shimmering pop-metal epic that pairs some gloriously nonsensical rock n’ roll poetry to what might be Osbourne’s most powerful melodies. A light in the window is a crack in the sky, indeed. I think. In any case, No More Tears is Ozzy Osbourne’s best album.