Who Can Be Heard Coughing At The Start Of Black Sabbath's Sweet Leaf?

Before they eventually got clean, Black Sabbath and drugs were almost as closely linked to each other as peanut butter and jelly. From supposedly spending $75,000 worth of cocaine while recording their 1972 album "Vol. 4" to writing songs about their cocaine use ("Snowblind") and Vietnam War veterans getting hooked on heroin ("Hand of Doom"), the boys from Birmingham, England, weren't shy about indulging in illegal substances or recording songs about them. It was the '70s, after all, and Sabbath was no stranger to controversial lyrical content.

On a much less dangerous note, "Sweet Leaf," the opening track off Sabbath's 1971 album "Master of Reality," was their ode to marijuana, and they made sure to drive that point home with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the gut — both through its lyrics and through Tony Iommi's anvil-heavy riffs. There's no doubt that the song is a love letter to weed, a "sweet leaf" that's put down and shut out by the squares of the world, and one that the band loves unconditionally even though it "can't hear." And in case it wasn't obvious enough, the tune begins with the sound of a man coughing repeatedly, looped for a few seconds until the opening riff hits. So who was the person coughing at the start of "Sweet Leaf"?

Tony Iommi might have had a little too much of the 'sweet leaf'

Those coughs you hear in the intro of "Sweet Leaf" do indeed make the song more authentic, and they came from none other than Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who, at that time, was sharing a joint with Ozzy Osbourne, as he recalled in his autobiography, "Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath."  According to the axeman, Osbourne offered him a "bloody big joint" to smoke, and he ended up "coughing [his] head off," with those coughs promptly caught on tape and looped when the time came to record "Sweet Leaf."

Although the popularity of "Sweet Leaf" helped make its title a common slang for marijuana in the years that followed, the inspiration for the title came from something much more legal, yet frowned upon by surgeon generals around the world — a pack of Irish cigarettes (via Songfacts). As the cigarette brand used the slogan "it's the sweet leaf" on its packaging, Black Sabbath thought that the last two words sounded much better as a nickname for marijuana. After that, the entire band worked on the song, apparently borrowing the main riff from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's 1966 track "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" – which, in a way, makes sense, as pot can give one the munchies.

The rest, as they say, is history — a stoner anthem was born, and it all started with a tape loop of someone actually coughing after taking a hit of some weed.