Thursday, February 13, marked 50 years since the release of Black Sabbath's groundbreaking self-titled debut album.
The iconic album was somewhat hastily put together, recorded in just two days, capturing a young band with a fresh new sound and no time to second-guess itself.
While the apparent rush to complete the album didn't detract from the music, there were other aspects of the production that were nearly lost to history.
One of the most enduring mysteries of the record was the identity of the "figure in black" on the cover.
The photographer who shot the unsettling LP cover, Keith Macmillan, was credited only as "Keef" in the liner notes. While Macmillan's identity was known on account of his work with other rockers, like David Bowie and Rod Stewart, he never agreed to discuss the Sabbath sleeve until the LP's golden anniversary.
Macmillan's silence meant the cover model's identity remained largely unknown. Even the band didn't know who she was, though they recall several women claiming to be the model over the years.
Her name is Lousia Livingstone. Though her connection to heavy metal history is inextricable, she admitted in a recent Rolling Stone interview that hard rock was never her bag, and she certainly never approached the band.
Macmillan found Livingstone through a London modeling agency. He had a location in mind already — a 15th century building in Oxfordshire — he just needed the right subject.
At five feet tall, Livingstone was the perfect size to give "the landscape a bit more grandeur" via perspective and she also had a creative, cooperative demeanor.
The 18 or 19 year old Livingstone recalls the shoot taking place on "one of those very cold English mornings." Adding to the discomfort was the fact that she was wearing only a long black cloak, as Macmillan wanted to experiment with more "risqué" options. Ultimately "none of that worked," he conceded.
"Any kind of sexuality took away from the foreboding mood," Macmillan says. "But she was a terrific model. She had amazing courage and understanding of what I was trying to do."
The cover's symmetry with the lyrics in the lead track, "Black Sabbath," ("Figure in black which points at me") appears as well to be a coincidence. Macmillan said he didn't give much thought to lyrics when designing the shoot, he was just going something that represented the vibe of the music. Livingstone did the rest, he says.
"If you over-direct, as a photographer, in my opinion, it looks a little more staged," he said. "And I think one of the charms of the album, it just looks snapped. It just looks like an instant of something that was actually going on."
Photo: Getty Images