The Best and Worst of Judas Priest (Part 2)
Continuing Our Trip Through Time With the Metal Gods...
Hello and welcome to Part 2 of "The Best 'n' Worst of Judas Priest!" I've taken it upon myself to dig through the band's extensive catalog of utterly bad-ass, classic leather-n-studs Heavy Metal, and recommend which of their many CDs are most worth your time and money. In our last entry we covered "The Essentials," and now we'll continue delving into the good, the bad, and the rest of the band's studio output.
In this section we'll discuss Judas Priest albums that may be highly regarded by the band's fan base, but are not necessarily well known outside of the metal community. In other words, while just about everybody knows "Breakin' the Law" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," not as many know "Jawbreaker" or "Desert Plains." If you're a soccer Mom who's only recently discovered Judas Priest thanks to that Honda mini-van commercial featuring "The Hellion" and you're curious to hear more, any of these albums would be a nice place to start.
DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH (CBS/Sony, 1984) The follow up to JP's platinum smash SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE never quite achieved the lofty sales heights of its predecessor, but it's a damn fine hunk of molten steel in its own right and may in fact be one of the Priest's most bad-ass albums overall. The cover depiction of a huge metallic creature with fangs and claws bared pretty much sums this one up before you even hit the "play" button. Inside you'll find "Freewheel Burning," another early stab at speed metal JP style, and crushing goodies like the epic "Sentinel," the doomy "Love Bites," and the anthemic title track.
POINT OF ENTRY (CBS/Sony, 1981) My brother and I hold this one near and dear to our hearts because the first Judas Priest song we ever heard - "Headin' Out to the Highway" - comes from this album. Who knows, if we hadn't seen that video on MTV one fateful afternoon in 1981, we may never have become the metal heads that we are today! The Priest fanhood seems to be divided on this record; those who love it, REALLY love it, while others don't rank it very highly at all. I will say that when the band is "on" (as in tracks like the aforementioned "Highway," the snappy "Hot Rockin'" and the moody "Desert Plains") POINT OF ENTRY rocks like a mutha, but it is unfortunately saddled with a couple of turkey tracks like the goofy "Turning in Circles" and irritating "You Say Yes." This one is probably destined to remain a cult favorite.
SIN AFTER SIN (CBS/Sony, 1977) Priest's third album tends to be overlooked by all but the most diehard fans. Dark, doomy, atmospheric, and morose, this is probably the most depressing album in the JP catalog. I know I certainly didn't "get" this one at all when I first heard it as a teen, but when I revisited it years later it finally "clicked" with me and now I reach for it quite often. Fun fact: the disc was produced by Roger Glover of Deep Purple fame. Key tracks: "Sinner," "Starbreaker," "Last Rose of Summer" and "Call For the Priest/Raw Deal."
HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (CBS/Sony, 1979) Many people will probably tell me that his one should've been filed under "The Essentials" in my last entry, but what the hell, it's my list. Sandwiched in between two other classics, 1978's STAINED CLASS and 1980's BRITISH STEEL, HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (also known as KILLING MACHINE if you live outside of the U.S.) was the album where Priest found their direction and settled into their black leather biker/outlaw personas, a business move that would serve them well into the next decade. The title track has become one of JP's most enduring live-concert staples,
The Wild Cards!
Here are some of Judas Priest's more hotly-debated album selections. Even amongst diehard fans of the band, opinions differ widely about the worthiness of the following discs. In other words, proceed with caution.
JUGULATOR (CMC International, 1997) Released after a seven-year layoff and featuring the debut of new American vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens, JUGULATOR remains Priest's most controversial album, hands down. At the time, the idea of Judas Priest releasing an album without Rob Halford behind the mic seemed like a no-win situation. Giving credit where credit's due, Owens (who was plucked out of an Ohio-based Judas Priest tribute band) certainly gave it the old college try and did a great job on this album, which comes across as PAINKILLER's heavier, nastier little brother. Musically, the band was in fine shape on JUGULATOR but fans simply weren't ready for a Priest without Rob at the helm. Perhaps this is why JUGULATOR is one of the few Judas Priest albums that is now out of print.
ROCKA ROLLA (Gull/RCA, 1974) Priest's hippie-dippy debut album is truly a fascinating listen, but be warned that it's a far cry from the crushing metal that the band became known for on later recordings. On ROCKA ROLLA, the young Judas Priest were definitely wearing their influences (mainly Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple) on their sleeves and hadn't found their own sound yet. The raw talent is there, but it's utterly unlike anything else in the JP catalog. The original vinyl version (with the soda-bottle cap cover art) is worth owning simply for the hilarious band photos on the back cover (love K.K. Downing's Huggy Bear pimp hat!), and the fact that it credits "Bob" Halford (not "Rob") with "vocals and harmonica." The mind boggles at what Judas Priest might sound like today (or if they'd even still be around today!) if they'd continued with the direction found on this album.
RAM IT DOWN (CBS/Sony, 1988) RAM IT DOWN gets no love, but I've always dug it. Perhaps it was doomed to be a "forgotten" album since it was released in between the enormously successful (albeit controversial) TURBO and the return-to-form classic PAINKILLER. OK, so maybe the uber-slick, late '80s production style does it no favors, and the ill-advised cover of "Johnny B. Goode" (!) may have been one of Priest's all time worst career decisions, but at least the band had (thankfully) ditched the synthesized sound of TURBO and were returning to their roots as black leather clad hell raisers. Aside from a few blips, much of RAM IT DOWN is solid stuff. In my book this is an album that simply fell through the cracks at the time of its release and is still waiting to be re-discovered.
Hold On! We've got one more!!
This is the end of Part 2 of our Judas Priest discography study. In Part 3, we'll examine the leftovers that haven't been mentioned in either chapter thus far. I hope you've had as much fun reading this one as I've had listening to all of these albums and compiling these lists!!