Full of honest, humble, and heavy duty experience comes a memoir you will never want to put down.
Rob Halford from the “Black” Country of Birmingham, England grew up to be the front man for the heavy metal band Judas Priest.
He relates stories of family life in a post-war landscape. Nothing was ever assured. The only thing Rob knew early on was that he was not like other boys.
This is really the story of how a gay man went from being a scared, lonely, and frustrated boy into an honest, sober, and loving person.
Since this boy was to become a world famous rock star we have the memoir of the year.
Rob goes into great detail of his many misadventures with straight men. He had run-ins with police too.
He describes his identity this way following a painful breakup in the late 1970’s:
“It was five years since I’d been seeing Jason. Apart from the odd snatched, random fumble, I had been alone ever since…not just alone, but forced to suppress my longings, my needs, myself. I had to live a stifling life, or kill the band I loved.
Outside of that bedroom door, I was Rob Halford from Judas Priest, macho talisman and emergent metal god. Inside it, I was Robert John Arthur Halford, a sad, confused late twenties bloke from the Black Country, longing for the forbidden fruit of intimate male company”.
Rob Halford pg.134.
Judas Priest’s first line-up disbanded before Rob showed up to audition. His sister Sue was dating the band’s founder, bassist Ian Hill who is still in the group today. She insisted he try out. Their town, Walsall breeds humble people. Rob was told by Ken Downing that he was in the band.
British Steel became their watershed moment. Named for the filthy foundry plant in their village, recorded in a house once used by The Beatles, owned by Ringo, and used by John and Yoko for their Double Fantasy album, sold millions and spawned the now classic, ‘Living After Midnight’.
The group adopted an all leather look. They went full in as a metal band. Rob could not believe his mates did not realize he was a gay man.
Well before this time Rob had written a song called ‘Raw Deal’ about a doomed romance on Fire Island! He had never been there but imagined it.
The song ‘Metal Gods’ off British Steel was inspired by Frank the robot on Queen’s News of the World album. Rob Halford’s rock hero was Freddie Mercury. In the polarized homophobic culture of those days all of this remained unknown.
Priest fans will discover so much about their favorite group. Nicknames like K.K. Downing for Ken were used, but they were going to call Rob, ‘The Queen’. That would not have gone down well in my opinion.
A humorous book as well. He describes his arrest for lewdness in America. The cops knew who he was and asked what he was doing. Being famous can be like armour.
Rob Halford would encounter his idol, Freddie Mercury on the Greek island of Mykonos, a prime destination for gay men. They were at a yacht party. He describes a crowded space. His nerves got the better of him despite receiving a wink and wave from Freddie.
After all these years Rob Halford was ready to Confess. In his words it feels great and was just good for his soul. Perhaps it will do the same for his readers.
The year was 1979. A pre-adolescent boy who was collecting his first records discovered a mail-order music club. Offering 14 LP’s for a penny as their introductory hook was too good to pass up. When the records arrived I opened up the albums with great anticipation.
I was always eclectic in my tastes for music. There was Waylon Jennings, Aerosmith, Jackson 5, and Queen among the selections. The record with the biggest impact was Queen Live Killers, a gatefold 2 LP package with a collage of full color images from their European and North American Tour in support of their Jazz record.
There on full display was Freddie Mercury in tight black PVC pants and jacket (shiny like leather) with his jacket open to reveal a bare chest. Unknown to me at the time was the cabaret style he was doing. This was a new image for him in 1978/9.
All I know is the first time I saw an image of Freddie Mercury was a poster from their ‘Opera’ Tour. His penchant for stripping onstage thrilled me to no end. Onstage in candy stripe shorts and red suspenders with the band’s logo in the center of the poster. My eyes popped out of my head like a cartoon wolf.
Although years later I heard how much the band disliked the mix of the record I felt strongly it was a great representation of their live sound. I loved how they played a medley of hits too.
I was taken aback by how different the songs sounded in a live setting. Nothing like the studio engineered layers of over dubs or multi-tracked vocals.
Except for a brief spell following the release of their bio-picture, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I have never lost interest in them. That brief interlude was caused by too many kids finding them based on their parent’s tastes. Hey, that’s life!
For many years it was hard to find any Queen memorabilia in the states. I know this sounds crazy to the listeners of today. There are websites. Obviously there is the Queen Online Store which always has a great selection of Queen everything.
Back in the 1980s in America after their popularity fell away we had record stores and rock t shirt stores. Freddie Mercury’s most dramatic transformation into gay clone in 1980 was not appreciated by a largely straight audience.
Despite the huge success of The Game in ’80, the band ended their decade long relationship with Elektra records. The label released a Greatest Hits album in 1981. At the time it felt like rock fans were putting Queen out to pasture. Their Elektra years were ending.
‘Another One Bites The Dust’ by bassist John Deacon borrowed heavily from Chic. Becoming the best-selling single in Elektra’s history it topped The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’, which gave the band an idea that funk rock was gaining traction in America.
The fact that Queen were in Munich, Germany enjoying the nightlife a bit too much influenced the next platter a lot. Freddie Mercury without stating it officially was out to anyone with two eyes, especially if you were gay.
What happened next was a mix of bad timing and trends that would exile Queen from the USA until well after Mercury’s death in 1991. In fact when he died I remember a news anchor stating there was bad news for fans of Queens. Queens? That was how out of touch our media were with Mercury’s death.
Rolling Stone magazine was never particularly kind to Queen. Freddie’s Obit was a single page in an issue with Michael Jackson on the cover. He was not an American star. I felt that kept the band’s mystique intact.
‘Hot Space’ was the final record owed to Elektra. The band never conformed to what their label wanted especially when it came to album covers. The label’s demand for a band photo was ignored for years. Greatest Hits has a portrait of the band taken by Lord Snowden. It has become an iconic image. The label got their wish granted by contractual obligation.
Freddie Mercury had a brief friendship with Michael Jackson. Mr. Jackson was a huge Queen fan. He was the impetous for releasing ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ as a single. Queen had a #1 hit with it. The new direction was clear for at least Freddie Mercury and John Deacon.
Freddie and John developed a friendship over the years based upon a mutual love for Motown music. The divide in Queen was clear. Brian loved heavy guitar driven music. Roger was into Punk then New Wave. Swaying him into drum techniques outside of traditional rock was done.
In the early days when they were in college the members of Queen were united in their dreams of rock stardom. As they grew in stature with the the rock audience experimenting with different sounds became a reality. Roger Taylor’s ‘Fun It’ was funky and danceable. This song in particular made me think it was not such a big deal for the band to express more of a funk beat in 1982.
Freddie’s single, ‘Bicycle Race’ actually incorporated rap within the track. Both songs were on Jazz. That title was a huge deal. A band that mixed every musical element in its music now titled a record for a specific genre. However, being the academically minded nerds that they were the name also meant calling the collection by a moniker that had many facets to it. Like the name Queen itself.
Change is inevitable. Every band faces it. Fortunately for Queen they were a big band by the time they grew out of their excessive 1970s persona. They could not be pigeonholed. Freddie Mercury never believed in doing anything by half-measure. He took every idea to its maximum. This attitude created amazing songs and music videos. The latter would compound their loss of popularity in America.
As a gay kid Queen were my idols. I bought every album as they were released starting with the #1 Game record. The video for the song, ‘Play The Game’, revealed a cropped haircut and mustache for the first time. I loved it. American fans hated it.
When ‘Hot Space’ came there was no doubt in the band’s new look and direction. Funk, dance, and disco were now emphasized. Even Brian May’s guitar was absent on some tracks, most notably the single ‘Body Language’ by Freddie Mercury. Pushing sexual boundaries the explicit video got banned by MTV. The sales dropped from the prior ‘Game’ LP and the tour proved to be the last in America with Freddie and John.
Throughout the 1980s I knew it was uncool to love Queen. I could understand why they lost their mojo with America. Homophobia was rampant. Conservatism was in power. New Wave and Heavy Metal dominated. Pop music developed new icons Madonna, Prince, and Duran Duran. Queen were the past, a relic of the 1970s. Despite releasing more records that hit #1 throughout the world, the USA would never allow them back into the Top 10. From Hot Space, ‘Body Language’ was the highest charting single in the US at #11.
Everywhere else in the world Queen kept selling records and tours. This was painful to me because I knew I missed my only chance to see them in concert with Freddie and John.
Back tracking here. In the 1970s I was a kid. Every Sunday I read the Times’ Arts section. There were ads for Broadway shows, movies, and rock concerts. I noticed that Queen played the Garden practically every year.
Then one fateful day following the debut of ‘Hot Space’ the Arts section had a full page ad for QUEEN Live In Concert with Special Guest Billy Squier at Madison Square Garden! Their faces appeared across the page in the Warhol—inspired, Freddie designed graphics of the album.
I begged my parents to let me go see them. Nobody would take me. Back in the early 80’s tickets were like $12! Still in that time parents were not keen on their kids’ love of rock music. I have never gotten over the disappointment of missing this tour.
The opener was Billy Squier! I still love his music. Back in 1982 I was mental for both Squier and Queen. In the 1970s, Thin Lizzy, Styx, and Journey opened for Queen.
It proved to be their last here until Paul Rodgers joined them decades later in the naughts.
America ignored A Kind Of Magic and The Miracle. Both albums were enormous sellers around the globe even hitting # 1 in several countries like the UK, Japan, France, New Zealand, Australia, and Netherlands. The Magic Tour of 1986 became a record called Live Magic. The Tour and record followed Live Aid in 1985.
‘Magic’ was also partly the soundtrack for the fantasy film “Highlander”. Like “Flash Gordon” before it loved by Queen fans, loathed by others. The American sitcom “The Goldbergs” actually did an episode that featured Highlander and one of its stars, Clancy Brown who was now a regular on the series.
I never lost my love for music, especially Queen. They were misfits. Remaining so throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The critics never really appreciated them. Only after the death of Freddie Mercury from bronchial pneumonia brought on by HIV/AIDS in November 1991 had the press expressed any love for him. Freddie was a Jimi Hendrix fan. He understood how much an artist’s value increases upon death. He lived life his way. A true rocker.
Being a gay kid in the 70s was amazing and scary. There were so many great looking boys. And the hippie 60’s had a lot of left over guys who sported long-hair. And going shirtless was part of street style. And rock stars were no exception.
Mick Jagger of Rolling Stones, Roger Daltrey of The Who, Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, and every other frontman have appeared shirtless on stage. Then along came South African born Freddie Mercury! He took the image to a completely different level. He performed a striptease!
Loving Queen was difficult. I had my first rock music tee featuring the band from 1977. Wearing it to camp one day I got called a faggot. The group had become stigmatized by straight kids who hated Mercury’s effeminate posturing. The rock press had a field day with his sexual escapades. The worst magazine coverage for any artist I have ever seen was Creem, a rock rag from the 1970s and ’80s.
They did a story on Queen that was not a story. It was just the magazine hating Freddie and Queen. Anti—gay comments filled their coverage. Truly shocking to me.
Queen made their only appearance on American TV live on SNL’s Season Premiere with Host Chevy Chase. He hosted remotely from LA as a joke. Today this would be protocol. Danny DeVito introduced Queen. Performing 2 songs: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” a #1 hit in America and “Under Pressure”. Freddie’s voice was in the low register only. Years later I read he was recovering from a cold when the band appeared on the show. This was not a good time for them.
Back to their transformation from 1970s glam to 1980s pop. Following the commercial failure of Hot Space which still went Gold in America, the band signed to Capitol Records in North America. They even recorded for the first time in Los Angeles. ‘The Works’ album featured all the trademarks of their sound with Brian’s guitar blaring and Roger’s drums more upfront. Then another music video did them more cultural harm.
John Deacon’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ was made into a video that parodied the British soap opera Coronation Street. It featured the band in drag! Not Freddie’s idea. In the USA once again MTV banned them. Momentum killed.
Although the album was a return to form with hard rockers like Brian May’s ‘Hammer To Fall’ the top ten eluded them in America. Roger’s anthem ‘Radio GaGa’ peaked outside the top ten stalling at #16.
I still believe Queen were ignored. Punished for Freddie’s unapologetic gay image. Other British bands from the 1970s did not suffer this fate—Genesis released pop music—Pink Floyd went pop—and The Who also went pop. Rolling Stones released a cover of the song ‘Harlem Shuffle’ which was totally their worst.
Why was Queen singled out? Strong expressions of gay sexuality were taboo in the states. Despite being multi–faceted Queen had only the one face in America. Flamboyant is code for gay. Liberace had the straight audience believing what they wanted to believe. Freddie did not suffer fools.
I went to Giants Stadium to see Pink Floyd, Genesis , The Who, and Rolling Stones on separate tours during the ’80’s. Their music was not very good at the time. It was crazy to me that Queen did not tour here. My theory was that Freddie’s HIV status prevented them from playing here. Sad but true.
In my teenage years I knew many people who were either indifferent to my love of their music or could not get into it. And a lot of the time gay people fit their stereotype with a love for disposable pop or dance tracks. I can tell you the Hot Space CD was on a jukebox in a gay bar.
The Queen album most likely to be on any jukebox was Greatest Hits. Unfortunate since I always thought they had great songs that were never going to be hits. No doubt about the high number of singles/hits in their catalog. Later in this blog post I have listed my all–time favourite Queen songs.
Guns N Roses, Motley Crue, and Twisted Sisted were all influenced by Queen. The lead vocalists of those groups wore even more make-up than Freddie! Yet since they were hard rock/metal Americans accepted them. The make-up bands of the period were largely from America. Paradoxically this is also when the biggest make-up band ever, KISS, took their make-up off!
Unknown at the time that Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue) were in the crowd that saw Queen open for Mott the Hoople at New York’s Uris theater on Broadway, it makes perfect sense.
Until the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley stadium few Americans understood just how much Queen had influenced the heavy bands of the 80’s. The line-up featured England’s Def Leppard, America’s Guns N Roses and Extreme alongside Elton John, George Michael, and David Bowie. Eclectic to the end Queen also invited Freddie’s main influence, Liza Minnelli to the proceedings. He got so much ridicule from the press for loving Liza as well as Hendrix.
I believe today that Queen got into my marrow, my DNA because their image and music were original. Upsetting the status quo was part of their appeal. Decades after his death the film of his life was a blockbuster. He kept the mystique. Proving that no other rock performer could rival him, Queen became paragons of rock music. Today their legacy has grown in leaps and bounds.
Taking them into my heart has kept me alive too. Queen have a few explicit anti—suicide songs. Mercury admitted in his final days that the image he worked so hard to build became somewhat of a monster to his personal life. Becoming less active, meeting a man named Jim Hutton who became his partner until the end was his ultimate goal.
For the first time since reading several biographies about Freddie I understand why ‘Somebody To Love’ was a personal favorite. Love is what we all need to survive. Take a listen to the many tortured love ballads he wrote and performed. His delivery is genuine. That’s also why it touched me so deeply.
I think it’s why I met my beloved husband Brian. I love him more than anything. He has made my life the best possible. Our mutual love of music with great singers has created a bond.
Here for the first time I have compiled my list of personal favourite Queen tracks. B-Sides and rarities are not included here. They are taken from the 15 studio albums released from 1973—1995.
My Favourite Queen songs of all-time
My Fairy King by Freddie Mercury on Queen
Great King Rat by Freddie Mercury on Queen
Liar by Freddie Mercury on Queen
Nevermore by Freddie Mercury on II
The Fairy—Feller’s Master Stroke by Freddie Mercury on II
Ogre Battle by Freddie Mercury on II
The March of the Black Queen by Freddie Mercury on II
Seven Seas Of Rhye by Freddie Mercury on II
Doing Alright by Brian May & Tim Staffell on Queen
Lily of the Valley by Freddie Mercury on II
Now I’m Here by Brian May on Sheer Heart Attack
Brighton Rock by Brian May on Sheer Heart Attack
Killer Queen by Freddie Mercury on Sheer Heart Attack
Bring Back That Leroy Brown by Freddie Mercury on Sheer Heart Attack
Stone Cold Crazy by Mercury, Deacon, Taylor, & May on Sheer Heart Attack
Flick of the Wrist by Freddie Mercury on Sheer Heart Attack
Misfire by John Deacon on Sheer Heart Attack
Bohemian Rhapsody by Freddie Mercury on A Night At The Opera
‘39 by Brian May on A Night At The Opera
The Prophet’s Song by Brian May on A Night At The Opera
You’re My Best Friend by John Deacon on A Night At The Opera
The Millionaire Waltz by Freddie Mercury on A Day At The Races
White Man by Freddie Mercury on A Day At The Races
You and I by John Deacon on A Day At The Races
We Will Rock You by Brian May on News Of The World
We Are The Champions by Freddie Mercury on News Of The World
Sheer Heart Attack by Roger Taylor on News Of The World
Fight From The Inside by Roger Taylor on News Of The World
Spread Your Wings by John Deaconon News Of The World
It’s Late by Brian May on News Of The World
My Melancholy Blues by Freddie Mercury on News Of The World
Jealousy by Freddie Mercury on Jazz
In Only Seven Days byJohn Deacon on Jazz
Dead On Time by Brian May on Jazz
Dreamer’s Ball by Brian May on Jazz
Don’t Stop Me Now by Freddie Mercury on Jazz
Dragon Attack by Brian May on The Game
Play The Game by Freddie Mercury on The Game
Rock It (Prime Jive) by Roger Taylor on The Game
Don’t Try Suicide by Freddie Mercury on The Game
Another One Bites The Dust by John Deacon on The Game
Flash by Brian May on Flash Gordon soundtrack
The Hero by Freddie Mercury on Flash Gordon soundtrack
Football Fight by Freddie Mercury (Instrumental) on Flash Gordon soundtrack
Battle Theme by Brian May (Instrumental) on Flash Gordon soundtrack
Staying Power by Freddie Mercury on Hot Space
Dancer by Brian May on Hot Space
Back Chat by John Deacon on Hot Space
Action This Day by Roger Taylor on Hot Space
Put Out The Fire by Brian May on Hot Space
Under Pressure by Queen & David Bowie on Hot Space
Las Palabras De Amor (The Words Of Love) by Brian May on Hot Space
Machines (or Back To Humans) by Brian May & Roger Taylor on The Works
Radio GaGa by Roger Taylor on The Works
Keep Passing The Open Windows by Freddie Mercury on The Works
I Want To Break Free by John Deacon on The Works
Hammer To Fall by Brian May on The Works
Is This The World We Created…? by Brian May & Freddie Mercury on The Works
Man On The Prowl by Freddie Mercury on The Works
One Vision by Queen on A Kind Of Magic
A Kind Of Magic by Roger Taylor on A Kind Of Magic
One Year Of Love by John Deacon on A Kind Of Magic
Pain Is So Close To Pleasure by John Deacon & Freddie Mercury on A Kind Of Magic
Friends Wil Be Friends by Freddie Mercury & John Deacon on A Kind Of Magic
Don’t Lose Your Head by Roger Taylor on A Kind Of Magic
Princes Of The Universe by Freddie Mercury on A Kind Of Magic
Breakthru by Queen on The Miracle
The Invisible Man by Queen on The Miracle
Rain Must Fall by Queen on The Miracle
Scandal by Queen on The Miracle
Was It All Worth It by Queen on The Miracle
Innuendo by Queen on Innuendo
I’m Going Slightly Mad by Queen on Innuendo
I Can’t Live With You by Queen on Innuendo
Ride The Wild Wind by Queen on Innuendo
The Show Must Go On by Queen on Innuendo
In 1995 Queen released Made In Heaven which re-worked some of Freddie’s songs from his solo debut Mr. Bad Guy. The record featured Mercury’s final songs. “A Winter’s Tale” was his last composition. The lyrics described Montreaux, Switzerland in his final days. The list of my all-time Queen songs continues below with the band’s posthumous release.
Mother Love by Freddie Mercury & Brian May on Made In Heaven —This was the last track he recorded.
A Winter’s Tale by Freddie Mercury on Made In Heaven
Queen Retired—Legacy Grew
My least favorite Queen album, Made in Heaven, was followed by years of inactivity. Then in America TV commercials began licensing their hits. LA Gear used We Will Rock You; Diet Coke used I Want To Break Free; Mountain Dew used Bohemian Rhapsody even copying the now iconic promo clip. These are just a few examples.
From 2004—2009 Queen added Paul Rodgers of Bad Company to their line-up. He was one of Freddie’s favorite singers. In the 1960’s he fronted Free. In the 1980’s he fronted The Firm with Led Zep’s Jimmy Page.
The Queen+Paul Rodgers tours would return Queen to North America for the first time in 20 years! I never missed a show in New York. However, this line-up never played The Garden.
American Idol, a talent search reality series would enable a meeting that was pure fate. Adam Lambert, an American youth who was also out auditioned by singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Queen are his favorite group. Idol invited Brian May and Roger Taylor to perform with the show’s 3 finalists for its season finale. Adam came in second but in my opinion he really won.
Eventually Queen would announce touring with Adam Lambert fronting the group. It was made explicit that he would never replace Freddie Mercury. For the past decade now known as Queen+Adam Lambert touring the globe again.
And this line-up brought Queen back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since Hot Space! The setlist celebrated the band’s live at the Rainbow concert in support of Sheer Heart Attack. They opened with II’s ‘Procession’ and Sheer Heart Attack’s ‘Now I’m Here’.
Adam Lambert has released new solo records while touring with Queen. He sang ‘Believe’ at the Kennedy Center Honors bringing Cher to tears!
His presence on stage is truly a sight to behold. Bringing back the flamboyance of Mercury without mimicking his moves. Adam’s voice is his own unique stamp. He can sing any Queen tune. He has a new album out now called Velvet.
The shows proved so successful that Queen returned to celebrate their News of the World album next time around. Complete with Frank the Robot in full mascot mode. Opening their shows with ‘We Will Rock You’ like they did in 1977. Brian May performed his solo against a backdrop of stars fitting for an astrophysicist.
Their current tour is centered around the global success of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” which tells Freddie’s story. Albeit with a completely incorrect timeline of events to create a cohesive cinema narrative.
In Freddie’s brilliant words it has been no bed of roses for Queen. For 20 years, 1971—1991, they reigned with the same line—up of 4 creative songwriters with extremely different personalities. Fans felt proud of their achievements.
Then the untimely death of Mercury from AIDS in November 1991. Queen ended. I always thought they could continue if the right elements fell into place.
Elton John performed with them during a final concert as Queen. Mr. John sang ‘The Show Must Go On”. He encouraged Brian and Roger to find a way. He said of their catalog of hits: ‘it must be like having a Rolls-Royce in the garage that you cannot drive anymore.”
Having them back today means so much to me. I want Queen to go on forever…
In my lifetime I have not played another artists music as often as Queen. They have rescued me many times with their life affirming works.
I have many other favourite music groups: Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Judas Priest, Styx, and Elton John.
The Queen sound is unique and original. Their music is not rock nor disco nor black nor white. It’s Queen music.
The Queen catalog has sold over 300 million records worldwide. They are tied with The Allman Brothers Band at #52 on Rolling Stone’s list of Best Artists.
In England Queen Greatest Hits is the top selling record in British music history. Greatest Hits II is #10.
The Queen studio album catalog seen below does not include The Cosmos Rocks. That album featured Paul Rodgers.
Today the world is quite different then the early 1970’s. The band’s legacy has become it’s own cottage industry. The Queen Online website is updated every day. The Online Store has a line of goods that any fan would enjoy.
The Royal Mint in the U.K. has issued Queen coins in sterling; The Royal Mail will issue Queen stamps on July 9th, 2020 featuring 8 album covers including The Game and News Of The World and a set of 4 concert images from their world tours plus a proper band portrait as seen below.
Queen become the third British band to receive this honour following The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
Queen have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They were inducted into the songwriters hall of fame and most recently were given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” became the highest grossing bio picture of all–time. Rami Malek won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury.
The film won a Golden Globe for Best Picture.
On YouTube Queen+Adam Lambert released a new version of their classic “We Are The Champions” called “You Are The Champions” to help raise funds for Covid—19 relief workers via The World Health Organization and U.N.
Drummer and Vocalist Roger Taylor’s daughter appears in the video. She is a nurse!
Their debut release in 1969 on indie label Gull was a bluesy hard rock affair that went unnoticed by most.
Naming the band for a Bob Dylan song seemed off. “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” is a crossroads tale of two strangers meeting on a road in the forest.
Only in hindsight does this become an ingenious origin for their moniker. If you listen to the song the idea is really cool. Judas Priest is a dark figure. Embued with a mystique that fits the band’s image.
Black Sabbath are widely acclaimed as the fathers of heavy metal music. The formative period for Judas Priest were spent in the shadows cast by the bigger acts of the time.
Until Deep Purple’s Roger Glover produced their major label debut, “Sin After Sin” on Columbia.
Covering Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” would broaden their sound. Their composition, “Vicitm of Changes” became a live staple during this era.
The late 1970’s was quite exciting for heavy music. Van Halen debut. Queen’s ‘News Of The World’ album goes multi-platinum in America. Judas Priest were about to unveil two metal masterworks.
Judas Priest unveil their best work to date. The name of the record is changed to ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ in America (‘Killing Machine’ in the rest of the world). The band present a new image wearing leather and studs.
Songs celebrating the biker lifestyle incorporate new guitar techniques that would become part of the heavy metal art form.
“Rock Forever”, “Take On The World”, and the title track formed a trio of anthems. “Before The Dawn” is a power ballad that I think tops them all.
The record brought a sound that would continue to develop over the next three decades.
The band’s cover of the haunting ‘Better By You, Better Than Me” by Spooky Tooth became a fan favorite. The song was at the center of a trial years later.
Proving Their Steel
The dawn of the 1980’s would bring Judas Priest into the long out of reach limelight.
The album ‘British Steel’ stripped down the music to a lean muscular form. “Living After Midnight” became a rock radio hit. The song began their music video history.
Priest continued to evolve using different sounds on each album. “Point Of Entry” followed in 1981.
Three singles with videos: ‘Headin’ Out To The Highway’, ‘Don’t Go’, and ‘Hot Rockin’ were all catchy songs that took pop melodies into metal.
Visions of motorcycle rides in the desert was the overall feel of the work.
‘Desert Plains’ was part of the current Firepower tour playlist.
“Screaming For Vengeance” became the defining statement that Priest were the metal band. The anthem ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ hit radio rising to the top. The band toured extensively. American rockers fell in love.
The album featured the first in what became a series of mythic metallic monsters on their covers.
The Hellion is a metal Eagle soaring above looking for justice for those who have been wronged. ‘Fever’ , ‘Devil’s Child’ , and ‘Ridin’ On The Wind’ are stellar songs often overlooked.
By 1984 heavy metal music was a primary force in the American rock scene. Small towns/suburbia felt besieged by the culture. Long haired kids in denim and leather; patches of bands decorated their jackets.
“Defenders of the Faith” in my opinion is still the modern most influential metal record. Every fan owns this record. The Metallion is the beast of choice on its cover.
It’s a take no prisoners anthemic, macho declaration of heavy metal glory.
The radio smash ‘Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” followed by the sex driven ‘Eat Me Alive’ and ‘Love Bites’ alarmed conservatives.
The band rose to the top. Then hysteria in the form of local teen suicide being blamed on the music. Judas Priest were blamed for a fan death. They were acquitted in court.
Pushing the art form of metal into new directions was part of the band’s mission. Their records always incorporated the latest technologies.
The Turbo Age
Then in the summer of 1986 the Priest changed direction. ‘Turbo’ featured guitar synths. Giving their sound a much more pop friendly polish. There was a decidedly mixed reaction.
Singles like ‘Turbo Lover’ and ‘Locked In’ gave the band great top 40 success. A lot of kids at the time listened to Priest for the first time.
The record was envisioned as a double record by the band. Columbia records would decline to allow such an ambitious project despite the band’s popularity.
Bound For Glory
“Ram It Down” was the second half of “Turbo” released separately. No metal beasts on their covers; anthems & ballads. I love both albums. Some fans became disgruntled by the new sounds.
The band even recorded a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ for a movie soundtrack. Quite a commercial move for a metal group. This track appears on ‘Ram It Down’.
The ups and downs are inevitable in the music business. Opinions change over time. Some of the more pop oriented moves are now seen as a blip in a history full of mostly metal glories.
After leaving the band for solo albums in the early 1990’s, Rob Halford returned as lead vocalist for an album that would once again raise the bar for metal music.
Ripper Owen’s Era
Things change. When their iconic frontman left the band the future became foggy.
A singer in a Judas Priest tribute band by the name of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owen’s became their vocalist. His nickname from a classic Priest song.
Two albums are released. It’s the 1990’s. “Jugulator” features a metallic beast on its cover. The music is solid metal. Fans were indifferent.
I had the opportunity to meet them after a show at Roseland ballroom here in New York. It was gratifying to tell them how much I loved their music and concerts. I gave Tim Owens a pat on the back. No one could fill Rob Halford’s boots.
Back On Top
“Painkiller” is arguably the best metal record ever made. The metallic biker on the cover is a winged hero. Every song is heavy. Halford’s voice was never better. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing are at their peak.
I got to see them in their peak years. Never a disappointment. The songs were always representative of their entire career.
“Angel of Retribution” was Rob Halford’s return to the band. A solid effort. During this time the band’s albums showed a marked return to their late 70’s early 80’s sound.
“Redeemer of Souls” was a great follow-up album to “Painkiller”; “Nostradamus” was a double album that returned the band to their roots. A decidedly non-commercial epic aimed at their most dedicated fans.
Today the band enjoys their fame. Rob Halford has the nickname, Metal God, for the song and his amazing voice. Always proud to be metal, the community loves Judas Priest.
“Firepower” was their 18th studio album released in 2018 and the tour is still going strong. Well received by critics and topping the charts the group is poised to celebrate their 50th Anniversary in 2020.
They are nominated for induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020.
Swedish metal band Ghost performed their first ever New York arena show last night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Back in June they released their fourth studio album, Prequelle, which peaked at #3 in the USA. As their following expanded so did their concerts.
Led by vocalist/songwriter Tobias Forge who assumes a new character each time they record and tour present a fully developed Church of Satan soundtrack. Following the music genre of Black metal of their native Scandinavia, the band has created a sound influenced by Forge’s favorite artists including ELP, Genesis, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Blue Oyster Cult, ELO and Black Sabbath.
As this first headlining tour of America supports the new record at least half the songs show up in their 2 sets. Performed with intermission the show packs in many favorite tracks in nearly 3 hours of performance.
A Ghost concert is like a mass in church. A backdrop of stained windows portray Forge’s prior 3 incarnations as Pope Emeritus I, II, and III. This is the satanic church.
In an age in which organized religion is fading and plagued with scandal, heavy metal is thriving around the globe. Although marginalized in America the music is a mainstay. And new generations of fans have discovered in these hard times that metal is a great salve. This show was a great escape from the outer reality of politics.
Opening with Ashes, a nursery rhyme on tape, recited by Forge’s daughter, is the famous “ring a round of rosies, a pocket full of posies”…from the time of the black plague. This is the central theme of this tour and record. Following the intro is the chart hit “Rats” which is all about the fragility of existence. This has such a catchy hook like so many Ghost songs. The fans sung all the big choruses. Like Queen in their early days, full of bombast and melody. Dressed in full regalia, robes and swinging the incense to incant the good of evil, Mr. Forge was reveling in his band’s new show.
The satanic “Year Zero”, a song heralding the new start of life with the son of Lucifer taking his rightful place. The song “Faith” describes how trust is now placed with the dark prince since the tradtional church has failed mankind.
The new hit, “Dance Macabre”, was a boogie number of the goth style delivered with an Abba-tastic sound. This song has a great hook and internal rhythm. Mr. Forge told the audience it’s great to shake the tail feather (in a much bluer way than I can say here). He asked, what makes you want to do that? the bass! Ghost has style and a great sense of humor.
In the second set: everything changes. Cardinal Copia is in his white suit. The songs are intensely communal like satanic hymns. It’s fun to sing about the devil. And they deliver with their earlier hits including the Grammy winner, “Cirice” in which a dark spirit reaches out to a potential new apostle. For he recognizes their light despite the awful false patronizing of the organized church.
Metal is not for everyone, but those too narrow to give a listen will miss out on some of the most melodic and beautifully composed music of this age. “Square Hammer” is a satanic anthem whose chorus asks “Are you on the square? Are you on the level? Are you ready to swear right here right now before the devil?” The crowd sung this loud and proud!
“He Is” was the only ballad of the night with the Cardinal explaining that even the Ghouls need a slow down after so much excitement. But this song is about how darkness is a sort of light for those of us who have been shunned by the mainstream. By concert’s end no one wanted to leave. And the last song, “Monstrance Clock”, was all about being together.
Exiting the Barclays Center really felt like we had all attended a black mass. But the best kind of darkness. The kind that allows a genuine feeling of lightness.
Ghost are nominated for 2 Grammys: Best Rock Album “Prequelle” and song “Rats”.