Defenders Of The Faith

Rocka Rolla

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.

Sin After Sin released in 1976.

Covering Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust” would broaden their sound. Their composition, “Vicitm of Changes” became a live staple during this era.

Early Priest at their best. The Ripper was revived as a live track in the 1990s.

Killing Machine

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.

Hell Bent For Leather became the band’s signature.

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.

L-R: Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, and founding member Ian Hill.
Concerts feature Rob Halford on a Harley-Davidson bike.

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.

Stained Class introduces the now famous logo associated with the band.

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.

British Steel heralded heavy metal’s rise in pop culture.

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.

Their best selling album in America.

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.

Defenders of the Faith laid down the metal gauntlet.

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.

The best of all their albums.

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.

Firepower was a solid comeback album.

They are nominated for induction into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2020.

Motley Crue/Def Leppard/Poison

A famous band does everything in their power to close out their career. Then fans get restless. Reunion rumours are spread. Then comes the press release announcing a new tour.

Following reunion news of My Chemical Romance, Rage Against The Machine, and The Black Crowes comes official word of a three act line-up sure to fill stadiums from coast to coast.

Motley Crue will tour with Def Leppard and Poison. If you came of age during the 1980s you may have owned their records and seen them live.

MTV had their videos in heavy rotation in that era too. Perhaps you saw Def Leppard’s ‘Photograph’ or ‘Rock Of Ages’; Motley Crue’s ‘Looks That Kill’ or ‘Dr. Feelgood’; Poison’s ‘Unskinny Bop’ or ‘Nothin’ But A Good Time’ to name but a few of several clips to have come out in those days.

For Motley Crue it’s the fan demand that pushed them to blow up their no more tours contract. Cynics will cry foul. A well orchestrated money grab after their biopic succeeded on Netflix.

Adding the Crue to the list of rock giants who played official farewell shows only to return a few years later seems a matter of course.

I think we are seeing and hearing how much acts like Queen, The Who, Kiss, and Ozzy Osbourne mean to their listeners. They have crossed generations.

Their style of music is not saturating the ears of streamers. Perhaps, the big sound of these groups are missed by the mainstream.

Motley Crue and Poison still have all of their original members. Def Leppard also has their line-up mostly complete. Guitarist Steve Clark died.

Although there have not been any new albums in the last 4 years their catalogs continue to be mined.

Motley Crue: L-R: Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars, Vince Neil, and Tommy Lee

Fans know they will get a massive stage show backed with classic songs.

Poison L-R: C.C. DeVille, Bobby Dall, Brett Michaels, & Rikki Rockett.

Having toured with Def Leppard in the past was a sign of things to come. Over the past 20 years they have been a consistent draw.

2018 image of Def Leppard band members: Phil CollenVivian CampbellJoe ElliottRick SavageRick Allen.
Their “Hysteria” is the biggest selling hard rock album. Last year they were inducted into the Rock Hall Of Fame.

Part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in 1979, Def Leppard forged a new style of melodic metal music.

The number of fan favorites from all three of these groups should find healthy ticket sales.

Deservedly so. AC/DC are also expected to tour. It seems we music fans just can’t let go of our passion for hard rock in the pop vain. A renewed injection every few years keeps us going.