10 lesser known Judas Priest songs that everyone needs to hear
It is inevitable that, over half a century and 18 albums in, you are going to have overlooked a couple of Judas Priest songs. Some you may very well not have heard at all. It’s not because they’re not as good as the hits – and Metal God(s) are not nicknames lightly earned – and lurking in the shadows of every Painkiller, Breaking The Law or Hell Bent For Leather, there are at least an equal number of tunes that deliver the good just as hard.
The band’s return to Bloodstock looms. And, chaps, if you’re putting together a setlist and want to drop any of these in there, nothing would be lost. Here, then, is the best Priest mixtape you may well never have heard…
Cheater (Rock A Rolla, 1974)
Rock A Rolla is a decent, fine enough debut, but it’s not quite the glorious, definitive entrance that Priest’s second album Sad Wings Of Destiny would come to serve as. The Coke bottle lid artwork, groovy vibes and hippie look didn’t exactly foreshadow a band who would in both sound and visuals define heavy metal in the years to come. Producer Rodger Bain even rejected a number of songs that would make it onto Sad Wings… because he didn’t think they were good enough (leaving a weird hiss on the record was apparently fine, though). Cheater, though, has some seeds in it, that this was a band capable of doing heavy, with its slugging one-two riff. Not the most game-changing of starts, admittedly, but a worthy look at Priest’s humble beginnings.
Raw Deal (Sin After Sin, 1977)
Raw Deal is a banger, a sturdy slice of late-’70s Priest. But it’s also important for its lyrics. Written about New York gay hangout Fire Island, lines like ‘All eyes hit me as I walked into the bar / And seeing other guys were fooling with the denim dudes’ were exactly as they look, almost two whole decades before the Metal God came out. “I talk about these guys in the bar and everything and when I presented these lyrics, my feeling was, ‘Oh, this is just too much,’” Rob Halford told MTV a couple of years ago. “But the guys were, like, ‘This is great. The words fit with the mood and the atmosphere with the song.’ But you listen to that song, it really is almost like a coming-out experience for me.”
Fire Burns Below (Stained Class, 1978)
Not a song about itchy STDs, but two people trying (not very hard) to resist overwhelming randiness, the vibes here is almost Nine Inch Nails-ian at times, with gothy keyboards and a robotic drum tattoo turning the dimmer switch down and lighting a few candles. Hot. Musically, one could argue it got the first punch in on what non-metal bands like Soft Cell and The Human League would base themselves on in the ’80s, if you look hard enough, and for all the shit Priest caught for Turbo almost decade later, here’s proof that they’ve never been afraid of flexing their creative muscles. Or their love ones.
(Take These) Chains (Screaming For Vengeance, 1982)
Okay, who ordered the ‘massive levels of sass’? This tale of getting away from a love gone wrong is a sad story, but delivered with a sting to the heart. Sitting on Screaming For Vengeance alongside Electric Eye, You’ve Got Another Thing Coming and the shrieking title-track, it’s unsurprising that this gets short-shrift in modern setlists, but that’s not because it wouldn’t be up to snuff. The massive chorus is one built for crowds, but think of its absence as sort of testament to Priest’s skill with such things that they’re able to let one as banging as this sit on the shelf.
Jawbreaker (Defenders Of The Faith, 1984)
We’d like to tell you this is where U.S. post-hardcore heroes Jawbreaker got their name, but we can’t. They’d have picked great source material if they had, though. Yeah, Defenders Of The Faith is one of those Priest albums that’s very ‘duh, of course’, but Jawbreaker nevertheless feels like it’s flown below too many radars, even though it’s only track two. What we are saying is: this deserves better than it’s had.
Hot For Love (Turbo, 1986)
Turbo was given a lot of shit when it came out, thanks to its glitzy production and heavy use of synths. But that’s a shit take. Turbo is a brilliant album. One of Priest’s best (“They hated Jesus because he told them the truth” meme goes here). Evidence: Turbo Lover. Evidence: Private Property. Evidence: Out In The Cold. And those are just the bigger, more obvious examples; tucked away toward the end of the album, Hot For Love is a deep cut, and it’s still a red-blooded banger. Rob sounds like he’s sweating pure horniness as he thrusts away here, and he says ‘Oh baby’ so many times it would take the release of Austin Powers over a decade later to top it.
Hard As Iron (Ram It Down, 1988)
Ram It Down is the album where Rob dispensed with the occasional nudge-wink innuendos and went straight for lyrics composed almost entirely of double-entendres. It was Carry On Priest, as exemplified by the title of Hard As Iron. The lyrics were similarly eyebrow-raising: ‘Hard as iron, sharp as steel / Stop for no man, you better beg and kneel,’ he exhorts, as well as talking about having ‘Thunder in my veins’. Almost as hard, thick and explosive are the riffs, which climax magnificently at the end…
Jugulator (Jugulator, 1997)
Poor old Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Guy does two albums with Priest in the ’90s after Rob quit, picked for actually having the talent to do the job of filling the big man’s shoes, having done the role in a Priest tribute band, and today his contributions aren’t even on Spotify. Nobody is ever going to hot-take the idea that, actually, Jugulator and Demolition are miles better than Painkiller, actually, but they’re still part of the story and the guy deserves a salute when appropriate. Such as here, on this aggressive thumper, where the band keep up their ability to keep up with what’s going on in metal by utilising a heavy crunch that could pass for Pantera if you squint a bit. As for Ripper, he sounds fucking great here – showing off what a set of pipes he’s got, and performing with the fighty energy of a man who knows he’s got something to prove. Poor show as it is that lack of streaming or reissue means this chapter is intentionally buried by time and dust, but at least you get to discover a genuine lost gem.
Demonizer (Angel Of Retribution, 2005)
Rob Halford’s return to Judas Priest after a decade and a bit out of the band was phenomenal. During that time away, he’d done heavy, aggressive metal in the vein of Pantera and Sepultura with Fight (in which future Steel Panther guitarist Russ ‘Satchel’ Parrish provided the riffs), industrial goth with the Trent Reznor-produced Two, and upheld his good name as the Metal God in his eponymous solo band. Good as all this was, nothing fits him quite like Priest, Angel Of Retribution was a blazing record to mark the occasion, and this thrashy fist-to-the-face is a doozy. After so long away, it was like they’d never been away.
Death (Nostradamus, 2008)
In which Priest do doom better than most doom bands, this appropriately funereal dirge formed the weightiest section of the band’s mammoth Nostradamus double-album. Equally appropriate, Rob is on truly Shakespearian form, hamming it up gloriously as he tells of how the ‘Messenger of Death wields the scythe of man’s damnation’, as dramatic as no less a character than the Grim Reaper deserves. It also shows just how mighty Priest can be when using only a couple of chords and the sheer force of metal to push them along. One can only imagine the look on Swedish kings Candlemass’ faces when they heard this.
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