Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sad Wings of Destiny: The Case of Judas Priest

British Steel By far the most interesting thing about the British hard rock band Judas Priest is that after a couple of decades of purveying nasty leather-clad pop metal, lead singer Rob Halford came out as gay. The second most interesting thing about them is that Beavis and Butt-Head were huge fans, with Beavis in particular being fond of shouting out the chorus to the Priest’s song “Breaking the Law.” 

The third most interesting thing about Judas Priest is that after Halford temporarily quit the band, he was replaced by a kid named Tim "Ripper" Owens, who was the lead singer in a Judas Priest tribute band. This became less interesting when Journey more or less did the same thing. At any rate, these are not the elements of a Hall of Fame resume.

Judas Priest formed in 1968, released their debut album Rocka Rolla in 1974, and are still out there fighting the good fight, so you have to give them credit for longevity. It’s incredible that they’ve lasted this long without ever being any good, or even very popular. They’ve never had a Top Forty hit or a Top Ten album in the U.S. They have had exactly two songs land in the Top Ten on the Mainstream Rock chart, “Heading Out to the Highway” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Whoop-de-do.

They’re basically Spinal Tap. For a while Halford would enter their shows on a Harley-Davidson, and at one show in Toronto in 1991, he was seriously injured when he rammed his motorcycle into the drum riser, which he couldn’t see because it was hidden by dry ice mist. They later released a concept album about Nostradamus.

Defenders of the Faith Why are they on the Hall of Fame ballot? Deep Purple got in a couple of years ago, and I guess Judas Priest might be the next logical step after them. Even then, I don’t see what differentiates them from Iron Maiden or the Scorpions – as odious as the Scorpions are, at least people still sometimes listen to “Rock You Like a Hurricane” once in a while. As I was preparing to write this essay, and the only Judas Priest song I could even remember was the wan “Living After Midnight,” because it was on MTV a lot back in the Alan Hunter days.

The Hall of Fame seems to be making more of a nod to the populist acts, ones who were never taken seriously by critics but maintained a solid fan base among the dodgier reaches of the rock & roll audience. But it’s hard to say that Judas Priest is even among the most significant or respected of these groups. I'd sooner vote for .38 Special. Judas Priest is an easy no vote for me.


  1. I'm just horrified by the apparent disregard for Iron Maiden!

    “They're one of the greatest rock bands in history, in my opinion," she said. "Some people really don't know the importance of metal and the scope of it. Those guys were filling stadiums, and they still are. And it's because of the culture of the music, the poetry that's so powerful, that whenever the fans come together they unite in the essence of what Iron Maiden is all about. I always used to say to people, when they would say, 'Oh, she's the next Madonna.' No, I'm the next Iron Maiden.” -Lady Gaga

    Although younger me had Judas Priest up there near--not with--Maiden, I can understand you thinking they've not done anything worthy of the Hall. And you might not think Lady Gaga is anyone to follow. But that is the essence of their case; people are absolutely nuts for this music, and we love it and its artists to pieces.

    And it's the adoration of the fans for the greatnesses of the artists that Halls of Fame are all about!

  2. I saw Judas Priest (for free) in 2014, and can confirm that Rob Halford still rides his Harley onstage.
    Or at least I think it's his Harley; maybe it's actually borrowed from Glenn Tipton.

    One argument I don't see here is influence: Is there a younger breed of worthwhile bands that cut their teeth learning Judas Priest songs?
    I'm not aware that there is, but I think that's also a criterium for the Hall of Fame.

    My sense from a distance is that Iron Maiden writes more complicated and interesting songs, and the Scorpions wrote catchier songs, and those both count for something. Sheer longevity is Judas Priest's best calling card, and that counts for less now than it ever has.