Judas Priest

  • British heavy metal band formed in 1969 from Birmingham England. The classic 80s lineup was Rob Halford (frontman, lead vocals, songwriting), K.K. Downing (guitars, synthesizers, backing vocals, songwriting), Glenn Tipton (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, songwriting), Ian Hill (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Dave Holland (drums).
  • The original band members were vocalist Al Atkins, bassist Bruno Stapenhill, guitarist John Perry and drummer John Partridge – they first performed in 1969. Stapenhill picked the band name from the Bob Dylan song The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest. They recorded a two song demo and signed a record contract in late 1969, but the label went out of business before anything was released. All but Atkins were gone from the band within a year, with Perry’s departure due to suicide. Downing and Hill joined in 1970, and after Atkins left in 1973, Halford joined. Tipton joined in 1974 when they decided to include two guitarists in the group. Six different drummers came and went until Holland joined in 1979.
  • In 1974, they performed a tour in Europe, and by the end of the tour they were signed to a record contract. That summer, they recorded their debut album, Rocka Rolla. The album flopped, and their tour to support the album was panned by the critics. With practically no money available, they recorded their second album in 1976, Sad Wings of Destiny. The album was their first to have their signature sound, with heavy guitar riffs and complex arrangements. It was only a bit more successful than their debut, and unhappy with their label, they left to sign with a major label.
  • From 1977 to 1978, they released three more albums. Slowly, they gained in popularity – each album charted in the top 30 in the UK, but they could not crack the top 100 in the U.S. Eventually, these albums were certified gold in the U.S. when the band became a major success in the 80s.
  • Their breakthrough album was 1980’s British Steel. The album was certified platinum in the U.S., and two singles were in the top 20 in the UK – Living After Midnight and Breaking the Law. Their songs retained their heavy metal sound, but they incorporated some radio-friendly hooks, which played well for the masses and for MTV. Their best selling album was 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance. It included their highest charting song, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard Rock chart. Two more platinum albums were released in the mid-80s – Defenders of the Faith and Turbo. During this time, they were headlining concerts at major arenas in the U.S. and Europe.
  • In 1990, the group was sued in a civil action by the families of two men who committed suicide, allegedly after listening to Judas Priest music the night before. The families claimed that the music had subliminal messages that urged the men to “do it.” The trial lasted over a month and ultimately was dismissed by the presiding judge.
  • After albums and tours in 1988 and 1990, Halford left the group. After several years, Ripper Owens was hired to replace Halford. Two albums were released in 1997 and 2001 – both had a stylistic change compared to their earlier work, incorporating thrash metal and nu metal sounds. Neither sold particularly well, and singles from the albums did not chart.
  • In 2003, Halford rejoined Judas Priest, and Owens left amicably. The band released four albums between 2005 and 2018 to surprising success – all four charted at #13 or higher on the Billboard 200 album chart. They also released three live albums, and the track Dissident Aggressor from the A Touch of Evil: Live album won a Grammy award for Best Metal Performance in 2009. In 2011, Downing retired from the group, claiming differences with the band and management. He was replaced by Richie Faulkner. In 2018, Tipton revealed that he had Parkinson’s disease, and he stopped touring with the band. Reportedly, they are planning another album, and they continue to tour.
  • Judas Priest was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022, receiving a “Musical Excellence” award.
  • While the critics consistently disliked Judas Priest, they were one of the most popular metal bands. At one time, MTV ranked them as the second greatest metal band of all time (behind Black Sabbath), and in 2010 VH1 ranked them as the #78 GOAT artist. While I’d say that is preposterous, I will agree that Judas Priest was a major influence on heavy metal music for years to come. Here’s the video for their signature hit, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.

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