10. “The Sentinel” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984)
The best song on Defenders of the Faith, “The Sentinel” is also a rare 1980s moment where Judas Priest revisits its progressive heavy metal past, a magnificent five-minute epic whose blend of atmosphere, intensity, and gigantic hooks has made it a fan favorite. Normally a lyricist with a tendency to spew heavy metal clichés without talking about much at all — which always oddly works — Halford is much more focused on this track, painting a vivid dystopian picture reminiscent of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York: “Amidst the upturned burned-out cars / The challengers await / And in their fists clutch iron bars / With which to seal his fate.”
9. “Heading Out to the Highway” (Point of Entry, 1981)
More cynical minds would call this lead single off Point of Entry “Living After Midnight Part Two”, but it’s actually the superior song, rigidity replaced by a much more relaxed groove, its ebullience a clear reflection of the band’s Ibiza surroundings, where the album was written and recorded. Perfectly suited for summertime listening, it’s nothing but fresh air and optimism, driven by a great opening riff, the sound of a band loving life, confident enough to write corny lines like, “I’m gonna do it my way / Take a chance before I fall”, and still sound convincing.
8. “Painkiller” (Painkiller, 1990)
Nobody saw this song coming. Four years after the maligned, synth-adorned pop experiment Turbo and two years after the sloppy and atrocious Ram It Down, the title track for Judas Priest’s 12th outing was completely uncharted territory. Featuring a thunderous intro by new drummer Scott Travis – a colossal improvement over the technically limited Dave Holland – and highlighted by Halford’s maniacal performance, this was Priest embracing extremity without pandering, and sounding once again vital, relevant, and best of all, more powerful than ever.
7. “Desert Plains” (Point of Entry, 1981)
Although it’s been a part of Priest’s setlists off and on for the past three decades, “Desert Plains” is still a somewhat underrated song, not to mention a real oddity in the band’s album wasn’t just a return to the heavier side of the band’s back catalog. One of the few real successes on an album that tried a little too hard to sound AOR rather than heavy metal, the song is strangely spacious, a comfortable yet driving rhythm section underscoring economical performances by Tipton, Downing, and a surprisingly distant and restrained Halford. It might ultimately be more Blue Öyster Cult than Judas Priest, but it’s a rare moment of subtle beauty from the band.
6. “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” (Killing Machine, 1978)
Always encouraged — to put it mildly — to put a “single” on its albums, Judas Priest was never above covering songs in the 1970s, having tackled material by Joan Baez and Spooky Tooth early on. However, the band’s cover of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac composition succeeded in such a way that the Priest version is now far more famous than the original. They make it their own, accelerating the pace just enough to achieve a better balance of force and menace, and the groove created by drummer Les Binks cinches it. It might not have been written for the metal crowd, but Priest’s towering version is nevertheless an all-time heavy metal classic.