Judas Priest: Turbo / Priest . . . Live!

As much as Judas Priest’s Turbo sucks (and man, does it suck), it’s still a hugely successful album.

Judas Priest
TurboPriest . . . Live!
4 March 2002

John Heyn and Jeff Krulik’s 1986 Heavy Metal Parking Lot, a 16-minute documentary short about the kids partying in a suburban D.C. parking lot in the hours prior to a Judas Priest concert, is one of my favorite films. It’s bizarre (mullets, Trans Am’s, zebra-prints everywhere), creepy (the greasy air-guitar guy, and the 20-year-old guy slobbering over his 13-year-old girlfriend), sad (“Timmy Loved Judas Priest”), and, for anyone who experienced heavy metal the late 1980s, gut-bustlingly hilarious. The film features mainly the bottom of the headbanger barrel, the wasteoids and the skanks (ignoring the clean-cut, middle-class suburban kids), who are there at the concert for two reasons: to get seriously wasted, and to rock. We all knew people like that, and that recognition of the hardcore ‘bangers we knew makes Heavy Metal Parking Lot so disturbingly accurate.

In my late teens, I considered myself a connoisseur, if you will, of the more cerebral metal music of the time, like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and Megadeth, and regarded Judas Priest with little more than mild interest. But when I opened an old high school journal a year ago, peppered throughout my messy scrawlings were two words that shook me to the core: “METAL RULES!!!” As highfalutin’ as I thought I was back then, I was no less stoopider than those Heavy Metal Parking Lot lunkheads. We were all the same, so joyously dumb back then, and those masters of dumb metal, Judas Priest, are back with the final installment of the re-release of their back catalog.

Rewind back to 1986, one of the best years for metal music that decade. While the genre was making huge creative strides with albums like Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Slayer’s Reign in Blood, and Queensrÿche’s Rage For Order, British metal pioneers Judas Priest were recording their follow-up to 1984’s ultra-heavy, leather-and-spikes fueled Defenders of the Faith. Amidst all the groundbreaking metal music coming out that year, Priest made their big return with the single “Locked In”. The thing was, “Locked In” was the biggest piece of overproduced swill anyone had ever heard. It wasn’t metal, it was pop, and it has to rank as one of the worst career moves by any major act in rock history, and along with Ozzy Osbourne’s dreadful The Ultimate Sin that same year, a huge letdown for loyal fans who had waited for so long.

The album that spawned that pukeworthy single, Turbo, isn’t that bad of a pop-rock album, but this is the mighty Priest we’re talking about! The band came back from their hiatus with poofy hair, glammy outfits, and loads of synthesizers. Granted, the band was never known for lyrical creativity, but it was like the band was trying to remake “Livin’ After Midnight” a dozen times. The whole album is a veritable melange of Spinal Tap cliches: “auto”-eroticism (“Turbo Lover”), fight-authority rave-ups (“Private Property”, “Parental Guidance”), summertime party tunes (“Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days”, “Hot For Love”), and the usual stuff about how they, like, rock, and stuff (“Rock You Around the World”). Basically, Judas Priest abandoned early themes like apocalyptic visions and latent homoeroticism (something we teen boys were idiotically unaware of at the time), and decided to make a Robert Palmer record instead.

As much as Turbo sucks (and man, does it suck), it’s still a hugely successful album (primarily among the partying jock set), and though it now sounds painfully dated, there are some decent moments, like the moody, synth-laden “Out I the Cold”, and the much-overlooked “Reckless”. The new reissue also includes to bonus tracks that are nothing but lame filler: the throwaway “All Fired Up”, and a tepid live version of “Locked In”. Sadly, this album signaled the point where Judas Priest completely lost the plot, and despite the immediate success they enjoyed when Turbo was released, it wasn’t going to last much longer.

After the release of Turbo, the band embarked on a massive tour, and it not only lead to Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but also a live album that would, for one brief instant, show us what Judas Priest was capable of. Priest . . . Live! is an impeccably-produced live album, as the band delivers a set that features material from Turbo and songs from their earlier years, and I have to admit, is an enormously guilty pleasure to listen to today.

“Looks like we’ve got about 20,000 heavy metal maniacs here . . . Are you people ready for some Judas Priest-style heavy metal?” vocalist Rob Halford quips, without any trace of irony, early on. It’s goofy, but fun, to hear Halford, dual lead guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, the workmanlike bassist Ian Hill, and terminally bored-looking drummer Dave Holland, launch into classic tunes like “Heading Out to the Highway”, “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”. Halford’s vocals sound great, especially in the latter part of “Love Bites”, where he delivers a series of banshee howls, and on the similarly sinister “The Sentinel”. The songs from Turbo, as idiotic as they are, are improved in the live setting, given a heavier treatment, with “Out in the Cold” and “Turbo Lover” being the standouts.

Unfortunately, Priest . . . Live! doesn’t include the entire setlist, as early songs “Hell Bent For Leather”, “Desert Plains”, and “Green Manalishi”, which all appear in the old accompanying VHS video, are all left out (I think “Locked In” was on the video as well, but I don’t hear anyone complaining about that one). The new reissue tries to make up for the omissions by including “bonus tracks”, which, the CD claims, were recorded from the same tour. An outright lie, as “Screaming for Vengeance” comes from a 1982 performance, and “Rock Hard, Ride Free” was recorded in 1984 (only “Hell Bent for Leather” comes from the 1986 tour). Here’s an idea: why not include the omitted performances from the live video as bonus tracks instead of jerking fans around?

Despite that complaint, and the total absence of recording details and good liner notes, Priest . . . Live! is one of the best live metal albums to come out in the ’80s (it’s long been speculated that there are no overdubs on the album, something I’ve yet to hear confirmed by the band), and would be the last time Judas Priest would ever put out a quality recording. When it was released in 1987, its sales were pitiful (the jocks had switched to Bon Jovi) and the band never recovered. It went all downhill from then on.

So if you want to recreate the complete Judas Priest experience, circa 1986, either out of youthful curiosity or in a fit of demented nostalgia, I suggest you lock yourself in a room, safe from your spouse, roommate, or parents, and do the following: listen to Turbo and shudder with horror. Watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot and have a good laugh. Then give a listen to Priest . . . Live!, and air-guitar like there’s no tomorrow. It was a cheesy time to live in, way back when, but for a brief shining moment, metal did indeed rule and compared to the onslaught of miserable, antisocial messages by many of today’s nu-metallers, it’s refreshing to hear today.