Judas Priest's 'British Steel' Track-By-Track
Judas Priest Songwriters Give Inside Look At Tracks On Classic Album 'British Steel'To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its landmark album "British Steel," Judas Priest will showcase the set in its entirety on a series of U.S. tour dates this summer. The band's songwriting triumvirate-frontman Rob Halford and guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton-offer a track-by-track look at the making of "British Steel."
K.K. Downing: It's unusual in the way it starts in that it kind of gets going pretty fast. Traditionally, Priest was into a big intro, but this was straight-ahead "Let's go!," which was really unique for Priest.
Rob Halford: The whole song just launches in a very immediate way, so it's a real statement in that way. People suggest that Priest created the early elements of the thrash vibe with "Rapid Fire" and with "Steeler," just that intensity.
Glenn Tipton: I think it epitomizes what Priest are about. It's a great, uptempo metal song and has a lot going for it in terms of excitement.
Downing: The song structure is quite unusual, really. It goes to the C twice, then goes down to G. I'm like, "Why did we do that? What were we thinking?" Even I don't know, to this day.
Rapid Fire - Judas Priest 'METAL GODS'
Halford: I'm a bit of a science-fiction fan, and I think I got the lyrics from that world-robots and sci-fi and metal gods, just by word association. It's a statement against Big Brother or something, about these metal gods that were taking over.
Downing: When we were recording that track we had loads and loads of fun trying to make it sound as metal as we can. We were shaking cutlery trays in front of the microphones to create the sound of metal marching feet.
Halford: In those days there wasn't an Internet, so you couldn't go online and download samples. So we would whip a piece of guitar chord on a flight case or swish a pool cue in front of a microphone for the audio effects. I lifted and dropped that cutlery tray 100 times, I think.
Downing: Ringo Starr actually owned the house when we were there, so we would go around to see what Ringo had that we could put on our record. So I guess it's Ringo's knives and forks that created the true "Metal Gods" sound, which is pretty funny to realize.
Metal Gods - Judas Priest 'BREAKING THE LAW'
Tipton: We used to meet up at various houses to write, and we just broke into that riff one day and the song wrote itself. We wrote that song in about an hour, I think. Rob just started singing, "Breaking the law, breaking the law," and before we knew it we had a classic Priest song.
Halford: It was a time in the U.K. when there was a lot of strife-a lot of government strife, the miners were on strike, the car unions were on strike, there were street riots. It was a terrible time. That was the incentive for me to write a lyric to try to connect with that feeling that was out there. We never went into a room and said, "We've got to try and get this punk attitude into our music," but it certainly seemed to capture some of that anarchy in its projection, musically.
Downing: A lot of people remember that song for the video that we did with Julien Temple all those years ago, which was quite groundbreaking. It was one of the first conceptual videos ever-certainly in metal, at least.
Breaking The Law - Judas Priest 'GRINDER'
Downing: "Grinder" was quite an important track because I think it really laid down a lot of roots for what was to come in rock and metal through the '80s-a very full-on, straight 4/4 beat a la the AC/DC thing. It really helped to commercialize metal a lot, that kind of groove.
Halford: If you listen to most of these songs, all the verses are very taut, like a spring wound up and then they break out into a chorus and just explode. And lyrically it's just me blowing up again about humanity and the way we still don't look out for each other.
Tipton: It's a great song to play onstage. The audience just sings along with that chorus every time.
Grinder - Judas Priest 'UNITED'
Halford: That was again inspired by what was going on in the U.K. There was a feeling of the vast population of the British public being united against a government we felt was uncaring. It was also a kind of kickback to the way we were being ignored by various elements of the press in our home country because the punk movement was dominating everything. We wanted to send a rallying call out to the metalheads, not only in the U.K. but everywhere.
Downing: I think most metal bands have all had their anthemic-type songs, at least on, anyway, in their careers. I would say "United" was true to the Priest tradition of taking on the world.
Tipton: That was sort of a minor hit in Britain. I think Newcastle United or one of the big football teams started to use it, so suddenly you'd see it in jukeboxes in England, which was great.
United - Judas Priest 'YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE OLD TO BE WISE'
Tipton: That was just a great statement for the times. We were a lot younger when we wrote it, so it was just our generation trying to get some respect from the old boys out there.
Halford: Even in my 30s I was a teenager under the skin in terms of rebellion. I'd had enough of being programmed and told what to do. It's a spinoff from the attitude of
"Breaking the Law."
Downing: It was basically us sticking it in the eye of everybody that thought, "You're stupid if you're young and have long hair." I think everybody was glad to sing that along with us-everybody that was under the age of 30, at least.
You Dont Have To Be Old To Be Wise - Judas Priest 'LIVING AFTER MIDNIGHT'
Halford: My bedroom at Tittenhurst Park was above that room where John Lennon played the piano in the "Imagine" video. Glenn had set up his rig there and was clanking away at three in the morning. I came downstairs and said, "What are you going, Glenn? I'm trying to sleep." And he's like, "Oh, man, I've got this great chord sequence," and I said, "You're really living after midnight here." It was a genuine off-the-cuff remark, and he goes, "That's a brilliant title for that tune."
Downing: He kept me up as well. It was driving me mad. I was so sick of it by six in the morning-but one thing was for sure: I couldn't get it out of my head.
Living After Midnight - Judas Priest 'THE RAGE'
Tipton: That's one of my favorite all-time Priest songs. It starts with an almost reggae feel, and the song just grows and becomes this immense riff from that point onward. It's got a lot of strength.
Halford: I think Glenn came up with that idea, and we were like, "Reggae? No . . .' But it's so unusual and interesting; it makes you really listen and focus; then that huge riff slams in."
Downing: I particular enjoyed doing the solo work on that song. It's just that other part of me that really likes the feel and emotion. I grew up listening to great players like Paul Kossoff and the ever-bluesy Gary Moore, so this is just me doing that style of guitar playing for a change.
Halford: We've never been a social or political band, but lyrically I think there was some of that in these songs, and on this one. It's all about being denied things in life. They're very potent lyrics.
The Rage - Judas Priest 'STEELER'
Downing: I would have to say "Steeler" has been one of our most successful tracks with musicians. The great Dimebag [Darrell of Pantera] and tons of musicians always cited that as being one of their favorite tracks. I never really knew why because it's fairly simplistic. I guess it's just the groove and the way it goes on at the end with wild bits of guitar and me and Glenn trading off.
Halford: Just some anger from me, mate. [laughs] God, where was my mind at? I was really fucking pissed . . . and the music we were making really made you feel that way. Jogging around the lake at Tittenhurst obviously didn't de-stress me.
Tipton: It's got all the qualities normally possessed by a Priest song, really.
Halford: We wanted to open [the album] with a ballbuster and end it with a ballbuster, and everything that happens in between is what makes "British Steel" a classic.
Steeler - Judas Priest