Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford has primarily fond memories of Turbo, the group’s 10th studio — and, for fans, polarizing — studio album.
With a three-disc 30th anniversary set coming out Feb. 3 — check out a bonus live version below of “Locked In” from a 1986 Kansas City concert during the Turbo Tour — Halford recalls the album as very much a product of its time. After its two most successful albums to date — 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance and 1984’s Defenders of the Faith — Priest was more than happy to surrender itself to the excesses of mid-80s metal, both in and out of the studio.
“I think we were just having a good time, man,” Halford tells Billboard. “It was the first time we were able to relax a bit and not have to do the big world tour, then take a two-week break and go into the studio and make a record and get back on the road again. We were luxuriating in the cocaine-fueled environment and…God, just think Miami Vice. It’s just a lot of that, just a lot of being surrounded by those circumstances and atmospheres and everything else. I think we were just playing in all that, just feeling like, ‘Hey come on, let’s just kick back’ and make some music that has a different kind of temperament attached to it in tone and lyric.”
Priest certainly approached Turbo with ambition, however. Recording during early 1986 at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas with producer Tom Allom, the songs were largely hedonistic but took on a few serious subjects; “Parental Guidance,” for instance, was a direct response to Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center and its anti-metal bias. Priest also experimented with guitar synthesizers, much to the well-voiced displeasure of some fans and critics, and the group was so prolific that it considered making Turbo a double album.
“I think we spoke about the idea — it was going to be called Twin Turbo, I think — and then didn’t think it was a good one,” Halford recalls. “We decided to stay more focused on songs we were going to send to radio or MTV. That made more sense from a business point of view. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about this band is there’s always been a flow of ideas. There’s never been a struggle, if that’s the word, to come up with songs.” Some of the songs targeted for Turbo wound up on 1988’s Ram It Down.
Turbo reached No. 17 on the Billboard 200, which tied Screaming For Vengeance as the group’s highest chart position at the time, and it launched the Mainstream Rock singles “Turbo Lover” and “Locked In.”
The 30th anniversary edition features the original album remastered along with the Kansas City concert from May 22, 1986. The track “Reckless,” meanwhile, was courted for the soundtrack to the film Top Gun, and the decision to keep it ranks as one of Priest’s greatest regrets.
“My God, that was a big fiasco — the coulda, shoulda, woulda,” Halford says with a laugh. “I remember the passionate discussion about this film and the fact that if we lease this track it couldn’t go on the record. They wanted exclusivity. We were a little naive, I think. I think the feeling was it wasn’t going to be a successful film; Now we’re like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ But there you go. If we knew then what we know now…”
As it celebrates this part of its past, Priest is also working on new music in the present. Halford and guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner have written songs for a follow-up to 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, which the group has begun recording at Tipton’s home studio, with Allom co-producing again, and it plans to release an album this year and tour once it’s out.
“We’re tracking and everything is coming together,” Halford says. “We’re just doing what we do. We still love going to the studio every day and sitting down and hanging out and writing metal. That’s never left us. So we’ll work at it until we have what we think is another great Priest record and then put it out.”