Judas Priest is on a mission to conquer, to engage in unfettered revelry, to never suffer defeat, to destroy the enemy, to defend the faith, to guard against evil, to march forth with a mighty army, to murder the challengers, to behead the power mad freaks, and, at every opportunity, to ride scorchingly fast vehicles, have raging sex, and inflict the kind of hurt that feels really good.
I have no idea what Judas Priest is fighting against, who the enemy is, what they are advocating, or what happens if they win. But their music is incredibly exciting and the musicianship is fantastic. The lead guitar duo of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing grab you by the hair, Rob Halford’s operatic singing hits you in the head, and you have to be dead not to punch the sky and charge out wanting to conquer something – even if you’re not sure what – just because you know you can do it – after hearing their music.
Take this great anthem, “Rock Hard Ride Free.” After a long guitar duo introduction, the song leaps into a fierce call for defiance. We are being exhorted to exert ourselves without compromise: “Gotta get a reaction / Push for all that you’re worth.” And someone is trying to stop us, but we will triumph:
We’re going against the grain
But they’ll never put us down
And to the jubilant thundering chorus – “Rock hard, ride free / All day, all night” – punctuated by screeching that must have blown out Halford’s eyeballs – “Rock hard, ride free / All your life” – we roar forth on molten wheels, invincible, undaunted. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have a clue who “they” are who were trying to put us down. They can’t escape us!
The band’s name is of noble origin, being borrowed from Bob Dylan’s song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.” Independent of the Dylan aspect, the band’s name has a clearly Christian connotation, but, unlike a lot of earlier metal bands, I find nothing religious about any of their songs.
Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford, K.K. Downing. “Rock Hard Ride Free.” April Music Inc., Crewglen Ltd., Ebonytree Ltd., Geargate Ltd. (ASCAP), 1984. From Judas Priest. Defenders of the Faith. CBS Records, FC 39219. 1984. Cover design: Doug Johnson.