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Judas Priest
Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is a way of life, not a fashion statement. Of late, the music scene has been doing its best to kill real rock and roll. Whining girlie type rock bands, insipid Ozzy followers and shallow pop stars have dominated the airwaves long enough with their staid output. Oh, to be back in the days when Heavy Metal meant something and bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Metallica on the radio were the last bastion of free-thinking programmers. And of course - Judas Priest. What made this band stand out in addition to the raw power of lead singer Halford's voice and the dual-guitar attack of guitarists Tipton and Downing, was the sound of their music; rife with instantly memorable melodies and mind numbing hooks. And letís not forget, that these boys invented the look of heavy metal; any combination of leather, studs, chains and denim worn proudly by heavy metal fans all over the world - they got that from Judas Priest.

Early Licks:
The Judas Priest story began at the end of the late 60's in Birmingham, England, the same town as Black Sabbath. Former classmates Ian Hill and K.K. Downing had already come up with a name, and after they asked local singer Alan Atkins and drummer John Ellis to join them, they officially formed a band. The bands first official gig as Judas Priest took place at the unlikely surroundings of the Essington Workingman's club, where only 25 people showed up. The next years the band played out in many clubs and went through many drummers. Atkins eventually left the band when he felt that they were going nowhere. He was replaced by Rob Halford, Hillís brother-in-law. In 1974 Priest added second guitarist Glen Tipton.

Then after spending a few years in transit vans and motorway service stations on the road, the breakthrough came when the boys got signed to the small Indie label Gull Records. A few months later their debut album Rocka Rolla was released to poor sales. But things changed with the huge underground success of their second album, Sad Wings Of Destiny. Released in early 1976, this album is now considered to be one of heavy metal's true essential albums next to Black Sabbath's first three albums, Led Zeppelin's first two offerings and so forth. The groundbreaking album also is the one where the song Victim Of Changes was also first introduced, the seven minute epic destined to be recognised as the band's swan song and itís still performed in concert some 30 years later. The album did so well that they received a record deal from Columbia Records in the US. And the rest as they say is history.

Sin After Sin:
The bandís third album, Sin After Sin, laid down with drums by renowned session man Simon Phillips, provided the momentum Columbia Records were looking for and with major label backing Judas Priest were truly ready to take on the world. Interestingly, for this album the band even reworked a much cover of the Joan Baez folk classic Diamonds And Rust that had originally been laid down in their Gull Records days. Although Phillips's services were requested on a full time basis when they began to tour - the band eventually settled on ex-Fancy drummer Lez 'Feathertouch' Binks.

By this time it was apparent that the band had trouble with drummers, as each album so far had a different sticksman. (This situation continued to the late '90s with only the band only employing drummers as needed until finally settling on their present line-up.) As America beckoned, a rapid change in image occurred from the gothic and medieval to menacing black leather that was to become their trademark. The vocalist switched from flowing silks to a leather peaked cap and bullwhip and Halford would even take to the stage riding on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. Rob Halford's prescient sense of theatrics at this juncture in their career would not only brand the group with a globally identifiable stamp but also influence the entire Metal genre as a whole for many years to come. A concept album of sorts, their next release Stained Class capitalized on the sci-fi themes that were so popular at the end of the '70s: the track Exciter introduced a futuristic fiery being sent to bring salvation to the oppressed while White Heat, Red Hot included a vivid description of a light saber straight out of Star Wars.

The next album Killing Machine provided their first hit singles in the UK in the shape of the anthemic drum driven Take On The World and the classic Evening Star. By then the band had built up a following on both sides of the Atlantic. Columbia Records began to promote the band and marketed the band as an alternative to Plant & Pageís Led Zeppelin. However, in America had to rename the album Hell Bent For Leather as the record company felt the British title too violent. The band used this opportunity to add an extra track to the US version, a cover of Fleetwood Macís melancholy Green Manalishi which became another concert puller. After touring with the likes of Kiss, they quickly headed back into the studio and released the album which was to be their biggest yet.

You can read the rest of our feature on Judas Priest in the March 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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