http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gfGkyGGU2Y

Judas Priest - 1982 Tour Special

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I've been a Judas Priest fan for over two decades. But not until a few nights ago, while listening to Screaming for Vengeance for the umpteenth time, did it strike me why I really love the Priest. Of course, their music sounds good and makes me go, "Fuck yeah". But that's just my prerequisite for liking any metal. It takes more to push me into obsessive fandom, the state of songs-on-repeat, ridiculous merch buys, and Internet nerding out that has frustrated many a spouse. The magic of Priest? They appeal to the American in me.

On one hand, that's a "duh" proposition. Metal combines American (blues, rock 'n' roll) and European (classical music, fine arts) sensibilities. Judas Priest epitomized that, starting out bluesy but eventually, as Anthrax' Scott Ian put it, doing away with the "last shards of blues" in heavy metal, with 1980's British Steel. That's sort of hyperbole, though; Point of Entry (1981) carried a healthy dose of blues, though the 1988 cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" was less salubrious.

On the other hand, no other metal band has "sold American" (to flip the old Walmart catchphrase) as interestingly as the Priest. The band's signature stage prop, the Harley-Davidson motorcyle, is an American iconic symbol. Rob Halford moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in the '80s and also acquired residency in San Diego, of all places. Most importantly, Judas Priest perfected "highway metal": throbbing rockers that plated Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" in hot rod chrome. That's hot rod in every sense; Halford sold sex ("Living after Midnight", "Eat Me Alive", etc.) and sold it well. (Contrast with, say, Accept, who came across as charmingly galumphing.) I bet Halford's midrange purr lit up more loins than straight men would admit. That angle of Priest didn't sell me on them, but it helped make me prefer them over contemporaries Iron Maiden. Maiden were too classy and European to appeal to my crotch.

Screaming for Vengeance is where Priest grabbed America by the balls. (See this interview with Halford.) A big factor was hit single "You've Got Another Thing Comin'", which eventually reached Gold status. (Screaming for Vengeance reached Double Platinum status, making it Judas Priest's best-selling album.) The World Vengeance Tour hit America twice, with Iron Maiden as support (!) on the 1982 leg. Priest and Maiden together at Madison Square Garden: holy fuck!

All this success was well-deserved. Screaming for Vengeance was a big step up from before in terms of songwriting, production values, and scope. Even the weaker songs were memorable. The love songs ("(Take These) Chains", "Pain and Pleasure", "Fever") were a little limp, but the burners were scorching. "Bloodstone" has the textbook '80s metal guitar sound. The high-octane title track could be considered a precursor to "Painkiller". And "The Hellion/Electric Eye" remains the best intro/first real song combo in metal history.

I'm not a "wish I lived in the past" person, especially when it comes to '80s metal. The hair was bad, Reagan was President, and did sex education even exist? But Screaming for Vengeance makes me yearn for that heavy metal parking lot (that was 1986, but you get my point). If I had been older, I would have heard "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" on the radio. I would have driven from Smalltown, USA to Big Coliseum to see this British Invasion. My dead-end friends would have come with. We would have pre-gamed it and drunk too much. I would have made a play for Lisa/Mary/Karen/Kimberly/Susan (the five most popular female baby names of 1965) and struck out big-time.

And I would have bought a t-shirt. Worn it till it was rags. Worn the vinyl out till it was dust. Carried the memory to my grave with a smile. Judas Priest, 1982. May you keep me young always.

- Alan Smith

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BUY SCREAMING FOR VENGEANCE

Amazon (CD)
Amazon (MP3)

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