By Patrick Prince
While Judas Priest reached the pinnacle of success in the 1980s, the band also wrestled with controversy. The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), a committee that formed to rid popular music of obscenity, put a Judas Priest song (“Eat Me Alive”) on their “Filthy Fifteen” list and the entire proceeding became a drawn-out media spectacle.
However, from a heavy metal fan’s perspective, the most controversial music by Judas Priest followed all the PMRC hoopla. “Turbo,” released in April of 1986, was Judas Priest’s most commercial-sounding album to date; synthesizers toned down the guitars, tales of tyrants and exciters were taken over by romance and love and the British fierceness of the band became strangely American. Some fans embraced the change, others considered “Turbo” a creative oddity.
Thirty years later, many of the critics have softened their stance on the album. More and more fans have come to cherish the album for its ‘80s charm. “Turbo Lover” is now a crowd-pleaser and “Parental Guidance” is given respect for brazenly standing up to the aforementioned PMRC.
This year, the band is celebrating “Turbo” with a deluxe reissue called “Turbo 30,” a 3-CD set (the original album and two bonus discs) or a 150 gram vinyl record. The bonus CD discs contain previously unreleased concert footage from Kansas City during the Fuel For Life tour of 1986.
Vocalist Rob Halford spoke to Goldmine about the “Turbo” reissue and the ‘80s decade in general.
GOLDMINE: I can remember picking that album up the first day it came out. I remember it like it was yesterday. And here we are.
ROB HALFORD: Well, that’s so cool you should say that. Because isn’t that like the endearing power of music, that for all of us it’s still very much that kind of time machine experience, you know? And that’s what I love about these references where we, for fans such as yourself, and also for new fans because there is always a constant trickle of new Priest fans who want to know about this, that and the other, afford a lot of really cool stuff to everyone. But in this instance, for our hardcore fan base, we’ve just gone through a cycle, haven’t we? With “Defenders,” that was 30; “Screaming for Vengeance,”that was 30;and now “Turbo.” I don’t know what else is on the horizon. They’re all valuable. It’s all good stuff, you know?
GOLDMINE: Let’s talk about leading up to “Turbo.” I mean, when the ‘80s first started you had the youthful anger of “Breaking the Law” and by the time “Turbo” came around, there was a brighter feel ... experimentation with synthesizers, etc. And Priest, career-wise, were on top of the world. Was there a sense of “We made it!” within the band while recording “Turbo”? Did you feel that optimism?
ROB HALFORD: You nailed it on the head right there, yeah. It’s very cool that you mentioned “British Steel” briefly as well, because “British Steel” saw us coming through, you know, a really bad patch in the U.K. particularly, and I dare say, globally. As you get older, you see, the world seems to go in like decade cycles of events. Things start to happen at the beginning and the end of each decade. And generally through the middle bit, things are kind of not exactly coasting, but things are in general a little bit more balanced. I don’t know why that is but it seems to be the case. So with “British Steel,” you know, “Breaking the Law,” “The Rage,” “Rapid Fire,” all that kind of stuff, my role as a lyricist at that point was to get out the angst, really, and to look around me and make comments on the state of my own country as I saw it at that particular time; although we did kind of find balance. You know the two big songs on that record, one was “Breaking the Law,” which was a real kick back on what we were experiencing in the U.K. — the Thatcher years and the miner strikes, you know, the whole country was in turmoil. The unions were just tearing everything up. Government was being very aggressive to any kind of union policy. So we had that attitude with one song, and then of course the flip side was “Living After Midnight,” you know?
So I think what I’m trying to say here is, that with you talking about the “Turbo years,” you seem to be having a great time and in a different place. We were exactly at that place. We were having a ball. We were in the middle of what I reference as probably one of the greatest decades of (heavy) metal. I don’t know whether you would agree. Do you look and listen to what happened from 1981 to 1989? It was just sensational, for everything in metal and rock, wasn’t it? When you think about the activity that was going on. And of course over here there was a power rise in the mid ‘80s. Am I right? In America, things were going great, weren’t they? The economy...
GOLDMINE: It was a prosperous time.
ROB HALFORD: A very uplifted kind of vibe ... and I think that’s reflected in the music of “Turbo.” It’s a very optimistic sounding record, isn’t it? It’s just got really good vibes and nothing to overly concern yourself about. Big hair, big costumes, big stage shows. It was all larger than life ... wasn’t it at that point?
GOLDMINE: Yeah, in fact, if you compare the videos of “British Steel” to “Turbo,” the “Turbo” ones have more ... I think you put it best ... good vibes.
ROB HALFORD: Well, that was the decade of the video, wasn’t it? Because MTV broke through at that point and every label was falling over itself to get their top acts onto an MTV format. When you think about it, MTV was like a revolution, in terms of what the Internet did, you know, we didn’t have an Internet, did we? We just had TV.
So suddenly you could not only hear your favorite band on the radio ... That’s the great story about this, is that radio, and to some extent print, have survived all of the tumultuous years. So certainly you could hear your band on the radio, whenever you wanted, and you could also see your favorite band or artist on TV whenever you wanted. I mean it was so cool, you know? I’d be touring here and around the world, and I’d be like in the Holiday Inn someplace with the MTV blasting. You’d watch yourself on TV and then you’d get in the band and do the show, and come back and put MTV on and there you were again. What a great feeling that was. You know it was just a really cool experience because it was kind of quite new ... and it was only happening in America. We didn’t have that kind of opportunity elsewhere in the rest of the world. And that makes me think, of all of the records that Priest made, maybe “Turbo” was the most American-sounding record that we ever made. I don’t know whether you’d agree with that. It’s just got an essence about it, you know. We were over here, started recording in Nassau, went up to Miami, did some work in the Record Plant in Los Angeles, so the actual theme was surrounded by our living in the American way for a while, you know? We didn’t do that with “Screaming for Vengeance” or “Defenders of the Faith.” We did those over in Europe, you know? So a lot of things going on, to make that record really unique in the whole catalog of Priest.
GOLDMINE: And you changed the image to a sort of road warrior look. It was really the first change like that since ’78 with “Stained Class.” It was still leather, but a different look. Was that sort of a natural thing? Did you guys say, let’s try to change a little bit, try to change the stage look?
ROB HALFORD: You know, I think again if you look at all the other bands that were surrounding ourselves, we were good friends, with all these other bands who were equally on the same roller coaster ride in the ‘80s. We were all kind of shifting our look and our sound to some extent. And I think we all got caught up in that. And for Priest, I think we were all just having fun with the way we were looking. Those two famous videos that we made — the “Turbo Lover” video and the “Locked In” video — there was a bit of a road warrior vibe going on there, using the bikes and everything. I mean you look at those videos now and they’re locked in time, aren’t they? They cannot come from any other time sequence but the ‘80s, for sure. There is a look and a feel and an attitude about them, straight out of the ‘80s.
GOLDMINE: And almost every video on MTV had a sort of narrative.
ROB HALFORD: Yeah, they’re mini movies, aren’t they? It’s amazing what one was able to cram (in there). I mean those were like, you know, almost 24 hours shoots. We’d start at nighttime and finish like a day later.
GOLDMINE: I don’t even know if bands really make those sort of videos anymore, with the narrative ...
ROB HALFORD: You couldn’t make them now. They’d probably cost a couple of million dollars, wouldn’t they?
GOLDMINE: Yes. You’re absolutely right. It wouldn’t be worth it.
ROB HALFORD: All those extras and the crews and cameras and lighting and sound. Big deal, yeah? I can’t remember how much the label dropped at that point for those sorts of videos. But you know, that was a different world, wasn’t it? So they’re nice, aren’t they? In terms of like a little bit of treasure, to kind of use again as a reference point. With this release you’ve got, of course, the remastered side of what we try to make sound a bit sparkly, and then you’ve got the option now of a vinyl release which is still very, very popular ... getting stronger every year. People seem to want to get into that experience. And then the whole thing for me that is particularly cool is the inclusion of the Kansas show, the live show from Kansas. That’s a magical performance. I’d completely forgotten that we’d got that. Because we were looking around, you know, why don’t we try to find a show that we can kind of marry into this release. And then somebody said, well, we’ve got this, we found this, let’s check it out. It is very much an uncluttered performance. I don’t think it had any overdubs or any patching-ups as such. It was just a red hot show. So that really wraps it up for me. Because, of course, you’ve not only got some of the tracks from the “Turbo” release but you’ve also got some of our other established songs as well. So it’s a good little bit of nostalgia or whatever you want to call it.
GOLDMINE: I had forgotten that you played “Green Manalishi” on that tour. I wonder if fans realized that was a Fleetwood Mac song and a Peter Green fever-pitched dream.
ROB HALFORD: Isn’t that amazing? It’s like “Diamonds and Rust.” You know, of course, that’s a Joan Baez song. I think it’s still a great opportunity. Bands still do it to this day, don’t they? There’s so many wonderful songs out there, that can be given your characteristics and a new kind of perspective. So much so that it seems like you’ve penned the original idea.
GOLDMINE: And when Priest does those two particular songs live, they sound fantastic.
ROB HALFORD: Yeah, they do. And that’s just another example of how a great song will take any kind of interpretation. In those days we were looking at our label for anything to kind of get us to radio, and our label at the time said yes to “Green Manalishi” and “Diamonds and Rust,” and so forth. And they’ve become part of the rich history of this band and we still pull those songs out, even now, and get a good reaction.
GOLDMINE: And a lot of people, especially kids nowadays — and there are obviously kids into Judas Priest — they don’t remember the PMRC. I liked how you gave your opinion of the PMRC, hence the (“Turbo”) song “Parental Guidance,” because they were a pain in the ass back then.
ROB HALFORD: They were, weren’t they? Funny because there was a program on CNN the other night about the ’80s ... they actually took you into the Senate hearings and Tipper Gore and her crew. I mean I understood in principle what they were looking for there, which was that there was certain music that was coming out, protected by the First Amendment. I think what they were looking for was sort of a guideline, like you go to the movies, you know? You’re movie is R rated, PG rated, G or whatever, so if you got kids you’re not gonna go and see “Deadpool.” My God what a different world, you know? You’ve got 10-year-olds going to see “Deadpool.” Because it’s a fun kind of ... and lets face it, kids have got old heads on their shoulders now. By the time they’re 12, it’s just remarkable. I mean I’ve seen that with my nieces and nephews.
But having said that, it was an unpleasant time. Because I think unfortunately we were being attacked for the other side’s political advancements, you know? I don’t think they understood that they were really accusing us of doing some things that were covered by the First Amendment. If you don’t like a song, you can’t crush it, you can’t dismiss it. You’ve just got to accept that’s that, you know, that’s the way of the world. If you don’t like something, you don’t have to take it. So we were on that list of the Filthy Fifteen with Sheena Easton and Prince and other people. And it was very interesting to watch, but yeah we just kicked back with “we don’t need no parental guidance.” Kind of a cute way to say we were listening and we were watching. We put that song (“Parental Guidance”) together in America because we were surrounded by that on CNN and so forth while we were making the “Turbo” record.
GOLDMINE: But it was so big back then and now it’s like, you know, people have forgotten about it, the PMRC. It’s so strange!
ROB HALFORD: Yeah I was talking over lunch about how Trent Reznor just said that the Internet has made everything too safe in music, you know? And there’s probably some value to what he’s saying. And I think what he means by that is, can you remember, the last thing that you saw or heard that made you go, “Wow, this is kind of interesting, kind of angry ... this has got some fire attached to it? Because I can’t. I can’t think of anybody. And I’m not being a boring old fart. You know that last big moment for me, I have to go all the way back to (Marilyn) Manson. I can’t think of anything else, can you? I mean it took Nirvana to really tap into some raw power in the early ‘90s, you know? No doubt three of the biggest bands that really shook things up were Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. You know, and again that was the start of a new decade, wasn’t it? They were very important. And I think that’s what Trent is saying, when things get too safe, complacency sets in and it can get a bit dull.
GOLDMINE: You know sometimes during the hardest times, the roughest times in history, the best creative stuff comes out.
ROB HALFORD: I agree with you 100%. Yeah. Most definitely. Will be cool to see what comes to the surface. But you’re absolutely right. Yeah. But you know the world really hasn’t changed that much in terms of the tragedy and the conflict that’s still going on. I mean, when I was a teenager growing up, I often wondered if as an adult whether or not we’d be surrounded with ... at that time back in my own country, you know, the IRA, some of the other things that were going on, the end of Vietnam and so forth. And yet, sadly, there’s still an awful lot of turbulence out in the world ... out in the Middle East, and then you’ve got the threats that Russia is making. You know, the world is still a pretty dangerous place when you think about it.
GOLDMINE: Now, there were detractors of “Turbo” — some of your fans. You know they liked a real edge to your sound but I have to say, even with that criticism, the band handled it well. You said, this is what we are doing creatively right now. Some artists get defensive and you guys did not. You took it really well. I respect that.
ROB HALFORD: Yeah, we did. Well, I don’t think you have to start bangin’ the tires and say, “Now you listen to me!” blah, blah, blah. I think we always appreciated that we were in control of where we go and what we do. And we always believed in where we go and what we do. And I think that it’s very natural for bands that have the great fortune to have a life as long as Priest, to bump up against things now and again. You know, there is a certain portion of the Priest fan base, they only want “Painkiller,” “Painkiller,” “Painkiller.” They only want “British Steel,” “British Steel,” “British Steel.” And I’m cool with that. You know, it’s what I call the Sylvester Stallone syndrome. You know they only want you as, like, Rambo ... they only want you as Rocky, you know? So it’s very very difficult. That’s the pure power and emotion of music. We’ve always stood strongly by what we believe in and we’re gonna always do that.
JUDAS PRIEST ALBUM DISCOGRAPHY
❑ JC36443 British Steel 1980 $12.00
❑ FC38219 Defenders of the Faith 1984 10.00
❑ 9C939926 [PD] Great Vinyl and Concert Hits 1984 60.00
❑ JC35706 Hell Bent for Leather 1979 12.00
❑ FC37052 Point of Entry 1981 10.00
❑ C240794 Priest ... Live! 1987 12.00
❑ FC44244 Ram It Down 1988 10.00
❑ AS991543 [DJ] Screaming for Vengeance 1982 30.00
— Promo-only “world tour” picture disc; plays the correct LP
❑ AS991543 [DJ] Screaming for Vengeance 1982 30.00
— Promo-only “world tour” picture disc; plays Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight” LP in error
❑ FC38160 Screaming for Vengeance 1982 10.00
❑ PC34787 Sin After Sin 1977 15.00
— Originals have no bar code on back cover
❑ JC35296 Stained Class 1978 12.00
❑ OC40158 Turbo 1986 10.00
❑ JC36179 Unleashed in the East (Live in Japan) 1979 10.00
❑ JXS-7019 Sad Wings of Destiny 1976 25.00
❑ JXS-7019 [DJ] Sad Wings of Destiny 1976 30.00
— Promo version, with “Specially faded for easier programming” sticker on cover
❑ MOFI1-036 Killing Machine 2014 30.00
❑ MOFI1-038 Screaming for Vengeance 2014 35.00
❑ MOFI1-037 Stained Class 2014 35.00
❑ OV-1751 Sad Wings of Destiny 1980 18.00
❑ CYL1-5399 Hero, Hero 1985 25.00
❑ AYL1-5041 Rocka-Rolla 1984 12.00
— Reissue of Visa 7001 with new cover
❑ AYL1-4747 Sad Wings of Destiny 1983 12.00
— Reissue of Ovation LP
❑ AYL1-4933 The Best of Judas Priest 1984 10.00
❑ IMP-7001 Rocka Rolla 1979 18.00
— First U.S. issue of unreleased Gull LP; front cover has a bottle-cap motif