Welcome to PRIEST WEEK! It’s all Judas Priest, all week. Let’s go!
JUDAS PRIEST – Rocka Rolla (1974 Gull Records)
Years before the glory of Sad Wings of Destiny, Judas Priest was just another Birmingham bar band playing their version of the blues. Original lead singer and founder Al Atkins wrote a lot of the early material, with a variety of lineups. Atkins quit the band in the early 1970’s and “Bob” Halford was brought in, along with second guitarist Glen Tipton. Judas Priest as we know it was born.
I remember the next door neighbor George played me the song “Rocka Rolla” and I immediately loved it. It had a cool riff and a hypnotic chorus. Years later (1989) I walked into Sam the Record Man and bought my LP copy off the near-legendary Al King. Finding a copy on cassette was nigh on impossible so I bought an LP. Little did I realize that was a good move. I can still play the LP and it sounds great, whereas a cassette would be in a Thunder Bay landfill by now.
Unfortunately Rocka Rolla disappointed me. I didn’t like it when I got it in ’89 and I still find it kinda dull. The band wrote a lot of songs with Al Atkins, largely blues-based rock, and that’s what Rocka Rolla is: Leftovers from the Atkins era, slow blues jammers meandering along at a leisurely pace. There is precious little heavy metal here. “Run of the Mill” and the “Winter” suite, for example, run the gamut from hippy-dippy flower power love to amateur British bar blues. Yet, Jethro Tull these guys were not, and Rocka Rolla is strictly second rate. The drummer on Rocka Rolla was John Hinch, a musician that Tipton described as “inadequate” to play Priest’s more challenging material. Maybe that is one reason that Rocka Rolla lacks power.
There are a couple decent moments that keep this album from being a 1-star stinker. The title track is a fun proto-metal number, with a neat classic sounding riff. There is also the outro to “Dying to Meet You”, known as the “Hero, Hero” section which actually has some spark. “Never Satisfied” has some powerful moments. “One For the Road” is a good song. The rest is basically a band trying to find its direction, not sure whether it’s a jam band, a blues band, or a rock band, and excelling at none of those sounds.
There’s a bonus track on some CD versions, tacked-on but unrelated. This is the version of “Diamonds & Rust” from the Best Of album. Great song and great version, sounding totally out of place here. Also of note, there are two album covers. I prefer the soda bottle cap much more than that weird football player bomber guy.
Two years later, Judas Priest laid down one of my all-time favourite metal classics Sad Wings of Destiny. How they turned the ship around so drastically is beyond me. New songs, new chemistry? Let’s be grateful they did turn it around, for if this band failed to do so you never would have heard of them.
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