REVIEW: Judas Priest – Rocka Rolla (1974)

PRIEST WEEK

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.

2/5 stars

More PRIEST at mikeladano.com:

JUDAS PRIEST – Nostradamus  (2008 Sony deluxe edition)
JUDAS PRIEST – Rising In The East (2005 DVD, live in Japan)
JUDAS PRIEST – Turbo (1986)

31 comments

  1. I tried with this one, but although I’ve dutifully bought a lot of their LPs over the years I don’t really get excited by them at all on a whole LP basis until they go a bit poppier with ‘Screaming …’

    Couldn’t agree more over the cover though – bottletop all the way for me.

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    1. Screaming was the first of a new era for Priest. It was almost too heavy for me when it came out, I couldn’t believe the notes Halford could hit. Having said that, as I grew up I really grew to love Hell Bent. What an amazing record. Loaded with innuendo too!

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  2. Cool week idea Mike…..they will be Screaming!!!!
    I was lucky to catch em on the Vengenace tour with Heaven whose claim to fame was the singer had been on ACDCs watch list when Scott passed!….
    Love most of there stuff so this is a very good idea and yes the Hellion and Electric Eye is one of the best album Metal openers of all time in my book!
    Love the Rocka Rolla album cover….basic but eye catching….but it wasn’t til Unleashed was released that it was my first purchase as they were supposed to open for KISS on the Dynasty tour but for some reason they were advertised to play Duluth but no showed but instead we got a pre Hurts So Good John Cougar who royally got booed his whole set!
    I did hear the first two but never bought em…….a buddy played Sad Wings constantly in high school!
    Haha….

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    1. Never saw them live. I was supposed to go see them on Operation Rock N’ Roll (remember Lemmy had to cancel due to some bruised ribs?). We were supposed to get backstage passes. Then the guy I was going with got dumped by the chick with the tickets and passes. (Her uncle was the promoter)

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    1. Yup yup! He hit his head riding out, and it knocked him out cold for all of Hell Bent. He came back for the second song but that was Priest’s LAST gig with Halford, before the reunion.

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        1. Yes and I definitely appreciate it. I’m enjoying it too! This doesn’t mean the end of long, complete series by the way. This just another fun way for me to do things.

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  3. I always enjoy it when I come to see what’s new at Lebrain’s, and it’s even more fun when you’ve posted about a record I actually own! It’s rare, but it does happen that way sometimes…

    It’s been a while since I played it, but I seem to recall really rather enjoying it (more than 2/5 stars, anyway). But I get it all blended with Sad Wings in my head because the copy of it I own has both records on one disc. Looks like this:

    http://www.discogs.com/Judas-Priest-Rocka-Rolla-Sad-Wings-Of-Destiny/release/4699787

    I remember we talked about this when I bought it (for $1.99 in a junk shop, of all places). We established that all the tracks are indeed there, they just put Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat into one track instead of individual tracks like the original release.

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    1. We played that in Toronto alright! In fact you can hear Deep Freeze in the car scene at the beginning.

      I know the one you’re talking about, with Sad Wings. What great value for the money.

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