REVIEW: Judas Priest – Stained Class (1978, Remastered)

JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class (Orignally 1978, 2001 Sony reissue)

I always considered Stained Class to be the “lost” Judas Priest album.  I rarely saw its name in a print magazine, and never saw a copy in a store.  Not until 1989.  As it turns out, I only needed one Priest tape to complete my collection.  There it sat, at Zellers at the mall.  My dad got out his wallet and bought it for me.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library.

A year later after I bought it, Stained Class became world famous.  In 1990, Priest were taken to court over “Better By You, Better Than Me”, a song from the album.  Lawyers in Nevada argued that Priest had embedded backwards “do it!” messages within the song, prompting James Vance and Raymond Belknap to attempt suicide by shotgun.  Belknap succeeded, but Vance survived, horrifically disfigured.  In the summer of 1990, everybody knew the name Judas Priest.  But there were no backwards “do its!” embedded in the music.  Even if there were, what does “do it” even mean?  And why would a rock band want to kill off their source of income?

In short, I’m telling you that it’s perfectly safe to listen to Stained Class.  As one of the finer Priest albums, your life will be better for it, not worse.

Nine tracks.  New drummer.  The smouldering odor of quenched steel.  Stained Class.

Fall to your knees and repent if you please, and be sure to stand back for “Exciter”!  Though the production of the 1970s robs it of its potential thunder, “Exciter” does not fail.  Judas Priest had mastered the art of the speedy riff, and Halford coloured them with vibrant wordy imagery.  “When he leaps amidst us, with combustive dance, all shall bear the branding of his thermal lance.”  While it could have come from a comic book, it’s certainly a more challenging lyric than “Rock hard, ride free, all day, all night.”

Fire imagery continues on “White Heat, Red Hot”, a Glenn Tipton number with one of those mid-tempo guitar grooves that Priest specialize in.  The new kid, Les Binks, lends it a relentless heavy beat.  Yet it’s a cover tune, the aforementioned “Better By You, Better Than Me” (Spooky Tooth) that knocks me out.  That groove!  The record company suggested the tune, to balance an otherwise pretty heavy album.  It was a good idea.  While it’s not as notable as “Diamonds and Rust” or “Green Manalishi”, Priest put their own spin on it.  Headbangingly so!  Rob Halford’s vocal performance is top notch.

Side one ends with the closing duo “Stained Class” and “Invader”.  Halford duets with himself on the title track, a pretty cool effect for a metallic midtempo stomper.  Enjoy some nice guitar harmonies from the duo of Tipton and Downing.  Its gleaming chorus upholds a great song.  “Invader” has a similarly burnished chorus hook and a victorious tone.

The album’s second side is more challenging to the uninitiated.  A tantalizing riff leads in to the doomy “Saints In Hell”.  Shrieking, Rob agonizes over going “down into the fire”, but the real heat is coming from churning guitars.  Next, “Savage” is just that.  Time changes with tricky drum work, dualing solos, and screamin’ Rob is what you will get.  “What have we done to deserve such injustice?” pleads Halford, giving 110%.

It is Les Binks that is credited with writing the guitar part to the album’s epic.  Says KK:  “Our drummer at the time, Les Binks, was left handed.  One day he walked into the studio and picked up one of the guitars.  It must have been mine, because Glenn would guard his with his life!  Anyway Les picked it up, turned it upside down, and played that riff.”  They built “Beyond the Realms of Death” around the guitar part.  Downing adds that he’d never seen Binks play anything on guitar before or since!  Like “Victim of Changes” before, it has distinct sections and builds up on itself.  “It’s a bit like our ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” said Rob; or perhaps to hell?  The centerpiece of the album.

Closing on “Heroes End”, Priest go out with a serious rocker and a couple more cool riffs for your collection.  An extended outro solo is one of its main features.

But that’s not all folks, because Sony added two bonus tracks on this 2001 CD edition!  And hey, I have nothing against “Fire Burns Below”, but this Turbo / Ram It Down outtake should have been added to a different album, not Stained Class.  The synth and programmed drums are jarring.  The back cover states it was recorded during “the earlier years of our career”.  This is obviously not true.  Too bad, as it’s a cool track although Priest probably didn’t need any more ballads at that point.  They already had “Out in the Cold” and “Blood Red Skies”, not to mention “Red, White and Blue”.  Decent ballad, but on the wrong CD altogether.  A live take of “Better By You, Better Than Me” has more relevance.  This is from the Painkiller tour in 1990, when the song was resurrected in their set after a long absence.  A middle finger to the lawsuit.  For that reason, this live version is important for the collector.

It’s a real shame this album was so rare when I was a kid.  Stained Class is Priest at one of their many peaks.  This was them at peak curiosity: willing to take chances, play with tempo and riff changes, and to challenge themselves.  By the next album they were starting to hone in on a commercially viable sound.  Cover tune aside, that’s not a consideration on Stained Class.

4.5/5 stars

 

JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS

35 comments

  1. I don’t get why Priest got all that hate and were punished with that lawsuit when it wasn’t even their song to begin with and IT WAS A COVER!!! This isn’t the strongest Priest album I’ve listened to so far. The verses on most of the songs are fine, but it’s the choruses that turn me off. I got bored with “Fire Burns Below,” so I’m guessing I would hate ‘Turbo.’ “Beyond the Realms of Death” is a great song though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OH they were not punished. They won, decisively.

      What happened was two kids attempted suicide after listening to music. The survivor blamed the music. The parents blamed the music because it surely could not have been bad parenting, alcohol, drugs, or abuse could it? So they blamed the music, sued the band and label, and it went to trial. The judge saw through the BS. There are no backwards messages telling kids to kill themselves.

      Also don’t judge Turbo by its outtakes, it’s a great album.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know, I get the parents were upset about their kids committing suicide, but it just doesn’t add up when it was a cover. I listened to the album and I didn’t feel the urge to kill myself. In fact, I’ve heard much worse. Priest is nothing, not that they’re not heavy, but you get what I mean! Also quite frankly, the parents should’ve been paying more attention to their kids instead of blaming the band for something beyond their control.

        I guess. I might listen to ‘Turbo’ one day for the heck of it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It really is sad. And unfortunately that sad story got lost when it became about the band. But those were not happy kids and didn’t come from happy families. The one lawyer Priest hired made a point of this in court. The one kid wrote “doing drugs” as a hobby. The lawyer made sure that was clear in court.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. The Priest lawyer was NO NONSENSE. When cross examining the mother, she asked what the kid’s favourite hobbies were, and then she produced a document where he wrote down “Doing drugs”. She asked the mother if that was the same as “fishing with the family”. You could see how furious the mother was. She said “God would get that lawyer” one day. Rather than own up to her own family’s problems.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. That I am not sure of. I don’t think she did. The step-father definitely hit the kid with his belt because he said so on camera. The overall impression that I got was that they were strict and religious. Not much room for metal music in that equation. You should really check out the film. I believe it was called Dream Deceivers.

          I remember taping it off TV in the summer of 91.

          Liked by 1 person

        4. I most certainly will check out the documentary when I get the chance. But that is messed up and I find it sad that religious people were so mean to rock and heavy metal groups without getting to know them and doing more research beforehand.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I know not all religious people are rude, but that’s kind of why I’m hesitant around those types of people. They act holy and say they won’t judge you, but they show the opposite towards people that are not like them. Or people they think are bad news.

          Liked by 1 person

        6. I think I should be more sensitive to people with strong beliefs, but I grew up in the Catholic church and I’m very cynical. I’m still Christian but I see things differently. I am a believer of science — I think God and science can co-exist and don’t rule each other out. I believe God is what makes is know the difference between good and evil, but He created the laws of physics and chemistry that run the universe as shown by science.

          Anyway that’s enough preachin’ from me. That’s just context.

          It bothers me when people say things like “God is going to get you.” It’s self-righteous and not what I believe. So this family really turned me off. I sympathize with them losing a song, but I just watched the video again. The step-dad didn’t just whip the kid with a belt. He punched him in the face — “two or three times”. I just cannot respect that.

          Liked by 1 person

        7. I agree that God created us and everything that exists. I used to go to church. When I was about eight, then I stopped and went to a different church from 11th grade to junior year of college. But I always had that doubt in my mind that church wasn’t right for me. Any church really, but what turned me off was my friend’s church, who’s pastor said he got rid of all his rock albums as part of his transition. I felt isolated, not just cause of my conflicting personality with everyone at the church, but with my beliefs. I think it’s cool you’re a Christian and see things in a different perspective. I think that it’s important to look at all things with an open mind, versus saying God will punish you if you do something wrong.

          Okay I’m done with that topic.

          I do think the husband of the woman with the glasses is a jerk, but during that one scene, we saw how defensive the wife got when she thought he was going against her. At least the step-dad wasn’t all to blame, but yeah those parents were messed up. I don’t want to say anything about how disappointing their actions were towards Christ, but that was messed up.

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        8. I was gripping my pillow throughout the whole documentary, that was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Those mothers were horrible. That dad admitted to punching his stepson. The other one admitted to whipping his stepson. Also when the husband was trying to talk some sense into his wife, she was in denial. I know what happened to James was tragic, but my main concern was how hard he smacked that dog, like geez what did that dog ever do to you?!?!?

          Liked by 1 person

        9. Pretty terrible stuff. But yeah, the ROCK BAND made the kids kill themselves. Not the violence, the rock music did it.

          Sad thing is: the rock music was probably one of the few joys those kids had.

          Liked by 1 person

        10. And the parents couldn’t see that. What a shame. If the parents took the time to get to know their kids, they wouldn’t have been as miserable. Maybe. When I got into rock music a couple of years ago, I saw it as an outlet for the misunderstood, that’s why I connect with it personally.

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  2. Guess I need to get this one now. Halford in his book talks at length that court case as you alluded to here and the songs involved. Bonus tracks should be from that era not Turbo leftovers from 8 years later. Never get the suits to do the bonus tracks.
    Awesome read man!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The court case documentary is also essential! Though it doesn’t talk about this album much.

      Sony really flubbed the bonus tracks. I think they had all that Turbo material but wanted it spread over the whole series of reissues rather than all on one disc. Too bad. A miscalculation that I hope is rectified with a proper Twin Turbos album one day.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review. What killed the case against Priest in 1990 was when the band took the album into the studio and recorded backwards and found such ‘hidden’ messages such as, “Can I have a peppermint?” I still laugh at things like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HAHAH. The actual line they heard in court was “I asked for her to get a peppermint, I asked for her to get one.” Which is “Stand back for Exciter, salvation is his task” played backwards! Clearly you saw the documentary. The look on the judge’s face….

      Liked by 1 person

  4.  I could tell that he was not as impressed as I was that I had finally completed my Priest cassette library – made me laugh. I forgot about the court action. Didn’t realize it was them. Nice post!

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  5. When I bought this on vinyl, the DL code included the extra tracks without any info on them. So, it was a little jarring when Fire Burns Below came one. I had to go to Wiki to find out what was going on. And is that song about an STD or what? Anyway, great album. You were more than fair with it.

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    1. Playing devil’s advocate: I don’t think profit was the #1 motivation for those people in the Priest case. As I mentioned with Lana the other day, I think those people needed to shift the blame away from their perfect Church lifestyle. Though it was clear the step father was abusive, they couldn’t have this tarnishing their perfect family. The money would have been a bonus. For them I think it was all about protecting their family from blame.

      Liked by 1 person

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