Judas Priest trial

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

VHS Archives #13: Two Rob Halford interviews (1990)

Two fantastic, historic clips for you today, featuring the “Metal God” himself, Rob Halford of Judas Priest!

First up, from MuchMusic’s news show called FAX, Steve Anthony talks to Rob about the Judas Priest suicide trial.  They also talk Priest’s new album Painkiller.  (The anchor of the FAX show is Monica Deol.)

Second, and most important: Dan Gallagher visits the Scarborough rehearsal hall where Priest were gearing up for their Painkiller tour! Rob is friendly and engaged for this top-notch interview. Halford co-hosts the Pepsi Power Hour with Dan, and talks about his passion for new heavy bands like Pantera (he’s wearing the shirt), Love/Hate, and Suicidal Tendencies. They also discuss the trial, the drummer change, education, and reading. “I consume books,” says Rob. You’ll be impressed with Rob’s answers especially where the trial is concerned.

Rob picked all the music for the show, and while I didn’t include the music in the VHS Archive, you can at least find out what bands and songs Rob picked! (Hint: heavy bands!)

Also look for a Painkiller tour ad during one of the commercial breaks — I kept that in.

REVIEW: Cinderella – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (promo, inc. Heartbreak Station)

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I’m going to be covering more of my rarities in 2013.  This is part 2 of today’s Cinderella feature.  For part 1, a more comprehensive review of the Heartbreak Station CD, click Tommy Morais’ review here!

This Cinderella compilation is a rare promo.  Don’t know what a promo CD is?  Watch the educational video below starring yours truly!

Record Store Tales Part 117:  Promos

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CINDERELLA – Once Around the Ride…Then & Now (Promotional only, 1990 Polygram)

This is a really, really cool package.  Two discs:  Then… and Now…, showcasing the absolute best of Cinderella up to 1990, including two rare live bonus tracks.

Somewhat predictably, Then… is a greatest hits set from the first two records.  Five tunes from Night Songs, six from Long Cold Winter, which I rated 4.5/5 in a recent review.  Then, the aforementioned two bonus tracks:  “Shake Me” and “Night Songs”, performed live.  “Night Songs” was one that I owned previously on a rare Polygram compilation from ’92 called Welcome To The Jungle.  From what I can tell, these two tracks are originally from a 1987 European release called The Live EP, and it appears they’ve been recycled as bonus tracks on several items since, including a promo Kiss single for “Any Way You Slice It”!

Interestingly, the back cover states that the two bonus tracks are from a forthcoming EP also called Night Songs, an EP I’ve never seen or heard of before or since.

The tracks chosen are pretty much the tunes that anybody would have chosen given a compilation like this:  All the singles, and a selection of kickass album tracks such as “Night Songs”, “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams”, and “Push, Push”.  As a Cinderella collection of the early stuff, this is about as perfect a compilation as it gets.  As far as I’m concerned the only track it’s really missing is the awesome “Take Me Back” from Long Cold Winter, a great tune that would have made a perfect single.

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The second disc, Now… is the entire Heartbreak Station album (review here) from start to finish.  It even comes with the full booklet for Heartbreak Station, so this is how I chose to buy the album.  Heartbreak Station is another fantastic, underrated Cinderalla album.   It was clear from Long Cold Winter that the band was interested in exploring their underappreciated blues roots.   On Heartbreak Station, they ditched the glam and went full bore into those roots.

The opening track “The More Things Change” is aptly titled, but is actually the track most like their past work.  “Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time” is nothing but pure funky goodness, a completely unexpected twist.  The horn-laden “Shelter Me” was the first single (remember Little Richard in the video?), a really cool soul rock song.  The lyrics were totally on-trend in the wake of the fresh Judas Priest trial, a rant on Tipper Gore and the PMRC!

Tipper led the war against the record industry,
She said she saw the devil on her MTV

Sharp minded readers will remember that Tipper was prompted to start the PMRC when her kid was terrified by Tom Petty’s video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” on MTV!

I love Little Richard.

The centerpiece of the album is the title track, with strings by John Paul Jones.  The band were dissatisfied that they had to use synth on the previous album’s hit, “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”.  John Paul Jones lent the band some serious credibility.  The song is a lush, sullen ballad with an incredible slide solo.  I remember some video channels played it under the wrong name back in ’91.  They were calling the song “The Last Train”.

Other winners:  The totally country-fied “One For Rock & Roll”, with loads of steel guitar, dobro, and 12 string.  The electrified “Love Gone Bad”, which also hearkens back to the Long Cold Winter sound in a powerful way.  “Dead Man’s Road”, which is a haunting, slow dark rocker with loads of acoustics.  Really, there are only a couple filler songs on the whole album.

This isn’t a cheap compilation to find today, but if you do happen upon it, pick it up.  It’s a collectible now, but not just that, it’s one you’ll actually play!

5/5 stars