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.
JUDAS PRIEST REVIEWS
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) “Re-Review”
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- The Best of Judas Priest (Insight Series) (1978)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Hell Bent for Leather / Killing Machine (1978)
- Unleashed in the East / Priest in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- British Steel (30th Anniversary Edition)
- Hero, Hero (1981)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming For Vengeance (1982 + 30th Anniversary Edition)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Defenders of the Faith (30th Anniversary Edition
- Turbo (1986)
- Turbo 30 (Anniversary Edition)
- Priest…Live! (1987)
- Ram It Down (1988)
- Trouble Shooters (1989 cassette compilation)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Metal Works 73-93 (1993)
- Jugulator (1997)
- “Bullet Train” (1998 Japanese CD single)
- ’98 Live Meltdown (1998)
- Concert Classics (1998)
- Priest, Live and Rare (1998 Japanese)
- Demolition (2001 + Japanese edition)
- Live in London (2003)
- Metalogy (2004 4 CD + DVD box set)
- Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)
- Rising in the East (2005 DVD
- Nostradamus (2008)
- Greatest Hits (2008)
- A Touch of Evil – Live (2009 + iTunes + Japanese editions)
- Redeemer of Souls (2014)
- Redeemer of Souls – Deluxe Edition (2014 bonus CD)
- Battle Cry (2016)
- Firepower (2018)