Judas Priest are quite possibly, without a hint of over-dramatization, one of the three most influential bands in the history of heavy metal, the other two being Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. As such they are certainly worthy of more than one career retrospective album, and there are several from which to choose. When I first ran across this particular CD, The Essential Judas Priest, last year, I was fairly impressed by the song selection from each album. Many times these hits compilations wind up being horrible messes, with countless bad selections and many times including the much-dreaded (at least in my mind) live tracks. I hate live tracks as part of greatest hits compilations or career-spanning retrospectives, just because if I wanted a live track, I would’ve bought a live album. I much prefer the original studio versions of songs. Good news: no live tracks present. The Sony people did a pretty good job here, and I understand there was significant input from the band members, which is never a bad thing. Let’s get started!
Rocka Rolla: As usual not represented. The band do not care for this album and I can’t say I blame them, as I really don’t care for it either. This isn’t the album you are looking for. Move along.
Sad Wings of Destiny: Very good album, not my favorite. The two best songs from the record are here, Victim of Changes and The Ripper. Tad surprised at the omission of Dreamer Deceiver and Deceiver, but I guess with only 34 possible slots, some good songs are going to get left off.
Sin After Sin: Again, good album but not a personal fave. Diamonds and Rust and Sinner are among the best known from here. Dissident Aggressor is a notable exclusion, but again it’s a numbers thing.
Stained Class: Here is where the band really started coming into their own. Beyond the Realms of Death is a signature track for the band and Exciter is pretty well-known, but as has been noted in several other reviews, it seems impossible to think that Better By You, Better Than Me slipped through the cracks. It really seems like they should have found room for it somewhere on here.
Hell Bent For Leather: Classic album represented by the title track plus Delivering The Goods, The Green Manalishi and Before The Dawn, all great songs. Although this album includes many great tracks, I have no complaints with the song selections here. I just would have liked more selections. Again, numbers…
British Steel: And here we are. The album that was most likely many people’s first taste of the Priest. Songs herein include Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight (big surprises there; note sarcasm) as well as Metal Gods and United. If you’ve tuned into a hard rock, classic rock or metal radio station any time in the past, ohh 27 years or so, you’ve undoubtedly been treated to hearing the former two songs somewhere between 750 and 3000 times. Even though I’ve heard them enough to last several lifetimes, to not include them here would’ve been a joke. The latter two songs have been concert staples for the band for years, so as such these are all solid choices for this album, but I miss Grinder…
Point Of Entry: A very weird album, one that doesn’t sound terribly Priest-ish. But I like it when a band releases a record that doesn’t fall into their normal sound structure. Heading Out to the Highway and Hot Rockin’ are here and are actually the two songs that sound the most like much of the rest of their 80’s catalog and are both good, but my three faves are missing. Desert Plains, Don’t Go and Solar Angels are the most interesting songs on the record and yet they don’t show up here. Pity.
Screaming For Vengeance: My personal first Priest album. Included here are the uber-obvious You’ve Got Another Thing Coming (another comically over-played song), the title track and two songs that are really one song, The Hellion/Electric Eye. Great tunes all, but as this is probably the most popular of Priest’s albums, you wouldn’t have gotten many complaints by adding a couple more tracks from this landmark record. Notable by their absence are Bloodstone and Riding On The Wind.
Defenders Of The Faith: Four songs, all great. Freewheel Burning, The Sentinel, Love Bites and Jawbreaker. I love them all; the problem is I also love Rock Hard Ride Free, Eat Me Alive, Some Heads Are Gonna Roll, Night Comes Down and Heavy Duty/Defenders Of The Faith. In other words this whole album flat out rocks! You could include the entire thing on a Best Of release and I’d be perfectly content. Great album, I guess if I can’t have all the songs, the ones they did choose are as good of choices as any.
Turbo: Chronically panned album, I have to admit to rather liking it. Indeed the synthesizers give most of the songs a decidedly un-Priest-like bent, a tad poppish perhaps but I think it’s pretty cool. Some of the songs are a bit too junior high, but overall I thought it was better than many claim it to be. Represented here by the quasi-title track, Turbo Lover and the power ballad Out In The Cold. I would’ve loved for them to have included Locked In (the lead single) and Private Property and I think Reckless is one of the best songs they’ve ever written.
Ram It Down: Chronically overlooked album, I really, really like this one. I admit that at this point in time, their lyrical content consisted primarily of songs about sex and songs about how great metal is and how hard they can rock, but nevertheless, this is probably my second favorite Priest album top to bottom. Only songs that are here are the blistering title track (best guitar solo EVER) and the epic, synth-laden Blood Red Skies. I really could’ve used Heavy Metal, I’m A Rocker and Hard As Iron, but seeing as only about twenty people bought this album, it’s no surprise that it’s so lightly represented.
Painkiller: What is there to say? It’s unquestionably their heaviest album ever and so many quality songs to boot. Standing in are Painkiller, Touch Of Evil, Night Crawler and Hell Patrol, screaming masterworks of metal all. Another instance where the entire record could be on here and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. Metal Meltdown, All Guns Blazing and One Shot At Glory all would’ve been welcome additions, but alas we have to “settle” for only four great slabs of metal.
Jugulator and Demolition: Not represented. No surprise. Ripper Owens is a talented singer but these albums never resonated with the hardcore fans.
Angel Of Retribution: Good, not great comeback album. Songs included are Judas Rising (now one of my top ten favorite Priest tunes)and Revolution (which I just can’t get into, for some reason). Would have enjoyed Deal With The Devil, Worth Fighting For and Hellrider, but what can ya do?
Overall: This is a great album for casual fans who might just want the well-known hits and a small mix of deeper cuts. Also not bad if you are looking for a comprehensive collection of Priest songs to make things easier when driving or for gatherings with less Priest-initiated friends. Also good for those of us (ahem, me) who have been too lazy through the years to replace all their old tapes with CDs and are still going through that rather laborious and expensive task. Much more worth your time and money than Living After Midnight:The Best Of Judas Priest.
If you’re a hard-core Priest-head who owns all the CDs and perhaps bought the 4-disc, career spanning Metalology boxed set as well, you probably don’t need this unless you desire to be a completist.
My personal rating is four and a half stars, leaning towards four if you are a die-hard and closer to five if you are more casual in your JP fandom.