Judas Priest always knew the appeal of an unexpected cover, whether delivering a barely recognisable version of folkie Joan Baez’s Diamonds And Rust, or transforming Spooky Tooth’s blues-rock chugger Better By You, Better Than Me into a razor-edged metal anthem.
But it was their gleaming update of Fleetwood Mac’s malevolent 1970 single The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown) that crowned Priest the kings of the metalised cover version. The part the original, Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac played in the development of what would become heavy metal has never properly been acknowledged. While they were deeply rooted in the blues, they could turn up the heat when required – and never more than they did on The Green Manalishi.
By the beginning of 1970, Green’s mental health was in a precarious state. His increasing inability to deal with success wasn’t helped by his LSD use. The Green Manalishi, with its air of foreboding and paranoia, captures his state of mind.
Green claimed he wrote the song after waking from a vivid dream-come-nightmare in which a green dog began barking at him. The dog was dead and, in his dream, so was Green.
“When I woke up I found I was writing this song,” he said later. “Next day, I went out to the park and the words started coming.”
The finished track was a master class in slow-burning menace. Green and fellow guitarist Danny Kirwan laid on a thick, ominous riff, while Mick Fleetwood’s sudden bursts of hypnotic drumming only added to the sense of incipient dread. ‘
"Don’t you come creeping round, making me do things I don’t wanna do," sang Green, who subsequently insisted the Green Manalishi of the title was the devil-embodied form of a wad of cash. His disillusion with the life he was leading was such that by the time the song was released as a single in the summer of 1970, he had already quit the band he had put together just three years earlier
Ironically, Judas Priest’s cover of this post-British blues boom landmark wasn’t initially included on the original UK edition of 1978’s Killing Machine, their fifth album. Instead it made its bow on the US edition, released with the title Hell Bent For Leather. But it was the version of the song on Priest’s 1979 live album Unleashed In The East that re-established the song as a 70s metal classic, even if not everyone who heard it realised that it was a cover.
Priest didn’t change the structure of the song so much as soup it up. Where Peter Green sounded genuinely spooked, Rob Halford delivered the lyrics with a glint in his eye – this was menacing, but it was a playful menace. And the slice-through-steel twin-guitar interplay of KK Downing and Glenn Tipton replaced the original’s forbidding power with turbo-charged energy.
Sonics aside, there’s little to separate the Mac and Priest versions in terms of greatness – they’re both tremendous in different ways. But as Rob Halford pointed out in 2017, that was never the point. “A good song will take any kind of interpretation,” he said. “You can take it and make it into anything.”