Ugly Kid Joe frontman Whitfield Crane loves Judas Priest. Probably more than life itself.
His connection to the band is more than long-distance hero worship. Indeed, Priest frontman Rob Halford appeared on Ugly Kid Joe’s 1992 debut album, America’s Least Wanted and Crane paid it forward by singing on Glenn Tipton’s solo album, Baptizm Of Fire, five years later. TeamRock challenged Crane to pick the 10 best Judas Priest songs from their entire back catalogue – but he went one further and focused solely on the band’s recorded output from their 1974 debut, Rocka Rolla to 1984’s Defenders Of The Faith. Says the vocalist: “I’m a Priest freak, so just picking 10 is fucking hard. And it doesn’t really matter what the order is as Priest rules across the board, but here goes…”
10. VICTIM OF CHANGES (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976) This record is Priest’s magnum opus for sure. When you hear those initial guitars swell in, and you hear Rob Halford’s screams and magic throughout this song, put on a seat belt because you’ll be blown away. Imagine me in high school, not particularly excited about the scholastic side of life, finding various bands like Judas Priest for the first time. Then imagine me hearing Victim of Changes for the first time – it changed my life, without a doubt.
9. DREAMER DECEIVER (Sad Wings of Destiny, 1976) This song is so incredible as far as patience and vocal majesty goes. I’ve always wanted to sing or play guitar or do something in a band, and I would sit in my room at my mother’s house practicing how to sing along to this song over and over again. To this day, if you find me in like a little tunnel that goes under a train track or something – basically anywhere that echoes – I’m going to be singing this song because it’s so fucking gnarly. And if you want to, peel that onion and try to figure out what Halford’s talking about with the lyrics; it’s beautiful and dark.
8. BEYOND THE REALMS OF DEATH (Stained Class, 1978) I would advise anybody to go ahead and get a lyric sheet or Google the words to Beyond the Realms of Death. There are a lot of subtleties to Rob Halford’s lyrics – about who he is and how he is – and at the time of this song he couldn’t really be who he was to a certain level. He sings some incredibly painful themes here. There’s one lyric that says, ‘Yeah I’ve left the world behind / I am safe here in my mind / Free to speak with my own kind / This is my life, this is my life / I’ll decide, not you.’ He also says, ‘Keep the world with all its sins / It’s not fit for living.’ I mean, that’s so fucking awesome. And then at the very end of the song, Glenn Tipton hits this crazy feedback note that could be the best guitar sound you’re ever going to hear in heavy metal. It’s so good, and he still does it live to this day.
7. RAPID FIRE (British Steel, 1980) Sonically, British Steel is the best Priest album for me. It’s so raw, and so fucking great. The whole album is sick. But when Halford goes and jams with Metallica, they sing this song. That’s the one they always agree on. And it’s almost punk rock, really. It’s a brutal song too.
6. HEADING OUT TO THE HIGHWAY (Point of Entry, 1981) Even if you don’t really understand Judas Priest and you don’t get it, you could show this song to anyone and they’d realise they’re listening to a perfect song. It’s really amazing, and it makes you want to get up and move. I love the whole statement and the vision of the song: ‘If you get it wrong, at least you can know / There’s miles and miles to put it back together.’ Meaning, you can just leave and go to another town or another country, or another space even – just get on your bike and head out to the highway!
5. THE HELLION / ELECTRIC EYE (Screaming For Vengeance, 1982) This is when Priest peaked. I didn’t see this tour, but I heard about it. Can you imagine seeing it? It was Judas Priest and Iron Maiden sharing the same bill. This was when both of these bands went over the edge and took over the world. Growing up, my friend Charlie Kelly and I would come home every day – after school, during school, whatever – and we’d watch a VHS tape of that tour, smoke big bong hits, and bow down to the Priest.
4. RUN OF THE MILL (Rocka Rolla, 1974) When I was living in Santa Barbara in probably around 1995, I was drinking and carrying on and listening to this song so intensely. And by this point, I knew all the Priest guys, because Rob had sung on the first Ugly Kid Joe record (America’s Least Wanted) and I had his phone number. So I was sitting there a little crazy just really feeling this song, and at the very end of it Halford is singing so high, and so beautifully and emotionally, but I couldn’t quite hear what he was saying. And this was before the Internet, so I couldn’t find the lyrics anywhere. But I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve gotta know what he’s saying’ because I totally felt it, so I called him up. He picked up the phone and I was ranting at him, and he was all like, ‘Calm down, Whit. Calm down.’ And I was like, ‘What are you saying on this song? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?’ I had to know. And he was so rad; he was like a beautiful English Rolodex file of lyrics, and he went, ‘Hold on a second, let me think.’ And then in his rad Rob Halford speaking voice, he goes – and these are the lyrics – ‘Now with the aid of your new walking stick / You hobble along through society thick / And look mesmerised by the face of it all / You keep to the gutter in case you fall / I can’t go on.’ This song makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Listen to it now – your whole body will just freak out.
3. FREEWHEEL BURNING (Defenders of the Faith, 1984) This was their follow-up album to Screaming for Vengeance, which was something hard to top, and they really put a great effort forth with Defenders Of The Faith. Funnily enough, I’m pretty sure this song was before a lot of rap and definitely before any rap-metal or anything like that, but there’s a bit in the song when Rob Halford kind of raps – it’s great. And Mark Dodson engineered this record, so when Ugly Kid Joe came off that successful first EP (As Ugly as They Wanna Be) and we had some wind in the sails and could pick cool producers for the first record, all I heard was, ‘You could work with this guy, Mark Dodson. He did Judas Priest.’ And I was like, ‘Well, that’s the guy I want.’ I wanted anybody who had been near Priest; anybody that had shared space with them. I’m fortunate to get to sit down with the old masters and wizards and get them to tell me stories of what they were doing and how they were doing it – you can imagine those dudes in their heyday out in Ibiza, just partying and doing their shit. But Freewheel Burning is just a venomous, crazy, punky song. And it rules.
2. CHEATER (Rocka Rolla, 1974) This is the most obscure Priest song, and if you talk to true Priest fans they’ll know what this song is – if they’re well-versed and obsessed with Judas Priest all the way back to Rocka Rolla. So here’s the thing; there’s only two songs for Judas Priest that have a harmonica in them. And this song’s one of them. It’s called Cheater, and it’s almost like a country song. You have to hear it to believe it, and it’s so cool because it’s about coming home from work and finding your girl with another man. The lyrics are, ‘They both pleaded for mercy, I said ‘No Way’ / When you do this upon me you have no say / I treated you so real good and this is what you do / Oh no, I’ve finished with you, your time is through.” It’s so rad. And once again the thing to keep an eye out for is a harmonica. Now, when a lot of younger kids think of Priest they think of Painkiller, like this crazy double bass metal band – which they are and they’re the kings of it – but when I think of Priest I think of these obscure, old school magnificent songs when they were finding their metallic way. Now bands back then, whether they were Priest or AC/DC or Sabbath or whatever, they had time to become themselves. If you made it to that third or fourth record, you really had time to become an amazing band. And half of these songs that I’ve picked are Priest doing that.
1. NEVER SATISFIED (Rocka Rolla, 1974) I first heard this song on the Hero Hero record (a compilation of early Judas Priest recordings released in between British Steel and Point of Entry in 1981), which may be an obscure record if you’re not a crazy Priest fan, but this was before Priest really knew who they were – and when I say who they were, I mean found their leather and their formula. This was when they were still dressing like thespians and finding their ground. But if you listen to the time signatures throughout Never Satisfied, they’re incredible. They’re also patient, and to me they’re vintage Priest!
Whitfield Crane was speaking to Matt Stocks. Ugly Kid Joe are set to tour the UK in September. Click here for more details.