Judas Priest — The Chosen Few (2011)

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I’m the kind of guy that comes down firmly in the Iron Maiden camp every time the age-old Maiden or Priest argument comes up. I love Priest, but there’s something about Maiden that’s always appealed to me more.

That said, I don’t think that anyone can argue that Judas Priest is the second most important band in metal history. Black Sabbath, obviously, invented the genre, but Judas Priest perfected it. While the guys in Sabbath occasionally shied away from the metal label, Priest embraced it, pretty much creating the sound that would become true metal in the 1980s and the leather and stud style that would dominate metal bands and fans for years to come.

Now Columbia/Legacy has released a new Priest compilation that drives home just what kind of impact the band had on the music. There aren’t a lot of surprises in the chronological track listing for The Chosen Few. For the most part, the 17 songs here are fan favorites — tunes that diehard Priest fans already own in triplicate or more. What might be surprising, though, is who chose which song and why.

Each track on The Chosen Few was picked by another artist, ranging from their contemporaries like Geezer Butler and Alice Cooper to more modern acts that were influenced heavily by them, like Lamb of God and Slipknot. Since it’s a different sort of record, I’m going to look at it a different way. The songs on this record all deserve their own time, so for each classic track, I’ll offer my own thoughts and a snippet from the artist who chose it.

Off we go …

“Diamonds & Rust” (Sin After Sin, 1977), chosen by Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott: This is one of a few seemingly oddball cover choices in the band’s career. A Judas Priest cover of a Joan Baez song shouldn’t work, but it absolutely did. It’s a little lighter rock than their usual fare, with some very Pink Floyd-ish touches. My favorite version of the song is a rare acoustic performance by Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing for VH1 — really good stuff. Elliott: “It has muscle and melody, my two favorite ingredients in a rock song, a great chordal riff and the lyrics stand out as they’re not your typical rock fodder.”

“Dissident Aggressor,” (Sin After Sin, 1977), chosen by Steve Vai and Queensryche’s Geoff Tate: Though I admit to actually liking the Slayer cover a little more than the original, this is a fantastic metal song. It’s heavy, it’s tough, and Halford’s wailing away. It’s what the genre is all about. Vai: “This track contains all of the band’s best elements rolled into one. … This track was the audio calling card for a new generation of brutal-cool.”

“Exciter,” (Stained Class, 1978), chosen by Accept: “Exciter” is exactly what you expect from a Judas Priest song. It’s a high-speed, high-energy song, bordering on speed metal, with piercing leads and Halford getting his shots in, too. Often covered, but never matched. Accept: “It helped to define so much that would happen later.”

“Beyond the Realms of Death,” (Stained Class, 1978), chosen by Metallica’s Lars Ulrich: The only ballad on the album, I have to agree with Ulrich, this is the prototype for the metal power ballad, and it remains one of the best. There’s the dark, clean guitar lick that opens it, the smooth mournful leads, and a great heavy riff for the chorus. Ulrich: “Copied thousands of times, but never eclipsed.”

“Delivering the Goods,” (Hell Bent for Leather, 1978), chosen by Slayer’s Kerry King: It’s all about the hooks. The song has kind of an old-school rock ‘n’ roll feel, and it’s loaded with hooks from the grooving chorus riff and Halford’s “ooh, delivering the goods” to that high-pitched “all across the land” in the second verse, there are so many parts of “Delivering the Goods” that get stuck in your head. King: “Great song for all the reasons I like Priest. Killer riffs, killer lead into my favorite lead break they’ve ever done, straight into taking the song in a complete different direction.”

“The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown),” (Hell Bent for Leather, 1978), chosen by David Coverdale and Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe: I was grown before I realized this was a cover song, and with all due respect to Peter Green fans, the Judas Priest version is still the definitive version for me. The song sticks with the original melody, but speeds it up and crunches it up. Coverdale: “There are too many Priest songs to choose from, but they covered one of my favorite songs of all time … and did a masterly job of it.” Blythe: “I still don’t know exactly what ‘The Green Manalishi’ is or what it does with the two-pronged crown, but after hearing Halford’s snarling version, I sure as hell don’t want to meet it in a dark alley.”

“The Ripper” (Live), (Unleashed in the East, 1979), chosen by Ozzy Osbourne: This is one of Judas Priest’s most sinister songs with one of Halford’s highest shrieks ever. It was certainly a precursor to bands like Mercyful Fate, which made a career out of songs like this one. Osbourne: “I just want to know what the f— that note is that Rob Halford hits in the beginning of the song. … That note is probably just below what only dogs can hear.”

“Victim of Changes” (Live), (Unleashed in the East, 1979), chosen by Metallica’s James Hetfield: “Victim of Changes” is just a great rock song, period. It’s got swagger and style, it’s catchy as hell, there are crushing heavy moments, bluesy movements and that artsy almost pop section toward the end. It’s a top-notch performance all the way around. Hetfield: “The many landscapes of the song take me on an epic journey.”

“Breaking the Law,” (British Steel, 1980), chosen by Lemmy: Judas Priest’s best song ever, bar none, and one of the greatest metal songs and guitar riffs of all time. Simple, timeless and completely awesome. Lemmy: “My favorite Priest track was always ‘Breaking the Law’ — so much so that we recorded it for a Priest tribute album.”

“Rapid Fire,” (British Steel, 1980), chosen by Pantera’s Vinnie Paul: This is one of Priest’s fastest and heaviest songs, bordering on thrash. It’s a great song to bang your head to, and a bad song to crank on the radio while headed down the highway — a speeding ticket waiting to happen because you won’t be able to help yourself. I also love the version from 1998’s Live Meltdown with Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. It’s one of Owens’ best performances of a classic song. Vinnie Paul: “The machine-gun guitar riff was so f—in’ heavy and the pounding drums were sick. … That, my friends, is HEAVY METAL!”

“Grinder,” (British Steel, 1980), chosen by Zakk Wylde: “Grinder” was never one of my favorite Priest tunes. It’s a slower number, with an AC/DC-like rock riff that’s kind of cool, but while it may be sacrilege to my fellow metalheads, I always found this song a little boring. Wylde: “Not only did Glenn and K.K. have awesome riffs and solos to learn as an aspiring guitarist, but the songs were always killer.”

“Living After Midnight,” (British Steel, 1980), chosen by Alice Cooper and Geezer Butler: This is Judas Priest’s “Rock and Roll All Nite” — only better. It’s a great, feel-good, classic rock ’n’ roll song. It’s the kind of tune that even your parents would like if they didn’t know it was performed by a band called Judas Priest. Good times, huge hooks, just a great song. Cooper: “This is Judas Priest’s most memorable anthem. This is every metal head’s party song.” Butler: “When Priest were on the Ozzfest with Sabbath, that was one of the songs I used to watch every night. It’s so full of energy, and it’s one of the few songs in this world where the audience goes nuts, the other bands on the bill go nuts, and everyone’s road crew goes nuts.”

“Screaming for Vengeance,” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982), chosen by Slash: The title track of Priest’s heaviest album to that point was the the 1982 version of “Rapid Fire.” It was high-speed, high energy and these days, Halford probably regrets the notes he hit on this song if he has to play it live. Slash: “It was, and still is, one of the best metal records ever produced and the title track is, in my humble opinion, still ahead of its time.”

“You’ve Got Another Thing Comin,’” (Screaming for Vengeance, 1982), chosen by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor and The Scorpions’ Klaus Meine: Great song, but horribly overplayed. It’s Judas Priest’s most popular song, and the one you’re going to hear 98 percent of the time Priest is played. The iconic video with the exploding head is a metal classic, though, and the big guitar riffs are undeniable, even after you’ve heard it a few too many times. Taylor: “This song has the perfect driving beat, a brilliant vocal and lyrical delivery and a solo that could either be a banshee or a beautiful melody.” Meine: “It’s the perfect arena anthem — Glenn and K.K.’s guitar attack and Rob’s ear shattering vocals were made in heavy metal heaven just to leave the fans screaming for more.”

“The Sentinal,” (Defenders of the Faith, 1984), chosen by WWE wrestler and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho: The guitar intro on this song is fantastic, then it shifts on a dime into a blazing 1980s-style Priest rocker, then there’s the slow section toward the end where everything drops out and Halford holds you with a dramatic delivery. Not my favorite choice on the record, but a great song nonetheless. Jericho: “‘The Sentinel’ always kept me on the edge of my metal chair.”

“Turbo Lover,” (Turbo, 1986), chosen by Korn’s Jonathan Davis: This may be Judas Priest’s most universally disliked record, and with good reason. It introduced a heavy synth and less metal sound. For the most part, I agree with the masses, but I do love “Turbo Lover.” It’s just a great rocker. The melody and hooks are killer, and the less synth-intense version they perform live is fantastic. Davis: “I loved how they mixed (synth) with heavy metal on the track — it kind of worked as a gateway drug into metal for me.”

“Painkiller,” (Painkiller, 1990), chosen by Joe Satriani: I love the classics — British Steel is a landmark metal record; Screaming for Vengeance is pure metal gold — but Painkiller remains my favorite Judas Priest record. It’s the heaviest, fastest thing they ever did, and I love it from front to back. It blasted them into the stratosphere after a brief fallow period with the synth-heavy Turbo and the mediocre (and I’m being kind) Ram It Down. The snarling, screaming title track is a perfect example of what you’ll find on the rest of the record. I’m just a little surprised this song was chosen by Satriani rather than one of the heavier artists in the lineup. Satriani: “This song has so much crushing energy from the band, wild screaming vocals and great rhythm and solo guitar work by Glenn and K.K. It’s unstoppable.”

So, there you have it. There will definitely be some favorites that didn’t make the cut — where’s the title track from Hell Bent for Leather for heaven’s sake? — but given their catalog, it’s about as good a collection as you can fit onto one CD.

For diehard Priest fans, the attraction of this record will be the commentary from the artists who chose the songs. They definitely have some interesting things to say about the band and the songs. In most cases, I’ve only quoted a little of what they have to say. For those looking for an intro to Judas Priest, you can’t go wrong with The Chosen Few. It offers a pretty good overview of everything the band is about, and once you get into these tunes, there’s so much more to explore.

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Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips
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