Saturday, November 17, 2012

ARTICLE: JUDAS PRIEST and the evils of modern-day capitalism (long live the Priest), by Kieran James

This is not a review of the brilliant British Steel album by JUDAS PRIEST (1980) as I have written a review for this album which appears on this website and on Instead this article takes the three most well-known songs from this album (Breaking the Law, United, and Living After Midnight) to explore the band's presentation of life for unemployed youth under our capitalist mode of production.

WARHAMMER from Yogya cover 'Rapid Fire"
Firstly "Breaking the Law" was originally song three on the first side of the 12-inch vinyl. The narrator speaks of being unemployed and "drifting from town to town" with "anger in my heart". This shows how under capitalism the worker counts for nothing and company profits count for everything. You can do great work at a company for five or ten or twenty years but then a new evil bastard boss comes in and you are fired quickly usually for some tiny and trivial reason such as being ten minutes late for work, being a metalhead, having long hair, being Irish, or being black. The company has no human heart or compassion and does not care at all about you as a person or your family or all your great work over so many years. Yes it is an evil economic system. The narrator shouts out: "you don't know what it's like / you don't have a clue." This is true: rich bosses living in big mansions and driving executive cars have never felt worry or lack or fear or poverty. Under capitalism we are all isolated alienated alone individuals fighting each other for jobs and promotions and for the boss's hard-to-get love. We are hred alone and we are fired alone. Colleagues forget you one second after you walk out the door for the last time or they are happy to see you suffer. On this song PRIEST incorporated some punk lyrics and punk culture into metal. DEEP PURPLE or ZEPPELIN never sang about the unemployed or the harsh real life. Definitely punk improved metal because after the punk era 1976-79 metal bands such as SAXON and PRIEST began singing about unemployment and "living on the dark side, across the railroad tracks". "Breaking the Law" is a brilliant song because you can feel the genuine pain and frustration of the unemployed people and the low-paid casual worker in Rob Halford's brilliant vocal delivery. Congratulations to local Toowoomba band THERE'S NO SNAKES IN ALASKA for doing a wonderful cover version of this song. "Breaking the Law" talks about the harsh life of the unemployed during the monday-to-friday 9-to-5 working week when the bastard bosses rule and the people's voice is powerless.

HEAVY METAL LOVE: Bobby, Popo, Butche, Man
Two later songs on the album talk about the freedom and happiness the working-class people can get on the weekends on the football terraces (United) and in the pubs and nightclubs (Living After Midnight). These two happy and empowering songs balance the sad and frustrated vibe of "Breaking the Law" (JUDAS PRIEST - still f***ing hostile). It is good that the sad and angry song comes first and the two happy songs come last. No, they are not wimpy songs. JUDAS PRIEST has never ever done a wimpy song. Even "Before the Dawn" is not wimpy.
"United", the last song on side one of the 12-inch vinyl album, is a football terrace chant following on from the very similar "Take on the World" from the 1978 album Killing Machine. This song has been called cheesy or wimpy by those people (often Americans or Australians) who have never stood on an English football terrace where these songs evoked great passions, tribal loyalies, and fears during an era when hardcore football hooliganism was reaching new heights as the skinhead era of the 1970s gave way to the "football casuals" era of the 1980s. The early-1980s was the time when football firms such as West Ham United's famous Inter-City Firm (ICF), Portsmouth's 6.57 Crew, Millwall's Bushwackers, Cardiff City's Soul Crew, Birmingham City's Zulus, and Chelsea's Headhunters had either formed or were about to form. All the members of JUDAS PRIEST are football fans. Rob Halford supports Walsall while long-serving bass player Ian Hill supports West Bromwich Albion (WBA). KK Downing and Glenn Tipton support football but I am not sure which team. Of course MAIDEN's Steve Harris is still known worldwide for his love of West Ham United. This PRIEST song "United" is not a song for either West Ham United or Manchester United. As mentioned, the members of PRIEST support teams from the West Midlands and there is no major United team in those parts. The song speaks of the joys and camaraderie the working-class people receive on Saturday afternoons on the football terraces when the bosses' evil rule ends for two days. The members of PRIEST follow punk band SHAM 69's call for the "kids to be united". If we have no power and we are forced into isolation from Monday to Friday our power grows as we enjoy the experience of togetherness at either the football or at a metal show. Around the world today many metalheads are also football fans. For twenty years (say 1967-87) the police in England were pretty much powerless to stop football hooliganism. Unity is the secret key to our power.

The last song I want to talk about is "Living After Midnight" which starts off side two of the 12-inch vinyl. This is such a powerful and dynamic song. Rob Halford is in a super happy mood because it is Saturday night in Birmingham and Rob is ready to hit the town with his mates or perhaps do a little gay cruising! The weekday suffering and boredom are left far behind because Saturday is party day and the cool people not the bosses rule the town. Rob "hits the city by the 1am loaded loaded". He "revs it up to start again". He "comes alive in the neon lights/ he is going to make his move tonight". PRIEST enjoys playing this song live with Halford getting in close with Tipton and  Downing and the bodies swaying together and the guitar axes going up and down at the same time. I like Tipton's guitar solo here which uses the song's main regular riff which was also done in the same era by TWISTED SISTER on "We're not gonna' take it". Some say this song showed PRIEST's willingness to move in a more commercial direction. "You've Got Another Thing Coming" from 1982 was a far more commercial song and many people were very disappointed in PRIEST as the band had been one of the few to keep the metal flag flying high in the punk era (1976-79). I would not really agree that "Living After Midnight" indicated a new and bad commercial direction. This "Living After Midnight" song is happy, catchy, and cheerful, but it still has a hidden power, a quiet menace, and a brutal vibe. Don't get in Rob's way on a Saturday night - that is one of the messages here. The song is pure traditional metal, no wimping out at all. We join in Rob's power and excitement as he gets ready to hit the town. Life might be hard for the working-class in the West Midlands and around the world but the workplace rankings and hierarchies fall apart on Saturday nights when the good time gals (that is the name of a SLADE song from the 1970s) and guys come alive. Long Live the Priest!

[By Kieran James, 18 November 2012]

No comments:

Post a Comment