By Brian Ives
Judas Priest was at the forefront of heavy metal — sonically and visually — in the ’70s and ’80s, and their fans loved them for it. Until 1986’s Turbo, their most controversial album among metalheads. First of all, there were synthesizers, the very presence of which delegitimized the album in the eyes of many metal fans. Then, there was the band’s new look: teased hair, and long leather coats, instead of biker jackets; they seemed to go from being dangerously tough dudes to hopeful heartthrobs. The phase didn’t last long: 1988’s Ram It Down was a return to form, and 1990’s Painkiller was as heavy as anything they ever did.
But, thirty years later, Judas Priest has released a Turbo reissue, with a remastered version of the album, and two bonus discs documenting a live concert from the band’s 1986 tour. Frontman Rob Halford spoke to Radio.com about the album and how history has treated it.
Obviously, Turbo was very different from anything Judas Priest had done before.
One of the major things was that for the first time in many, many years, we were able to take our time in making a record. Prior to that, we’d just been bashing them out at a ferocious speed. When I look back at how we were able to accomplish what we did, and the quality of the work, it’s quite remarkable.
You clearly were going for something different this time around. The sound was really different, and so was the look.
We had all these new ideas, like using guitar synthesizers and so forth, and we were just very interested and intrigued by what we could do with these new inventions. To have these sounds, it was an exciting time. We were coming off of back-to-back big records, [1982’s] Screaming for Vengence and [1984’s] Defenders of the Faith, and I think we were just looking, as much as ever, for a new experience. And that happened in the ’80s for a lot of bands, not just Judas Priest. We got caught up in all that. It’s a unique album in our catalog, nothing comes remotely close to it.
Fans were up in arms about it at the time, but in 2014 and no one seemed mad about the Turbo songs anymore.
Once Glenn [Tipton, guitarist] plays that opening “Turbo Lover” sound, everyone goes nuts. It just goes to show you that time can give you a different perspective on something that was controversial, and now is enjoyed with affection.
If you are fortunate enough to be successful through the decades, as Priest has, it’s normal to have a record or two where your fans push back a little bit. There’s still a portion of Priest fans who only want [1990’s] Painkiller, Painkiller, Painkiller. Or [1980’s] British Steel, British Steel, British Steel. That’s the way life works. But for Priest, Turbo was one of our most successful albums, and probably one of our more successful tours.
What was behind the decision to change your look?
Remember when Metallica cut their hair?
Who could forget!
Well, there you go. You do what you do at the time you do it: it could be because you just to shake things up a bit in your own band, or because you’re surrounded by all these other things that are going on around you, and you want to step into that arena and have some fun… yeah, we went towards a different look. Only for that one album! I think the visual image married perfectly to the sound of the album. The way we looked for Painkiller was perfect for that album; you try and wrap it all up in one presentation that is inclusive of everything that’s going on around you.
As much as metal is “outsider” music, there’s still a bit of conservatism there. “Don’t ever change!”
That’s very true; I don’t know if that’s exclusive to metal. But there’s definitely a sense of: “We should all look this way, we should all act this way,” which I think is very important. So when you mess with that, the fans will let you know [laughs]. Fortunately, it happened for us at a time when we could do it. If we released an album like Turbo now, it would be a very dangerous thing for us to do.
I was listening to “Parental Guidance” and thinking that that song – which railed against Tipper Gore’s PMRC — is almost quaint now.
It is almost quaint now, but it was relevant at the time. But I think it was important that we pushed back a little bit with what we were being subjected to. “We don’t need parental guidance,” that was about as angry as we got, in terms of tone. It was kind of a bitch-slap, but even then, it was kind of lukewarm, in terms of a statement. It’s not an album filled with f—ing blood and guts and thunder. It’s a feel-good album, it’s almost a party album.