Wednesday, September 4, 2019

3) Judas Priest, Sad Wings of Destiny (10 Rock Albums That Made My Sense of Music What It Is)

10 (Rock) Albums That Made My Sense of Music What It is

3) Sad Wings of Destiny, Judas Priest

One more choice from junior high, the very end of it.

I have no memory of how I got from Black Sabbath to Judas Priest. Record store browsing seems most likely, but honestly I don’t know.

I’m also not sure I can explain adequately why, in high school, I preferred Judas Priest to Black Sabbath, who in many ways is a more important band, or why Judas Priest became my favorite band for most of my high school years.

Black Sabbath sounded a little more earthy, a more hippy-influenced metal that was still somehow on the cusp between folk rock peasant and modern rock factory worker. Judas Priest was flamboyant, textured, excessive, a different kind of metallic, technology going straight into the science fiction age. Plus, by Sin After Sin and especially Stained Class, they played faster. Although Black Sabbath would try to get up to speed on their 1980 record Heaven and Hell, they never really did.

Sad Wings of Destiny, though, wasn’t yet Judas Priest as sleek new metal. Black Sabbath was horror, but Sad Wings of Destiny was Gothic, a huge cathedral with big soaring melodies like big soaring spires, the first side especially. “Victim of Changes,” with its wild vocal assault, to “The Ripper” (about you know who), to the astonishing “Dreamer Deceiver” / “Deceiver”: the trajectory featured a range of sonic textures that was overpowering. And if the second side was a little less great, it had driving rhythm section and guitar power power and lyrics that (yes, like Black Sabbath) told mythological stories about political oppression.

I guess, throughout high school, I just felt a greater range of sonic pleasure in Judas Priest’s records than I got from Black Sabbath. The crazily excessive (and sometimes imperfectly crafted) singing seemed nearly impossible. That twin guitar sound was also a real joy; the huge sweeping grace of Tipton with the clipped churning of Downing in counterpoint.

I was a big fan of much of the popular hard rock of that era: Led Zeppelin certainly. Aerosmith. AC/DC. Van Halen--playing as an opening act--was fantastic the first time I heard them live, making the show of headliner Ted Nugent seem irrelevant. Their first record, which when it came out I and my friends played a lot on a trip to the beach at Ocean City, Maryland, could almost make my list here, but not quite.

But liking those bands just made me part of the suburban social environment around me, while liking Judas Priest distinguished me from it. I wanted to be part of that environment at times, but maybe more, I wanted out of it.

Also, even in high school I was never a huge fan of the “cock rock” macho that characterized the more mainstream hard rock lyric. I didn’t personally relate to that kind of thinking about girls and women. I’m not saying I thought those songs were “sexist”--I was in high school in the late 70s Maryland suburbs, and I doubt anyone I knew ever even said the words “sexist” or “feminism.” But I didn’t think of women as targets for my sexual desire; I tended to long for romantic love more than sex as such. Frankly, I thought that love was maybe a pretty neat possibility.

Not that I knew anything about it then or for quite a while after.

Maybe first and foremost, though, I remained committed to the doom side of metal and hard rock. When those other bands took on doom, I really got into them as well. I guess part of me felt that if you were going to play loud, hard music, something serious ought to be at stake. Like your life.

Maybe that was a key difference between Black Sabbath and Judas Priest for me: With Black Sabbath, doom was already here. Judas Priest always seem involved in a struggle to fight back. Although the band occasionally crossed into lyrics that sounded like unpleasant Winner Rock, more often they sounded like a band that was trying to survive.

Later, when I left the Washington, DC area and moved to Binghamton, New York for graduate school, I got rid of a lot of my record collection, though a huge amount remained. By that time I felt embarrassed by my earlier love of Judas Priest, and I sold all their records. My new wave / punk / pop urban friends didn’t approve of the band. Neither did the people I was starting to know in the worlds of literature and literary theory and political theory.

Those people mostly thought Judas Priest was dumb music for dumb people.

After I had my Ph.D., and my interests in music had grown out from rock and roll to also include all sorts of jazz and blues and folk and world music, over a period of a few months I went out and bought again all the Judas Priest records I had loved from the age of 14 to 20. And I still play them a lot, if not as much as I did when I was in high school.

It’s a tremendous relief to realize that you can like music just because you do and not because the social consensus of others permits it.

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