Judas Priest‘s 1986 Fuel for Life Tour seemed like a ripe opportunity to document the band onstage for the second time in its career.
The quintet had scored a hit seven years prior with Unleashed in the East, a platinum seller recorded in Tokyo that became Priest’s highest-charting album to date (No. 70) on the Billboard 200. In the interim, albums such as British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith had turned the band into a worldwide arena headliner. And as they prepared for a reset after 1986’s synth-heavy and polarizing — but still platinum — Turbo, Judas Priest decided to roll tape (and cameras) during their June concerts at the Omni in Atlanta and Reunion Arena in Dallas for what became Priest … Live!, released on June 21, 1987.
“We’d come a long way since [Unleashed in the East],” bassist Ian Hill tells UCR, “so it was worth it for people to hear how far we’d progressed since then. The video was released for that reason as well, but also for people to witness the strides we’d made in stage production and image. No matter how good a production on any album, you’ll never capture the raw excitement of a live performance. A lot of this comes from the fans’ reactions, which the band feeds off.”
“We wanted to capture that particular point in our career, that wonderful, majestic decade of the ’80s when everything was based around music,” adds guitarist K.K. Downing, who quit Judas Priest in 2011. “It’s what made the world go ’round. So when it was suggested, we were selling out arenas and stuff like that. It was going seemingly flawlessly, to the point where we could almost look each other in the face and say, ‘I think we’ve made it, guys, haven’t we?’
“I don’t know why we waited that long, to be honest,” Downing continues. “We could’ve done it around Screaming for Vengeance or Defenders of the Faith. I think it was overdue, really, to do one.”
Watch Judas Priest Play ‘Some Heads Are Gonna Roll’ on the Fuel for Life Tour
A double live album was not the first idea broached at the time, though. According to Priest biographer Neil Daniels, Priest initially considered a double LP that included one live disc and one disc of unreleased studio material. That never panned out, however, so the band and its label, Columbia Records, pivoted to a more traditional live set, whose 15 tracks celebrated Priest’s five ’80s studio albums up to that point. (A 2001 remastered version of Priest … Live! added the 1978 favorite “Hell Bent for Leather.”)
“The core differences between the two live albums are the songs, and the advanced musicianship,” says Hill, the sole constant member throughout Priest’s 50-plus-year tenure. “But the dedication, energy and love for the music of the band and fans alike remains the same.” Everything, he adds, was just bigger. “The ’80s were the high point for heavy metal in general,” the bassist explains. “It almost became a fad! As a result, attendances rocketed to levels not seen since, and stage productions got larger and more complex as a result, and the increase in revenue… took some of the financial pressure off and gave us the scope to take longer over record production, and planning out in general.”
Produced by longtime collaborator Tom Allom, Priest … Live! featured classics such as “Breaking the Law,” “Metal Gods” and “Electric Eye,” as well as extended versions of the hits “Living After Midnight” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming.” The set reached No. 38 on the Billboard 200 and No. 47 in the U.K., and both the album and VHS release were certified gold. Reviews were positive, too, with Kerrang! awarding it a perfect five stars and Sounds declaring, “Priest may be unfashionable, but they certainly are not irrelevant.”
Judas Priest followed Priest … Live! by returning to the more straightforward metal they did best on 1988’s Ram it Down and 1990’s critically acclaimed Painkiller, which was seen as a smashing return to form at the time of its release. And it’s a testament to their power in the ’80s that many of the songs on Priest … Live! remained set list staples for decades to come.
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