This song, with its extremely simple main riff and chorus, was released as a single from the British Steel
album, and was one of Judas Priest
's big breakthrough songs. It is now considered one of the most famous hard rock/heavy metal songs ever.
The lyrics tell of someone who gets tired of everything that comes with an ordinary life - that life has become boring. This leads the person to take a chance and start breaking the law.
The song featured some sound effects, including the sound of breaking glass and a police siren. The band were recording British Steel at Tittenhurst Park, which was the home of the Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr. Sampling did not exist at the time, so for the breaking glass, the band used the milk bottles the milkman brought them in the morning, and the police siren was actually guitarist K.K. Downing using the whammy on his Stratocaster.
The song has been played live almost constantly ever since its release, and has slowly evolved over the years, for example with an added guitar solo by K.K. Downing (the original had no solo). It still gets the crowd going everywhere they go, but Priest have expressed a desire to try touring without some of their obvious classics, including this song.
The video has become a cult classic, starring the band as bank robbers. Singer Rob Halford is riding in a Cadillac towards the bank, singing the first verse. Then he meets up with the rest of the band at the bank, and they break into the band and use their instruments to bring the people inside down to their knees. Then they proceed with breaking into the safe and stealing a gold record for British Steel (slightly ironically, as the album later went on to sell gold. The security guard is sitting in his room sleeping in front of the security TV, but is awoken by the loud music. But instead of doing something, he just looks in awe at the TV. As the band are leaving in the Cadillac with the gold record, with the chorus playing over and over at the end of the song, the security guard picks up an air guitar and starts rocking out to the tune.
The song has left its mark in many places in popular culture. It was ranked #40 on VH1's 40 Greatest Metal songs list. Beavis and Butthead used to sing the song when they did something knowingly illegal. It's been used in some TV commercials, and in movies like Scarface: The World Is Yours. It's also appeared in The Simpsons.
Many artists have covered this song, including Hammerfall, Pansy Division, Doro Pesch, Therapy?, Mavericks, and Hayseed Dixie. One especially notable version is the cover that Sturm und Drang made while performing live in Finland in 2007, when K.K. Downing appeared as a guest and performed the song with them.
Guitarist Glenn Tipton recalled to Billboard magazine: "We used to meet up at various houses to write, and we just broke into that riff one day and the song wrote itself. We wrote that song in about an hour, I think. Rob just started singing, 'Breaking the law, breaking the law,' and before we knew it we had a classic Priest song."
Rob Halford added: "It was a time in the UK when there was a lot of strife - a lot of government strife, the miners were on strike, the car unions were on strike, there were street riots. It was a terrible time. That was the incentive for me to write a lyric to try to connect with that feeling that was out there. We never went into a room and said, 'We've got to try and get this punk attitude into our music,' but it certainly seemed to capture some of that anarchy in its projection, musically."
Judas Priest performed a parody of this song during the season 25 Steal This Episode of The Simpsons. We see an overzealous FBI director in charge of anti-piracy go after Homer, after he starts illegally downloading films and goes into hiding. The band perform a spoof version of the tune in an effort to lure him out.