Rob Halford of Judas Priest

by Greg Prato

Halford dives into some of his Judas Priest lyrics, talking about his most personal songs and the message behind "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."

Can we all agree that that greatest heavy metal singer of all time is Rob Halford of Judas Priest? Good... I knew we could! For the vast majority of Priest's recording career, Halford – also known as "The Metal God" – has been the man behind the mic, whose unmistakable vocals are a crucial ingredient in such headbanging classics as "Breaking the Law," "Living After Midnight," "You've Got Another Thing Coming," "Electric Eye," and "Painkiller." We also have him to thank for popularizing the "leather and studs" look.

In September 2020, Halford published his autobiography, Confess, a 368-pager with quite a few surprises, both in his personal and professional life. For his second chat with Songfacts (the first was back in 2014, alongside guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner), the Metal God called upon his lockbox memory ["If you were to ask me about any song of Priest, eternally, I can tune into it"] to share his thoughts on several Priest classics, naming the ones that are most personal to him.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): What made you decide to write your autobiography at this point in your life?

Rob Halford: There's a couple of things, really. I'm a 69-year-old metalhead, and I think that as time moves on, it's always good to try and hammer down all the facts and the memories that you have while you can. Not saying that's going to dissipate, but I've had a lot of metal miles under the belt by now.

I was approached a long, long time ago about making a book and I just wanted to wait until I felt it was the appropriate time. It had arrived, and here it is.

And then secondly, there's always the chance that you might get the unofficial autobiography that tends to crop up. Just because everybody knows me for who I am – I'm a pretty straightforward/direct guy and keep it real and legit. I always think if it comes from the official source, then a book like this has more merits and it has more value.

Songfacts: By writing the book, did you go back and listen to music from certain eras from your career that you may have forgotten about?

Halford: I carry that with me all the time. If you were to ask me about any song of Priest, eternally, I can tune into it. We did talk about some of the timeline sequences of making the Priest records because obviously, my time in Priest is an invaluable part of the last 50-odd years of my life in and out of my personal and private moments that I've chosen to share.

But at the end, to talk about this album or that album, I'm there, you know? I'm there in the studio making Rocka Rolla, I'm there in the studio making Firepower, I'm there in the studio making British Steel. That's the remarkable power of music, especially for the musicians that make those records.

Songfacts: One of my favorite parts of the book was when you discuss recording British Steel at Tittenhurst Park, a mansion that was then-owned by Ringo Starr, and previously owned by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Halford: I found that famous obelisk – that Perspex obelisk [spotted in the video for "Imagine"] – that is now in my valuable care. I've always said since the book has come out and I talk about that story, of facing that dusty cupboard of neglected objects stuck in the dark in the corner, I kind of "put it into my care" – that's the best way to say it. I didn't nick it!

But I'll tell you some of the sweet things. I used to go out jogging every morning before we'd start work. I'd jog around the park and it's just the feeling that you'd have as a person that has been so attracted to The Beatles, especially from my early childhood when their music really connected to me deeply. Here I am, jogging around the grounds of this house of two of the most famous musicians in the world – two game-changing musicians. Jogging around, and looking back at the house, and then seeing the lake where you see the clip of John and Yoko in that rowboat. It was like a dream. Absolutely unbelievable.

And then, just walking through the house – again, as a fan, as well as a musician – and just imagining all the great things that happened there, including the "Imagine" video, of course. For me, that was an extra special experience.

Songfacts: While we're on the subject of the Beatles – do you think that they helped create heavy metal with songs like "Helter Skelter," "Revolution," and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"?

Halford: There's no way of dismissing that possibility. They were turning things up, weren't they? They were turning up the amps, especially on "Helter Skelter." Incredibly strong.

Who knows? Music was slowly starting to change at that point, anyway. Maybe they were also listening to some of the heavier, stronger stuff that was coming out of America, because they were great listeners of other music. I mean, talk about their early interviews, where they say they listened to all the Little Richard records and Jerry Lee Lewis and all these people. It wouldn't surprise me if they also picked up some vibes from some of those early heavy, electric sounds that were happening in the '60s.

Songfacts: In the book, you mention "Beyond The Realms Of Death" as a very personal lyric. What's another example of a Judas Priest song with a very personal lyric?

Halford: It's generally the ballads, for me. Actually, "Out In The Cold" is a very personal lyric because it has a bit of a reference to Brad [a former lover of Halford's], who I lost to suicide. So, that's one of them. And equally, "Lost Love" from Nostradamus. It's just a reflection on people I have lost – mostly relatives, like my grandparents and so forth. It's generally the more poignant stuff that has a bit more of a personal reflection for me.

"Out In The Cold" is not exclusively about Brad, but it definitely has him as a reference. Generally, I write a lot of these songs without really thinking them through until much later on, and then I go, "Oh... now I know where I was going in that particular lyric – 'I'm laying awake at night, I can't get you out of my mind.'" All this kind of stuff.

And I go, "Oh, I see. Yeah. I've figured it out." It was maybe a bit of a subconscious timeline into that kind of work. It's more so after the event with me, rather than a deliberate lyric with intent, if that makes sense.

Songfacts: Do you consider "Evening Star" a Christmas song? That's a song from 1978 that was a single in the UK and seems to tell the Christmas story, but was released in the summer and never marketed as a Christmas song.

Halford: Not really, no. Funny enough, the "Evening Star" idea came from a local newspaper that we still have around my hometown called the Express & Star. In those days, you'd get the news guys selling the newspapers on the corners on the street – I don't think they do that anymore, do they? But they used to. And the guy used to shout out, "Express & Star!" And that was kind of catalyst for me for "Evening Star."

Although, it's kind of cool. You brought up a possibility there, that again, there might be some parameters. It was just a nice title, "Evening Star." Well, what can "Evening Star" be about? Whereas "Morning Star" on Celestial is an absolute reference, "Evening Star" is a little bit more ambiguous.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind "You've Got Another Thing Comin'"?

Halford: Just this attitude that we've always had in Priest. And I dare say, we've always had in our personal way of dealing with issues that are sent to challenge us.

One life, I'm going to live it up...
If you think I'll sit around as the world goes by, you're thinking like a fool

All this kind of stuff... You've Got Another Thing Coming.

It's also wrapped up in the heavy metal community culture of the way we support each other with our metal. It's very much a song of hope and rising above the issues or difficulties that come your way. It's a song of resilience, as well.

Back in 2011, Rob shared with me his memories of filming the "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" video for my book, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video - check out this excerpt:

"['You've Got Another Thing Comin''] was a pretty simple format. We found this power plant right by the M4 Westway leading into London. It's still there actually, I think. It was again due to Julien Temple's direction. I know we were rushed for time. The label said, 'We need this now. You've got to go in, make it, and we've got to release it.' So again, it was just basically put together with Julien's vision. It's a very simple, straightforward one - but of course, it's a combination of the way, feel, and texture of that power plant, which is very 'metal.' The lighting, the lasers, just the band's performance is very strong.

And then you've got 'the man,' as Dennis Hopper would say - the bowler hat, society, 'Mr. Big,' 'Big Brother' - who was trying to stop the show, trying to crush it. And we kick back by blowing his head up. [Laughs] The funny thing was the explosives guy had been waiting all fucking day. He'd been there for like 12 hours. And by the time he'd got his chance to do his bit, he packed that mannequin's head with C4 explosives. So when it went off, it just obliterated the thing - there was nothing left! And then it falls over, and the pants fall down...which was an unexpected bonus. From a sociological point of view, the people that don't like metal - this is your payback. [Laughs] We're going to blow your head up and let your pants fall down."
Songfacts: "Heading Out To The Highway"?

Halford: That's freedom. You've got the wheel and you're not going to let anybody else take your life away from you. You're out there into the great, vast landscape of life, and life is a highway. That's just a correlation between the two sets of things.

I think everybody feels like that when they get into a car, especially when they make a journey. It's like you're in some kind of control because you're "in the driver's seat," which is also another expression of being assertive. So, it's just a fun song of freedom and determination.

Songfacts: "Turbo Lover"?

Halford: I just liked the analogy of the motorcycle as a euphemism for love. And "I'm your turbo lover, Tell me there's no other." It's got kind of a sexual undertone to it – which is fine. It's been done many times in rock n' roll: to use a machine, car, or motorcycle. It's just a fun bit of escapism more than anything else. [In Confess, Halford explains how a motorcycle became part of the Judas Priest stage show, and how a concert in Ireland nearly went haywire when promoters tried to surpress the stunt.]

Songfacts: My favorite Priest ballad is probably "The Last Rose of Summer."

Halford: It all starts with the title. Glenn [Tipton] and I were the main writers. The thing I like about that song was the use of Fender Rhodes piano.

The title, "The Last Rose of Summer," it's just got a lot of attitude about it as far as making you think. If you say to somebody, "The last rose of summer," that's not only the changing of the seasons, but it could also be the changing of a relationship. It could be the completion of something. It's just got a multi-faceted opportunity, and I like it.

It's also sweet because it talks about nature: "Mother Nature simply rests" and all this kind of thing. I've always felt that song is very attractive because there haven't been that many lyrics that talk about Mother Nature.

Judas Priest, then and now

Songfacts: By doing the book, do you think it might influence the lyrics on Priest's next album?

Halford: That's a good question. I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. I take all of my life experiences and kind of figure out where I am and what I'm doing, and see if they relate to Judas Priest and to where we are and what we're doing now. I hear these stories from some of my friends that say because of the pandemic, they're feeling very angry and they need to let that type of feeling out, and one of the best ways of doing that is through your music.

It wouldn't surprise me if there's some kind of contemplation going on – not so much about the book. I don't know. I could easily reference the book in a way that's reflecting on your life. It's important... at least to me it's been important. Maybe there will be a trickle of that in a Priest song that will be represented not just of myself, but where the band is the next time a song comes along.

Songfacts: If Confess is made into a movie, who should play the role of Rob Halford?

Halford: Oh, I don't know. I really wouldn't know where to begin. There are some amazing actors out there, and they're multi-talented. I haven't got a clue. Maybe my friend Johnny Depp would have a go. There's also an amazing actor, Timothée Chalamet, who just has some incredible chops. It's a lot of fun to think about. We'll all be surprised if and when it happens.

November 5, 2020

Get a copy of Confess (including autographed editions) at Hachette Books. We recommend following Halford on Facebook, where he posts some great photos from his archives.

More interviews:
Paul Di'Anno (ex Iron Maiden)
Udo Dirkschneider
Graham Bonnet
James LaBrie of Dream Theater
Justin Hawkins of The Darkness

Photos: Larry Rostant (1,2), Geoff Thomas (3), Travis Shinn (4)

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 1

  • Shawn from MarylandLegendary band with a legendary frontman! Seen Priest in concert twice. Thanks to this interview, I am now following Mr. Halford and buying his book! Great interview! :)
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