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, as that life has become boring. This leads him to take a chance and start breaking the law.
According to lead singer Rob Halford, who wrote the lyric, he baked some social commentary into the song. Margaret Thatcher took over as British Prime Minister in 1979, and Halford didn't like what she was doing. "A lot of bad stuff was going on," he wrote in his autobiography, Confess. "The heavy industry and the car makers in the Midlands and around the country were struggling, and there was already talk of factory closures. Unemployment was shooting up. Worst of all, millions of young people had no hope and felt they were being ignored. Writing the lyrics for 'Breaking the Law,' I tried to put myself in the mind of a jobless young bloke at his wits' end."
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, directed by Julien Temple and starring the band as bank robbers, has become a cult classic. 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 sing it when they do 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.
Jon - Sweden, for all above
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."
Judas Priest bucked the punk music trend in Britain, but this song bears some influence from that genre. Running 2:33, it has the kind of propulsive drive and anarchist attitude you might find in a Sex Pistols song. Rob Halford cops to putting some punk attitude into the song.
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.
This was written by Rob Halford and the two Judas Priest guitarists: Glenn Tipton and K. K. Downing. British Steel was the first album where this trio wrote every song as a team.
The song plays in a State Farm commercial
where Aaron Rodgers cruises around with his personal agent, Gabe Gabriel, and his State Farm agent. When the NFL star inquires about the Drive Safe & Save app, the insurance agent explains to Rodgers that he will save more money by driving safely. At that point, Gabriel cranks up "Breaking The Law" and asserts that quarterback does not know how to play it safe. Annoyed that his agent has messed up his discount, Rodgers boots him out of the car.