The Making of Judas Priest’s Stained Class
Forty years ago, Judas Priest released a game-changer. Stained Class not only proved to be a huge influence on successive generations of metal musicians, it was the album that honed the band’s metallic instincts. The prog and blues leanings of previous releases were sloughed off and everything was made leaner and meaner. The band finally had a full-time drummer who would help propel the music in a direction that would ultimately play a key role in the development of breakneck tempos as an essential part of the metal playbook.
In the spirit of total transparency, it was, in fact, the drummer—one James Leslie Binks—who inadvertently kept Stained Class from being inducted into the Decibel Hall of Fame for nearly a decade. We just couldn’t track him down. While the other members of Priest agreed to be interviewed about the album, Binks was M.I.A. As a result, this Hall of Fame feature was eventually declared a nonstarter in 2015, apparently dead in the water.
I never completely gave up, though, because, as long as the five musicians who played on this album were alive (as far as I could tell), there was at least a glimmer of hope. Finally, in late 2017, I made contact with Binks and he graciously agreed to speak to Decibel. The rest more easily fell into place and my White Whale was finally slain.
Judas Priest has arguably released multiple Hall of Fame-worthy albums, but Stained Class was definitively the place to start. Its importance is not only related to the songs and the sound the band achieved—producer Dennis Mackay finally capturing the band’s lean, muscular metal attack, with clarity and power—but the year it was released. It’s hard not to see the influence on the dozens of English bands in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that ensued—from Def Leppard to Diamond Head—whose creativity was ignited by the burning embers from Stained Class’ explosion on the rock world in 1978. Diamond Head, in its own Hall of Fame feature, specifically cited this album’s blistering lead track “Exciter” as inspiration to write “Helpless” and play even faster. Diamond Head’s own influence (see Metallica’s cover of multiple Diamond Head songs) conclusively connects the dots between Priest—specifically this album—and metal’s renaissance in the ’80s. Stained Class really requires no explanation or justification for its entry into the Hall of Fame. As any metal fan knows, this attained classic status decades ago. We’re just making it official.
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