Deep Purple vs. Judas Priest: Comparing the British Legends
Tonight, Deep Purple and Judas Priest kick off their co-headlining tour in Cincinnati, Ohio; fans of classic hard rock and metal have been looking forward to this tour since it was announced in April. Priest and Purple figure among the greatest titans in heavy metal history, and certainly the most historic entities currently still in operation.
Deep Purple weren’t merely one of the three bands (alongside Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin) most responsible for popularizing and defining heavy metal’s sound during the early ‘70s; they actually predated the movement by several years, and then provided perhaps its greatest living soap opera, as band members came and went and came back again.
Judas Priest followed Sabbath out of the Birmingham, England steel mills, and proudly flew heavy metal’s flag across the second half of the ‘70s and into the '80s, while many other bands sought refuge in hard rock. Priest set the course for metal's look, sound and culture.
In short, despite their very different, rarely intertwining paths, both Priest and Purple obviously have a lot in common, so we thought it would be interesting to compare their historical achievements based on some common traits – let the comparisons begin. You might notice that we never pick a victor: that's because with this pairing, everyone wins. Are you going to any of the shows? Tag us in your social media posts! Get the dates for the tour here.
Best song from the debut album
DP: “Mandrake Root”
JP: “Rocka Rolla”
Deep Purple’s 1968 debut, Shades of Deep Purple, was a creatively muddled affair -- evidence of a group that had been thrown together and was still trying to figure out their sound. But the band’s sizzling musicianship already created some fireworks, particularly on the enigmatic “Mandrake Root,” which became a live showcase for the mind-blowing skills of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and keyboardist Jon Lord for years to come. Priest’s debut offering, Rocka Rolla, didn’t arrive until six years later, but, coincidentally, it too revealed Priest’s growing pains and all kinds of strange experimentation. Not even the standout title track really showed what lay ahead on the mighty Sad Wings of Destiny, but it rocked convincingly enough, harmonica and all.
Best song from the latest album
DP: “The Surprising”
One of the most exciting things about the Purple/Priest tour is that it’s no mere exercise in nostalgia since both bands issued new albums over the past year and a half. Purple’s latest, 2017’s Infinite, was their finest in many a year and the evocative “The Surprising” may be our favorite track, with help from an entertaining animated video. Priest’s latest, Firepower, has many songs to love, but we feel that “Necromancer” is an underrated cut that will enjoy a log and healthy life in the band’s live sets... and fans’ "best of " playists.
Best Song from Last Album Before Original Breakup
DP: “This Time Around / Owed to a ‘G’”
Deep Purple formed in 1968 and shut down operations by 1975 (before Priest had released even their second album) with the release of the Mk. IV’s Come Taste the Band opus. And while no one would confuse that album for In Rock or Machine Head, bassist Glenn Hughes and guitarist Tommy Bolin (RIP) still led the band down some fascinating roads, not least with the alternately majestic and funky “This Time Around / Owed to a ‘G’.” Priest, for their part, never broke up, but Rob Halford's departure from the band felt like the end of an era. However, the title track of his final album with the band (until 2005) gave the band one of their greatest songs.
Best song from the reunion album with the classic era singer:
DP: “Knocking at Your Back Door”
For all those familiar with the band’s fraught interpersonal history, Deep Purple’s 1984 reunion represented Hell freezing over long before the Eagles copyrighted the expression. The resulting, aptly named Perfect Strangers album was far from perfect, but smacked several great songs out of the park, beginning with this opening anthem filled with double-entendres. Priest made their grand, long-awaited return via 2005’s Angel of Retribution LP, and amongst its many worthy tracks, we’ll point towards the especially vicious and atmospheric “Demonizer.”
JP: “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”
Years before they recruited singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover, or etched their visages permanently In Rock, Deep Purple launched their career with a hit 1968 cover of Joe South’s “Hush,” behind original singer Rod Evans’ “Na-na-na, na-na-na, na-na-nas.” Yes, it sounds a little strange today, but you can already hear Blackmore and Lord’s aggressive virtuosity fighting through those poppy, post-psych hooks. As for Priest, the exotically-named “Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)” was an inspired choice, seeing as it was one of the final, darkest creations of troubled Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, before his departure from the group that – several iterations later – became the kings of ‘70s soft rock.
DP: “Smoke on the Water”
JP: “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”
This was an easy choice for Deep Purple, whose signature number, “Smoke On the Water,” also became a cornerstone of hard rock and metal, thanks to a riff that every budding guitar player knows. But, for Priest, the answer wasn’t as clear-cut, until we checked our stats and determined that “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” was, not only Priest’s highest, but also their only, charting Pop single, peaking at No. 67 in the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 4 in the Rock charts.
Best Album Opener:
DP: “Speed King” [European Pressing with Blackmore Solo]
JP: “The Hellion/Electric Eye”
50 years into heavy metal history, it’s still almost impossible to find a better album opener than Judas Priest’s rousing “The Hellion/Electric Eye” combo (they even made a minivan commercial seem cool), but Deep Purple were no slouches, either, and among a raft of candidates, we’re going with the blistering Blackmore solo that kicks the frantic “Speed King” into gear.
Most Incredible Guitar Work:
JP: “The Sentinel”
Both Priest and Purple took heavy metal guitar playing to new places. Priest gave fans heavy metal’s first, and still one of its best, six-string tag teams in Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, and to hear them trading solos across Defenders of the Faith’s fierce “The Sentinel” is still otherworldly, all these decades later. And, when push came to shove, Ritchie Blackmore could out-shred Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi and any other ‘70s guitar hero (you know it’s true), and he proved yet again on the awesome title track of Burn, which saw Purple rising from the ashes with their Mk. III lineup.
Best Use of Roger Glover:
DP: “Woman from Tokyo”
At the peak of Deep Purple’s glory in the early ‘70s, bassist Roger Glover developed a respectable, and often lucrative, side gig producing rising hard rock bands, including Nazareth, Elf, Status Quo and, yes, Judas Priest. That was Glover behind the studio partition for 1977’s Sin After Sin, so selecting his “best use” by Priest was a cinch. Picking Glover’s biggest contribution to Purple, however, proved a little trickier, since he obviously contributed so much – as bassist, songwriter, arranger, peacekeeper – but generally did so in understated fashion. So, we’ll go with the original Mk. II lineup’s final classic song, 1973’s “Woman from Tokyo,” featuring Roger in all of his roles, including one of his patented, driving bass lines.
DP: “Child in Time”
JP: “Run of the Mill”
Both Deep Purple and Judas Priest rose to fame during the progressive rock era, so both bands were bound to experiment with longer songs and unorthodox arrangements. In Purple’s case, their proggiest song is arguably 1970’s “Child in Time,” which probably owed its quieter moments to the ‘60s psychedelic age, but rudely pushed into the metallic ‘70s with almost hysterical force. And in Priest’s case, 1974’s Rocka Rolla contained their proggiest odysseys, none more adventurous than the misleadingly named “Run of the Mill,” which rolled across numerous moods and passages over eight and a half minutes.
Best Drum Performance:
DP: “No One Came”
With all due respect to the awesome Scott Travis, Judas Priest’s most iconic drum performance came courtesy of Les Binks, who performed with the group for just two years in the late ‘70s but who virtually invented speed metal single-handedly with his double kick drum display, on 1978’s Stained Class opener “Exciter.” Ian Paice, meanwhile, has been the only constant member of Deep Purple these past 50 years, giving us almost too many options, but none can touch his kinetic playing and amazing feel on “No One Came,” from 1971’s Fireball.
Most Embarrassing ‘80s Moment
DP: “Call of the Wild”
While both Purple and Priest put out classic material in the '80s, the decade was one that was notoriously difficult for veteran bands to navigate, and everyone had some embarrassing moments. Purple struggled with the challenge of music videos, so they packed the set of 1987’s “Call of the Wild” with a gaggle of clichéd stand-ins. Priest, meanwhile, tried to compete with pop-metal artists with 1986’s Turbo, which arrived awash in guitar synthesizers and continues to divide their fans to this day.
DP: “Black Night”
JP: “Living After Midnight”
One of the regular critiques of heavy metal is that you can’t really dance to it (though that’s why we invented moshing), because the music typically forsakes booty-shaking grooves in exchange for metronomic head-banging and bombastic punctuations within the music. However, we did find two very eligible groove machines from Deep Purple and Judas Priest. For Purple, it was the bouncy “Black Night,” which became their most successful U.K. single in 1970. And for Priest, we chose the irresistible “Living After Midnight,” with its simple but hypnotic Dave Holland drum beat.
Best Driving Song:
DP: “Flight of the Rat”
JP: “Heading Out to the Highway”
Built around a recurring riff so simple one can hardly believe Ritchie Blackmore could bring himself to play it, “Flight of the Rat” bounds out of the gate and never lets up, making it impossible to beat as a driving song – and this is from the band that gave us “Highway Star!” And speaking of riffs, there are few in Judas Priest’s entire arsenal of staccato favorites more recognizable or effective than “Heading Out to the Highway,” and its lyrics naturally lend themselves to driving off into the sunset.
Best Music Video:
DP: “Perfect Strangers”
JP: “Breaking the Law”
Cheesy videos have been a staple (almost a badge of honor) throughout heavy metal history, and Judas Priest have been repeat offenders. Priest's low budget clip for “Breaking the Law,” though, gets a pass because the cheese factor is outweighed by the band’s tongue-in-cheek approach, especially when holding up a bank with their guitars. Deep Purple have probably never made a truly great music video in their entire career, but 1984’s “Perfect Strangers” was probably the most watched, because so many fans could not believe their eyes at seeing the classic Mk. II lineup, together again, in one room.
Most Revealing Song Lyric:
DP: “The Battle Rages On”
JP: “Raw Deal”
In keeping with these themes: “The Battle Rages On” is probably Deep Purple’s most revealing lyric for acknowledging that its band members, and Blackmore and Gillan, in particular, did in fact hate each others’ guts, leading to this forced re-reunion after a brief sojourn with singer Joe Lynn Turner. As for Priest, 1977’s “Raw Deal” elicited “oh, duh” moments from innumerable clueless metal-heads, who revisited its homoeotic lyrics after Rob Halford finally confirmed his homosexuality in the late ‘90s.
DP: "Doing it Tonight"
JP: "Jekyll And Hyde"
Some fans will no doubt defend some silver lining, or another, but most people seem to agree that Deep Purple really lost the plot on 2003’s ‘Bananas,’ which is filled with average material, but possibly reaches a career trough on the not-quite-funky embarrassment called “Dong it Tonight.” Priest, too, delivered several duds over the years, including the entire, inexplicable ‘Nostradamus’ album, but as far as single songs go, few match the cringe-factor of ‘Demolition’s “Jeckyll and Hyde.”
Best song with the least popular singer:
DP: “King of Dreams”
JP: “Cathedral Spires”
You can rest assured that singer Joe Lynn Turner has a free pass into heaven, after putting up with Ritchie Blackmore (as the singer of Rainbow and, briefly, Deep Purple) and Yngwie Malmsteen (as the singer of his band, Rising Force). But his recruitment for Deep Purple’s Slaves and Masters album infuriated fans, and he was soon sent packing. But not before contributing some very decent (and Rainbow-like) numbers to said album, arguably topped by the classy “King of Dreams.” As for Priest, there’s no reason to blame temp singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens for Rob Halford’s “lost weekend,” even though, at their best, his two albums with the group offered second-hand Painkiller thrash, as with “Jeckyll and Hyde” from 2001’s ‘Demolition.’
Best Live Song:
DP: “Highway Star”
JP: “Victim of Changes”
Deep Purple’s Made in Japan is one of history’s most important live albums, paving the way for countless bands to follow its example, and it didn’t get any better than the explosive introduction provided by “Highway Star,” featuring one of Lord and Blackmore’s ultimate dueling solos. For Priest, the song most responsible for bringing their concerts to a climax over the years has been the iconic “Victim of Changes."
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