The Story of Judas Priest’s Controversial ‘Turbo': Exclusive Interview
Judas Priest celebrated the 30th anniversary of their 1986 album Turbo with an expanded edition in 2017. The set paired the original album with two additional discs that feature a live concert recorded on the Fuel for Life tour in support of the album.
Turbo caused a lot of debate with Judas Priest fans when it was released. The band embraced the technology of the era to put a new coat of sonic paint on a sound fans had grown accustomed to. In an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, singer Rob Halford says it’s hard to say now whether or not they realized when they completed the record how controversial Turbo would become.
“In my mind, I can imagine us talking about that, but I think that it was such a slog to make that record, honestly,” he says. “There were a lot of things going on around that record. For me personally, I was dealing with my substance-abuse demons, and I think we started it in Marbella and then we went to Nassau, and we had to leave Nassau, because we were doing no work at all. We ended up going to Miami, which is even fucking worse, and then we finally ended up in the Record Plant in L.A. So it was a real slog for me, personally and emotionally. I don’t think we really had much of a chance to think about the consequences of it.”
But one thing Halford can say with complete certainty is that wherever Judas Priest is when they are working on new music, they’re fully committed to the choices they’re making in that moment.
“We feel that this is where Priest is and this is what we’re doing and this is how we should show ourselves at that particular moment in time,” he explains. “And it definitely is, out of all of the records we’ve made, the most controversial. There’s no doubt about that. We’ll freely admit it. When you look at everything from Sad Wings of Destiny up to the last release, Turbo is pushing way ahead of the pack. It seems like the odd man out, although when you play that material now in the set, anything from Turbo, it’s just magic. So wherever we were at 30 years ago, we’re in a different place now, and I think we’re in a place where we feel comfortable and they’re accepted, and we jam those songs and have a good time with them.”
Watch Judas Priest Perform 'Turbo Lover'
During the tour for the album, Judas Priest had already fit the new material into the set list alongside older classics, something that stands out when listening to the concert that's included as a bonus on the reissue of Turbo.
“We’ve always tried really hard to make sure that no matter how the piece might be when we record it, that we’re able to transpose it into the live concert,” Halford says. “Certainly, that’s the case with the Turbo material within that particular show. Because it bumps up against all of the other classic Priest moments. Even at that point in the mid-’80s, you were getting a really big larger than life picture of Judas Priest up until that time, 10 albums and almost 100 songs later. But it was very important that we just walk from the studio onto the stage and make [the new material] work.”
The concert was recorded on May 22, 1986, at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, and is receiving an official release for the first time – it’s a “piece of treasure” Halford says they didn’t realize they had in their archives.
“When we discovered it, it sounded so good,” he says. “We didn’t have to mess with anything. We just remastered and re-engineered it a little bit with nothing added. Nothing needed to be fixed. It was a very pure performance. And the Turbo tour, the show was a massive stage set. We had this huge robot that came out of the stage, and I think this robot would pick me up and hold me up over the crowd. It was really insane, in terms of where we were going, in terms of excess, which was very much a prime number of what the mid-’80s was about. There was an enormous amount of excess in every manner you can think of.”
Initially, the idea for the Turbo album was that it would be a double-album release.
“We were at a place where a lot of bands get when there’s suddenly an incredible outpouring of creativity and material,” he recalls. “We had a tremendous amount of songs that we wanted to try and put out together. It was intended at the time to be a Twin Turbo release. Porsche [had their] twin turbo [engine], and we were kind of playing around with that idea. We started initially writing the material out in Marbella in Spain. We were there in the winter and we were talking at the time with the label about the idea of all of these extra songs kind of coalescing into a double CD.”
Halford says the label suggested that probably wasn’t the best way to go, however, and eventually the band came around to the label’s side of thinking and made Turbo a single album.
Listen to Judas Priest's 'Out in the Cold'
“There was a point where we all agreed that we should just really pull back a bit from putting all of the energy into what would have been a double album and just really focus specifically from song to song to song,” he says. “As it turns out, I don’t think there was an enormous amount of material that was left from the Turbo sessions for that reason. [Several of those songs later surfaced on the band's 1988 album, Ram It Down.] You also kind of tend to take a little bit from a song there or a little bit from a song here if you’re not going to use that song. Maybe there were eight bars here or there’s a mid-section here that would fit better now in this particular track. So you’re really kind of massaging things and trying to get the best moments from each particular song.”
When they began working on plans for this 30th anniversary reissue, one thing that wasn't discussed was the idea of reconstructing the planned Twin Turbo release and putting it out as it was originally conceived at that time.
“I think you can only tamper with the past so much. I think you should just let it go,” he says. “I think you should just try and do your best to nurture what you’ve got and make the sonic improvements you can with remastering and so forth and just try to put something together that will for your hardcore fans. But also, just for me, as being a member of Priest, it’s just a nice reference point now that I can look at and listen to when I want to. Not only the music, but of course the live performance as well. I’m more drawn to the live performance than the actual record, personally. But that’s just the way it works for me.”
Even with the difficult circumstances surrounding the recording process, both personally and professionally for Halford, he says he can listen to it now and look back on the experience positively.
“I’m probably a little bit more analytical now than I used to be. Just because it’s interesting to me sonically,” he says. “It’s interesting to me in terms of the production. It’s interesting to me, listening to my voice. It’s got a lot of characteristics that are unique to that particular record. Sometimes I’m able to put [on our music] and just lose myself, and then there are sometimes when I put it in and I’m just really super-analytical about, 'Why did the snare drums sound that way on that particular day?' And that’s the demons in being a musician. You’re always kind of really digging deep into the how, what and where and so forth, and it’s hard to really listen to it the way your fans listen to it. Just because you were there and you created it from day one. It’s like an embryonic, organic type of thing. You made this monster in the studio. Sometimes it’s really difficult just to let that go and have fun with it, which is what your fans do.”