“Places change, faces change …”
AS hard as it is to believe Judas Priest have been around now well over 45 years. Despite many hardships and turmoil, they are still touring the world, in many ways more popular than ever. Some called them an old band when “Turbo” was released and that took place over three decades ago. The band’s formidable steps have been well documented, the early live gigs and material having seen them playing essentially blues based hard rock with Black Sabbath-, Wishbone Ash– and occasional Queen-influences thrown in. Most remember them as 1980’s metal machine, but Priest’s 1970’s output contained impressively varied range of material in regards of arrangements, also exploring various different styles. Within five-year timespan they had evolved from bluesy, prog-like origins to full-on heavy metal with impressive dynamics and grit.
In 1974 biggest hard rock albums were Queen’s “Sheer Heart Attack”, Uriah Heep’s “Wonderworld” and Deep Purple’s “Burn” & “Stormbringer”. All these groups were ruling the airwaves and pulling thousands of fans to every show. Metal was on the rise, although no one still talked about it in those terms. It was hard rock or heavy rock for the common people in 1974. As heavy metal stemmed from blues, this was what majority of rock fans were into at the time, so any new band would usually tread these paths before eventually finding their own style, or simply fizzle out.
And that year Judas Priest also released their often-neglected debut album “Rocka Rolla.” 44 years have passed and whilst Priest continue on and having released their 18th studio album “Firepower”, it is proper time to step back and look at the dawn of heavy metal in 1974. Many point towards Black Sabbath as originators of the scene, which they were but as much with albums like 1971’s “Master Of Reality” and 1973’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” as their legendary “Black Sabbath” (1970) LP. In 1974 Deep Purple released “Burn”, which was dynamic and heavy unlike anything they had previously unleashed to the rock world. Unlike “Black Sabbath” it was fast, with title track blazing on all cylinders and tracks like “Sail Away” and blues-influenced “Mistreated” carrying threatening quality. Of course by the end of the year they had already drifted into another horizon with more funk-influenced “Stormbringer” but that’s another story altogether.
Compared to these milestones, Priest’s debut disappeared from radar faster than the speed of light – but of course comparison in most ways was unfair to begin with. Gull was hardly the same label as EMI or Atlantic as far as resources and skills were concerned, and Priest simply weren’t ready. They needed that one recording experience under their belt before striking onwards with a vengeance on second album “Sad Wings Of Destiny”. Ultimately world domination would follow.
Most of “Rocka Rolla’s” content was composed well before actual recording took place and many of the songs originated from band’s early seventies Alan Atkins -fronted era. Rob Halford joined the band in early 1973 and brought in his own material which was merged with existing songs and new ones were created from scratch. The final piece of the puzzle came in early 1974 as arriving guitarist Glenn Tipton also got his stamp on two tracks, Glenn came on board right before recording sessions in London started. The band entered studios in June 1974 and by the end of following month, the album was wrapped. This by mid-1970’s standards was a relatively long time, considering Black Sabbath’s debut album was recorded in one day. On the other hand, Priest already with their first LP displayed a sense of sophistication and versatility that would clearly pave the way for future success. Most notably this came forth on songs like “Dying To Meet You” and the undeniable melodic taste of the title track.
“Rocka Rolla” -LP was played and recorded entirely live – all musicians playing simultaneously as in a concert, as opposed to the more popular method of each musician’s parts being recorded separately and then mixing them. The album was produced by Rodger Bain, a man who had previously worked with Black Sabbath on their first couple of albums. The members of Judas Priest were in awe as they expected a full professional at work twiddling the knobs. Unfortunately, the result is often not just down to one man, but budget, recording equipment and facilities play a crucial role as well. And with “Rocka Rolla”, Priest were given short end of the stick with all these accounts. The album was taped in three different locations, which didn’t help in creating a unified sound picture. In addition, Gull’s budget ran out in record time resulting in hazardous final mix and mastering.
According to the band there were technical problems in the studio, resulting in poor sound quality and a hiss through the album. The band further claims that the producer had too much control over track selection and omitted their more popular stage classics. These songs were eventually included on their next record. The track “Caviar And Meths” was originally a 14-minute epic penned by Al Atkins, but due to time constraints, only intro was recorded for the LP. The demo that originally got the band their record deal also contained another track by Atkins titled “Whiskey Woman”. Luckily this was excluded from the first album as for their second LP “Sad Wings Of Destiny” Rob Halford fused it with his own composition “Red Light Lady” and the rest as they say is history.
Despite songs mentioned before showing tremendous potential there were numbers such as instrumental “Deep Freeze”, “Winter” and its sequel “Winter Retreat” plus ploddingly slow opening track “One For The Road”, which all suffered great deal under powerless production. The first side of “Rocka Rolla” with a notable exception to title song is still underwhelming, and one cannot blame many gave up listening at this point. However, by far strongest numbers are on the flip side including at the same time heaviness, dynamics and epic storytelling which would emblem Priest’s 1970’s output.
Side B opens with song that along with title track is arguably still the most well-known from this record – a slower tune titled “Never Satisfied.” Track was written by K.K. Downing and Alan Atkins and originated from early 1970’s period of the band. It was dark and heavy number with captivating melody and groove. Song has some echoes of “Sin After Sin’s” (1977) “Raw Deal” and in that essence is reminiscent of later Priest albums but with band moving towards faster and heavier style already from “Sad Wings Of Destiny” onwards, nothing quite like this was ever heard on any other Priest records.
The song’s pace is almost hypnotic and whilst sound is deeply rooted in seventies and dry production tries its best to rip the tune off its impact, there remains a sense of palpable power and threat in main guitar riff. Tempo is kept on a leash, although song seems to strangely rebel against this wanting to quicken its pace throughout the section.
It begins with one guitar playing the main riff and another hammering out power chords. After ten second mark, second guitar joins in on the riff which picks up speed at this point. Drums aid this change with some interesting fills. There also seems to be a clear echo in the sound, whether this is something the band aimed at remains debatable, but it certainly adds to the haunting atmosphere.
Right from the beginning one can notice bass being upfront somewhat untypically for Priest remembering their latter-day arrangements. Ian Hill’s bass line seems to follow guitars closely adding interesting depth and heaviness. There even seems to be a bass fill of sorts appearing at 0:08 as second guitar steps in and track takes full swing. Bass keeps popping up later in the track as well, notably at 2:12 and through the guitar solo.
Guitar riff is given two full rounds before vocals begin to tell the tale. Tension builds and yet it’s stretched out in a way that listener experiences a touch of uneasiness. The desolate vibe continues with opening lines “Where do we go from here, there must be something near” which musically sounds both of its time and then again slightly ahead of it. Of course fans in hindsight can reflect on multiple albums that followed and say it is easy to see the path Priest were about to step on, with even the dusty production and humble sounding guitars not being able to hide the subtleties in arrangement. In this section it is mostly how the music pulls you in with singer’s dramatic take on the lyrics and carries on storytelling, that is instantly recognisable as something Judas Priest excelled in.
Halford sings in lower register, sounding almost menacing, keeping somewhat unusual atmosphere present while still retaining clear touch of the era. His voice on the album carries almost operatic quality, no doubt originating from his theatre background. This ironically would resurface clearly 34 years later with Priest’s “Nostradamus”-opus. On “Never Satisfied” there is a grittier approach in vocal style compared to some of the more epic material. This is even more evident on “Cheater.”
At 1:12 riffs pick up with second round coming in and another guitar line sweeps in at higher key. During second verse Halford makes an entrance singing “changing dreams, changing schemes” sounding almost angry and in deep desolation. Unfortunately, here his vocals are too low in the mix, robbing away some of the building tension. Rob shouts “satisfied!” with menace leading the way towards lead break. It is introduced with another slightly different riff before and underneath, drums offering fills in between each round. However, this break is identical every time making it slightly tedious to listen to and distracts from solo somewhat.
Guitar solo by K.K. features his trademark style with plenty of whammy bar action. The intensity of the track at this stage is to be commended as solo is also notably restrained in length clocking at 0:40 approximately. Here as well the mix is strange with drums bursting out much louder than lead guitar. Regardless this solo is good and sets up the final part of the number nicely. Many Priest songs introduced lead breaks as characters of their own and here too guitar seems to echo protagonist’s confusion as notes swirl around drums in chaotic fashion. There is an interesting effect sweeping by at 2:49 which rounds off solo with extra intensity.
Third round of the track kicks off with great sounding drum fills by John Hinch, whose straight forward and admittedly softer rock style would be replaced by more metal sounding players on forthcoming albums. Glenn described Hinch as “musically inadequate” and while that most certainly might have been the case regarding the direction the band would take on upcoming material, on “Rocka Rolla” his work is mostly on decent level, delivering what’s needed for the songs and still offering interesting fills throughout. “Never Satisfied” does have places where drums should hit in with more force, but on the other hand, towards the end of the tune, breaks become essential driver for the story.
The pre-solo riff theme resurfaces at 3:47 with guitar sound again much better (and louder) here. Lead guitar again adds to riff with sharp-like quality. At 4:10 and towards the end riffs start to gradually slow down. Song seems like it’s running out of batteries, drums are almost nervous here with fills all over place but somehow fitting for song’s unique structure. Much of the compositions at this time were created via jamming but here Priest already seem to be both in the verge of chaos and in total control of their arrangement.
The songs comes to a halt with Rob sighing almost moribund and quiet “we are never..” before screaming full-on “satisfied!” with music fading out behind. The effect is quite astounding and generally different than anything else out there at the time. It’s a glimpse of Judas Priest’s style of dramatics in arrangements that would really flourish on following album “Sad Wings Of Destiny.”
Sentiment of the songs in “Rocka Rolla” listened again 2018 make one appreciate the level of musicianship and the almost natural effortlessness Judas Priest possessed already at this stage. Halford’s vocals also seem to wake the listener as the song snaps onto a next level, there is a great sense of drama involved. While Alan Atkins’ lyrics and some of the sounds have aged rather badly, the dynamics that make Judas Priest great are there to be found on each track including “Never Satisfied”.
The next song and one of the first Tipton/Downing/Halford -compositions “Run Of The Mill” begins after a short moment of silence. It is again a very different animal, sounding almost progressive in nature recalling the 1970’s giants albeit in much more direct and threatening fashion. The end of the album with this song and especially “Dying To Meet You” seem to further highlight the grimness of “Never Satisfied” and bleak, straightforward message it portrays. In light of this it is understandable a 14-minute “Caviar And Meths” was cut short as it simply would have been too much.
Theme of “Never Satisfied” at first glance seems to reflect melancholic nature of time, and the essence of mankind. Over the years this sentiment has changed very little. The race of men has never been content to settle for what they have. They strive for more, yet never find peace of mind they are looking for. It is also about living in the moment, as rock bands a lot of time seemed to be doing in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
“There’s nowhere else to go, this could be our last show” – singer is obviously referencing his group as one entity, talking about himself and then switching on to more abstract views of the world. At the time Priest were in their early twenties, but as they now approach their final touring days, statement seems to carry even more weight.
Although Rob Halford didn’t write the lyrics, he lives the song out changing his delivery throughout with almost every line, really bringing out the character of the story. Like previously mentioned, his voice carries a certain depth and operatic quality not heard until “Nostradamus”in 2008. In the beginning the person telling the tale is depressed but starts showing more and more anger and frustration as the song progresses. His last words seem to emphase the loneliness and desperation of the man at never ending crossroads. The path he chooses is bound to lead him another dead end. As seemingly the same character would sing in 1981: “change, change, it’s all rearranging” and again in 2014: “lost in this confusion, it’s the sign of the times”.
In 1974 he carries on with “places change, faces change,” and then seemingly as a reaction to these changing schemes before protagonist almost spits out “never!” – somehow contradicting himself. He knows change is inevitable but is unwilling to accept it and move along with the stream. This most likely has echoes of group’s Birmingham industrial background offering its population bleak prospects. Similar themes would resonate later on songs like “Stained Class”, “Breaking The Law”, “Grinder” and “Turning Circles”. It was also the end of Vietnam war and politically challenging time, reflecting an individual lost in the big machinery. Whether we are talking about industry or government, the fall-out is the same.
Towards the end there is a palpable sense of despair or fatality in accepting what is inevitable, yet the tale concludes with “no more tether” implying that while we are never satisfied, there are no boundaries in what we can achieve. It is a rather cunning way to end the song.
Gull felt “Never Satisfied” carried enough commercial potential, for it to be pressed on the B-side of band’s debut single. This along with title track “Rocka Rolla” was released few weeks before the actual album hit the shops. Single didn’t fare well in charts and although the band did perform “Rocka Rolla” on The Old Grey Whistle Test program in 1975, the record disappeared without a trace. “Never Satisfied” for many years was neglected as an album track that time simply forgot.
“Never Satisfied” live
“Rocka Rolla” as often with debut records of the time, was heavily waded through during Priest’s live shows in early-to mid-seventies. The lack of audio and visual proof from the era means we are speculating here, but the band has stated they played virtually everything from their debut album added with some other compositions of the time, including early take of “Victim Of Changes” and bonus cut “Mother Sun”. Seeing as group recorded first version of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds And Rust” around this time, it is possible this was a visitor in set lists of the time as well. Even before “Sad Wings Of Destiny’s” release the earliest known bootleg from London, Priest played the upcoming record almost all the way through with only tittle track “Rocka Rolla” and K.K.’s solo showcase “Deep Freeze” featured from debut.
After moving to bigger label CBS and by the time Priest were supporting “Sin After Sin” all songs from debut album had disappeared from the set. The band had evolved into a whole different entity where light and shade plus muscular heaviness of “Sinner”, “Starbreaker”, “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper” and “Tyrant” took over. These songs were the future and compositions like “Never Satisfied” were labelled as being part of the past. This remained the case for decades to come.
The song re-appeared almost 30 years later during Rob Halford’s final solo tour before re-joining Priest. After 2002’s “Crucible” Halford toured sporadically and early 2003 saw him making a trip to Japan for few dates. Set list was shaken and stirred considerably for this engagement. Rob was opening the shows with fierce rendition of “Painkiller” and included some definite rarities from older Priest catalogue, with “Never Satisfied” being particularly surprising pick to the set.
An official live version recorded in Anaheim after Japan dates, appeared in 2010 on the “Live In Anaheim” -album and DVD release. As one would expect Halford’s 2003 take on “Never Satisfied” is considerably heavier and since Rob’s voice had changed considerably during previous 30 years, he puts in more forceful performance. Roy Z’s solo is lengthier, but otherwise the arrangement doesn’t stray too much from original cut. Halford would return to the song again for his 2010 solo dates following the release of “Made Of Metal” -album.
In 2011 as Priest embarked on their “Epitaph”- world tour, they announced the band would play a song from every Rob Halford-fronted studio album. “Never Satisfied” was an obvious contender from “Rocka Rolla”. Rob was already familiar with it from his solo tours and song was grinding and heavy enough to work in context of Priest’s latter-day material. As Ian Hill later remarked “no wonder Rob knew it so well during rehearsals”.
The first live version by Judas Priest in over 35 years was aired in Holland, early June and was subsequently played on every date until tour eventually reached its end in following spring. This version can be viewed from the “Epitaph”– DVD and BluRay released sometime after tour. Somewhat understandably the band plays it loud and heavy, forcing Halford to give much harder edged interpretation which somehow loses its power to the music. Comparing this to the original version, the number sounds more typical metal number with the dark atmosphere and moods of the original cast aside. Richie Faulkner plays the lead break with added flash and again more in-your-face heavy metal style to reflect rest of the set.
The song was dropped from the set after the “Epitaph”-trek and so far hasn’t returned. Many people instantly dismiss Priest’s first record as off limits for the live shows nowadays. However, aside from operatic vocalising on “Dying To Meet You”, most of the material would still work with both Halford’s current voice and tone. Musically it would certainly be an interesting idea to see how current band would tackle songs like “Cheater” and “Rocka Rolla”.
In 1974 heavy metal imagery was still in its baby shoes. In fact, there was no heavy metal imagery as it was created by Judas Priest 4-5 years later. At this point in the band’s career, they had not yet developed their signature look of leather and studs. They had appeared on a British television programme called The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975, performing “Rocka Rolla” and “Dreamer Deceiver”, their wardrobe was very “hippified” as journalist Malcolm Dome put it. This footage was included on the “Electric Eye” -DVD. In addition, the album has some slight progressive rock influences that would to a lesser extent, continue through to “Stained Class” and would be abandoned for later releases. Thus, the content of “Rocka Rolla” was somehow bound to be cast aside.
When general metal aficionados speak the name Judas Priest, it is usually associated with “British Steel” and “Screaming For Vengeance”. Younger fans might have trouble recalling the band did anything pre- and after “Painkiller”. Not many even know Priest had an album called “Rocka Rolla” out. As they polished “Never Satisfied” live again in 2011, Rob called it in with: “We haven’t played this one in a long, long time, I can’t remember, it must be 35 years, 38 years…1876…this is fucking great, this is “Never Satisfied!” Despite this introduction, in the audience some remarked the song being a new cut, saying “oh they play a Halford song now” – remembering Rob’s solo live rendition from few years back.
Many debut albums are destined to remain their creator’s finest works, some go beyond that and few become classics shaping the entire genre. Guns N’ Roses, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have all proved their worth already with their first record. Although musically they might not have been their finest hour, they somehow struck a chord and are still held in high regard decades after release.
Sometimes these debuts would become a noose around group’s neck, with fans and critics seemingly not giving them even chance to push forward. With Priest the story was drastically different, but not unlike many other heavy metal bands of their ilk. Scorpions, Accept and Thin Lizzy to name just few; none of their debut albums made any impact, and tracks from those albums would be omitted from setlists relatively soon. Partly this was a result of changing line-ups that would lead to all of these groups taking more stock.
While “Rocka Rolla” drove on very much in vein of the early 1970’s sounds of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and Queen, Priest still thrusted forward with songs like “Never Satisfied” and Deep Purple- influenced “Dying To Meet You.” The album might not have influenced generations of young aspiring players like many of Priest’s latter-day records, but it was an important step band needed to take and musically carries more depth than first meets the eye, or ear.
“Dying To Meet You” features a similar bass line to Deep Purple’s blues classic “Mistreated,” but is again distinctly haunting tune, which contains some spark while still suffering greatly from flat production enhancement. “Run Of The Mill” also impresses and “Cheater” possesses real grit. Somewhat surprisingly the album’s latter half is much stronger than the beginning, which by mid-1970’s standard was not a typical approach.
Arguably album’s peculiar cover art by John Pasche featuring a bottle cork, which had nothing to with either title or lyrical content, might have also turned off quite a few potential buyers. Reportedly the band was unhappy with the original cover art and logo, as it didn’t fit with their image as a heavy metal band. There are also rumours that the Coca Cola Company brought legal pressure because the original album art too closely resembled their most famous brand.
Over the years Gull has re-released and repackaged this album in various forms, sound however has randomly been improved. The album was reissued in 1987 with a different cover. The re-issue cover art (by artist Mel Grant, and originally used as the cover for the novel The Steel Tsar) was also used for the US cover of Ballistix for the Turbo Grafx 16 and Commodore Amiga.
As band didn’t own the masters, these re-releases of “Rocka Rolla” and “Sad Wings Of Destiny” were often disguised as “Best Of Judas Priest” which with all respect, these songs certainly were not. There is even a CD called “Never Satisfied” – manufactured in Europe, sold in South America and essentially a repackaged “Rocka Rolla” -album with atrocious sound quality. Most humorously this release features “Painkiller”-era Rob Halford on the cover. The digipack release of “Rocka Rolla” (2011) includes liner notes by Metal Hammer veteran editor Chris Welch and it’s the most thought out of the countless re-takes.
Given its cult status surprisingly many bands have lifted a track for a cover tune from “Rocka Rolla,” with title cut mostly being the subject of another look by several metal and hard rock bands. However, few notable versions of “Never Satisfied” also exist.
Original vocalist Al Atkins has unsurprisingly sang this tune often over the years and recorded it for his “Victim Of Changes” -album in 1998. This version also features Dave Holland on drums. The arrangement begins very differently to the usual one, with acoustic guitars dominating. After a while heavier sound kicks in, however this guitar riff is also played in different key and drums by Holland have a much fuller and louder sound than Hinch’s original. The song sounds almost akin to “Creatures Of The Night” -era Kiss. Otherwise production is still muddy, perhaps on purpose to reflect on the original. Atkins’ singing is strong; however guitar solo is rather terrible with no direction whatsoever.
“Never Satisfied” also has been tackled first by US power progressive thrash group Armored Saint and most recently via American death metal pioneers Six Feet Under, who devoted a whole A-side of their 2016’s “Graveyard Classics IV: The Number Of The Priest” record to Judas Priest cuts. This version of “Never Satisfied” is slow and grinding with vocalist Chris Barnes’ monotonous growling making it slightly difficult to listen to all the way through. The album also features “Invader”, “Genocide” and “Starbreaker” which are equally stressing and sloppily performed. Fans of the grind might get something out of these takes, but long-time Priest followers will most likely remain unimpressed.
Armored Saint’s version from 2000 fares a lot better. It was cut for Spanish Priest tribute album and is more widely available on 2001’s compilation CD “Nod To The Old School”. Vocalist John Bush does a good, powerful and gritty vocal performance no doubt more akin to Al Atkins’ style. Rhythm is grinding and nicely capturing the original version’s barely restrained anger. Armored Saint’s arrangement while mostly faithful, is also slightly faster and thus lacks the necessary drum fills and guitar solo, thus being drowned by rhythm guitar.
Like most cover versions, it makes one dig out the original cut more time. 44 years on, while album “Rocka Rolla” and one of its highlights “Never Satisfied” were perhaps never destined to become ultimate metal classics, they are still worth exploring as part of one of the most revered heavy metal institutions’ never-ending legacy.
With acknowledgements: Judas Priest Info Pages
“Never Satisfied” stats
- Written by K.K. Downing & Alan Atkins
- Recorded at Olympic, Trident & Island Studios, England June-July 1974
- Produced by Rodger Bain
- Released on “Rocka Rolla” album in September 1974
- First released as B-side of “Rocka Rolla” single in August 1974
- Live version also released on “Epitaph” BluRay/DVD in 2012
These days it’s always kind of a treat for me to go back and listen to songs like “Never Satisfied” – especially to hear Rob’s younger voice as I remember it all of those years ago. His younger texture here certainly does bring back memories. The riff in this song although not complex, somehow is very indicative of how I would write in those days. Basically with the understanding if a riff was complicated it couldn’t be heavy, and it seems that that theory holds good here. Also as illustrated you can hear that the way this album turned out, it was as if someone was mixing the songs so as to try and not make them sound heavy. But as you can hear a heavy riff always sounds heavy whatever treatment you give it. The groove of the song is quite unique. I have to say a few bands gratifyingly went on to use it at a later date. Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” comes to mind. I love that song and saw him play it many times. I always improvised the solo in this song both live and in the studio. Although I was “Never Satisfied” and always thought I could do it better, the band and the producer would say “no K.K. that’s it, time is money” and they were not wrong. Back in the days when studio time cost a thousand pounds a day and sometimes even more.
“Never Satisfied” lyrics:
Where do we go from here
There must be something near
Changing you, changing me forever
Places change, faces change
Life is so very strange
Changing time, changing rhyme together
There’s nowhere else to go…
This could be our last show
Changing dreams, changing schemes… NEVER
We are never satisfied
Love is gone along with fun
Now we’re reaching for the gun
Changing cast, changing fast
No more tether
We are never satisfied