Opinion: Rock Hall Inducting Judas Priest for ‘Musical Excellence’ Is Actually a Backhanded Compliment
After appearing on the ballot three times, heavy metal legends Judas Priest will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not in the traditional manner. Instead, the Hall has honored them with an award for "Musical Excellence," which is actually a backhanded compliment and a byproduct of a system of checks and balances for the seriously out of touch and backward ideological thinking of the Hall's standard voting committee.
Wow, where do we even start?
First, regardless of their point of entry (zing!), congratulations to Judas Priest, whose name will be forever enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside countless icons, all of whom have had varying impact on music on the whole, not just whatever the definition of rock 'n' roll is, as defined by the Hall and its voting body.
It is a big deal when the dust settles because any visitor for decades to come will be affirmed of Priest's status and musical contributions. But something just isn't right…
What is a Musical Excellence Award anyway?
As stated in a press release distributed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the award for Musical Excellence is "given to artists, musicians, songwriters and producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic impact on music."
But isn't that the whole point of this establishment in the first place when considering each year's more proper nominees?
The Musical Excellence Award is also determined by a separate committee than the one that votes for each year's nominees. As reported by Cleveland.com, "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation Chief Joel Peresman told the Plain Dealer the category 'gives us flexibility to dive into some things and recognize some people who might not ordinarily get recognized.'"
We'll give credit where its due: at least there's a mechanism to course correct.
Each year's class is broken down into multiple categories and is defined by the Rock Hall as follows:
- Performers — artists who have created music whose originality, impact, and
influence has changed the course of rock 'n' roll.
- Musical Excellence Award — given to artists, musicians, songwriters and
producers whose originality and influence creating music have had a dramatic
impact on music.
- Early Influence Award — artists whose music and performance style have directly influenced, inspired, and evolved rock 'n' roll and music impacting youth culture.
- Ahmet Ertegun Award —non-performing industry professionals who have had a
major influence on the creative development and growth of rock'n' roll and music that has impacted youth culture.
By the Hall's own definition, Judas Priest are more firmly suited for the Performers category than the Musical Excellence Award, but we'll cover why that is a bit later on here.
Are there any other metal artists who have received a Musical Excellence Award?
Just one, but this time it's different.
A quick scan of all of the artists who have received the Musical Excellence Award makes it abundantly clear that this is not something that is typically oriented toward a fully fledged band, much less one that came to define the most popular subgenre within rock, which is heavy metal.
Last year, Randy Rhoads posthumously received this award and that made quite a lot of sense. He was a revolutionary guitarist who helped set the tone for '80s metal guitar playing and also helped the style ascend to mainstream popularity through enduring hit songs with Ozzy Osbourne, namely "Crazy Train."
In short, he was part of a larger whole.
Why is this award backhanded for Judas Priest? They're in and that's what matters, right?
Unlike Randy Rhoads in Ozzy's band, Judas Priest, however, are the whole entity.
It would seem more fitting that the iconic guitar duo of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing could be honored with this award for their pioneering contributions to the genre. Rob Halford would be equally deserving of individual recognition in this category for his lyrical genius and jaw-dropping vocal range.
Four platinum albums and six gold albums in the U.S. should be enough to check the committee's all important box regarding popularity by way of proven album sales, which estimates put at about 50 million records sold worldwide.
Yes, Judas Priest will formally and officially enshrined in the annals of the Rock Hall, but the committee doesn't get to get off that easy. There is no absolution of past sins and transgressions against heavy metal and, more specifically, Priest.
This is a feckless cop-out to get outraged headbangers off the committee's back and, sorry, that's just not good enough.
To quote "Breaking the Law" and to address the Rock Hall committee directly, "You don't know what it's like, you don't have a clue / If you did you'd find yourselves doing the same thing too."
Wait, Judas Priest have been eligible for how long?
"To be eligible, artists are required to have released their first record 25 years prior to induction," the Rock Hall States, meaning Judas Priest first became eligible in 1999.
We will freely acknowledge that in 1999, the heavy metal popularized in the previous decades was out of vogue, especially with Halford out of the Priest lineup for a number of years by that point. So, no, an induction didn't make a ton of sense at that time.
In the early 2000s though, classic metal received a massive jolt when Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden in 1999 and Halford return to front Priest in 2003 and, since then, both acts have built up their brand to levels that rival and even best their '80s peaks.
Judas Priest were nominated for the very first time in late 2017 in consideration for the class of 2018. Their second nomination came for the class of 2020 and, again, the Hall failed to acknowledge their historical significance.
If anything, this damages the value of induction for all other entrants. If the committee is so excruciatingly clueless and out of touch (it took them an eternity to induct Deep Purple, after all), how much can those performance category inductees feel genuinely validated for their work?
But didn't Judas Priest basically invent heavy metal?
The historical narrative will point the finger at Black Sabbath and for fair reason — the band played a style of music so obviously different from the hardest rock of the day that it necessitated being branded something else. But the term "heavy metal" wasn't commonplace and when it comes to the style of metal that was popularized and is now commonly associated with the term, we can reorient that finger and point it squarely in the direction of Judas fuckin' Priest.
Screaming twin guitars? Check. Piercing vocals and a dynamic vocal range capable or expressive heaps of emotion to reflect lyrical imagery? Check. Forceful drumming? Check. Driving bass? Check — Ian Hill is king of the root notes.
Black Sabbath's style took roughly a decade or more to really catch on and become the fixture of what is now traditional doom metal as played by early artists Candlemass and Pentagram.
Another critical factor here is Judas Priest's impact on the United States. The band placed a ton of career focus on breaking through in one of the world's most difficult markets and through more rock-leaning tracks such as "Living After Midnight" and "You've Got Another Thing Coming," they are largely responsible for helping heavy metal gain traction in the States, which perfectly set up the coming glam metal acts, who piggybacked off that market success.
And there's that whole deal about the band creating the fashion style that defines heavy metal — leather 'n' studs. That speaks for itself.
So, that's it then, huh?
Yup. Judas Priest will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when all is said and done, but without the fanfare previously enjoyed by Black Sabbath, KISS, Deep Purple, Metallica and Guns N' Roses. The Judas Priest name can easily be mentioned in the same breath as all of those acts, not at all feeling like an outlier, but the Hall just doesn't give a shit.
This is an open admission by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that Judas Priest are simply unworthy of the most meaningful type of induction.
To harken back to Priest's 1978 album, it's fair to call this year a Stained Class. What a load of bollocks.
Thanks for reading. Rock hard, ride free and keep defending the faith.