Photo Courtesy of Sony Legacy
Judas Priest's 'Screaming For Vengeance' Led To A Hard Rock Revolution: Rob Halford, Tom Allom Revisit The Album At 40
Forty years after its release, Judas Priest's 'Screaming For Vengeance' remains one of the definitive heavy metal albums of the '80s. Singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, guitarist Glenn Tipton and producer Tom Allom discuss their milestone album.
In 1982, heavy metal was losing steam, leaving the genre in a state of limbo: Ronnie James Dio would depart Black Sabbath by year’s end, although former frontman Ozzy Osbourne’s career was flourishing. The diverse sounds and styles of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal — a musical movement that saw acts such as Motorhead, Diamond Head and Saxon achieve cult status, while Iron Maiden and Def Leppard rocked on the cusp of greater popularity — made noise in the U.K. and Europe, but it was underground in the U.S.
Yet a massive transformation took place that July, following the arrival of Judas Priest’s eighth studio album, Screaming For Vengeance. Unleashed into the world with the deadly Hellion tearing across its cover, Screaming was chock full of intense anthems fueled by Rob Halford’s soaring screams, the twin guitar attack of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, and the pummeling rhythm section of bassist Ian Hill and drummer Dave Holland. In In his third effort with the band, producer Tom Allom captured the heaviness of Priest's live act, imbuing the album with a futurism that still sounds fresh today.
Screaming produced the song that changed the band’s destiny forever: "You’ve Got Another Thing Coming" was a thundering anthem of empowerment, its catchy chorus and blistering guitar solo caught fire on AM radio and on MTV. The single reached No. 67 on the Hot 100 singles chart and the album peaked at No.17 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums, eventually going double platinum.
Eight years into their recording career, the band’s macho image — now defined by the leather and studs look they first cultivated on 1978’s Hell Bent For Leather — grew stronger. The video for "Another Thing" featured the band performing under blue lasers within an industrial backdrop. When Halford pointed towards a nearby inspector measuring their decibel levels, his head blew off. It was the right type of rebellious imagery to capture the attention of heavy rock fans within the burgeoning MTV generation.
"[Some people] didn’t know they were metalheads until they heard Priest," Halford tells GRAMMY.com.
The floodgates had opened in the American metal landscape by 1983. MTV became more open to heavy rock — thanks in great part to Priest, whose videos and tour footage dominated MTV from mid-1982 into early 1983 — while specialty metal radio shows proliferated at stations across the country.
Judas Priest were one of the top draws for the heavy metal day at the U.S. Festival in May 1983 — an event organized by Apple's Steve Wozniak that reportedly attracted 375,000 people for that one day alone, a record at the time and the highest for the four-day event. Classic Rock magazine later declared the concert to be "the historic day heavy metal killed new wave."
The band also sowed seeds for the next generation of rockers, taking future hard rock and metal stars Iron Maiden and Krokus on the road during their 6-month U.S. tour. Subsequently, Iron Maiden and Def Leppard broke out in 1983, while Quiet Riot’s third album Metal Health became the first metal album to hit No.1 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.
By 1984, the hard rock and heavy metal revolution was in full swing as bands like Motley Crue, Ratt, Scorpions and Accept made a commercial impact. By 1985, thrash began storming the mainstream via Metallica and Anthrax.
While a variety of musical forces helped launch the metal paradigm that dominated a lot of ‘80s music, Priest spearheaded this shift with Screaming.
GRAMMY.com spoke with singer Rob Halford, bassist Ian Hill, producer Tom Allom, and guitarist Glenn Tipton about their milestone album. The band are still out on their 50th anniversary tour which returns to the U.S. in October, and a Screaming For Vengeance graphic novel will be coming out later this year through Z2 Comics.
I was listening to the album again fully, and the lyrics are very relevant today. I listen to "Electric Eye" and "Screaming For Vengeance" and that dark vision resonates with modern events.
GLENN TIPTON: Yes, that's true. It wasn't done intentionally. A lot of what we play is very current.
ROB HALFORD: I remember when I was writing the lyrics for "Electric Eye." And, of course, this was before the internet. I was reading about spy satellites and the way that our privacy was going to be more and more difficult to hold on to. That was enough for me to get my brain cells going for a lyric that is so appropriate 40 years later, more so than ever.
And equally with all of the suppression and repression that's going on in the world today — whether it's freedom of speech or people invading other people's countries — there's the title track, "Screaming For Vengeance." I feel like I'm not making statements, but obviously I am. It seems like a good conduit for the music. The feeling about writing lyrics that have more to them than just tits and ass has always been a thrill for me. I've always enjoyed marrying up the words to these brilliant instrumentational sounds. I just listen to the start of "Riding On The Wind," for example, and the way that begins with very dramatic percussive work. Equally, the time signatures in the title track are really unusual. So I'm stimulated lyrically by the music, or the way the music is pushing me.
To me, "Bloodstone" always sounded like it was about nuclear war even though it didn't say it overtly.
ROB HALFORD: I suppose there is that possibility, and again, unless it's written in stone a lot of our lyrics can be interpreted in the way that you want to interpret them. But there's no doubt that "The Hellion/Electric Eye" and "Screaming For Vengeance" are so potent in their messages.
"Screaming" still has my favorite lyric of yours: "Everyone who makes it to the great escape, leaves a thousand more who suffer in their wake."
ROB HALFORD: [Chuckles] Where do these things come from? You're a writer. It’s just stream of conscious thought, you know? I rarely go back and look at stuff. Because I do it and then I let it go, and then I'm excited about the next opportunity. But I'm proud of the lyrics on that album.
Combined with all the booze and drugs and partying, it's an absolute miracle that I was able to pick up the pencil to start, in a haze of being partying all night. That's my job as a lyricist — to engage you and take us on these journeys together.
This album was really cinematic, and Tom, you later took that approach on Defenders Of The Faith, Turbo and Ram It Down. You married the sound design to the song, so when you think of the song you think of certain sound effects. Were you conscious of what you were doing?
TOM ALLOM: That was very deliberate actually. I've always liked sound effects, and I was drawn to them from the moment I started producing as opposed to just engineering. And the good thing about working with Priest is that there were no limits. There were no constraints. If you had an idea to do something that made it more interesting or heavier or whatever, then do it. There's no such thing as too big, there's no such thing as too loud. They’ve always been fun to work with.
IAN HILL: Tom was one of the first to start using, shall I say, unique sounds. Up until then, you’d get the BBC recording of sound effects. A police car or railway engine. Tom said, "This is no good." So we started to invent our own, especially on British Steel, [using] trays of cutlery, golf clubs and milk bottles. And that continues today.
Rob's vocals change during "Electric Eye" — he’s portraying a sentient spy satellite or camera. It starts off with this cold human voice in the verse, and by the time we get to the chorus he has this maniacal electronic quality.
TOM ALLOM: That was very deliberate. I remember there were three different sections to each verse and chorus. I wanted to treat each one slightly differently. Because it is about an electric eye, I used a harmonized version of a voice in with it…but heavily harmonized. Sort of pitched a third down, mixed in a bit.
I heard that "You’ve Got Another Thing Coming" was assembled rather quickly and was possibly the last song recorded?
TOM ALLOM: They had this idea with the riff and everything, which I think Glenn mostly came up with. "Let's try and run it through" and I was in the process [of mixing]. It wasn't the last song [to be done] because I was checking out the drum sound. I had the drums all miked up ready to go, and they wanted to run through the track. So they set the guitars and the bass up in front of the drums and they ran it through without headphones. The guitars were turned down with the overdrive turned on quite high for the crunch.
I recorded this run through, and I said, "Well, you're not gonna get a better take on that." And they wanted to redo all the guitars and do the usual stuff and have the big ambient side on the guitars. I think I let Glenn overdub one other rhythm guitar a little. I remember it as clear as daylight. They might remember it differently. Then Rob went through two or three lyric changes and melody changes. I have to say, I’m not always right, but I bloody well was on that occasion.
ROB HALFORD: It was a cool track, but we had no idea that it was going to blow the doors off of rock 'n' roll radio in America.
Priest previously had dueling guitars and big guitar harmonies in the ‘70s, but this was the first album that they noted who did what solo in the liner notes. And Glenn and K.K.’s signature interplay really gelled here.
TOM ALLOM: I felt like it was great rivalry between them to outdo each other. They both were trying to play things that they couldn't play, and they went on working on them until they could. It was that rivalry that made the guitars so bloody brilliant. I can particularly remember Glenn starting to come up with a solo and he was struggling with it. He would work on it for days, if necessary, until he could play it.
Obviously, we were able to punch in mistakes and all that, but these were the analog years. By the time they perfected it, they would go out and play that track live, no trouble at all. That was very good to see.
There's just something about that interplay that was unique. Sometimes their styles would meld together and mirror each other a bit.
TOM ALLOM: When they were both playing rhythm guitar on a track and they were essentially playing the same thing, because their styles were different it made the sound really big. The intonation was different from each of them, and that difference made it bigger than if one of them was playing the part and then double tracking it. They each created a different vibe off their instrument.
Ian, "Pain and Pleasure" feels more like your '70s bass work with less of the '80s chug that came later. The bass is sparing in parts and even the simpler stuff during the solo break stands out.
IAN HILL: Yeah, there are chords in there as well which doesn’t happen very often, even today. And that's fine. Listen to Weather Report and [bassist] Jaco Pastorius; he wouldn't play anything that didn't need it. But when he came in and did that part, it made all that much more of an impression, much more of an impact. And "Pain and Pleasure" is one of those songs.
As far as drummers, the late Dave Holland had a more basic approach than Les Binks or Scott Travis who can handle the double kicks. But on this album, a lot of his drum fills are very specific and hard hitting. He made it count. It felt like his playing was heavier on this record too.
IAN HILL: I was just gonna say that what Dave brought to the band was power. Les still is a great drummer, but you can tell by the way he plays he doesn’t hit them [as hard]. Dave came along and started beating the hell out of the skins, and that's what he brought to the band was that power. Obviously, the bass fitted together with that. He wasn't capable, God bless him, of doing the sort of stuff that Les and Scott are capable of. He just wasn't that kind of player. But in all other respects, he was a very good drummer.
GLENN TIPTON: Dave was a good drummer. He could get a good sound. With the exception of the very fast numbers, he was good at getting the appropriate sounds where needed. He never did too much and never too little.
Screaming was the second album that the group recorded in Ibiza, along with the previous Point Of Entry and subsequent Defenders Of The Faith. You guys were this dark, gritty band from Birmingham and here you were having fun in the sun. Why did that work for you?
IAN HILL: Multiple distractions [laughs]. It fitted perfectly with Tom Allom's style, the laid back, take your time over it, patience with it — all of that. If you were in the studio, and you'd been at something all day, there's no point in continuing to try and do it. Go off and play a round of golf, go swim in the pools, and then come back to it. You'll come back with a different attitude. It was perfect for Tom and for ourselves really. You've got to be in the right frame of mind. Ibiza is one of those places….Around the edges, it's very commercialized, but you get to the interior of the island, it's like stepping back 200 years, you know? He just gave us that little bit of leeway. A little bit of leisure, if you like. It put us in a great frame of mind.
GLENN TIPTON: It worked because we never record in the metropolis [for any album]. We can write anywhere. It felt relaxed there. We were left alone so we just got on with the album, and that brought us back again.
ROB HALFORD: There were a number of things that took us there. But it's magical. We still have this beautiful relationship with everything Spanish. It's very much like a Shangri-La, you know? For artistic purposes, it can be just a fantastic place to generate ideas, whether you're a musician or a painter, or whatever it might be. For creative people, there's just something magical about the island.
TOM ALLOM: We behaved ourselves in the studio. Pretty much. [Laughs] Ibiza has always been a party island. Orlando wasn't a party place.
You recorded in Ibiza and then mixed in Florida, correct?
TOM ALLOM: We did that album in two halves. We did the first half in Ibiza. Then there was a management split and a lot of angst going on on the management front. We actually didn't reconnect for about three months and we finished off tracking the album at Bee Jay Studios in Orlando. And then we mixed it all in Bayshore Studio in Miami, which was where I was living by that time. And I liked the studio. We mixed it down there. So we recorded it in two different places, in two different eras almost. When I listen to it, I still can't quite remember which tracks were recorded in Ibiza and which were recorded in Florida.
We left Ibiza not quite knowing when we were going to reconvene. It was a bit of a strange time. I just moved to Florida shortly before I went back to London. My mother died. Their managers split up. Then we reconvened in Florida. It's actually extraordinary that it turned out as well as it did really because it was a bit fragmented.
Tom came from a totally different social background than you guys did. What is it about him that you worked with him for a decade? He wasn't a working class guy from the Midlands, he was a little more "posh."
ROB HALFORD: He’s just a beautiful guy. He's a wizard in the control room. He knows what he's talking about. He gave us and still gives us confidence when we work together. We will listen to what he has to say, and he was always full of great ideas. He was an accomplished musician himself as far as being able to play the piano and pick up the notes. All of the great things that producers should be able to do.
IAN HILL: He's got a great feel for music, Tom. He's probably the best in the business. Tom is a beautiful man at heart, he really is. Although we come from different ends of the social spectrum, we did gel with him pretty quickly. The first time we met him [in 1979], we were all thinking who the hell is this? He was this very plummy-voiced, obviously upper middle class lad who didn’t know anything about heavy metal. About an hour later in the pub, we've had a few drinks and were getting on like a bonfire. And it went from there. The first thing he did was mixed the Unleashed In The East live album. He did a tremendous job on that, and then we carried on from there [for nearly a decade].
GLENN TIPTON: When we first met him it gelled straight away. The formula worked instantly. His talent shone through. When we've worked on box sets [and other releases] since I'm amazed at how much Tom did do for us.
TOM ALLOM: I'll tell you, I went to a posh school, a private school. And then somehow I got a place at university. I wasn't that academic. But I ended up at the University of St. Andrews except it wasn't in St. Andrews. I went for engineering, and the engineering faculty was in Dundee, Scotland. And Dundee, Scotland is and was a very rough town, really rough. I lived there for three years. Then I got a job in a recording studio when I finished university proper.
I don't think I could’ve done that job if I had come straight from school. I had learned some rough edges, and I was confident [with Priest] because I could think, "Okay, you guys are from Birmingham, but I have lived three years in Dundee which makes Birmingham look like bloody Bond Street in London." And it didn’t bother me that they thought I was posh. By the time we'd finished doing the Unleashed album [in 1979], we were getting along really well. Rob liked working with me, and I think they all did really. That's why they asked me to do British Steel. And by then they got over the fact that I was posh.
Do you remember the inspiration for Doug Johnson’s striking cover image of The Hellion? Did you guys have a lot of input into it?
ROB HALFORD: Yeah, I said to Doug, "We have this song called 'Screaming For Vengeance.'" Just in my mind, I didn't know what it was. Because I was talking to an American guy and I was thinking about America, I was thinking about the national bird, the bald eagle. And I said, "I just have this vision in my mind of this screaming eagle that’s coming down to attack. It's full of vengeance. I don't know what it wants to avenge, but it’s in the mood for some mayhem and vengeance and all of those other emotions." That was all he needed.
Was World Vengeance the longest tour you guys had done at that point?
IAN HILL: I don't know. We worked very hard in those days. I look back at some of the old itineraries — how the hell did we do this? Five, six, even seven shows [in a row]. Of course, production wasn't as big as it is now. And the concentration of dates and the distances weren't as far either. We could do about 15 shows in Texas. We do all little places like Abilene and Amarillo. Everything in between. You only had a couple hundred miles to drive. But these days, for some unknown reason, the smaller markets have faded away, and all the major markets tend to be 300, 400, 500 miles away from one another. But back then, it was very intensive. We were younger as well.
Were you surprised by how MTV embraced the band at the time?
GLENN TIPTON: Yes, a bit. Bands like Judas Priest were not usually featured on MTV, but I think our music crossed the point and was acceptable for MTV. [At a later point] we even knocked Madonna off the No. 1 spot!
Are you still cool with the fact that Screaming is considered to be the definitive Priest album?
IAN HILL: Oh, yeah, I do. It was the ultimate seller. I don’t think we've sold more of any other album, and it was a step in the right direction. After Point Of Entry being panned a little bit, we came roaring back with that one. Then, like I say, Defenders was Screaming on steroids. It took us to that peak. We could have carried on making that kind of album, but they wouldn't have made any more progress from Defenders. Loads of other bands do that. They find their formula and they stick to it and people them for it. But like I say, we're always trying to take that step forward.
GLENN TIPTON: It's not everybody’s No. 1, but I would think its direction comes very close to what most people consider the best Judas Priest album. It is a milestone album.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: SUZANNE CORDEIRO/AFP via Getty Images
Classic Metal's Big Year: 8 Ways 2022 Was A Banner Year For The Pioneers Of Hard Rock
Metal gods including Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Pantera and reigned supreme in 2022. Grammy.com unpacks this resurgence, and the most rocking moments of the year.
"Heavy metal is always going to be there," Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford once claimed. "At its core, it’s all about a primitive connection we all need to keep in our lives." Thanks to everything from supernatural Netflix hits and surprise reunions to massive tours and multiple accolades, this primitive connection now appears to be the strongest it’s been since the genre’s ‘80s heyday.
During a 2014 interview with GRAMMY.com, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford acknowledged the "special bond" that "all metal bands have with the fans [who] support them." Thanks to everything from supernatural Netflix hits and surprise reunions to massive tours and multiple accolades, this special bond now appears to be the strongest it’s been since the genre’s ‘80s heyday.
Of course, its pioneers have always maintained a loyal level of support — once a metalhead, always a metalhead after all. And there have been several instances of the sound returning to the mainstream (see Black Sabbath scoring their first ever Billboard No. 1 album nearly a half-century into their career in 2013, for example, or Metallica headlining Glastonbury a year later). Yet such feats are typically few and far between.
In 2022, however, the scene has continually found itself in the spotlight, inspiring headbangers both old and new to repeatedly pick up their air guitars and show off their best devil horns. So why exactly has this resurgence occurred?
One theory is that heavy metal in its purest form offers an unmatched sense of catharsis. With the world forever teetering on the brink of disaster, what better to unleash your frustrations than by immersing yourself in walls of aggressive noise? It could also be argued that some veterans have made a conscious effort to appeal to a wider audience with their more recent material. And those creatives who grew up listening to the likes of the Big Four (Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer) are now able to pay tribute by incorporating their music into their latest projects.
Whatever the reasons, here are eight ways in which the heavy metal acts of yesteryear made a significant impact in 2022.
Judas Priest Get Inducted
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been relatively ungenerous when it comes to honoring heavy metal. It took them until 2006 to celebrate arguably the daddies of the genre, Black Sabbath, and since Metallica’s induction three years later, they’ve swerved all headbangers entirely. Until, that is, in November when Judas Priest deservedly picked up the Musical Excellence Award.
The British veterans also showed off their famous dual guitar sound while performing three of their biggest hits at the ceremony, with guest presenter Alice Cooper describing them as the "definitive metal band ... like an L.A. earthquake."
Iron Maiden Completed A Mammoth Tour
Few acts have done more to spread the metal word than Iron Maiden. Forty-seven years on from their formation and they’re performing their distinctive brand of British metal to millions — and carting around their giant mascot Eddie across the world.
More than 3 million people attended their multi-national Legacy of the Beast World Tour, which concluded in Florida in October. The longest run of shows to feature original vocalist Bruce Dickinson since the late 1980s, the hits-focused show began in Estonia in 2018 but, thanks to COVID-19, took four years to complete. Despite a collective age approaching 400, the band have already announced they’ll be back on the road next year.
Icons Got The Documentary Treatment
From Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster to The Story of Anvil, the heavy metal scene has spawned several compelling documentaries. And 2022 added two more to the canon. First up, there was DIO: Dreamers Never Die, which enjoyed a brief stint in cinemas in September. Produced by wife Wendy, the biopic of ex-Rainbow and Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio is an affectionate portrait which refreshingly avoids the usual rise and drug-addled fall narrative.
Then at the opposite end of the spectrum, This Is GWAR explored the bodily fluid-spewing, monster-costumed history of the titular shock rockers in a hugely entertaining watch which, rather aptly, premiered on horror streaming service Shudder.
Classic Metal Acts Received GRAMMY Nominations
The Best Metal Performance category is no stranger to classic acts, with Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath all emerging triumphant during the last decade. But you have to go back to 2015 for the last time two were nominated in the same year (Anthrax and Motorhead). Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi will be hoping to add to their trophy cabinet at the 2023 ceremony. But they face stiff competition from fellow survivors Megadeth and Ghost, the Swedish satanists whose bombastic riffs have drawn parallels with another veteran, Judas Priest. Metal purists will undoubtedly be hoping prog rockers Muse and hardcore punks Turnstile don’t spoil the party.
Pantera Reunite, And Bring Friends
Pantera’s story looked to have ended in 2004 when guitarist Dimebag Darrell was murdered by a crazed fan on stage. Even more so when another founding member, Vinnie Paul, passed away from coronary artery disease in 2018. But 22 years on from their last album, Reinventing the Steel, remaining members Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown announced they were heading out on a North American tour which would also include dates with Judas Priest and Metallica. Black Label Society frontman Zakk Wylde and Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante will temporarily join the group who, thanks to the likes of 1994’s chart-topping Far Beyond Driven, very nearly muscled their way into the Big Four.
"Stranger Things" Gives Metallica Classic A Second Wind
Kate Bush’s "Running Up That Hill" wasn’t the only ‘80s classic to enjoy a new lease of life after featuring in the mammoth fourth season of Netflix phenomenon "Stranger Things." Metallica’s "Master of Puppets" also returned to the Hot 100 thanks to the guitar heroics of Joseph Quinn’s Eddie Munson. His impressive rendition not only gave the metal giants their highest chart peak since 2008 but also introduced a whole new generation to the sound of James Hetfield and co. Admirably, the band themselves were far from precious about the whole thing, revealing they were blown away by the concept and later inviting Quinn for a Lollapalooza jam session.
Megadeth Enjoy A Triumphant Return
To say that the recording of Megadeth’s first new album in six years was troubled is putting it mildly. Firstly, lead singer Dave Mustaine was diagnosed with throat cancer shortly after hitting the studio with co-producer Chris Rakestraw. And then founding bassist David Ellefson found himself caught up in a revenge porn scandal which ultimately resulted in his dismissal. Nevertheless, the thrash metal legends eventually managed to put all the drama behind them with The Sick, the Dying... and the Dead! equaling the No.3 peak of its 2016 predecessor Dystopia, inspiring some critics to hail it as their finest record since the early ‘90s.
Metal Continues To Infiltrate Pop Culture
Elsewhere, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Rob Halford were just a few of the iconic cameos in Netflix’s Metal Lords, a teen comedy about a bunch of high school outcasts who form a metal band. Black Sabbath stole the show at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony with an unannounced performance of their signature hit, "Paranoid." And Ozzfest became the first in-real-life festival to enter the metaverse, where those who’d invested in co-founder Ozzy Osbourne’s CryptoBatz NFTs could also enjoy a better vantage point by morphing into a bat. Because why not?
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].