Remember When: Judas Priest Recorded with the Producers of Bananarama and Rick Astley

Heavy metal and pop music have always been a rather precarious combination. While today it is a little more common for rockers to express their love for and work with pop stars—for example, Slash with Demi Lovato, Nuno Bettencourt touring in Rihanna’s band, and David Draiman wanting Carrie Underwood to perform with Disturbed—back in the ‘80s many heavy music fans bristled at the thought.

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Then there was that time when word got out that Judas Priest recorded with the pop producing trio of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman (abbreviated as SAW), whose credits included Bananarama, Kylie Minogue, and Rick Astley. The metal world trembled, and the project was buried.

Two Genres Colliding

Back in the 1970s, metal rose up as the agitating, heavy alternative to safe, melodic pop sounds. So the idea of those two genres colliding wasn’t the best strategy for many bands during the ‘80s metal revolution. While the hair bands managed to get away with being pop-friendly, heavier entities couldn’t. Well, they could, but when Priest did the guitar-synth driven Turbo album they lured many more female fans to their concerts. But hardcore fans got angry and sales stalled.

What’s interesting to note about Priest’s SAW sessions is they came about when they were recording their next album, 1988’s Ram It Down, which found them returning to the aggressive style that made them famous. They were recording in a sugar mill in France and went on a short trip to Paris to meet with the hitmakers to see what would happen. They recorded two SAW originals, “I Will Return” and “Runaround,” along with a cover of “You Are Everything” which was made famous by the R&B singing group The Stylistics in 1971, and later recorded by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye in 1974.

But the British band, while pleased with the results, realized that having a pop hit would likely hurt their credibility with the exacting metal masses. And when an outlet like the British music magazine Kerrang! found out about the sessions, there was a lot of skepticism.

“We covered Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye’s ‘You Are Everything’ with them and it would have been our biggest-ever record,” Waterman told NME in 2023. “We had great respect for each other. Matt [Aitken] ended up playing more rock guitar than they did! We went for it. We were more rock ‘n’ roll than Judas Priest! They kept saying: ‘No, we want more SAW,’ while we’re going, ‘F–k SAW, we want to do more rock ‘n’ roll!’ It was my birthday and we went out to this huge place in Paris and Cristal champagne was flowing. Mike Stock got off the plane the next day, with no memory of coming home.”

“It’s a No. 1 Record—Which is the Last Thing We Want!”

Waterman recalled to NME that when they played “You Are Everything” to the band, “They said: ‘It’s a No. 1 record—which is the last thing we want!’ They missed a trick because now you have the Foo Fighters covering Rick Astley and anything goes, but their manager was frightened that it was going to end up as the biggest song of their career and 16-year-old girls would start turning up to their stadium gigs.”

Of course, female fans had showed up in droves for the Turbo tour, but that was enough for the Priest camp, something Halford has acknowledged in recent times. Today, the band’s singer offers a different view.

“I’ve got that on my phone somewhere and it sounds great,” Halford told NME of the session tracks in 2024. “I mean, look what happened to Kate Bush with Stranger Things and ‘Running Up that Hill’—one of the greatest songs ever written. That’s what I’d love to see with our Stock Aitken Waterman tracks. … I still love those songs even now. In my lifetime I’d just like to see them get leaked. Leak ’em for all I care. Let’s just see where those songs take us, because it sounds great. You can hear the voice, you can hear the guitars, and they’re really fun pieces of music. I haven’t seen Pete in living memory, but maybe I can say [to him]: ‘Just leak these. Send a file off to TikTok and see where it takes us.’”

In fact, one minute of “You Are Everything” was leaked on YouTube in August 2015, and it is indeed poppy sounding albeit it with heavier guitars. But there is something glorious in the sound at the same time. Many metal bands are two-dimensional; this hammers home how diverse they really are.

To be fair, Priest have often experimented with different sounds, but one must remember the atmosphere of metal back in the ‘80s. It was often thrash versus glam, which left many artists out in the cold. (Turbo fans should get that in-joke.) In the past, Priest covered non-metal artists with great success, most notably Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Green Manalishi (with the Two-Pronged Crown),” which the band still performs in concert. Their cover of “Johnny B. Goode” for the 1988 movie of the same name, then placed on Ram It Down, was met with mixed results and dropped from their set partway into that tour. Of course, all of these songs were very rocked-up renditions of the originals. While many metal bands like to stay in their lane, Priest often experimented with different sounds, risking some fan ire to try something new.

Although 1988 was not the best time for the SAW sessions to emerge, this is 2024. Halford has released two holiday albums, professed his love for Lady Gaga, and dueted with Dolly Parton. Many lifelong metal fans are more open to new ideas and even wear such diversity as a badge of honor. A number of YouTube comments under the “You Are Everything” leak confirm this.

There’s no reason why those three SAW tracks shouldn’t be included on some new box set of rarities. There are undoubtedly at least a couple of other rare Priest tracks that have not been heard by the masses. In fact, there has never been a compilation of tracks released on the 1998 collection Live and Rare and the bonus songs from the remastered catalog in 2001. The three SAW songs would make a great inclusion for something like that. Perhaps someday we’ll get lucky and finally hear them all.

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Photo by Pete Cronin/Redferns

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