Rocka Rolla is the debut album by the British heavy metal group Judas Priest, released in 1974. It was produced by Rodger Bain, who had made a name for himself as the producer of Black Sabbath's first three albums.
This album was played entirely "live" (i.e. all musicians playing simultaneously as in a concert, vs. the more popular method of each musician's parts being recorded separately and then mixing them).
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 album. Many of the songs were written before Rob Halford joined the band. The track "Caviar and Meths" was originally a 14-minute epic penned by Halford's predecessor, Al Atkins, but due to time constraints, only the intro is recorded for the album.
So here we have it, the rather bizarre, heavily blues-influenced debut album of one of the original Heavy Metal bands, the originators of the spikes and leather wear of true Metal, and in mine and many others opinion the greatest band ever to walk the earth. Back here, they all looked like a bunch of hippies, Rob had long, curly hair, and the music was nowhere near the razor sharp all-out metal assault that Priest would turn into.
This album is very bluesy and is based on a number of groovy, catchy riffs and is supported by pretty damn solid and unpredictable drumming courtesy of John Hinch, and some of Ian Hill's most evident and well emphasized basswork throughout their career. On top of it, we have Rob Halford's vocals, who are still quite identifiable with the man who sang monster metal classics like "Breaking The Law" or "The Sentinel", but he sounds more laid-back and calm here, which suits the overall mood on the album, although he does perform some absolutely mindblowing falsetto even back here in 1974, most notably on the quite epic songs "Dying To Meet You" and "Run of The Mill".
The songwriting is rather consistent, and stays solid throughout most of the album, though tend to get really odd at times, and it makes you scratch your head in confusion every now and then. The "Winter/Deep Freeze/Winter Retreat" trilogy (actually, the song "Cheater" is 'part' of the trilogy, yet it has nothing to do with the other songs whatsoever and is a completely different track) is probably the most bizarre moment in Priest's entire history. "Winter" is a spacey, dark ballad-like song with a cool mood and some fucking excellent drum fills. It goes into "Deep Freeze", which consists entirely of K.K. Downing making some weird effects with his guitar, apparently trying to give the whole thing a certain mood. It sounds mostly psychotic and weird, but is actually kinda cool, though gets a little annoying after a while.Then we get to "Winter Retreat", which is an incredibly soft and very short ballad with a nice emotional touch in Rob's vocals and the guitarwork, and sounds strangely "pretty" for a Judas Priest song. It works, but it's mostly just weird, like the entire trilogy.
The rest... The album opens up with "One For The Road" and "Rocka Rolla", two classic rock n' roll numbers with a nice, bluesy feel. "Rocka Rolla" is actually pretty fucking excellent, with a perfect vicious mood and suiting lyrics, and is overall cool as hell. More of the same is "Cheater", which interestingly also features some great harmonica playing by Halford. This is probably the best of these three rockers, with the great main riff, wicked soloing, insanely catchy vocal lines and beautiful lyrics ("I reached the dressing table, kicked away the door. I gripped the cold black metal, a loaded 44. By this time they're awake and they don't know what to do. I scream 'you cheatin bitch, here's what I think of you'!". They may have looked like hippies, but looks can be deceiving, my friends. They were Metal as Steel already back in the 70s).
But the best stuff on here is the two epic masterpieces. We start with "Run of the Mill". It's long, slow, dark, and absolutely beautiful. I can't even try to explain the pure emotion displayed in this song, but if you don't feel like you're about to cry towards the end, you have no heart, you bitch. Rob Halford's vocal delivery in this song is nothing short of Godly, and it's quite understandable why he's recognized as The Metal God. He shows that in every moment of the song, but especially during the absolutely out of this world ending section, where he screams his heart out in an insane falsetto which is one of his best moments yet. "I CAN'T GO OOOOOOOON!" Man, that gets me every time.
And after that, we have another ballad in the same vein, which is not quite as mesmerizing but practically flawless nonetheless, and goes into total asskicking mode on a speeded-up ending section which goes straight back into the groovy rocking of songs like "Cheater", but is sung entirely in a "Stained Class"-like falsetto. These two songs are some of the most underrated masterpieces in the band's history, and two of Metal's all-time greatest ballads. All in all, this album is very, very strange most of the time, but also pretty fucking great, though it takes time before it grows on you.
Judas Priest - One for the Road