During a conversation with Classic Rock Magazine, classic Judas Priest guitarist KK Downing looked back on the ’80s and how many prominent hard ‘n’ heavy acts softened their sound to adapt themselves to the latest trends at the time.
“You get to the late ’70s, and you start to see a lot more arena bands and arena tours,” the guitarist said when asked why he thinks “so many veteran hard-rock and heavy-metal acts lightened their sound around the same time in the ’80s,” adding:
“We jumped on some – supporting Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Foghat, Kiss. But I think it’s fair to say, by the time we see the 80s, we see MTV coming along, which broadened a massive spectrum. Radio stations got bigger and more powerful. Every car that was driving down the street had the radio pumping.
“When we got to the mid-’80s, there was such a feel-good factor. We would come over to America, and we would do 138 shows – in North America alone. We would go all the way around the country and Canada, have a break of two weeks, and then go all the way around again, playing the secondary markets. And even the secondary markets were notable places to be, for bands like us.
“But what is very important is that the bands were going to the people. People were not having to spend a fortune or having to travel overnight to see bands in major cities, so they could spend more money and see more bands at this time.
“It was harder to do that before, and it was certainly harder to do that afterward. Most bands stopped going into the secondary markets because we were told they had become ‘non-lucrative’ areas.
“Which was sad. Because we would go to Boise, Idaho; we’d go to Little Rock, Arkansas; we would go to Biloxi, Mississippi, and play these towns – Midland-Odessa. I remember going to Midland-Odessa with Judas Priest, The Scorpions, and Def Leppard!
“That’s great for the people, and it’s great for the radio stations, and it’s great for the media who are not in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and St. Louis, for example. So it’s great all around.
“I think we saw the most positive and productive period in music history in the mid-80s. And I think it’s fair to say they were the ‘big hair’ days. We would see bands – Scorpions, Judas Priest, Dokken – all go to the hairdressers.
“But it was all good because the whole rock and metal genre became more colorful. These were just magical times. But did it become a fight for positions on MTV and radio stations Probably it did.
“We played the US Festival [on May 29, 1983], and Ozzy Osbourne went on before us, Quiet Riot went on before us. And then, before we know it, Quiet Riot do an album, and they sell six million records [1983’s ‘Metal Health’].
“Before we know it, Def Leppard comes out of the box and sells six million records [1983’s ‘Pyromania’]. And Def Leppard’s follow-up album [1987’s ‘Hysteria’] sold over 10 million records! And then you’ve got Van Halen [who also had a ten-million seller with ‘1984’].
“So, suddenly, you start to see mixes of tours, where you could get any mixture of any bands. It’s a mix-and-match, but everything is good, and everything is in the genre. And I think, with Judas Priest, we probably started to think – consciously or subconsciously – that we haven’t had our day yet.
“All of those other bands have had their day with these big-selling records. Judas Priest seemed to be one of the biggest bands around at the time, but our biggest-selling record was, like, two million records [1982’s ‘Screaming for Vengeance’].”