"Breaking the Law" is a song by British heavy metal band Judas Priest, originally released on their 1980 album British Steel. The song is one of the band's better known singles, and is recognized by its opening guitar riff.

Composition[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Example of a typical heavy metal Aeolian harmonic progression in I-VI-VII (Am-F-G): the main riff of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law". [3] MIDI sample (help·info)

Prior to releasing 1980's British Steel, Judas Priest had been making moves toward streamlining their music into a simpler, less processed sound. That approach came to full fruition on British Steel. "Breaking the Law" combines a recognisable minor-key opening riff and a rhythmic chorus as its main hooks. There is a change-up on the mostly instrumental bridge, a new chord progression with Halford shouting "You don't know what it's like!" before the sound effect of a police car's siren leads back into the main riff (made using a Stratocaster by Downing). More recent live performances of the song have featured a short solo by KK over the bridge. The outro of the song is the main riff played repeatedly with Halford singing the chorus and Downing playing power chords.

The lyrics tell of someone who gets tired of everything that comes with an ordinary life-that life has become boring. This leads the person to take a chance and start breaking the law.

The song featured some sound effects, including the sound of breaking glass and police siren. The band were recording British Steel at Tittenhurst Park, which was the home of The Beatles's drummer Ringo Starr. For the breaking glass effect, the band used milk bottles that a milkman brought them in the morning, and the police siren was actually guitarist K.K. Downing using the tremolo arm on his Stratocaster.

Live performances[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song has been played live almost constantly ever since its release, and has slowly evolved over the years, for example with an added guitar solo by K.K. Downing over the bridge, but Judas Priest have expressed a desire to try touring without some of their obvious classics, including this song.

Music video[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Directed by Julien Temple, the video starts with vocalist Rob Halford singing from the back of an open-top Cadillac car travelling along on the A406 North Circular in North London. The car eventually parks outside an unnamed bank nearOxford Street (The decor suggests it is a branch of Barclays Bank Plc). Halford meets with two men dressed as priests carrying guitar cases and they enter the bank together. For the breaking the law chorus the two men remove their disguises and are revealed to be guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton. They are then joined by bassist Ian Hill and drummer Dave Holland. The people in the bank are incapacitated by the guitars. Meanwhile, the security guard (who has only just awoken) watches on in amazement on the CCTV screens. The band breaks into the safe (with Halford showing 'extraordinary' strength in pulling apart the iron bars). Halford takes from the safe a golden record award for theBritish Steel album. They soon leave the bank with the record, get back into the car and drive away. Concert footage of Judas Priest is now on the CCTV screens and we see the security guard miming along with a fake guitar very much lost in the music. The video ends with the full band driving back along the A406 repeating the chorus until the song is finished.

Performances[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Since British Steel was released, "Breaking the Law" has been a popular staple at some of Judas Priest's most famous performances. The performance version of the song has changed since 1980: at first, the band would play it the original way it was on British Steel. More recently, the band have sometimes (for example on the Angel of Retribution tour) played the opening riff with Halford picking for Downing, Downing picking for Tipton and Tipton picking for Hill, then quickly spreading apart to their respective usual positions on the stage for the verse. Over time, the band have raised the tempo of the song during live performances, and a solo was added by Downing (since his departure, Richie Faulkner, his replacement, composed a new solo, replacing KK's). In live performances, Halford ends the song by screaming the words "Breaking the Law".

Critical reaction[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The song made VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs making the list at 40.[1] In 2009 it was named the 12th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.[2]

Covers[edit source | editbeta]Edit

References in popular culture[edit source | editbeta]Edit

  • In the 1990s, the song was both used and parodied in an episode of the MTV show, Beavis and Butt-head, when the title duo are washing a neighbor's dog in a washing machine and repeatedly chanting a parody of "Washing the dog, washing the dog" to the tune of the song and sing the actual song later on in the same episode.
  • The song is featured in the soundtrack to the 2006 video game Scarface: The World Is Yours.

Personnel[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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