Breaking the Law

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"Breaking the Law"
Breaking The Law.jpg
Single by Judas Priest
from the album British Steel
B-side"Metal Gods"
Format7", cassette
RecordedJanuary–February 1980
Startling Studios
Ascot, England
GenreHeavy metal
Producer(s)Tom Allom
Judas Priest singles chronology
"Living After Midnight"
"Breaking the Law"
Music video
Breaking the Law on YouTube

"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 readily recognised by its opening guitar riff.


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". About this soundMIDI sample 

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. More recent live performances of the song have featured a short solo by Downing 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 at the rock bottom in their life – out of work, unable to find work, frustrated, feeling that nobody cares if they live or die, eventually turning to crime for survival.[1]

The song features some sound effects, including the sound of breaking glass and a 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.

Music video[edit]

Directed by Julien Temple, the video starts with vocalist Rob Halford singing from the back of a 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado convertible[2] travelling along on the Westway section of the A40 in West London; the car eventually parks outside an unnamed bank near Oxford 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 the British Steel album (the music video was shot before the album went platinum), 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 A40 repeating the chorus until the song is finished.


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 it was first performed on the 1981 World Wide Blitz Tour for the follow up to British Steel, Point of Entry: at first, the band would play it the original way it was on British Steel. Later, the band 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, his replacement Richie Faulkner composed a new solo, replacing Downing's). In live performances, Halford ends the song by screaming the words "Breaking the Law".

Critical reaction[edit]

The song made VH1's 40 Greatest Metal Songs at No. 40.[3] In 2009 it was named the 12th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1.[4]


In popular culture[edit]

  • The song was both used and parodied in "Washing the Dog", a second season episode of the MTV show, Beavis and Butt-head. During the show the title duo chant a parody version "Washing the dog, washing the dog" to the tune of the song while washing neighbor Mr Anderson's dog in a washing machine,[7][8] they later view the actual Breaking the Law video in the third season episode "Scared Straight". During the viewing they are distressed by Rob Halford's clothing and decide that, even though they still like Judas Priest as a band, the video sucks.
  • The comedian Noel Fielding pretended to sing this song into a baby's face as a lullaby, on the British musical comedy TV show Never Mind the Buzzcocks in November 2013.
  • A "glam folk" version of the song is featured over the end credits of the Mighty Boosh episode "Electro".
  • The song was featured on an episode of The Simpsons. "Breaking the Law" was also parodied in the episode "Steal This Episode" where Homer has gained asylum in a Swedish apartment building, as the FBI is after him for bootlegging movies, and the FBI attempts to get him out by bringing in Judas Priest (erroneously referred to as a death metal band) to sing a copyright-minded version of the song, which included the lyrics "Respecting the law, copyright law."
  • The song is featured in the video game Guitar Hero Live.
  • The song "Breaking the Law" was covered by Big John Bates & the Voodoo Dollz on their 2009 LP Bangtown.


B-side [edit]

"Metal Gods"
Single by Judas Priest
from the album British Steel
A-side"Breaking the Law"
Released14 April 1980 (1980-04-14)
Format7-inch single
GenreHeavy metal
Producer(s)Tom Allom

"Metal Gods" is a song by British heavy metal band Judas Priest from their album British Steel. The song was also released as the B-side to the song "Breaking the Law".


Sounds produced by billiard cues and trays of cutlery can be heard in the song.[9]

Frontman Rob Halford said about the song in a Billboard article: "I'm a bit of a science-fiction fan, and I think I got the lyrics from that world-robots and sci-fi and metal gods, just by word association. It's a statement against Big Brother or something, about these metal gods that were taking over".[10] Guitarist K.K. Downing said: "When we were recording that track we had loads and loads of fun trying to make it sound as metal as we can. We were shaking cutlery trays in front of the microphones to create the sound of metal marching feet".[10] Halford added: "In those days there wasn't an Internet, so you couldn't go online and download samples. So we would whip a piece of guitar chord on a flight case or swish a pool cue in front of a microphone for the audio effects. I lifted and dropped that cutlery tray 100 times, I think".[10] Downing also added: "Ringo Starr actually owned the house when we were there, so we would go around to see what Ringo had that we could put on our record. So I guess it's Ringo's knives and forks that created the true "Metal Gods" sound, which is pretty funny to realize".[10]

Formats and track listing[edit]

UK 7" single (CBS 8644, S CBS 8644)

  1. "Breaking the Law" (Tipton, Downing, Halford) – 2:34
  2. "Metal Gods" – 3:58

South Africa 7" single (SSC 5123)

  1. "Breaking the Law" – 2:33
  2. "Metal Gods" – 4:04


  1. ^ Rocker, Ron. "Judas Priest - Breaking The Law Lyrics". Archived from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^ "VH1 40 Greatest Metal Songs", 1–4 May 2006, VH1 Channel, reported by Archived 6 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine; last accessed 10 September 2006.
  4. ^ " music". Archived from the original on 12 February 2009. Retrieved 7 February 2009.
  5. ^ "Watch Rob Halford Cover Judas Priest Classics With Babymetal". Archived from the original on 19 August 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Babymetal Perform With Judas Priest's Rob Halford at Alternative Press Music Awards". Archived from the original on 20 July 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  7. ^ "British Steel: 35 Facts On The Judas Priest Classic - VH1 News". Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  8. ^ "10 Facts About Judas Priest | Articles @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com". Archived from the original on 29 May 2018. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  9. ^ British Steel (remastered edition) (Media notes). Judas Priest. Sony Music Entertainment. 1980.CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ a b c d "Judas Priest's 'British Steel' Track-By-Track". Billboard. Archived from the original on 23 May 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2018.

External links[edit]