Judas Priest has always known the lure of an unexpected cover, whether it’s a barely recognizable version of Joan Baez folk Diamonds and rustor transform Spooky Tooth’s blues-rock chugger Better with you, better than me in a razor-sharp metallic anthem.
But it was their brilliant update to Fleetwood Mac’s malicious 1970 single. The Green Manalishi (with the two-clawed crown) which crowned Priest the kings of the metallic cover version. The role that the original, Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac played in the development of what would become heavy metal has never been properly recognized. While they were deeply rooted in the blues, they could turn up the heat when needed – and never more than they did on The Green Manalishi.
By early 1970, Green’s mental health was in a precarious state. His growing inability to cope with success was not helped by his LSD use. The Green Manalishiwith his air of apprehension and paranoia, captures his state of mind.
Green claimed he wrote the song after waking up from a dream-turned-nightmare in which a green dog began barking at him. The dog was dead and, in his dream, Green too.
“When I woke up I found I was writing this song,” he later said. “The next day I went to the park and the words started coming.”
The completed track was a masterclass in slow burn threat. Green and fellow guitarist Danny Kirwan laid down a thick, ominous riff, while sudden bursts of hypnotic drumming from Mick Fleetwood only added to the incipient sense of dread. ‘
“Don’t come crawling, making me do things I don’t wanna do“, sang Green, who later insisted that the Green Manalishi of the title was the devil-embodied form of a wad of cash. His disillusionment with the life he led was such that at the By the time the song was released as a single that summer of 1970, he had already left the group he had formed three years earlier.
Ironically, Judas Priest’s cover of this post-British blues boom monument was not originally included in the original 1978 UK edition. Killing machine, their fifth album. Instead, he bowed out on the American edition, published with the title Hell Bent for Leather. But that was the version of the song on Priest’s 1979 live album. Unleashed in the East which re-established the song as a 70s metal classic, though not everyone who heard it realized it was a cover.
Priest didn’t so much change the structure of the song as he inflated it. Where Peter Green sounded genuinely scared, Rob Halford delivered the lyrics with a glint in his eye – it was menacing, but it was a playful threat. And the interplay between KK Downing’s twin steel guitars and Glenn Tipton replaced the original’s off-putting power with turbocharged energy.
Sonics aside, there’s not much to separate the Mac and Priest versions in terms of greatness – they’re both great in different ways. But as Rob Halford pointed out in 2017, that was never the goal. “A good song will take any kind of interpretation,” he said. “You can take it and do anything with it.”