The album has been issued dozens of times with slightly different mastering (some fans favour the louder version), different track listings, different artwork and occasionally even under a different name. Sometimes an early version of the Joan Baez cover track ‘Diamonds And Rust’ is included as a bonus track.
As a rule, you probably won’t want to make this your first Judas Priest purchase. A lot of Judas Priest fans don’t like this album and for that reason alone you shouldn’t really try it out until you are fully invested in Judas Priest already or risk missing out on dozens of great records just by being scared off by this.
The music on the album is a mixture of classic blues based rock music and a little touch of progressive rock influence, with some hints of the band’s future definitive Heavy Metal sound but never any full out all-metal tracks.
Songs like the eight-minute ‘Run Of The Mill’ contain an almost Animals era Pink Floyd sound at times and ‘Dying To Meet You’ contains the sort of Progged-Up Blues feel of the first three Jethro Tull albums. If you like this sort of music as I do then you’ll probably find it an interesting addition to the Judas Priest collection that shows the band in a different light than you are used to.
If you hate the sort of music that British Prog Rock bands were putting out in the 1970s, only ever listen to heavy music and find that your favourite Judas Priest album was Painkiller then Rocka Rolla may not be something that you are likely to fall in love with and should either try before you buy or avoid altogether.
Of course, there are a few tracks on the album that are hard enough rock such as ‘Hero Hero,’ ‘Never Satisfied’ and especially ‘Cheater’ all of which are good but ultimately still won’t be enough to win the bigger doubters over. Even these harder moments aren’t completely metal anyway, they are just the closest thing to it on this early album.
Additionally, It has been speculated in the past that Rocka Rolla might have been a better album if the band were allowed enough time and money to record it properly and if the purportedly long and epic track ‘Caviar And Meths’ wasn’t shortened from its intended 14-minute duration to a brief two minutes.
As it stands however, ‘Caviar And Meths’ simply is two minutes and the production job simply is cheap and live, so you have to accept the album on those terms if you are going to like it and there’s not much you could do to change that.
Overall, your opinion of the album will largely depend on whether or not you are able to forgive how different it is from their more famous albums, and how much you like Blues Rock and Prog Rock. It may also depend on the mastering job and track order of the particular copy you get.
If you can already tell that you’ll hate it then feel free to ignore it and pretend that the band’s first album was Sad Wings Of Destiny. If however you think you are going to be generally receptive to it, intrigued by the idea of Rob Halford’s early vocal performances, of hearing KK and Glen’s guitars doing something totally different and of a raw but potentially charming production job, then I’d say go for it. It is worth checking out and isn’t nearly as bad as you may have heard about.