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Better by You, Better than Me

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"Better by You, Better than Me" is a 1969 song by the English rock band Spooky Tooth. The song appeared on the album Spooky Two and was composed by keyboardist Gary Wright.

"Better by You, Better than Me"
Single by Spooky Tooth
from the album Spooky Two
GenreHard rock, progressive rock
LabelIsland (UK)
A&M (US)
Songwriter(s)Gary Wright
Producer(s)Jimmy Miller

In 1990, a 1978 cover version by heavy metal band Judas Priest was the subject of a much-publicized "subliminal message trial". The lawsuit alleged that the band's recording contained hidden messages which were responsible for influencing a pair of young men in Sparks, Nevada, to make a suicide pact in 1985. The case was eventually dismissed.


Judas Priest versionEdit

"Better by You, Better than Me"
Single by Judas Priest
from the album Stained Class
Format45 RPM
RecordedOctober–November 1977
GenreHeavy metal
LabelCBS, Inc. (UK)
Columbia Records (US)
Songwriter(s)Gary Wright
Producer(s)James Guthrie
Judas Priest
Judas Priest singles chronology
"Diamonds & Rust"
"Better by You, Better than Me"
"Before the Dawn"

Judas Priest's rendition of "Better by You, Better than Me" is faster than Spooky Tooth's and adds a short vocal bridge. The song was a last-minute addition to the album when CBS Records insisted on including another more commercial track to liven up a record with which a majority of the songs have a very dark and sinister undertone. It was recorded in a separate session with James Guthrie, as Dennis MacKay had moved on to other projects and was no longer available. The band was reportedly impressed with the production Guthrie did on "Better by You, Better than Me", as it stood out in comparison to the overly thin, flat sound that had plagued their albums up to this point; they would ask him to produce their next album, Killing Machine.


1990 trialEdit

In the middle of 1990, Judas Priest were involved in a civil action that alleged they were responsible for the 1985 suicide attempts of 20-year-old James Vance and 18-year-old Ray Belknap in Reno, Nevada, US.[1] On 23 December 1985 Vance and Belknap became intoxicated before going to a playground at a Lutheran church in Reno. Belknap placed a 12-gauge shotgun under his own chin and proceeded to fire the weapon, dying instantly. Vance followed, but survived the self-inflicted gunshot wound with a severely disfigured face. He died three years later after an overdose of methadone administered by hospital staff.[2]

Vance's parents and their legal team, headed by Nevada attorney Ken McKenna, subsequently alleged that a subliminal message of "do it" had been included in the song. They alleged the command in the song triggered the suicide attempt.[1] The three-week trial was watched closely by the music industry and constitutional lawyers.[3] In a pre-trial motion, the judge ruled that subliminal messages were incapable of being protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, since they were by definition not noticeable and thus could not form part of a dialogue. Timothy Moore, who testified on Judas Priest's behalf, stated that the plaintiffs (led by McKenna) achieved "a major victory in getting the case to trial in the first place;"[1] The case was dismissed, with the finding that any subliminal messages within the recording, should they actually exist, were not responsible for the suicides. The lawsuit cost the band approximately $250,000 in legal costs and the judge ordered CBS to pay $40,000 to the prosecution, since the label did not provide master tapes of Stained Class to Vance’s lawyers.[4]

One of the defense witnesses, Dr Timothy E. Moore, later chronicled the trial in an article for Skeptical Inquirer magazine.[1] The trial was also the subject of a 1991 documentary entitled Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance vs. Judas Priest.[5] In the documentary, Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford commented that if the band were so inclined to insert subliminal commands into their music, messages commanding their fans to kill themselves would be quite counterproductive; from the band's perspective it would be much more practical to insert the command "buy more of our records". Regarding the plaintiffs' assertions that the statement "do it" was a command to commit suicide, Halford pointed out that the phrase "do it" had no direct message to do anything in particular.

Comedian Bill Hicks referred to the case in his stand-up routines, asking "What performer wants his audience dead?" He performed a sketch mimicking Judas Priest being sick of their wealth, power, and fame and coming up with the subliminal message as a solution to their problems.[6] Comedian Denis Leary also commented on the trial on his album No Cure for Cancer, saying heavy metal bands should put more subliminal messages in their records: "Kill the band, kill your parents, then yourself".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Moore, Timothy (November–December 1996). "Scientific Consensus and Expert Testimony: Lessons from the Judas Priest Trial". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  2. ^ Cooper, Candy (1 July 2005). "The Judas Priest Trial: 15 Years Later". Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  3. ^ Moore, Timothy E. (1996). "Scientific consensus and expert testimony: lessons from the Judas Priest trial". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 6 February 2008.
  4. ^ "Judas Priest's Rob Halford Reflects on 25th Anniversary of Subliminal Message Lawsuit".
  5. ^ "Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest".
  6. ^ Hicks, Bill; Lahr, John (2004). Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines. Constable & Robinson. ISBN 1-84119-878-1. Retrieved 20 April 2015.