Following the success of their previous album, Defenders of the Faith, Judas Priest initially recorded a double album which was intended to be released under the title Twin Turbos, half of which would be more commercial and the other half would be aggressive heavy metal. This idea was scrapped. Instead, the material was split up, with the more commercial songs appearing as the album Turbo. The lyrical content on Turbo was markedly different from previous Judas Priest albums, with more emphasis on grounded subjects such as love and romance rather than the band’s usual sci-fi and fantasy themes. On the whole, it was a response to the changed music scene of the mid-1980s which was becoming focused more on light, synth-driven pop rather than the driving hard rock of the 1970s to early 1980s.
After concluding the Faith World Tour at the end of 1984, the band took their first-ever extended hiatus and did not perform at all during 1985 except for an appearance at the Live Aid Concert where only three songs were played. Work began on Turbo that summer and finished late in the year. During this time, singer Rob Halford struggled with increasing substance abuse and violent feuds with his romantic partner. After the latter committed suicide in front of Halford, he resolved to get clean and so checked into rehab where he spent a month during December 1985 – January 1986. He made an energetic recovery and his live performances during the subsequent tour were described as some of his strongest ever.
With the album being released in April 1986, Turbo was an instant commercial success. The album was certified Gold by the RIAA on 10 June 1986 and Platinum on 24 July 1987. The album reached No. 33 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 17 on the Billboard 200, marking the apex of Priest’s commercial success and being the band’s highest chart position until 2005’s Angel of Retribution. The music videos supporting “Turbo Lover” and “Locked In” enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, furthering the success of the album commercially.
The cover was once again done by graphic artist Doug Johnson, who designed the Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith covers.
“Reckless” was asked to be on the soundtrack of the movie Top Gun, but Judas Priest declined, both because they thought the film would flop and because it would have meant leaving the song off Turbo. However, their next album, Ram It Down, contained a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” that was featured in the soundtrack for the movie of the same title. “Reckless” and “Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days” were also Judas Priest’s first songs to be played lower than E tuning.
“Parental Guidance” was allegedly written as a response to Tipper Gore’s attack on the band, and heavy metal in general, in the mid-1980s. Her organization, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), had placed the band’s song “Eat Me Alive” (from Defenders of the Faith) at No. 3 on their list of offensive songs, referred to as the “Filthy 15”. The PMRC alleged that the song was obscene because it encouraged the performance of oral sex at gunpoint.