Words: Nick Ruskell
Vinyl fanatics and Maiden-heads rejoice – the Irons have re-released their first eight albums on new, heavyweight vinyl! Not only that, they’ve reissued all the singles on seven-inch as well!
To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the history of metal’s most important band with an album a day. By 1983, Maiden had properly become stars. The Number Of The Beast had moved them to the big-time, and the follow up would chuck them to the top of the table. But with a Satanic panic following the band in America, it was clear not everyone was a fan. But Maiden had a response. You take the piss, so we’ll take yours too…
While you’re here, be sure to pick up this week’s issue of Kerrang! for a world-exclusive interview with Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, as we go deep inside Maiden’s new album, The Book Of Souls…
Piece Of Mind
“Right, you want to take the piss? We’ll show you how to take the bleeding piss, my son!”
The Number Of The Beast had made Iron Maiden genuinely huge. At home, the album had been a smash, going Number One, while the Run To The Hills single was a Top 10 hit. In America, they were million-sellers, Top 40 big-hitters, no bullshitters. But, as we discovered, the album’s name, Devil-tastic sleeve and title track, with its ‘Six! Six! Six!’ refrain had been taken the wrong way by certain parties over the pond.
While arenas were filling with headbangers ready to conjur up a storm of headbanging, outside, protesters were destroying Maiden albums. Some burned them while others, fearing the evil fumes given off by the burning records (not the actual toxic fumes of burning vinyl, but an actual Satanic fug that would destroy their soul if breathed in), opted to smash them with a hammer. Gigs were boycotted, flyers handed out warning of the evils of Maiden’s music and, in at least one case, giant crosses were carried outside gigs.
“It was mad. They completely got the wrong end of the stick,” recalled Steve Harris, a man with stronger allegiance to the forces of West Ham FC than the Lord of Darkness. “They obviously hadn’t read the lyrics. They just wanted to believe all that rubbish about us being Satanists.”
Not that this did Maiden any harm. Free attention! Great publicity! A ‘Satanic’ seal of approval guaranteed to assure young fans that this was the real stuff! Thus, unbowed and unrepentant, Maiden began work on their next opus, Piece Of Mind. And to set things straight with those who thought the band were in league with Satan (pff, a mere employee of Eddie, according to TNOTB’s sleeve), new drummer Nicko McBrain sent out a backwards message on the new album, to show how you properly take the piss.
“One of the boys taped me in the middle of this Idi Amin routine I used to do when I’d had a few drinks,” he boomed in his enormous, friendly voice. “I remember it distinctly ended with the words, ‘Don’t meddle with things you don’t understand.’ We thought, if people were going to be stupid about this sort of thing, we might as well give them something to be really stupid about, you know?”
The right-wingers could lose their minds working out if they’d been had, as they sat and decrypted the new album’s hidden message. Everyone else could make do with going gaga to Piece Of Mind once again upping Maiden’s ante. It was written in the restaurant of an off-season hotel in Jersey the band had rented for the purpose. Then they headed to the Bahamas to record in the sun (see the Flight Of Icarus video for a shorts-‘n’-vests-tastic document of their holiday hi-jinks).
This wasn’t a record that had ambitions for the big leagues. This was written as a band who were already there, and the sheer size of the choruses and melodies were just not the sort of thing you could fit in an East-End boozer anymore. The galloping charge and battle-cry chorus of The Trooper, for example, told the story of the Charge Of The Light Brigade in the Crimean War in a manner that contained RSC levels of drama and derring-do. Opener Where Eagles Dare – yep, named after the classic Sunday-afternoon WWII flick – marched with the steady, confident boot of an elite military squadron. Steve Harris later revealed that the staccato mid-section is actually meant to sound like a machine gun, which is very, very cool.
To Tame A Land was a sprawling masterpiece that paved the way for future sagas like Alexander The Great, Revelations was an arena-smashing belt-along, and the aforementioned Flight Of Icarus, ahem, soared (though never melts its wings in the heat).
Oddly, though, this last, despite being a classic and a hit, hasn’t been played live by Maiden since before the turn of the century. To Tame A Land has never been played live. And Quest For Fire – a song about battles between man and prehistoric beast opening with the amazing line, ‘In a time when dinosaurs walked the Earth’, which Bruce Dickinson apparently had trouble singing because he was laughing so hard – was dropped from the setlist almost as quickly as it was picked up.
Slightly disappointing that fact may be. But it shows the confidence Maiden had in themselves and their music that they could drop such strong songs (admit it, we all want to shout about dinosaurs live, even if we should shut up about how dino and man occupied the Earth several million years apart). Piece Of Mind proved that The Number Of The Beast wasn’t a fluke, or even the best they had to offer.
See Maiden’s album art as you’ve never seen them before in 7 Iconic Album Sleeves Viewed From Behind.