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Blast from the Past: Iron Maiden Revisited

Eddie has come back from the grave to haunt me. I’ve been playing Powerslave and Piece of Mind wondering what it was that made me such a fan. Around 1984 it was pretty potent stuff. Iron Maiden. Not kidding. I hear they recently had a sold-out stadium show of 100,000 in Brazil. Brazil? Aren’t they from Britain?

One cool thing is that they were such great musicians. One not so cool thing was that weird Eddie guy. I mean Eddie could really scare aware some otherwise potential fans. But besides that, Iron Maiden’s weirdness was how “intellectual”—dare I say—their lyrics became once they were established with Bruce Dickinson (Steve Harris, the bassist is apparently the lyricist). At least I know a great deal of credit given to Rush’s lyrics because Neil Pert writes them and he has a Ph.D., and they don’t write about “typical” subjects like love and fame and sex. Iron Maiden never sings about love. That’s for sure. But what did/do they sing about? It was usually a concept (war, curses, life/death).

They got better at it. By 1983 with Piece of Mind—to my mind—they really hit it lyrically. I like the semi-raw quality it. While the second side really fell off after “The Trooper,” those first five songs of ‘Piece’ seem at a high level for any band.

Powerslave was probably a big step up in terms of production and the level of overall even-ess. For me though songs like “Aces High” were almost too smooth—plus how much is a 14 or 15 year old kid supposed to connect with some kind of fighter pilot idea?

I realize Dickinson is opera trained or whatever, but through the early to late 80s, while they had the operatic powerhouse, they were just really great and relatively unheralded. What hasn’t survived the test of time is the dissonance between their musicianship, concepts, and even lyrics AND their image.

Their image. Yes. It was compelling. I mean at my age I was easily led by the sheer fascination of “Eddie.” It was other things, too. The smell of the new cassette in my hands. The fact that I had gone to Sam Goodies to buy it. Casettes were small, and when they were hot and shiny and unfolded in lengths of eight or more featuring the entire song list of lyrics, was powerful.

I was still holding on strong for their 1986 Somewhere in Time with songs like “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” I was a runner. It applied to me. Sort of. It was kind of cool. And the song did come fourth on what sounded like an even more sophisticated sound, but there was also something less urgent.

Maybe it’s those song concepts that explains why we don’t feel connected with them years later other than through respect about what they’re doing “in their time” upon a nostalgic revisitation. Sort of like going back and playing your Atari for a half hour. On the other hand, they’re finding a whole new generation of fans. Not bad for some scraggly long hairs from mid-70s London.

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