40 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Comes Into Their Own on ‘Piece of Mind’
Iron Maiden’s lovable mascot Eddie lost his mind (not to mention his grizzled mane) on May 16, 1983. Heavy metal fans across the globe, in turn, lost theirs over Piece of Mind.
For many U.S. fans in particular, Iron Maiden's fourth studio album remains a sentimental favorite, being the first piece of new product they experienced after learning about the group during their tour in support of 1982's watershed The Number of the Beast LP.
For the members of Iron Maiden, Piece of Mind was instead a pretty pivotal, pressure-packed album. It arrived on the heels of a well-received predecessor (though members of the clergy may beg to differ), yet another lineup re-shuffling (a curious obstacle shared by every Maiden album until then), and the everyday uncertainties associated with rock 'n' roll careers.
Yet they set about methodically writing heavy metal history with remarkable consistency, growing from strength to strength throughout the first half of the '80s.
Band leader and bassist Steve Harris once again led the creative charge behind Piece of Mind, single-handedly crafting its rousing, semi-speed-metal opener, "Where Eagles Dare"; its majestic closing epic, "To Tame a Land" (based on Frank Herbert's Dune novels); its relentlessly galloping centerpiece, "The Trooper"; and the comparatively modest "Quest for Fire."
Luckily, Harris was now able to count on more significant help with these songwriting chores, thanks to the steadily increasing contributions of guitarist Adrian Smith and the emergence of vocalist Bruce Dickinson, who had joined too late to add his ideas to The Number of the Beast.
Listen to Iron Maiden's 'Revelations'
Smith and Dickinson penned Piece of Mind's breakout single, "Flight of Icarus"; a serviceable album cut in "Sun and Steel"; and also collaborated with Harris on the clever, future live favorite, "Die With Your Boots On." Dickinson also showed what he was capable of on the multi-faceted "Revelations."
Founding guitarist Dave Murray pitched in by co-writing the interestingly nuanced, lyrically inspired "Still Life" with Harris. The song was complete with faux-Satanic backward messages for an intro, designed to freak out all those who wanted to freak out over such things.
Finally, Piece of Mind signaled the arrival of new drummer Nicko McBrain. He filled the rather large shoes left by the much-loved Clive Burr with greater technical proficiency, in place of Burr’s celebrated "feel." McBrain did it without sacrificing his personal, virtually unique, jazz-tight drum sound, which several critics actually deemed "not forceful enough" for metal at the time.
No one could have known at the time, but Iron Maiden had, at last, secured the "classic" lineup that would remain unchanged (including the vital support team of strong-armed managers Rod Smallwood and Andy Taylor, producer extraordinaire Martin Birch and even-faithful cover illustrator, Derek Riggs, among others) for their decisive, glorious push towards universal recognition over the next five years.
And to think it all began with the simple decision to lobotomize their mascot.
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