Memories Of The Mind – Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind album at 40

Text by Phil Ashdown.

Iron Maiden had unwittingly given themselves a bit of a problem as 1983 dawned. How were they to follow the success of an immediate classic album such as The Number Of The Beast?

Well, the year did not get of to a good start when drummer Clive Burr announced he was leaving the band. He was an immensely popular figure with those within the rock community and fans alike, even being voted the fourth best drummer in a Kerrang! Readers poll. His replacement was quickly announced as one Nicko McBrain who was drumming for French rockers Trust at the time. In fact Trust had supported Maiden on their UK and French dates of their 1981 Killers tour. McBrain was a well-respected figure in rock music circles having cut his drumming teeth with the likes of Pat Travers and Streetwalkers. This left just Steve Harris and Dave Murray from the Maiden members who originally signed for EMI just three years earlier.

In January the band headed off to Jersey to begin the writing process for album number four. As it was out of season they took over the hotel Le Chalet and rehearsed in its restaurant. Steve Harris told Kerrang! ‘The songs came together really well’ with Bruce Dickinson contractually being able to join in the song-writing for the first time. In February they flew off to The Bahamas and Compass Point Studios in Nassau, hoping to finish recording in March and have the album out before the UK tour in May. After recording was indeed finished in March with producer Martin Birch at the helm, he went to Electric Lady Studios in New York to mix the album.

The working title for the album was ‘Food For Thought’ as during discussions with artist Derek Riggs it was decided that mascot Eddie was to be lobotomised on the front cover. During the writing stage in a pub in Jersey the title was eventually finalised as Piece Of Mind. The album was to be the first not to be named after a song on the record.

Preceding the albums release was a new single Flight Of Icarus with a non-album track, a cover of Montrose’ ‘I Got The Fire’. Paul Suter’s review in Sounds said “Flight Of Icarus lacks the necessary fire, coming over rather tired as a result-it’s not bad, but it’s nothing special either’.

As excitement built amongst fans as we anticipated the album release with just the single and press adverts to go on, the album was finally released on 16 May. I remember buying it at Sundown Records which was near Waterloo Station on The Cut, in my lunch hour. Immediately I loved the gatefold sleeve with the front cover featuring a lobotomised, shaven-headed Eddie chained in his padded cell. Across the centre spread is the lyrics, credits and a suitably moody image of the band settling down to a hearty feast, including a platter of Eddie’s brain!  In a lower corner on the back side of the album cover, there is this message: “No synthesizers or ulterior motives”.

On listening to the album it was obvious from opener Where Eagles Dare that the band meant business. Nicko McBrain making his prescence felt with a thunderous drum fill to kick the song off. It soon became obvious that Maiden had fully embraced the world of escapist fantasy metal and using their love and knowledge of books and movies.

Film and literature references and influences littered the album, such as ‘To Tame A Land’ inspired by Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune. ‘The Trooper’ influenced by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Charge Of The Light Brigade. Film references included the Brian G Hutton 1968 movie ‘Where Eagles Dare’ which was scripted by writer Alistair MacLean. Other influences included Greek mythology (Flight Of Icarus) and occultist Aleister Crowley (Revelations). ‘To Tame A Land’ was originally intended to be called Dune after the novel but the band were refused permission to use the title. They received a message from Herbert’s lawyers stating “Frank Herbert doesn’t like rock bands, particularly heavy rock bands, and especially bands like Iron Maiden”.

Second track, Revelations is a solo Dickinson composition and is a slick mini-epic with time changes a plenty. The harmony driven single is up next and is a solid enough slice of Maiden meat, and the only song us fans were familiar with. Side One closer Die With Your Boots On swiftly follows and has what I consider Bruce Dickinson’s finest performance on the album. Flipping the platter over revealed The Trooper which has since become the bands anthem and arguably their most famous image of the flag waving Eddie that was to grace the single release later in the year. Who could have guessed this song would eventually be the brand of a world-conquering beer empire?

On the sixth track ‘Still Life’ the band included a ‘hidden message’ that could only be understood if played backwards. This was a deliberate joke against those critics that accused them of being satanists. According to Nicko McBrain “We were sick and tired of being labelled as Devil worshippers and all this bollocks by these fucking morons in the States, so we thought, ‘Right, you want to take the piss? We’ll show you how to take the bleeding piss, my son!’ 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. I remember it distinctly ended with the words, ‘Don’t meddle wid t’ings yo 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?”

A couple of sub-four-minute songs follow which at the time seemed aggressive, well played and have since become overlooked amongst the band’s catalogue.

Album closer To Tame A Land is a seven minute-plus epic with some truly tongue twisting Harris lyrics with his now trademark time change complexities. A fantastic closing statement which I would go on to devour so many times over the coming days, weeks and months.

The album would eventually reach No.4 on the UK album charts and eventually spending eighteen weeks in the charts

Kerrang! magazine reviewer, Dante Bonutto said “The four-track first side is consistently impressive, with opener Where Eagles Dare is enjoyable Boy’s Own stuff. And ‘Revelations’, which follows, is better still.” Continuing..”With the Birch production rippling muscle and Nicko sliding almost imperceptibly on to a drum-stool still warm from the attentions of Clive Burr, this is close to a v. good album, a notch above NOTB certainly..”

Later in 1983 Kerrang! Published a poll of the greatest metal albums of all time and Piece Of Mind was number one with Number Of The Beast at number two. Proof of Maiden’s growing popularity among metal fans both at home and around the world.

Sadly, once again the album was not released until the UK tour had started on 2nd May in Hull and concluded 22 shows later after four sell-out nights at Hammersmith Odeon on 28th May.

This gave me only two weeks to get acquainted with the album before attending the third of the Hammersmith gigs on 27th May, paying £4 for the privilege of hearing no-less than six of the new songs for the first time, only Flight Of Icarus had been released previously. Unlike today’s internet sharing of every detail of concert content, back in ’83 we had just the music press that might show a live photo, in black & white of course or any pictures there might be in the tour programme. Therefore, fans had little idea what the live set would look like until we got to the venue. As the support band played Maiden’s equipment was hidden away behind black drapes until they took to the stage.

The impressive three-part lighting rig was the best I had seen up to that point, with chrome ramps, stairs and lighting all around. The tour reached a climax in Dortmund, Germany, in a televised performance when Eddie was beaten on the ground and had his brain removed. This segment was deemed too violent and was cut from the broadcast.

Overall, Piece Of Mind was well received by fans and sales were very healthy and it certainly helped stabilise the line up for a good few years to come, especially with the now well-established production skills of Martin Birch at the helm. The music press gave it a luke-warm reception, due mainly to it having to follow up on the classic Number Of The Beat album, but it has given Maiden some live favourites, especially the perennial Trooper which has stayed in their setlist ever since.

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