piece of mind

#789: Run 2 the Hills

A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 1:  Run to the Hills!

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #789:  Run 2 the Hills

I still remember the first time I heard Iron Maiden.  I actually remember many childhood listening sessions involving Iron Maiden.  Some were solo, some were in groups.  We could talk as the day is long about how amazing Iron Maiden were in 1985.  Are they actually the greatest heavy metal band of all time?  Sure, but we don’t need to get into that here.

The two albums with the greatest personal impact in the early days were Piece of Mind and Live After Death.  It was those two albums that I owned on vinyl, and therefore had the lyric sheets to examine.  Playing them today enables me to use a sort of spiritual time machine.  I can transport my consciousness into the body of my 12 year old self and feel what it was like listening to Maiden when it was all new to me.

Iron Maiden had a forbidden quality, unspoken but undeniable.  They seemed far, far more dangerous than anything I’d been interested in before.  Styx?  Michael Jackson?  Kids’ stuff.  Iron Maiden had historical lyrics, good for educational value, sure.  For a young Catholic in the mid-80s, they were definitely adult entertainment.  Suddenly, the lyrics I was hearing were dominated by death, something that teachers and parents tried to steer kids away from.  Early Maiden is thick with death, like a metal mortuary.

“Fly to live, do or die.”

“To ashes his grave.”

“If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.”

“You’ll die as you lived in the flash of the blade.”

“Iron Maiden wants you for dead.”

“For the love of living death.”

“Death in life is your ideal.”

“He killed our tribes, he killed our creed.”

“Fought for the splendor, fought to the death.”

“They dropped down dead, 200 men.”

Heavy stuff.  Adult frowns could be felt through the walls as we listened to our Iron Maiden albums.  At that age, every time I listened to Maiden, or Priest, or Sabbath, a little bit of the Catholic guilt always lurked behind me.  “This is bad stuff,” whispered the voice in my head.  “Not wholesome.  Very dangerous.  You’re playing with fire.”

I spent a lot of time with my best friend Bob pouring over the lyrics.  He didn’t have Live After Death on LP like I did, only cassette, so my lyric sheet was indispensable.  By no measure did we understand all that we were reading, but we picked up enough.  We all knew the legend of Icarus, so “Flight of Icarus” was cut and dried.  We picked up on a lot of it, even if we didn’t understand every line and verse.  It was clear their songs were stories, like mini-movies.  And entertaining they were!  We had actual discussions about this stuff, in between sessions of arguing about which Maiden member was coolest.  (I liked Adrian best.  Nobody picked Dave Murray.  George Balasz used to say that Dave looked like he was always thinking “I got something dirty on my mind”.  The rest of us disagreed.)

I was always mentally prepared for any confrontation with any Catholic teacher who took issue with my choice of listening to Iron Maiden.  I gathered some of their more educational lyrics, like “The Trooper”, which I could dissect on a dime.  It even taught me a new word — “acrid”.  I noted that even in some of the most negative sounding songs, like “Die With Your Boots On”, there was a positive twist.  “The truth of all predictions is always in your hands.”  We didn’t know what “Die With Your Boots On” was really about (Nostradamus); that one really eluded us.  The message that we honed in on was “the future is not set” and nobody is doomed to a particular fate.

One track that I thought the teachers would have objected to the most was “Powerslave”.  Lines like “I’m a god, why can’t I live on?” would be considered blasphemous.  Later on, after learning some Egyptian history in highschool, the lyrics suddenly made complete sense.  The pharoah was considered by his people to be a living god.  That’s it!  Now the lyrics made sense.  The pharoah, in first-person storytelling, approaches death and realizes too late that he will not live forever.  Their faith is a lie.  He fears death, and after succumbing, he feels pity for his successor.  “For he is a man and a god, and he will die too.”  It’s quite a poignant tale when taken apart.  It would make a fantastic short story (as I tuck the idea away for future expansion).

And “Aces High”?  That song was so significant that I wrote an entire chapter about it.  When school finally got around to covering the Battle of Britain in the highschool, I already knew the story.  I knew it because Iron Maiden were the launching point.  My dad took over my World War II education from there.  If I was going to be learning history from long-haired-hooligan music, he was going to make sure I knew the whole story.  They showed the ensemble film Battle of Britain in class, but for me it was a re-run of “movie night with Dad”.

Maiden passed the lyrical integrity test for a 12 year old.  The didn’t sing lovey-dovey nonsense that I couldn’t relate to.  Not all the songs could be brilliant, of course.  Even then, I knew “Quest for Fire” wasn’t good.  “In a time, when dinosaurs walked the Earth…”  What!?  No!  I knew that humans and dinosaurs weren’t contemporary to each other; how come Steve Harris didn’t?  One minor misstep.  Most importantly, Maiden passed the feel test.  The power of the music combined with Bruce Dickinson’s confident, defiant air-raid siren voice.  It stirred a boy’s sense of personal strength.  You could feel it.  The effect was almost like a drug.  Almost, but far more nourishing for the soul.

It doesn’t take much to regain those old feelings.  The right setting and the right Maiden albums are all it takes.  Then I’m running free.  Yeah!

#730: It’s 2019. How do I play a record backwards?

GETTING MORE TALE #730: It’s 2019. How do I play a record backwards?

The fellows from Spinal Tap once lamented that there must be a conspiracy between the Dutch and the Japanese to eliminate any audio medium that you can play backwards.

There’s no proof, but Spinal Tap are not the kind of band who require proof.  The Dutch (Phillips) developed the compact cassette.  The Dutch and Japanese (Phillips and Sony) created the CD together.  You simply couldn’t play either format backwards, like you could with the good ol’ LP.  When the record was “finally” replaced by CD, it really did seem like playing music backwards to look for hidden messages was over and done.  How was Satan to communicate with teenagers like he did in the 1980s?

The 90s and early 2000s were a dark time for backwards messages.  It seemed like playing albums backwards would forever remain a thing of the past.  It was actually a real thing that some people did!  I have.  I played my Iron Maiden Piece of Mind LP backwards to find out what the hell Nicko McBrain was saying at the start of “Still Life”.  With the record on the platter, I cued the needle and spun the record backwards with my index finger.  It didn’t work very well, because I couldn’t keep a constant speed.  The pitch was all over the place.  Plus Nicko was using a comical accent, with reverb added.  Playing it backwards with a wobbly pitch meant I still could not tell what Nicko was saying!

This method of playing records backward wasn’t good for the player, the needle, or the vinyl.  We knew that; we just didn’t care.  We had cheap shit and it really didn’t make a difference.  The time to play a record backwards was when you had cheap kiddie equipment.


“Oh my God, Chicago kicks ass!”

So how can kids play music backwards today?  Without being able to play back-masked messages, can they truly enjoy the albums as completely as we did?  Thankfully, playing your records backwards is easier today than ever.  Thanks to “computer magic” (using Spinal Tap’s words) you can do it quickly and more easily than ever before.

STEP 1:  Download Audacity.  It’s free, easy to use, and very solid.

STEP 2:  Record your vinyl (forwards) into Audacity using a USB turntable.  Or, even easier:  load any track from your computer into Audacity.  For this demonstration we’re using the aforementioned “Still Life” by Iron Maiden.  The backwards spoken word Nicko bit is isolated by deleting the entire rest of the song.  (I’ve also boosted the volume on this part, which is quite quiet.  Now you can see the waveform more easily.)

STEP 3:  Highlight the entire track.  Click “Effects” and “Reverse”.

STEP 4:  Press play!  With just a glance you can see the waveform is completely reversed.

What’s Nicko saying?  Even playing it backwards at a constant pitch, it’s still impossible to tell what it is without enlisting the help of the internet, who have already solved this riddle.

“Hmm, hmm!” sniffs Nicko.  “What hoo said de t’ing wit de t’ree bonce.”   Roughly translated:  “What said the thing with the three heads?”  You might recognise “what hoo said de t’ing” as one of Nicko’s favourite phrases.  It appears again on Maiden’s “Black Bart Blues”.  Then he warns, “Dooon’t meddle wit t’ings you don’ unnerstand.”  Good advice for anyone.  Then finally, a belch!  It’s still all but unintelligible, even digitally reversed.

We had much  more success with an older record, Great White North by Bob & Doug McKenzie.  On the track “Black Holes”, you can choose to highlight and reverse only the backwards part of the track.  When you do it in Audacity, it’s a perfect digital reverse.  You can play it and it’s indistinguishable from any of the rest of the album.  In the waveform below, you can see the reversed section highlighted.  When you play the whole track like this, it’s perfectly seamless.

Now you can say that you learned something useful today.  Go ahead and try it on your Slayer albums now!

 

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Best of the Beast (1996 2 CD edition)

Part 22 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Best of the Beast (1996)

I’m not sure what prompted Iron Maiden to put out their first greatest hits disc in 1996, but at least they did it in style.  Originally available as a limited edition 2 CD book set, it was pretty extravagant packaging for the time.   My only beef is by the nature of such packaging, the paper sleeves will always scratch your discs, 100% of the time.

This album was also available in a standard edition single disc, with the songs in a different running order.  I don’t have that one so I’m not going to talk aboot it.

The 2 disc version, perhaps to emphasize that Blaze Bayley is the current Maiden vocalist, starts at the present and then rewinds all the way back to the beginning, closing with The Soundhouse Tapes!  An interesting approach indeed.  As a listening experience I’m not sure that it works that well.

Since we’re starting at the present, the album kicks off with a new song.  “Virus” is 6:30 of same-old same-old X Factor Maiden, but not as good as anything on that album.   It drags and drags for three minutes before finally kicking into gear, but it is otherwise repetitive and boring until then.  Lyrically, it is another attack on the sicknesses in society, much like “Be Quick Or Be Dead” and “Justice of the Peace” were.

Then back in time one year, to “Sign of the Cross”, the dramatic 11 minute epic from The X Factor, as well as “Man on the Edge”.  (I would have preferred “Lord of the Flies” to “Man on the Edge”, but perhaps “Man” was the bigger single of the two.)

To bridge into the Fear of the Dark album, a new live version of “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is featured, with Blaze Bayley singing.  It’s a good live version, but it’s immediately obvious that Blaze is no Bruce.

Bruce takes over on the next track, “Be Quick Or Be Dead”, and we’re back in the saddle.  Singles (including the popular live version of “Fear of the Dark”) and album tracks are counted down from 1993 to 1986’s Somewhere In Time album, ending disc 1 with “Wasted Years”, a great closer.  My beef here:  I would have preferred the single “Stranger In A Strange Land” to the album track “Heaven Can Wait” (but I know the Heavy Metal OverloRd doesn’t agree with me!)

Disc 2 is the glory years, if you will, everything from Live After Death to the beginning.  It begins with the epic “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, a ballsy move for a greatest hits album, and the live version at that.  Chasing it is the live single version of “Running Free”.  Then we count them down, all the singles from Powerslave to “Run To The Hills”, plus “Where Eagles Dare” and  “Hallowed Be Thy Name” thrown in for good measure.

Then it’s the Di’Anno years, which are given an unfortunately brief expose.  “Wrathchild”, from Killers  is one of the best songs from that era, but the only included track from that album.  Maiden’s first epic, “Phantom of the Opera” and the single “Sanctuary” represent the debut Iron Maiden.  Finally, an unreleased track from The Soundhouse Tapes sessions (“Strange World”), and the rare Soundhouse version of “Iron Maiden” close the set.  To read my review of The Soundhouse Tapes and these tracks, click here.

There was also a 4 LP vinyl edition available, with 7 extra tracks:  “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son”,  “The Prisoner”, “Killers”, “Remember Tomorrow”, an exclusive live version of “Revelations” from the Piece of Mind tour, plus the final two songs from The Soundhouse Tapes, “Prowler” and “Invasion”. You can read a story about the 4 LP edition by clicking here.

And there you have it, Maiden’s first greatest hits set, with lots of the hits and plenty of rarities thrown in for the collectors.  I confess that I don’t listen to it often, and this time for this review was the first time in roughly two years.

The cover art was once again by Derek Riggs, doing a sort of mash-up of his (and nobody else’s) Eddie’s.  It’s a suitably glorious piece of art for such a monument of metal.  The inside of the book is loaded with concert dates, lyrics, liner notes, and chart positions, as well as more Eddie’s and photos!

I still want to talk about the single, “Virus”, but I think that it should get an article of its own.  Check back soon for that!

Curiosity: the cover features an ad for the never-to-be Iron Maiden video game, Melt!  Maiden did eventually release a video game, but we’re not going there yet….

For the 2 CD edition of Best of the Beast:

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Iron Maiden – Piece Of Mind (1983, 1996 bonus disc)

Part 6 of my series of Iron Maiden reviews!

IRON MAIDEN – Piece Of Mind (1983, 1996 bonus disc)

Exit Clive Burr.  Enter that hilarious crazed drum dynamo Nicko McBrain!  Surely one of the most beloved characters to ever grace an Iron Maiden album, the band decided to kick off Nicko’s first album with a drum flurry.  Like machine guns strafing the sky, Nicko opened “Where Eagles Dare” with a decidedly skillful salvo.

Piece Of Mind is one of Steve Harris’ favourite albums, and one of mine too.  Each of its nine songs is worthy of the album; no filler.  The subject matter is increasingly more interesting to me as well, as Steve punders history, literature and movies.  “Where Eagles Dare” was based on the classic Clint Eastwood film of the same name, and does not disappoint.  It is over six minutes of soaring vocals and solos, with the band riffing steadily behind it.

This is followed by one of Maiden’s epic slow tunes, and first ever Bruce Dickinson writing credit on a Maiden album, “Revelations”.  Almost seven minutes long, “Revelations” is lyrically complex and melodically incredible.  I recall one of my old highschool buddies, Andy Kandic, sang “Revelations” at a highschool audition because he wanted something that would blow the judges away.  This is one of Bruce’s best vocal performances ever, but not the last of his writing contributions.

The first of Bruce’s many collaborations with Adrian Smith is next.  The hit single “Flight of Icarus” is a shorter number, the type of hard rock song that Maiden occasionally pull out for use as a single.  Its chorus soars like the title character, without that annoying crash at the end!  This is certainly one of Maiden’s most memorable songs.

As if that wasn’t enough to exhaust you, Bruce and Adrian teamed up with Steve to pen “Die With Your Boots On”.  Right from first listen, this was one of my favourite Maiden tunes.  Loosely based on Nostradamus, the lyrics are great!  “In thirteen the Beast is rising, The Frenchman did surmise, Through earthquakes and starvation, The warlord will arise.”  But the bottom line according to Maiden is “The truth of all predictions is always in your hands!”  If you’re gonna die, die with your boots on.  Great song, great singalong chorus.

Side two is kicked off by one of the greatest Maiden songs of all time:  “The Trooper”.  This is one that has steadfastly remained in setlists, even through the Blaze Bayley years.  It’s a great example of the trademark Maiden gallop.  Lyrically this one is about the Charge of the Light Brigade, and the Crimean War.  This is where I think Maiden deserves some credit from the educational field.  Sure, a five-minute song is not going to sum up the Crimean War, but it got many, many kids into history.  My father was always impressed that I had interest and knowledge in history, partly thanks to Maiden songs.  He always encouraged me to listen to songs like “The Trooper”, and then follow it with some reading.


Dave Murray’s “Still Life” slows the pace, introduced by Nicko’s backwards Idi Amin impression!  Then it picks up, big time.  This haunting number is a story of possession, perhaps along the lyrical lines of “The Number of the Beast” and the later “Dance of Death”.  I love this song.  It was rarely played live, but can be found in live version on a later B-side.

“Still Life” is followed by two lesser known cuts.  Slightly less impressive than the rest of the album, “Quest For Fire” and “Sun and Steel” both blow away many songs by the average metal bands out there.  Both are short hard rockers, under four minutes in length, anchored by memorable choruses.  “Quest For Fire” is not surprisingly based on the film of the same name, but isn’t quite as exciting as the previous stories on this album. “Sun and Steel” though is a fencing number, of course written by Bruce with Adrian.  The protangonist killed his first man at 13, and goes on to live a life of battle with the blade.  This would not be Bruce’s last foray into fencing with his lyrics.

Finally, another long Steve Harris epic ends this album:  “To Tame A Land”.  Musically and lyrically very complex, it is based on Dune by Frank Herbert.  It is very, very difficult to sing along to this labyrinth of lyrics:  “He is the Kwisatz Haderach, he was born of Caledon, and will take the Gom Jabbar.”  Without reading the books, you’ll be lost.  After reading the books however, I thoroughly enjoyed this one.  Today this is one of my favourite Maiden classics.  It’s certainly hard to get into instantly, but once those tricky melodies and riffs burrow their way into your head, they are there to stay!

They couldn’t get permission from Herbert to use the name “Dune” as the title of the song.  Reportedly, when asked, his people responded, “Mr. Herbert does not like rock bands, especially heavy metal bands, and especially heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden!”  A shame that was, as “To Tame A Land” was the gateway drug for many to discover the delights of planet Dune.

On Derek Riggs’ cover art, Eddie has been lobotomized, chained up in a padded cell.  An open window and a disembodied hand tease him on the back cover.  This would have made a great gatefold sleeve!  I always imagined that Derek was sequentially trying to tell a story.  Previously, we saw that Eddie was pulling the Devil’s strings on The Number of the Beast.  But if you looked carefully, you would see that the Devil was really pulling Eddie’s.  Now Eddie’s been captured and lobotomized.  Further albums covers show Eddie’s burial, resurrection, cybernetic enhancement, and his offspring.  I like to think that there was a hidden narrative going on with the artwork.

The bonus CD contains the two B-sides from this album’s sessions, both covers:  Montrose’s “I’ve Got The Fire” and Jethro Tull’s “Cross Eyed Mary”.  “I’ve Got The Fire” was previously covered by the Di’Anno-led version of Maiden, but this version’s even better.  The solos and Bruce’s vocal brings the song to a whole new level, although it does lose some of Di’Anno’s punk-like reckless abandon.  “Cross Eyed Mary” is not my favourite Tull song of all time, but I’m not surprised that Maiden are fans!  This was probably a good choice, and Maiden do a solid job on it.

Not to overstate the obvious, but Piece of Mind is one of Maiden’s all time best.  5/5 stars