36 Years Ago: Iron Maiden Release ‘Piece of Mind’
It’s easy to understand why Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind remains one of bassist Steve Harris’ favorite albums. The disc, which was recorded less than a year after Number of the Beast and marked the second album with singer Bruce Dickinson, showcased the sound of a band at full steam and plenty more energy to burn.
“Piece of Mind was just special,” Harris told journalist Mick Wall in band’s official biography Run to the Hills. “We felt like we were on a high, and you can hear that mood on the album. Most of all though, it was just the songs. “Between us, I thought we’d really come up with the goods this time.”
The record, which arrived on May 16, 1983, was the first to feature drummer Nicko McBrain (ex-Trust, Pat Travers), who replaced Clive Burr, cementing the historic powerhouse lineup of Harris, McBrain, vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Reportedly, Burr couldn’t keep up with the band’s demanding touring schedule, and McBrain was only too happy to take over, demonstrating his prowess straight from the start with the opening drum salvo of album-opener “Where Eagles Dare.”
Iron Maiden wrote most of the songs for Piece of Mind at Hotel le Chalet in New Jersey during the hotel’s off-season, and even rehearsed in the restaurant. Then in February, 1983 the band traveled to the Bahamas to record at Nassau’s Compass Point Studios with Martin Birch, who they had worked with since 1981’s Killers. When they returned from the Bahamas sunburnt from too much beach time, Iron Maiden mixed the album at Electric Lady Studio in New York. That so much of the album was created in the United States is significant. One of the pioneers of the New Wave of the British Heavy Metal movement, Iron Maiden were fiercely proud of their homeland, but, like Judas Priest, they were eager to make a mark on America.
While the band already had a strong cult following here, it was the mid-paced, strongly melodic Piece of Mind track “Flight of Icarus” that broke U.S. radio, hitting No. 12 on the Billboard Rock Radio Charts, helping the album peak at No. 14 on the Billboard album chart (in the UK, the disc entered the charts at No. 3). While the band’s label made the right move by releasing the song as the first single, the opinion on the song was split. “Steve never liked it,” Dickinson said in the book Run to the Hills. “He thought it was too slow, but I wanted it to be that rocksteady sort of beat. I knew it would get onto American radio if we kept it that way, and I was right.”
The calculated decision to introduce Maiden to mainstream America with “Flight of Icarus” was astute, but the Piece of Mind song with the most longevity and crowd appeal was “The Trooper.” Harris wrote the galloping, guitar-blaring number about a soldier in the Battle of Balaclava, which took place during the Crimean War in 1854 and based the lyrics in part on the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” The song was just one of the literary or film-themed songs on Piece of Mind.
Harris wrote “To Tame a Land” after reading Frank Herbert’s Dune (the track was originally called “Dune,” but fearing legal action the band changed the name). The bassist wrote “Where Eagle Dare” partially about a 1968 Brian G. Hutton movie, and “Still Life” was inspired by short story by Ramsey Campbell called “The Inhabitant of the Lake.”
While Harris, as usual, was the main contributor to the album, Dickinson wrote “Revelations” and he and Smith penned “Flight of Icarus.” Most of the songs on Piece of Mind are based around serious themes and the music, though triumphant, is largely fist-to-the-floor metal. Still, the band couldn’t resist having a bit of fun by mocking those who had already accused Iron Maiden of being Satanists after Number of the Beast came out. Between the songs “The Trooper” and “Still Life,” Iron Maiden included a brief section of backwards masking. In his best impression of British actor John Bird imitating African dictator Idi Amin, McBrain says, “What ho said the t'ing with the three 'bonce,' do not meddle with things you don't understand.”
"We were sick and tired of being labeled as Devil worshippers and all this bollocks by these f---ing 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!,’” McBrain told Wall. “So 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.”
By July, 1983, Piece of Mind went gold, thanks largely to the success of “Flight of Icarus” and by 1986 it was platinum. Iron Maiden supported the album with the World Piece Tour, which launched in Europe in late April 1983 and crossed into North America that summer. The first U.S. date was in Casper, Wyo., on June 21 and the band remained in the States until Oct. 24 in St. Louis. The only hitch came when Dickinson was stricken with bronchitis and the band had to reschedule three shows.
Saxon, Fastway and Coney Hatch opened most of the shows, but Quiet Riot took the opening slot between Sept. 30 in Chicago and Oct. 21 in Atlanta.
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.
See Where We Ranked 'Piece of Mind' Among All of Iron Maiden's Albums