by Joseph Tingle
30 years ago, Iron Maiden were in the Bahamas finishing up the writing and recording of Piece of Mind, their fourth album overall, and one of their most timeless and enduring. Nicko McBrain had just joined the band replacing Clive Burr on drums, and vocalist Bruce Dickinson was stepping up- no longer “just the singer” but now a creative force of the band alongside bassist and band founder Steve Harris.
Maiden’s previous album, The Number of the Beast, often gets credit for being the definitive “classic” Iron Maiden album. But go see Iron Maiden today, thirty years later, and you’re seeing mostly the lineup that produced Piece of Mind. And, in retrospect, it’s hard not to detect the creative influences of Bruce Dickinson, who had started writing Iron Maiden lyrics for the first time.
Dickinson was, and still is, a pretty interesting guy. He has always been passionate about history and intellectual topics. He was also fond of military things, creating a “war games” club at his school and serving in the Territorial Army as an adult before deciding to pursue a degree. Dickinson was also interested in fencing, literature and aviation: interests which he’d dabble in professionally later. Today, Dickinson has written a book, won fencing competitions and pilots professionally. In retrospect, you listen to Piece of Mind and you can’t help but realize that Dickinson wasn’t just influencing Iron Maiden; he was influencing the band, too, and they in turn were becoming more like him.
Just listen to some of the Dickinson-penned (or, at least, co-penned) songs like “Sun and Steel”, “Die with Your Boots On” and “Flight of the Icarus”. Or, listen to non-Dickinson penned songs like “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Trooper”. Bruce Dickinson’s energy and interests permeate through Piece of Mind and Maiden are a better band because of it.
Don’t get me wrong. The Number of the Beast is a great album. But Dickinson was only really half-involved in it: Somewhere between The Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind, Dickinson transformed from Iron Maiden’s singer to Iron Maiden’s front man and creative force. He also transformed into one of Iron Maiden’s best lyricists. Just listen:
She came to me with a serpent’s kiss,
As the eye of the sun rose on her lips.
Moonlight catches silver tears that cry.
Iron Maiden were already an established band when they recruited Dickinson, but he was a natural leader who was just as intelligent and creative as he was a vocal powerhouse. Thirty years later, Dickinson’s contributions to Iron Maiden still stand-out among the band’s best material and Piece of Mind stands out as one of the band’s finest records.