Women In Uniform – The Iron Maiden Singles Series

On through the singles series we go, today we essentially re-visit the very first one. While Live Plus One was a Japan-only release, this one was released in a wide variety of formats and to many different countries.

Already with the cover art we have some differences in versions. Posted above is the typical cover for most of the versions. It features British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in an army uniform with a gun, ready to ambush Eddie as he strolls along with a few lovely ladies. Maggie’s revenge is for Eddie killing her on the cover the of the Sanctuary single.

Now you can see that I have a different version of the release and a fairly generic cover that’s just the debut album cover with some hype text. I don’t know if they did this in case they needed a censored version of the cover, but it seems the Thatcher original got to market in good shape.

Women In Uniform

On now to the songs, and the feature track this time is a cover. The original was a very recent tune from 1978, the original artist were Skyhooks, an Australian glam rock act. Skyhooks had achieved some level of success in their home country but didn’t break through internationally. Women In Uniform as a Skyhooks single charted at number 8 in Australia and hit a modest 73 on the UK charts.

Iron Maiden were persuaded to record the song by their management team and record label. The recording process did not go the way Iron Maiden wanted, with information provided in Mick Wall’s 2004 edition of his biography of Iron Maiden, Run To The Hills: The Authorised Biography Of Iron Maiden.

Steve Harris and his outfit were keen on recording a heavy version of the song. The record label hired producer Tony Platt, who had worked as an engineer when Mutt Lange produced his run of AC/DC albums. Platt was under instructions to get a hit out of the Maiden recording sessions, and tinkered with the mix behind Harris’ back. When Harris found out, he canned Platt and did the final mix himself.

Harris was always dissatisfied with how Women In Uniform came out and this led to a deep distrust of outside interference in his music after that. It wouldn’t matter much, as Iron Maiden’s remarkable run with Martin Birch as producer was just on the horizon. But the incident might have contributed greatly to a “control freak” approach from Harris, which has been a topic of much discussion in Maiden circles in years since.

Women In Uniform was a decent single for Iron Maiden, heading to 35 on the UK charts. The band also filmed a music video for the song, the band’s first. This was also a bit before MTV was a thing so it was something of a novel concept for an up and coming act to film a video. This was the only time Maiden released a cover as a single – while that statement isn’t technically true, the other instance is a very limited promo item and also I don’t own that one so as it stands, this one is all we need to worry about.

The single is noteworthy as the final work of guitarist Dennis Stratton in Iron Maiden. Stratton left the band soon after, citing musical differences, but truly due to conflicts with Steve Harris and manager Ron Smallwood. Stratton reportedly was complicit in helping Tony Platt attempt to re-engineer this song as a radio hit, so this might actually be his reason for exiting. He would be replaced by some guy named Adrian…

There is another issue surrounding the song, and that is how it is viewed in a modern context. In short, it isn’t viewed highly. It is considered crude and objectifying to women, and has been dismissed by a fair number of people. Sure, it’s a bit raunchy, but there’s far worse out there. I honestly don’t see the huge problem with it – the lyrics are pretty dumb on the surface and this isn’t a song that should be taken seriously. I don’t think the song is that bad and I feel like it’s a bit of posturing over what are some juvenile at worst lyrics. I don’t have a problem with people wanting their music to be more conscientious, but I think this song is barely a blip on the radar and isn’t worth the hassle.

The rest of this 12-inch single has two live cuts that are also found on the Live Plus One release – Phantom Of The Opera and Drifter. I’ve already been over them (link is below on the list if you missed it) so I’ll just leave things at that.

Three more cuts from Paul Di’Anno’s tenure in Maiden await. Also the list continues growing, at least for as long as I keep finding decently priced stuff. That time might soon be at an end.

The Iron Maiden Singles Series

Live! + One

Running Free

Sanctuary

Women In Uniform (you are here)

Maiden Japan

Purgatory

Twilight Zone/Wrathchild

Run To The Hills

The Number Of The Beast

Flight Of Icarus

The Trooper

2 Minutes To Midnight

Aces High

Run To The Hills (live)

Running Free (live)

Stranger In A Strange Land

Wasted Years

The Clairvoyant

Infinite Dreams

Holy Smoke

Be Quick Or Be Dead

From Here To Eternity

Out Of The Silent Planet

Rainmaker

Different World

The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg

Empire Of The Clouds

Album Of The Week – January 23, 2023

This week it’s a deep dive into one of the pivotal albums of thrash metal. This record has come to be the defining moment of one of thrash’s most enduring institutions and would launch the group into heavy metal royalty.

Anthrax – Among The Living

Released March 16, 1987 via Megaforce and Island Records

My Favorite Tracks – I Am The Law, Among The Living, A Skeleton In The Closet

Anthrax had been a band on the rise after their second album Spreading The Disease. The group had toured extensively with a variety of metal luminaries and were in Europe opening for Metallica when a bus accident claimed the life of Cliff Burton. Anthrax were motivated by grief at the loss of their friend and peer, and hit the studio to vent their anguish. They chose to record at Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas, and purely because it was where Iron Maiden had laid down their classic run of albums.

Anthrax worked with super producer Eddie Kramer on the album. Kramer has an extensive list of works to his credit, for my own purposes he is best known as the caretaker to the legacy of Jimi Hendrix. Among The Living was recorded in quick and easy fashion, but then Kramer had an idea for a mix laden with more modern techniques. Anthrax did not like Kramer’s embellishments and it was decided to proceed with the original, dry mix. A wise choice, as what was released truly captured the music in its pure form.

The album was primarily written by drummer Charlie Benante and guitarist Scott Ian. It is 9 songs with a 50 minute run time, so a fair bit to go over here.

Among The Living

The opener/title track bears lyrics inspired by Stephen King’s epic novel The Stand and the main antagonist Randall Flagg. The song thrashes hard and also lays down a groove foundation, an element that would go on to redefine and carry metal several years later.

As with all of the songs here, Anthrax deftly walk a line between heavy and melodic, incorporating more melody than their thrash peers were known for. Much of that had to do with the talents of singer Joey Belladonna, a more accomplished vocalist than what was found across much of thrash.

Caught In A Mosh

The lyrics see Scott Ian venting frustration at any number of dumb people and occurrences, but the song itself became a calling card for the mosh pit and outgrew its original meaning. In life or at a show we are all often caught in a mosh. At least the second one is fun (if you’re under 30).

I Am The Law

It’s geek time on the album as Anthrax offer up a homage to Judge Dredd, the gritty comic book character from an apocalyptic future. While it’s not rare for bands to offer up tribute songs to fictional characters they like, it is pretty rare for the songs to turn out as great as this. This truly does capture the essence of Judge Dredd and the harsh atmosphere of his comic series.

I Am The Law was the first single from the album and was backed with I’m The Man, Anthrax’s first foray into combining rap with their metal. They are chief among acts who deserve credit/blame for the 1990’s.

Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)

Contrary to popular opinion, the song is not about the National Football League. Rather the NFL refers to the song’s full title backwards, “Nise Fuckin’ Life.” It’s a song warning of the dangers of drug addiction and, unlike last week’s band, Anthrax walked the walk in that regard. The primary inspiration for the song was John Belushi, the beloved actor who died of substance abuse at age 33.

A Skeleton In The Closet

It’s back to the dark, dark world of Stephen King, this time his story Apt Pupil provides the backdrop for the song. The story involves a very sadistic teenager discovering his neighbor is a Nazi war criminal in hiding and a lot of murder and other bad stuff, like faking report cards. The songs does a pretty good job of summing up the story.

Indians

This tune pays tribute to the Native Americans who were genocided off their lands by evil colonizers (i.e., our ancestors). Lest they be accused of cultural insensitivity, singer Joey Belledonna has heritage from the Iroqouis tribe. This was another single from the record and remains one of Anthrax’s most popular songs. The “war dance” riff is one of the band’s most memorable.

One World

In a bit of a twist for thrash metal, this song actually warns of the dangers of environmental destruction and nuclear holocaust, rather than wishing for it to happen like many in the thrash world. It is steeped in Cold War-era dialog, which was still simmering in the late ’80’s when this hit.

A.D.I./The Horror Of It All

The first part of the song is an instrumental, the second pays tribute to Cliff Burton. Though the lyrics are a bit vague in that regard, Scott Ian did eventually shed light on their true meaning.

Imitation Of Life

No science fiction here – the final track is about all of the slimy people in the music industry. Far more than what can be compressed into one song, for sure.

Among The Living saw Anthrax rise to a new level of recognition. The album would go gold, and I’ll admit that I’m a bit shocked it wasn’t platinum. It does appear the band never had a US platinum, which is surprising. But no matter, Anthrax were now a band of note with this 1987 magnum opus.

One area where Anthrax got a lot of love was the skateboarding world. The Anthrax image didn’t quite “fit” the thrash scene, even if the music did, but they were a big hit among the skateboarding faithful. And while I myself never really got into skateboarding, my peers who did were who I got a lot of my early music from, including this.

This album essentially “made” the careers of Anthrax, giving them a far bigger platform and bigger tours to go along with it. It can be tough to haggle over the best of their catalog, what with their different phases and shifts, but this is the album that probably lands a consensus number one.

An Album A Day – Week 2

It’s on to week 2 of the Album A Day series. For anyone new to this, what I’m doing here is playing an album a day to reach 365 albums played by year’s end. It turned out to be a pretty simple goal and I’ll be way over that by 2024, but I’m doing this weekly wrap-up still for the hell of it.

One note – I’m most likely going to move this post to Sunday next week. That’s simply for the purposes of getting it set up ahead of time.

ZZ Top – Degüello

I gave this a spin on a weekend bike ride. I’ve been meaning to go through their albums and this whole deal makes that a pretty easy task. I’m not sure I’ve played this album all the way through since childhood, but there are some very recognizable songs on here like Cheap Sunglasses and their cover of I Thank You. This one sees the band still in a blues-based rock mode, though they started messing around with pitch shifting effects as kind of a prelude to their 80’s synth era. It was good to catch up with this one after so long, I still have a lot of the 70’s ZZ Top to explore more.

Asphyx – Last One On Earth

This was the second album from the Dutch death metal outfit. There’s some funny trivia behind it – vocalist Martin Van Drunen recorded the vocals for this without realizing he’d been fired from the band. The group decided to just use his vocal tracks. The band would reconvene with Van Drunen decades late. This 1992 album was a remarkable piece of death metal of the death/doom variety. Death/doom has been one of my favorite sub-strains of death metal and early Asphyx was a big reason why.

Vicious Rumors – Digital Dictator

I never listened to Vicious Rumors at all way back when, they were a band I simply missed out on. I’m getting familiar with them now because they have a gig booked here in March. I can say this was a gem I totally failed to grab back in the day. This is some great power metal of the US variety, which is a strain of the genre I’m horribly unfamiliar with beyond Savatage. This is a badass album I’ll spend more time with and I’ll also be visiting the rest of their catalog in advance of their show here. World And Machines is an absolute ripper on this one, though the whole album is fantastic.

Russian Circles – Gnosis

This is another of the long list of releases I missed last year. Russian Circles are an instrumental act from the US, they get the “post-metal” and “post-rock” tags as genre descriptors. I’m not the world’s biggest connoisseur of instrumental stuff but I like good music when I hear it and these guys are really good. It’s suitably heavy and dirty, and their noise evokes a very gritty and dark atmosphere, which I love considering my CD shelves full of grimy metal. I would go so far as to say this might have even been a miss on my top albums list from ’22, but that’s all over and done with. No time like the present.

Obituary – Dying Of Everything

2023 releases started coming very early and the first on my radar was the new one from Florida’s death metal legends. Obituary were one of the foundational bands of death metal and their fairly simple style of gnarly riffs and insane vocals has been an institution of the genre for decades.

This new one, honestly, didn’t hit me right out of the gate. I found it a bit too simple, I guess, I was wanting more from the riffs than what I was getting. I did feel like the album picked up in the second half, I felt more at home with it. I heard it again over at my buddy’s house after I’d enjoyed a few refreshing beverages and I can confirm that there is a direct relationship between blood alcohol content and enjoyment of this album. I don’t mean that as an insult – I’m simply saying that this is a “catch a buzz and enjoy the ride” album. This one won’t rank as my favorite Obituary but there is something here for me to enjoy after all.

Candlemass – Ancient Dreams

I wonder if I should count this here, as this will certainly be an album of the week at some point in time. But I don’t have plans for it anytime soon so I’ll go ahead and talk about it here. This was the third album from the Swedish doom metal outfit that has gone on to legendary status and this one is a big reason why. It is the band’s second with singer Messiah Marcolin and part of a magnificent three-album run with him. This is an amazing collection of doom tunes, highlighted by the opener Mirror Mirror. There’s also an interesting medley of Black Sabbath songs at the end.

Municipal Waste – The Art Of Partying

A pretty fitting way to conclude this post, since the topic of having a few and cranking some tunes came up already. That’s exactly what this band and album is for. Municipal Waste have been one of the godsends of the thrash revival, with a fantastic crossover sound and a general theme of getting messed up. Municipal Waste is gonna fuck you up, indeed.

That’s all for this week’s recap. Only 351 more albums to go.

Metallica – Screaming Suicide

I was just about ready to copy and paste today’s post from my typin’ program over to WordPress when I was alerted to the presence of a new Metallica song. I called an audible and decided to make today’s offering about the new song.

The song is called Screaming Suicide and is the second single from Metallica’s upcoming album 72 Seasons, out April 14th. The album kicks off a new tour cycle where Metallica will play two nights in each town with no-repeat setlists across the two nights. (Also, be aware that the two nights are not in a row – there is a day off inbetween)

Screaming Suicide has a pretty upbeat musical side but the lyrics delve into a pretty dark place, along the lines that the title would suggest. I’m totally confident in assuming that this is a bit of a point-of-view or character piece and Metallica isn’t literally suggesting suicide, I’d be certain that their intent behind it is the exact opposite.

But it is a bit funny to think of this song in 2023, when back 40 years ago a lot of songs that had no mention of suicide at all were blasted in the media and courtrooms for causing troubled people to take their lives. It’s highly unlikely anything of the sort would befall Metallica today. Even if people get mad over things for no reason, the days of high-profile lawsuits over lyrics seem to be over.

We’re two songs in now and so far I’m digging the new Metallica. This song doesn’t quite pack the same punch the first single did, but this is still a good track and I like the groove of it in contrast with the heavy tone of the lyrics. If the rest of the album holds up to what we’ve heard so far I will be a fan.

That about does it for this hot off the press post that fell in my lap last evening. Enjoy the weekend, I’ll be back tomorrow with another run through my Album A Day series.

Sanctuary – The Iron Maiden Singles Series

On we go through the Iron Maiden singles series. There is still a handful of Paul Di’Anno stuff to get through and today’s 12-inch record sports a studio track, two live songs and a cover tune.

Sanctuary was released in a variety of formats, though most everything has the same contents. Mine is a press from the Netherlands, totally no-frills packaging, just a sleeve and record. The cover art is its own bit of lore, of course. We clearly see Eddie having just finished with the act of gutting then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The cover was designed because Thatcher had just finished a visit with the then-USSR, who dubbed the PM the “Iron Maiden.” The band was not into having to share their name with the politician, hence the cover.

Some pressing covers were “censored” by having a strip placed over Thatcher’s eyes so as not to recognize her likeness, as though that would work. The idea to censor the cover actually originated from Maiden manager Ron Smallwood, who guessed that the whole thing might get more press. He was right, and Maiden’s salacious cover art got news articles and condemnation from Thatcher fans.

The following video has 3 of the single’s 4 tracks, omitting only Prowler.

Sanctuary

Our title track was not released on the debut album in England but did get added to the album pressings for the US. Sanctuary worked its way through the UK on a compilation record and then this single.

Sanctuary is a good mash-up of rock and punk, the hybrid sound Maiden took out in their early days. The rolling guitar is signature early Maiden and the lyrics plead the case of a fugitive needing a place to hide out after doing some really bad stuff. It has been a staple of many live sets over the years and I’d guess it’s one of their most-played songs overall.

Prowler

This is a bit of a bonus to the single and only available on the 12-inch vinyl format. Prowler was the opening track to the debut album and a pretty big statement from the band – it introduced the band’s sound in a big way and even has the feel of stuff Maiden would do after the first few albums. I’ll save the discussion for whenever I cover the debut record, but this is one of my favorites from that album. The main riff on this just screams MAIDEN! It is something to behold.

Drifter

The B-side opens with a live version of Drifter from the Marquee Club in London. While a live version of Drifter from the Marquee was on the Live Plus One EP, this is actually an earlier gig from April of 1980. It’s a good performance with an extended call and response bit where Paul Di’Anno mimics the end refrain of The Police’s Walking On The Moon. Pretty funny stuff. Drifter would appear in studio form on the band’s next album, 1981’s Killers.

I’ve Got The Fire

And we head out with a slightly modified title and a cover of the Montrose song I Got The Fire. Maiden do kind of pound through it, which is fair for both their sound at the time and the live club setting. While this doesn’t outshine the original by any stretch, it is a pretty good rendition. This won’t be the last time Montrose comes up in one of these Iron Maiden singles, either.

That wraps it up for Sanctuary. Next week is a special treat because I’m going to talk about a handful of songs I already talked about before. That’s why I didn’t really talk much about one of them last time. And we’ll get to see ol’ Maggie again.

The Iron Maiden Singles Series

Live! + One

Running Free

Sanctuary (you are here)

Women In Uniform

Maiden Japan

Purgatory

Twilight Zone/Wrathchild

Run To The Hills

The Number Of The Beast

Flight Of Icarus

The Trooper

2 Minutes To Midnight

Aces High

Run To The Hills (live)

Running Free (live)

Stranger In A Strange Land

Wasted Years

The Clairvoyant

Infinite Dreams

From Here To Eternity

Out Of The Silent Planet

Rainmaker

Different World

The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg

Empire Of The Clouds

Album Of The Week – January 16, 2023

This week I’m going back to the beginning of time. Or, the beginning of heavy metal, anyway. Well, it wasn’t really the “beginning” since they already had an album out that same year. It’s like the continuation of the beginning of heavy metal.

Black Sabbath – Paranoid

Released September 18, 1970 via Vertigo Records

My Favorite Tracks – Paranoid, Electric Funeral, War Pigs

This isn’t an album that needs a huge introduction. Paranoid is the most famous album in heavy metal. It was a rush job of a record, with the label wanting to cash in on the success of the debut album, so everyone crowded into the studio and banged the new album out. Paranoid was on store shelves roughly 7 months after Black Sabbath.

The quick pace of album creation led to a few last-minute decisions – the album was originally going to be called War Pigs, with the album art reflecting that. The single Paranoid was doing great business though, so the album name was changed without redoing the album art. Hence, some dude swinging a sword on an album called Paranoid.

And War Pigs itself was originally going to be called Walpurgis, a Satanic holiday/ceremony of some sort. The record label vetoed that title, as they were (rightfully) concerned about the link being drawn between Sabbath and Satanism. War Pigs summed up the lyrics nicely and was used instead.

Paranoid comes in with 8 tracks at a 41 minute run time. It’s a fairly quick process to get through, though we are talking about the most famous songs in heavy metal here so there’s some exposition to be had.

War Pigs

The once-titled Walpurgis opens the album with a scathing take on the Vietnam War. The band’s intent was to show the politicians who start wars as the real Satanists, a case plainly stated in the lyrics but missed by the “Satanic Panic” movement that would see Black Sabbath as arch enemies.

War Pigs is one of metal’s most significant songs. Its darker topical fare, combined with the signature riffs from Tony Iommi as well as Bill Ward literally pounding the piss out of the drums, totally recast what rock music could do or be about. This song was a stark dividing line, even considering the prior Sabbath album that same year. It is one of the more widely played and covered song in Sabbath lore.

Paranoid

The title track was a hit single in advance of the album’s release and, as stated above, the warm reception was the cause of the album’s name change. Paranoid as a song was a unique Sabbath achievement – it is the their only Top 20 UK hit, peaking at number 4. That seems odd for such a popular act, but Sabbath never were singles-minded hit makers.

The song was conceived in quick fashion and wasn’t really thought of in any significant terms by the band, which is often how hits go. Geezer Butler’s lyrics tell a despondent tale – of depression, not paranoia. The song’s quick pace and pounding riff was reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown, something that Sabbath members were cognizant of and worried about, though no harm came from the similarity.

Paranoid is short, spooky and to the point – a winning formula for a hit. The song has remained in constant rotation on classic rock radio for 53 years and will likely be a fixture of radio playlists until the death of the format.

Planet Caravan

An odd turn but one not out of bonds for a band who, while shaping heavy metal, would also be massively influential to “stoner” culture. This song is trippy and ambient,with several layered effects to generate a calm and muddled atmosphere.

For some the song is a skip because it doesn’t fit the mold of Sabbath heavy metal, while for me and others it’s a welcome change of pace and nice diversion. A band that lasts any length of time is going to record a bunch of songs – might as well branch out here and there.

Iron Man

Sabbath have several highly recognized songs and many are from this album. But none may be as widely known as this one. Iommi pulls riffs straight from Hell to shape this song about a guy who time travels and sees the end of the world. On his return he is turned to steel and mocked by the populace, who ignore his warnings about the apocalypse. Instead of saving the world, he decides to become the end and takes his wrath out on the people who mock him.

Iron Man joins Paranoid and War Pigs as Sabbath staples that have seen constant rotation in the five decades since the album’s release. I believe it’s a felony for a radio station not to play Iron Man at least once a day. (don’t’ quote that) Iron Man was Sabbath’s biggest “hit” in the US, though only charting at 52, the song has become immortal. And while having nothing to do with the Marvel Comics character of the same name, this song was used in the 2008 Iron Man film that saw that character go from an afterthought to the lead role in the MCU.

Electric Funeral

Here Sabbath combine their doom-laden heavy metal with some groove and jam from the music of their time. It’s a pretty interesting mash-up that sees some groove and boogie over lyrics about nuclear holocaust. These for me are some of the more interesting parts of the Sabbath catalog, getting to hear heavy metal shaped alongside the other music of the day. It wouldn’t be until the 1980’s when heavy metal ran along established lines, so this early stuff contained a lot of cool asides and nods to other forms of rock.

Hand Of Doom

This appropriately named track was, in all reality, some ground-level field reporting exposing one of the many horrors of the Vietnam War – the drug use of soldiers. Heroin was the drug of choice among the GI’s in the field, then it came back with them along with the often-untreated horrors of war. The song is a stark admonition against drug use, which does sound a bit odd coming from the lips of Ozzy Osbourne or honestly anyone from Black Sabbath. But the message is on point and this song was a harrowing early account of just how messed up the Vietnam War was.

Rat Salad

A brief instrumental, this was based on Bill Ward’s super long drum solos of the early days when Sabbath had to fill large amounts of time between sets in order to land gigs. It’s a nice jam, I’ve always enjoyed the heavier jams of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

Fairies Wear Boots

The final song is a striking title but isn’t about some mythical creatures who sprinkle pixie dust and wear Doc Martens. Instead the lyrics take aim at skinheads, this was in Britain before “skinhead” became synonymous with “nazi.” Sabbath had run-ins with the anarchist-minded skinheads, including a fight that left Tony Iommi injured and hence served as the inspiration for the song. Iommi has also admitted that the lyrics might be unusual due to the band’s habitual weed use.

Paranoid was a breakout hit for Black Sabbath – it did what they were only able to accomplish one other time, that being top the UK album charts. (the other time being the band’s final album 13) The album was a hit in many other countries including the US, where it peaked at number 12 and has 4 official platinum certifications.

But the legacy of Paranoid goes far beyond its sales figures or chart positions. This is the definitive album of heavy metal. It is the band’s most recognizable effort and the point where they laid the blueprint for their new, mutated form of rock music. The shadow that Paranoid casts over the heavy metal landscape is immense and inescapable. The Black Sabbath legacy is undeniable and this album is a large reason why.

An Album A Day – Week 1

It’s time to debut my new series, An Album A Day. As I mentioned before, this is a way to do something like what book people do – rather than read 52 books a year or what have you, this is listen to 365 albums a year, or one a day.

I’ve barely started and I quickly realized something – this is easy street. Listening to 365 albums in a year is not some kind of lofty goal, it’s taking candy from a baby. I’m gonna roll with this whole thing since it’s a fairly easy way to generate some new content and also cover stuff I don’t normally talk about, but this is not a challenge at all.

Anyway, this first post covers the first week of 2023. The next 52 weeks will be filled with – stuff. My missives on these will be brief but there will be several of them so I can still be too wordy.

Opeth – Watershed

It’s been awhile since I listened to anything besides Blackwater Park so I took the time to sift through the 2008 album that was widely hailed as a masterpiece. There’s a lot going on, as there often is with Opeth, but this is a grand moment in their catalog. The Lotus Eater is one of the best songs they’ve ever done, and Hessian Peel offers a grab bag of everything Opeth.

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

This is one I listened to “back in the day,” though that day was in the mid-90’s and nearly 10 years after its release. And I don’t think I’ve played it in at least 20 years. It was nice to revisit this one, a cool “vibes from the youth” kind of thing. The notable tracks from this are The Mountain Song and the signature Jane Says, but the whole album is a pretty cool offering.

Kalmah – 12 Gauge

Back to a band I was very into in the early 2000’s, Kalmah are a huge part of the Finnish melodic death metal scene, alongside Children Of Bodom. While the bands draw comparisons to each other, I was always more drawn to Kalmah. This 2010 album saw the band combine their early melo-death stuff with the more harsh sound they took on just prior to this. I played this while on a long bicycle ride and it was a great compliment to the ride.

An Abstract Illusion – Woe

This is one from the very long list of “stuff I missed in 2022.” And this was a pretty huge miss. A progressive death metal album, this does draw favorable comparisons to Opeth’s prime era, but there’s also a lot more going on here. This is one of those that needs a lot more than one listen to properly digest and discuss, and it’s one that really was a true miss for me last year. Something I’ll be visiting again for sure.

Jimi Hendrix – Los Angeles Forum April 26, 1969

This is the most recent release in the eleventy hundred posthumous Hendrix albums. This one is pretty nice, it is a very jam-based album with most of the songs being extended improv renditions. There is also some pretty cool stage banter from Jimi, including a call for stage crashers to get off the stage or the show will be shut down. I am of the “wannabe Hendrix completionist” school so I don’t mind the countless releases and this show seems to have some cool stuff that stands out from the clean presentation of the more landmark live gigs.

Suede – Autofiction

This is another from 2022 but wasn’t a miss for me – rather, this was most likely album 11 on a list of 10. I suppose we’re calling Suede alt-rock now rather than the movement they helped create and now can’t stand, that being Britpop. Suede explored some different sounds on their last effort in 2018, but on Autofiction they got back to basics and put out a kick ass alt-rock album. No one was expecting Suede to be bad, but this blew past peoples’ expectations and was monumental.

Jerry Reed – Super Hits

I ended week one with a greatest hits collection of a country star from years past, and also the hilarious bad guy in The Waterboy movie. Reed had a fair few hits in his music career, including When You’re Hot, You’re Hot and She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft). Of course, his most well-known work is probably the theme song from the hit film he also starred in – East Bound And Down from Smokey And The Bandit. Reed was also a pretty underrated guitar player on top of his songwriting prowess. And, to top it all off, listening to Reed reminded me of a story from way back when, so I’ll get a whole other post out of this.

That covers the first of 52 rounds of this new format. While the “goal” idea of it wound up being silly, this does feel like a worthwhile thing to do so I’ll keep at it. It’s a nice way to cover some more ground that I don’t typically get to in a few posts a week and it can occasionally plant the seed for a new post idea. And it doesn’t take up a huge amount of my time to write, so this whole thing is truly off to the races.

Running Free – The Iron Maiden Singles Series

It’s time to get back into the series and an actual, proper single this time. This is one of a very few 7-inch Maiden singles I own. It makes today simple as it’s A-side and B-side, the 12-inch singles have some beefy contents sometimes.

There are some different versions of this single around, but in this case they’re mostly just territorial presses and all of the versions have the same content. Mine is a UK pressing in a cardboard sleeve, nothing special to it.

This was the true debut multi-territory single from Iron Maiden, in so far as conventional single releases go. It was put out in advance of the debut album. This is the first official cover appearance of Maiden’s most famous member, Eddie. But as you can see he’s not that easy to make out – the band wanted the album to be his true “reveal” so here you see his face obscured. Putting his face on the label of the single’s record itself probably didn’t generate much suspense for the future “reveal.”

This official video from IM’s channel features both sides of the single in one clip.

Running Free

Maiden’s first single is a very simple and basic rock song, one of the relative few the group recorded. Paul Di’Anno penned the lyrics about being wild, young and free, somewhat inspired by his own young life.

The song is a long-time staple – it’s been played live a trillion times (don’t quote that) and is still one of the band’s best-known even in a career with 17 albums and a peak a few years away yet. A live version got its own single release a few years down the road, which I’ll cover when its time comes.

While Running Free doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a quintessential Iron Maiden song, it’s one I enjoy quite a bit. It’s simple and pleasing and it works great live. It’s a massive part of the Maiden lexicon even if it got technically outclassed by other material.

Burning Ambition

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Maiden B-sides, and honestly a lot of it isn’t good. But we come out of the gate with what might be the best B-side the band ever did. The song comes out with a classic rock vibe uncommon in Iron Maiden’s music but hits pretty hard once Di’Anno starts singing. The song deals with someone who warns his significant other not to hold him down as he pursues something beyond the mundane life.

Burning Ambition has a bit of band trivia behind it – it marks one of the few recorded performances of drummer Doug Sampson. Sampson played on the famous Soundhouse Tapes demo and a handful of other demo tracks, but that is all of his Maiden recording history for his year or so in the band.

Burning Ambition is on the short list of “best Maiden B-sides.” It does feel like enough of a departure to excuse its absence from an album but its quality is undeniable. The song has surfaced on some reissue and archive material over the years but is still a bit of a hidden gem in the catalog.

That’s all for today. It’s on through a run of 12 inch singles next, all with a bunch of stuff on them. Also the list will get a bit bigger next week – I’ve got a few CD singles in, and also I discovered that I have a few more records that what I thought I did. Thanks for not updating, Discogs.

The Iron Maiden Singles Series

Live! + One

Running Free (you are here)

Sanctuary

Women In Uniform

Maiden Japan

Purgatory

Twilight Zone/Wrathchild

Run To The Hills

The Number Of The Beast

Flight Of Icarus

The Trooper

2 Minutes To Midnight

Aces High

Run To The Hills (live)

Running Free (live)

Stranger In A Strange Land

Wasted Years

The Clairvoyant

Infinite Dreams

From Here To Eternity

Out Of The Silent Planet

The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg

Empire Of The Clouds

Album Of The Week – January 9, 2023

This week’s album is a band’s reformation effort, though also a reconfiguration in terms of how the band operated and who it worked with. It is noted as a new beginning and a return to form.

Megadeth – The System Has Failed

Released September 14, 2004 via Sanctuary Records

My Favorite Tracks – Kick The Chair, Blackmail The Universe, The Scorpion

The story leading up to The System Has Failed is quite a whopper. In 2002, with Megadeth’s fortunes on the low end of things, Dave Mustaine suffered an arm injury and was not sure if he would ever be able to play guitar again. He disbanded Megadeth and spent time healing his arm and building up to playing guitar again. His rehab was successful and he was able to resume his mastery of the instrument.

Mustaine set out to record a solo album but was held up by contractual obligations, hence the new effort would bear the title Megadeth. With this new mandate in mind, Mustaine gathered a group of session musicians and held the creative reigns of the new album. Megadeth was now Dave Mustaine and Company, a configuration that has held up to this day.

Notable among the session players on the album is Chris Poland, former Megadeth guitarist for the band’s classic Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? Poland contributed solos to this album, though his time back with Mustaine would be short-lived.

Megadeth had been on the downslide since the late 1990’s and the ill-received Risk album. An attempted return to form with The World Needs A Hero met with mixed results, and so fan perspective was skeptical after the mess of the band’s breakup and “reformation” under a Mustaine dictatorship.

The only way to reignite fan interest would be to deliver the goods. With 12 tracks going for a 48 minute runtime, did Dave deliver? The album cover certainly brought the old vibes back, but what about the music? I’ll get into that in more detail, though the short answer is yes.

Blackmail The Universe

The opener sets a harrowing and urgent tone, as a mock news piece details a terrorist attack on the US President. The leader of the free world is missing and the nation is in chaos about how to respond. Megadeth are no strangers to the world ending via nuclear holocaust and that is the ultimate fate of everything here.

The song is fantastic and was instantly hailed as one of the band’s best in years. The music was explosive and the twisted fate of the world was communicated in powerful fashion. Though in a new form, Megadeth was back.

Die Dead Enough

The album’s lead single is a mid-tempo affair, more in line with what was issued on albums like Cryptic Writings. The song was originally conceived for a movie soundtrack but the deal fell through and it found its home here. Die Dead Enough seems an odd premise but the action sequence sort of vibe works pretty well with the music.

Kick The Chair

Any concerns about Megadeth’s standing were lifted when Kick The Chair hit peoples’ ears. This was Megadeth back in form – snarling, angry and lashing out at a broken system. Kick The Chair takes aim at the justice system and its corrupted ties with money and power. This is a precise thrash masterpiece and one of the best Megadeth songs in years.

The Scorpion

A twisted guitar passage stands out as Mustaine recalls the fable about a scorpion hitching a ride across a river from a frog and stinging the frog, dooming both animals to death. The “scorpion” in this case is a human doing bad things simply because they will. A fantastic song even without the thrash.

Tears In A Vial

A more melodic tune in line with Megadeth’s “commercial” work of the 1990’s. It’s a song about someone walking away from some kind of relationship or thing. While the song veers into more accessible territory it’s still pretty good – the dark secret about Megadeth’s “radio rock” phase is that a lot of it was actually good.

I Know Jack

A very brief interlude at only 40 seconds. No lyrics here, instead a famous 1988 quote from US Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen is played over the riff. Bentsen was attacking rival Dan Quayle, who had compared himself to JFK. In fairness to Quayle, he was only comparing his time in Congress with JFK, but Bentsen’s response became pretty famous in political circles. Quayle, despite his bungling nature, would still wind up as Vice President under George Bush, mostly because we don’t vote for vice presidents.

Why is this track here? I have no idea.

Back In The Day

Here Mustaine pays tribute to the old thrash scene of the early ’80’s. A good track though maybe not as “thrashy” as one would expect from a song talking about that very thing.

Something That I’m Not

Mustaine launches a shot at someone who betrayed him on this song. It is most likely about Lars Ulrich. This song was a bit after Metallica’s Some Kind Of Monster film, which features Dave in a scene that gets mocked a lot. Dave apparently asked not to be in the film but his request was ignored, hence this song. A few years later everyone would start getting along better and the Big Four stuff would happen. The song itself isn’t really my cup of tea.

Truth Be Told

Here we have Mustaine handing out Bible references, probably in line with his “born again” status that happened sometime after his arm injury. The song is pretty good and doesn’t suffer for its religious influences, it ties in Bible stories with its points pretty well.

Mustaine would go on to use his religious beliefs to influence concert promoters to keep other bands off of festival line-ups that Megadeth were playing, most notably Rotting Christ and Dissection. The attempts were not always successful and it generated a lot of nastiness in the metal community at the time.

Of Mice And Men

While sharing a name with John Steinbeck’s famous story, the song has no other connection to the book. Here Dave is reflecting on his life and offering wisdom gained through experience. It’s another track that feels like it could have come from Cryptic Writings and it’s one I don’t mind hearing.

My Kingdom

After the interlude Shadow Of Deth, the album’s closer comes with Dave coming back to claim his kingdom after years away. He is directly referring to how Megadeth pursued areas outside of thrash and now the band is back and ready to get back to it. The song itself kind of misses the mark but the goods were delivered with the album as a whole.

The System Has Failed was a return to prominence for Megadeth – the album charted in several countries, including number 18 in the US. Reviews were positive and fan reception was good after several years in the murk and the break-up.

Initially this album was advertised as Megadeth’s last, with Dave wishing to do a Megadeth farewell tour and then pursue solo music. That did not quite happen and Megadeth would remain in existence to this day. It could be said that, in a way, it really is a Dave Mustaine solo project with a different name. The twists and turns of what happened with Megadeth’s lineups in the 2000’s could literally fill a book and is far more than I wish to get into here. In short, a new band was assembled for touring and members would come and go for years after, with no shortage of drama and weird shit.

But Dave Mustaine did successfully right the ship with The System Has Failed. While the back half of the album trails off some, the front is loaded with some of the best Megadeth songs in years. The new era had begun and more highlights were on the horizon.

Tales From The Stage – Iron Maiden 2013

Today I’m gonna go somewhere back in time to what is now astonishingly nine years ago. I first saw Iron Maiden in 2000, now in 2022 I’ve seen them four times. The concert I detail today was my second time seeing them.

Maiden were touring a retro set this time around – it was based on the 1988 Maiden England tour. The set lists between 1988 and 2013 would differ a bit, I’ll get into that below. I was personally very excited for this one – while Maiden alternate between “legacy” sets and current material a fair bit, this tour was paying homage to my favorite era of the band.

The show was in what used to be called the Sprint Center in Kansas City. For those unaware of the “unique” geography of Middle America, Kansas City is partially in the state of Kansas but a lot of it is in Missouri, and arguably the most significant stuff. (The same is true for St. Louis – a lot of it is in Missouri but a part is in Illinois). And to continue with the unimportant trivia, the Sprint Center is now known as the T-Mobile Center because Sprint and T-Mobile merged a few years ago.

The show was on a Saturday and it’s also important to note that Maiden had not played in Missouri for 13 years at this point – exactly the last time I saw them. The Sprint Center is located near a fairly large entertainment district in KC and the place was electric hours before the show. We had a few adult beverages in the area with a legion of people in Maiden gear before heading into the arena.

One other minor note about the venue – I’ve seen Maiden twice now in this same arena and both times the place was top-notch at getting people into the venue in a timely fashion. This point will come in handy in the future when I get into the time I saw Maiden in a different city with a much less capable entry mechanism. But no such issues in KC.

Most any show has an opening act, and Iron Maiden brought a doozy for this tour – Megadeth were the support for this tour. It made for a stellar tour package but did raise an interesting question – what exactly were Megadeth going to play in an opening slot? They have more than enough material to air out a two hour headline set, so what did they go for in slot an hour or less?

They stuck to the hits, of course. All but one of their nine songs came from their classic run of albums from 1986 through 1992. The lone exception was Kingmaker, from their just-released Super Collider. The album is regarded as a flop in the Megadeth lexicon, though Kingmaker is cited as a highlight track. The song worked fine in their set and I wasn’t bothered by it. The classics played were fantastic and Megadeth was in fine form. Somewhat sadly, to date this still marks the only time I’ve seen them live.

With the crowd ready to go, Iron Maiden took the stage. It was sheer joy after the day-long party outside the arena and Megadeth’s opening set. As mentioned before, the set was a retro offering. The set list closely mimicked the 1988 Maiden England tour list, with a few exceptions. We did not get Killers, Heaven Can Wait or Die With Your Boots On in 2013. Instead two songs from Fear Of The Dark were thrown in – Afraid To Shoot Strangers, and the ever-present title track. I would have personally rather had the old songs in but I wasn’t put off too bad by the decision.

Overall the set was fantastic and it was a trip through the highlights of Maiden’s career. The Maiden England set is a de facto greatest hits, omitting the reunion stuff but hitting on the band’s classic era when they were in top form. The set naturally included many of Maiden’s hit songs, including The Trooper and Number Of The Beast, alongside Wasted Years, 2 Minutes To Midnight, Run To The Hills and Aces High in the encore.

The real highlight of a Maiden England retrospective is the focus on stuff from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, which was the current album when the original Maiden England tour was rolling along. The 2013 edition featured five songs from that album, including the opening salvo of Moonchild and Can I Play With Madness? Hearing the title track toward the end of the set was a massive highlight and the band went all out for that presentation. This is a set with no real valleys, but hearing Seventh Son live was the definite peak.

The Seventh Son… love was not over with the title track. Maiden brought The Evil That Men Do out in the encore and that was a massive highlight. I was just a hair too young to see the band live on the original tour when this first came out, but here was my chance all these years later to hear it in concert and it was spectacular. Hearing all of this stuff from way back when was a massive treat, I never expected this kind of a set with the way Maiden have leaned hard into the new material in the reunion era.

There were a few “hidden gems” in the set, in a manner of speaking. They were songs played on the original tour but the band saw fit to bring them back and play them in 2013. Most fans wouldn’t have bet on hearing these songs in the reunion era. The Phantom Of The Opera was played for the first time in a long time, and The Clairvoyant was part of the Seventh Son love fest.

But the true jewel of the evening was The Prisoner. This cut from The Number Of The Beast has been one of the more underrated gems of the Maiden lexicon and I was over the moon to get to hear it live. This was again another chance to live in an era I wasn’t originally able to participate in.

The September 2013 concert is a very special one in my memory. It was my second time seeing my favorite band live. A whole bunch of my friends from town made the trek too, I’ve honestly never been in such a huge place with so many familiar faces. The pre-party before the show was something to behold, with Maiden fans of all ages converging and celebrating this massive event. And while it’s hard to ignore the first time I saw them when I wonder what my favorite show of all time was, this one is certainly a contender. Can’t go wrong when your favorite band does a retrospective tour of their golden era. I always have been someone searching for his wasted year, but I did get to live one of my golden ones.

No easily found footage from the show I went to, but here’s some stuff from both bands that year.