The night before our son was born, we were flipping through channels and caught a few minutes of the Iron Maiden documentary/concert film Flight 666. I used to love Maiden back in my metallic youth; in fact, the only thing I might have liked more was Judas Priest. I remember riding the bus to school in junior high swapping tapes with friends and discussing the relative merits of Priest classics British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith along with Maiden’s Number of the Beast and Piece of Mind. We also liked Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and even though we agreed the Priest could totally kick Jackson’s ass, we decided that Thriller was still pretty awesome in its own spooky right.
Somewhere along the way, I forgot or perhaps outgrew this music. Maybe it was the fact that the trappings of metal grew so cheesy and convoluted and dependent on hair (thanks, Poison and Ratt) that it just became an embarrassment. I moved on to punk and hardcore and never looked back, which is kind of a shame because when I downloaded and listened to Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and Priest’s “Freewheel Burning,” I couldn’t believe how much I still liked these tunes. My god how these guys rocked, I thought, and then immediately started downloading old favorites from those albums mentioned above.
Amazing how music transports… Suddenly I remember those junior high years and the long bus ride from our little town up the coast from Naples to the DOD high school on the base. Listening to it again, the sheer intesity and power of the playing is something to behold, especially when Judas Priest starts shredding on “Freewheel Burning” or the raw speed of “Exciter” and “Rapid Fire” or Maiden’s manic “Aces High.” Sometimes the bus ride didn’t seem long at all.
I remember the anticipation we all felt for Iron Maiden’s forthcoming Powerslave. Even after it was out, you couldn’t find it at the base PX. Which is why when we took a family trip up to the UK, the main thing I wanted was to get my hands on Powerslave. I lived inside my headphones much of the way back to Naples on the train, Europe racing along outside the windows to the power and intensity of such classics as “Aces High,” “2 Minutes to Midnight,” and my introduction to Coleridge through their epic retelling of his “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Amazing stuff, and I think I was one of the first kids at Naples American High School to have Powerslave, which certainly didn’t hurt my all-important-for-an-8th-grader cool quotient.
Maiden’s lyrics always hooked me. This was a band of readers and history buffs whose interests in science fiction and classic poetry came out in their music. They sounded like nerds who had become cool and that appealed to a kid like me. With Judas Priest, though, the lyrics were almost irrelevant. It was the ax work, the blistering solos and shredding and the operatic glory of Rob Halford’s voice. I thought about Maiden and I felt Priest.
Now, decades later, I find that I still really like this stuff. I’m downloading and relistening, rediscovering these gems from my past. I doubt I’ll venture much further back into metal than these two bands, but I’m not sure I would need to. In my spare moments, I get my rock on and that’s probably the answer to the question of new-parent exhaustion: lots of coffee, some Maiden and a little Priest. And Coltrane too, of course, because the ’61 Vanguard recordings… well that would be a whole other post.