By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
IRON MAIDEN – SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1986)
By the time I discovered Iron Maiden, the band had already released five studio albums and completed the massive and exhausting “World Slavery Tour” in support of the Powerslave album.
Then came album number six and the band hit my radar and has never left it since. The Somewhere In Time album is where it all began for me and while I have gone backwards and forwards regarding their recorded output, this album remains an important touchstone in my evolution as a metal fan.
It’s no spoiler alert or anything but I absolutely love this album! Iron Maiden is my favorite active band and for me, “the boys” remain as vital today as they have ever been.
So what was it about this album that struck such an enduring nerve with me? I think it was the first time I’d heard stuff that featured such a sense of the thematic. While the album isn’t a conceptual piece, there is a recurring theme about space and time woven into a number of the tracks.
But since I have a love of stories, I loved the way they drew from myths, books and history to tell the stories in their songs. This album might’ve been the awakening point for me for lyrics that went beyond sex, drugs and rock and roll. They adapted the book (that was later turned into a film) The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner into a song for this album which was just a new experience for me.
The majority of the eight songs are full on metallic crunchers, relentlessly paced in execution. Some of the songs start off a bit slow by way of an intro but then kick off into that break-neck pacing. The songs are hard-hitting from start to finish and from 1986 to now, the impact each track made on me remains constant.
The nominal title track “Caught Somewhere In Time” kicks things off and from there the band just grows stronger with each passing song on the album. The band had discovered and employed guitar synthesizers for the first time which gave a new dimension to what they could do.
The funny thing to me is that Iron Maiden has always been a huge international success despite enjoying little, if any, radio airplay (in the US at least). The band may not have made the singles chart their home, but they did release two tracks from Somewhere In Time as singles. The first was the song “Wasted Years”, which oddly enough is the only song on the album that doesn’t use those synthesizers I mentioned. It’s a phenomenal song that still manages to find its way into Iron Maiden’s concert set list from time to time. It was written by guitarist Adrian Smith. The other single was “Stranger In A Strange Land”, which anyone familiar with the works of science fiction author Robert Heinlein would think was another literary inspiration for an Iron Maiden song. But this time, you’d be wrong. The song shares the title but has nothing to do with the book. Still, the admittedly incorrect assumption that I made when I saw the title when I first got this release was still an eye-opener for me.
The band may have been more than a little burned out after the previous tour but once they got rested, they seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Except maybe singer Bruce Dickinson who had no writing credits for the album. I looked up the album online to learn some history about it and apparently whatever material Dickinson wrote got rejected by the band. The bulk of the writing came down to bassist Steve Harris and Adrian Smith. Guitarist Dave Murray co-wrote “Deja-Vu” as well. But regardless of who wrote what, as a unit the band was as one in the finished product. Dickinson sang his ass off and there isn’t a song on the album that feels like filler. While most of the songs aren’t played live anymore, I still hope to hear any (or even all of them) when I attend a Maiden show.
Everyone knows that Steve Harris founded Iron Maiden and is the driving force of the band. I’m no musical expert but I love when I can pick out his contributions in a song. The way his bass lines in “Sea of Madness” help imbue the song with a galloping across the landscape feel deepened the musical soundscape for me.
As for the last song on Side One, I always thought “Heaven Can Wait” would’ve been a pretty good single for the band.
It wasn’t just the music that drew me to the band. Yes, it was the primary reason but the band’s artwork is so visually striking that you can’t help but be drawn into it. I remember sitting in the lunch room in high school and talking to this guy I knew (I think his name was John but don’t hold me to that) and he was the one who told me about what we now call “Easter eggs” in the cover art for the Somewhere in Time album. As if the main image itself wasn’t enough of an eye-catcher, if you look deep you can find so many little nods to the band members, their past albums and songs, and a whole lot more. I never really bothered to look up what John was telling me about back then. But as I was researching the album I discovered that the Wikipedia entry for the album has a very extensive listing for all the various hidden images within the finished artwork. The legend that is the band’s mascot Eddie has been a key component of the band’s history.
For me, even though I love all the songs on Somewhere In Time, the one track that I connect with the most is the album’s closing number. “Alexander The Great” is the band’s musical history lesson about the Macedonian king and general. I mean how many bands could pull something like this off and make it both interesting and musically relevant? I don’t think there are many that could do it. Iron Maiden has written many songs that draw from historical events or people in those events but for me “Alexander The Great” is the best of them.
It’s almost a full thirty-four years since the release of Somewhere In Time and I still think it holds up as one of the band’s best albums. I know that it is certainly one of my personal favorites and the fact that it was my first experience with Iron Maiden makes it that much more special for me. In the ensuing three plus decades, I’ve seen the band four or five times, reviewed both albums and concerts they’ve done and pretty much bought any album (studio, live or compilation) they’ve put out. Hell, I remember watching a report on the news magazine show 20/20 back in 1987 about heavy metal that featured Iron Maiden! The video can still be found on YouTube I believe.
Iron Maiden is the preeminent heavy metal band to this day and the Somewhere In Time album is a great example of why they have not only reached the pinnacle but maintained their rule of the roost for so many years. I know that as long as Bruce Dickinson exhorts fans to do so, I will always Scream for Iron Maiden!
NOTES OF INTEREST: According to the Wikipedia page, the Somewhere in Time album has been certified platinum. I don’t know how accurate that is. I would’ve thought the album would’ve sold a lot more than that over the ensuing years from its release.
The 1995 reissue of the album included a bonus disc that contained four songs. Three were straight up cover songs while the track “Sheriff of Huddersfield” is listed as being based on the Urchin song “Life In The City” but the five members of Iron Maiden are credited as the writers of the “Sheriff” song itself.
One of the cover songs on that bonus disc is called “Reach Out”. It was originally done by a short-lived group called The Entire Population of Hackney. This group was a brief side project that featured Maiden’s drummer Nicko McBrain and guitarist Adrian Smith. It was Smith who actually sings on the track that was released on the Somewhere In Time bonus disc.
That “Reach Out” song was written by guitarist Dave “Bucket” Colwell, who was a part of that The Entire Population of Hackney project. Colwell has had an extensive career, playing with the early incarnation of FM, as well as the ASAP group founded by Adrian Smith. He played with Samson and recorded and toured with Humble Pie too. However, his most notable work for my own personal take was as a member of Bad Company. He had two stints with the band, appearing on four releases between 1993 and 2002.
The tour for the album was called “Somewhere On Tour” and it ran for a little over eight months. W.A.S.P. opened the tour during two months of dates in November and December 1986.