Somewhere in Time
29th September 1986
This commentary was written by Mick Wall for the 1998 re-release of
Iron Maiden's discography. The pictures also come from the CD.
There had been a two-year gap between the release in 1986 of
Somewhere In Time and
its illustrious predecessor,
Powerslave. Two years in which the band had stretched themselves
to near breaking point on the 13-month
Slavery Tour – out of which came the stunning live double album,
After Death, in 1985 – and though the personnel remained intact, it was a very
different Iron Maiden that now greeted us. Older, wiser, less willing to please and more eager
than ever to put what they had to say down exactly how they wanted,
Somewhere In Time, Maiden's sixth studio album, was to be their most blisteringly
uncompromising offering yet.
It was also their most expensive. The most famous heavy rock band in the world at this point,
for the first time in their career Maiden could now afford to lavish both time and money on making
exactly the kind of album they wanted to make.
"In the past, we'd always been working to a really tight deadline," explains
bassist Steve Harris. "It was nothing but tour-album-tour for the first five years we
were together. This time, we'd actually taken some time off before going into the studios,
so we had a lot of new material to choose from. But once we actually began recording,
I suppose, we went a bit crazy."
Recording began, once again, at Compass Point Studios, in Nassau, early in 1986,
where all the basic bass and drum tracks were recorded. Then, at guitarist Adrian
Smith's insistence, the band flew to Wisseloord Studios, in Hilversum, Holland,
where all the guitar parts and lead vocals were recorded. That done, Steve and
producer Martin Birch took the finished tapes to New York, where they finally
mixed them at Electric Lady Studios.
"It was mad," smiles Adrian now. "But we were so determined to
make sure absolutely every little thing was right about the album, and we'd never been
given the chance to spend any real time on anything before, so we just went for it!"
Somewhere In Time would also be Maiden's most ambitious recording yet.
Steve, Adrian and fellow guitarist Dave Murray had all begun experimenting with the latest
generation of guitar-synthesisers that had then just come on the market.
"We'd always been a bit anti-keyboards," say Dave. "I don't know why,
I think it was just a young band thing of wanting to sound really aggressive all the time. But
these new guitar-synths came along – Adrian was the one who turned us on to them
– and suddenly you could make all these sounds that normally you would only have
been able to get with a keyboard. Now we could do it all on guitars."
The introduction of the new guitar-synths certainly brought a sweeping, new texture to the
quintessential Maiden sound. Only where the keyboard-synths of old tender to lover-sweeten
the sound, Maiden's icy guitar-synths darkened the brew to new and even deeper shades of
blackness, adding an even more panoramic quality to an already epic maelstrom of vicious guitars,
bossy drums and screaming vocals.
Somewhere In Time was Maiden's most expensive album to make, it was
also their most successful. It reached No. 2, when it was released in Britain, in
October 1986, which was by now par for the course for the band in their homeland.
"I think it was Madonna that kept us from going to No. 1 that time,"
jokes Steve. But in America, where it also raced into the Top 10 within weeks
of release, it sold more than two million copies – the first Maiden album to go
Double-Platinum and a personal best for the band that still stands today.
Most memorable of all, however,
Somewhere In Time also came with
Maiden's best album sleeves ever: the ubiquitous Eddie shedding his mummy's
bandages to return as a cross between the bad Arnie of The Terminator I
and something from Captain Kirk's worst nightmare. The scene: some strange hybrid
world where the Ruskin Arms (the East London pub where Maiden played in
their early days), the Long Beach Arena (where they recorded
and several other places and names from Maiden's past, present and presumed future
have seemingly been transported to the set from Blade Runner – all
presided over, of course, by Eddie the laser-wielding time-cop.
Weird, it is. But then, with tracks like
'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner' and the breathless, rampaging track
from which the album would take its title,
Somewhere In Time' – the whole concept behind the new Maiden album was, of course,
one of time. Space and time and how to survive it if you can.
That said, as Steve ruefully admits now,
"Somewhere In Time wasn't really
supposed to be a proper concept album, as such. It was more an accident than anything
that so many of the new tracks we came up with seemed to have a sort of recurring theme.
But then, I suppose if you think about what we'd just been through, after a year on the road
with the World
Slavery Tour, I suppose it's only natural that some of that experience
should come sort of leaking out into the songs for the next album."
Of the eight tracks, four would be sterling Steve Harris compositions –
Somewhere In Time', the thought-provoking seven-minute-plus album-opener;
Can Wait', another seven-minute-plus epic that would become such a favourite with the
fans – for its football-terrace sing-along middle-section – that it remains
to this day one of the highlights of the Maiden live show;
'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner', taken from the early Sixties
black-and-white British movie of the same name, but which might as easily have been called
'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Rock Tour'; and the colossal album-closer,
The Great (356–323 BC)', which is to this album what
Of The Ancient Mariner' had been to
Powerslave – the most grandiose and over-the-top
moment on an album towering with such glories.
Steve also had a hand in
a top-drawer Maiden rocker with yet more overtones of time distortion and reality-bending
that Dave had come up with a killer riff for. But, unusually, it was the three tracks which
Steve didn't write this time that, with hindsight, perhaps came to define the
Somewhere In Time album most accurately in the memory:
a marvellous choice as
and the most commercial-sounding track they had recorded since
their very first single, the jaunty
Running Free, six years before;
Of Madness', a paranoiac piece of guitar static that eventually kicks in to another huge,
full-spectrum chorus; and
In A Strange Land', the jagged, rhythmically schizoid
second single from the album, its title
(though not its story line) inspired by the classic Robert A. Heinlein novel from the Sixties.
Musically, all three tracks were subtle departures for the band. Not only were their new
guitar-synths very much in evidence but, more significantly, all three had been written
on his own by Adrian.
Up until then, Adrian had always relied on singer Bruce Dickinson to add the lyrics and
much of the direction to his music. Now, for the first time, Adrian was coming into the studio
with finished songs. Indeed, if you look closely at the writing credits on
Somewhere In Time, you will see that Bruce's name, for once, does not appear anywhere.
It wasn't that Bruce hadn't written any songs for the new album, the fact is, truth to tell, the band
simply didn't rate them highly enough this time for inclusion.
But then, as Bruce says now, "If I'd had my way,
Somewhere In Time would have sounded very different." The singer had actually
envisaged Maiden making a more acoustic-based album. But as Steve says, "Bruce just
wasn't himself at the time. We didn't realise it at first, but he was probably more burnt out than
anyone at the end of the World
Slavery Tour. It wasn't just that the songs Bruce brought in were acoustic,
I wasn't against having maybe one acoustic number, maybe. The truth is, we just didn't think
the songs were strong enough." It was a blow to his pride but it was something, as a good
pro, Bruce quickly learned to live with as the recording of the album began to take shape. As
Bruce is the first to acknowledge: "The stuff Adrian was coming in with was brilliant."
Adrian himself says now that it was merely a coincidence that he began writing fully-formed
songs on his own. "It wasn't that I didn't see myself writing with Bruce again. That was
never the idea. It was just that with the little lay-off, I'd had time to finish things on my own.
When the rest of the band got excited about some of them and wanted to put them on the album,
I was just really happy."
So were their fans, who now flocked to Maiden's shows around the world in their millions.
Mindful of the ill-effects on the band of their previous lengthy sojour on the road, the
Somewhere On Tour world tour of 1986–87 was never going to be as long as its
record-breaking predecessor. It was, however, Maiden's most successful tour ever, and
wherever the band went in the world now – from lantern-lit arenas of Tokyo to the
open-air stadiums of America, back home to the fish-and-chip shop ambience of the
British theatres – there was no rock band bigger or better known than the one
they called The Maiden. So far up the top of the tree they could practically blow away
the clouds, the question was: where did they go from here?
Only 'time' would tell...
Somewhere On Tour pictures: