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My year in books 2010

Now that I’m done with my favorite music for the year, it’s time for my favorite books.

My goal for this year was to finish 36 books. I thought I could handle three per month, and I’m almost there. I’m trying not to fall short as I’m trying to finish up #34 this week and then two more that I think I can knock out before the end of next week.

I read a number of books that were really outstanding this year and I found it too difficult to choose a favorite book of the year. I didn’t even bother to rank them, either. I just picked my favorite dozen (of the first 33, that is) and let that be it.

You can see all of what I’ve read this year in my 2010 bookshelf at GoodReads. Here are my favorites, in the order that I read them.

 


 

Columbine
Dave Cullen

A very detailed and well-researched account of the events surrounding the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999. Cullen takes you through the past of those involved, especially Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, on through the events of that day and the aftermath of the years that followed. Harris’ and Klebold’s intentions were to top the body count of Oklahoma City through the use of homemade bombs, but the bombs failed to go off. The basics of the story are known – two kids arrive at school and commence shooting their classmates – but there is much more. And some of the well-known accounts about what happened that day are either inaccurate or altogether fictitious. Cullen does an outstanding job of sorting through this complex story.
 

Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul
Edward Humes

Monkey Girl chronicles the battle between parents, science teachers and the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2004-2005. You may recall news stories regarding this battle over the board’s introduction of creationism into the biology curriculum by way of “intelligent design”. Humes’ book is very well researched and detailed, and I believe is pretty fair. He introduces all of the personalities involved, gives you a seat at the board meetings to listen to the board’s ill-conceived plan, and guides you through the eventual trial (after a group of parents sued). He also provides a significant amount of detail regarding the evidence and arguments for Darwin’s theory on the origin of species, as well as the arguments the ID proponents make as well. Overall, just a terrific book, definitely worth the time.
 

Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson
Rus Bradburd

An excellent account of the life and career of Nolan Richardson. He is often remembered for the glory years of Arkansas basketball in the early- to mid-90’s, as well as for the stormy events that led to his dismissal in 2002. But there is much more to his important story. He was not just a great coach, but also a true innovator in the college game (for which he is often given too little credit) as well as a spokesman on issues of race and civil rights (for which he was often misunderstood.) I admit that I didn’t care much for Nolan early in his career at Arkansas (though, granted, I was not an Arkansas fan at that time, either), but did warm to him a little during over the years. This book has only made me appreciate him and his story even more.
 

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Descending from a failed climb in Northern Pakistan to the summit of K2, Greg Mortenson found himself separated from his group and stumbled into the small village of Korphe in the shadow of K2. After weeks of recovery in the village, he noticed the children of the village had no school building, instead learning in the cold temperatures outdoors, using sticks to write in the dirt. Because of the hospitality they had shown to him, he vowed to one day return to Korphe and build a school for their children. He knew nothing of raising funds and getting things done in this culture far different from his own, but he was determined. After some bumps along the way, he eventually did return to Korphe and build that school. And since, he has founded the Central Asia Institute and built schools for villages all over northern Pakistan and now into Afghanistan. There is much to this story, but Mortenson believes that education – particularly for girls – is the key to slowing (and eventually stopping) the terrorism that is born in this part of the world.
 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot

In the early 1950’s, a poor, black woman from Virginia was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins. While she died after a brief treatment, doctors there took a tissue sample from her cervix, which, over time, continued to reproduce and live while other such cell lines would eventually die. Since that time, these cells (known as HeLa) have been instrumental in all types of medical research and breakthroughs, including cancer, AIDS/HIV, and the polio vaccine. Skloot tells the story of both Henrietta – her life, her family’s life since (her children didn’t even know that her cells were still alive until nearly 20 years later) – as well as the story of her cells and the medical and scientific discoveries which they aided. A fascinating, true story.
 

Patience With God: Faith for People Who Don’t Like Religion (or Atheism)
Frank Schaeffer

As the subtitle suggests, Schaeffer desires a faith for those like himself who are unsatisfied with typical fundamentalism, be it the religious fundamentalists that most are well aware of, or those on the other side of the fence – the so-called “new atheists” (see Dawkins, Hitchens, et al.) Part-critique, part-biography, he rejects the dogmatic certainty promoted by many of these people, and instead believes that there is plenty of room for both faith and doubt in our spiritual journeys. While many everyday evangelicals would find much here with which they would disagree, it spoke to me and my own journey quite a bit. A very good read.
 

Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference
Warren St. John

Luma Mufleh grew up in a very priveleged family in Jordan, and then came to the US for college. After she finished, she decided – much to the displeasure of her father and family – to stay in the US and make it on her own. After bouncing around a little, she ended up in the Atlanta area, and began a youth soccer program for children of refugees (from Africa, Europe and the middle East) who had settled in the area. She not only helped the kids by coaching their soccer teams, but also by investing in their lives, including their parents. She developed a tutoring program to help the kids – often struggling with English – in their schoolwork, and helped their parents in myriad ways with adjusting to a new culture. This is a fascinating and beautiful story about people from very different cultures around the world coming together and making a difference in each others’ lives.
 

Zeitoun
Dave Eggers

Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian-born painter and contractor in New Orleans who chose to stay behind when his family fled just days before hurricane Katrina hit. This is an account of his and his family’s experiences after the storm – his days there following the storm, his families travels while waiting to return to the city, the help Zeitoun provided in rescuing various neighbors and strangers from their homes after the floods came, and the grave injustice of his inexplicable arrest and three-week imprisonment by the post-Katrina police and military, despite never being charged with a crime. (hint: he is a middle-eastern born Muslim.) While non-fiction, it reads like a novel, and is an outstanding book. Everyone should read it. (I got to hear the Zeitouns tell their story in person this summer and meet them afterward, which was pretty cool.)
 

I Am Ozzy
Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Ayres

I’ve been a fan of Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo music for over 25 years. Ozzy’s story, in his own words, was not only interesting and informative, but also hilarious. Ozzy has great sense of humor and has always been funny, but this book is laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, it’s not for the faint of heart. Some of the stories are a bit rough and his language, of course, is horrible. But it’s what you expect from Ozzy. If you’re a fan, you’ll probably love it like I did. After finishing it, though, I have to say that it’s a miracle that this guy is still alive.
 

Open: An Autobiography
Andre Agassi

This is just an outstanding book by the tennis great, chronicling his life and career. I’ve always been an Agassi fan, but there was a fair amount that I never knew about him (for starters, “I hate tennis.”) His father drove him to be the star he would become, and was in many ways a colossal jerk, though this is not a big surprise when it comes to fathers of young phenoms like Agassi. It was a rough road for Agassi at times, but he ultimately became one of the greatest American players of all time. And his success would provide an opportunity for him to do something greater than anything he did on the court. His work with his charter school in Las Vegas is no doubt the achievement of which he is most proud. A definite must-read.
 

Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace
Pam Cope and Aimee Molloy

When her 15-year-old son died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition, Pam Cope was devastated and struggled to make it through each day thereafter. But she found a passion to carry her through the rest of her life after a visit to a Vietnamese orphanage. Instead of dwell on her own suffering, she chose to try to relieve the suffering of others – specifically, orphaned and/or trafficked children in Southeast Asia and Africa. She devoted her time and resources to rescuing children from orphanages (adopting two of her own from Vietnam) and slavery, and eventually started the Touch A Life foundation to continue that work. An inspiring story.
 

Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

A fascinating look behind the scenes at the 2008 presidential campaigns – particularly those of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John McCain. There’s a lot here: Obama’s calm demeanor and his difficulties in dealing with the Reverend Wright issue. Hillary’s disorganized mess of a campaign and the “Bill” problem. John Edwards’ delusions of a high office despite his personal life blowing up all around him. Sarah Palin’s glaring incompetence and obsession with herself. The genesis of John McCain becoming the bitter, sad, old man we see today. And much more. It’s a wild, wild ride, and a great read.

 


 

A few honorable mentions:

  • When The Game Was Ours – Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, w/Jackie MacMullan
  • The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash – Dave Urbanski
  • Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World – Gary Haugen
  • Death To The BCS: The Definitive Case Against The Bowl Championship Series – Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, Jeff Passan

 


 

That’s it. That’s the list.

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My year in music 2010 (2 of 2)

Part one can be found here.

There are several albums from this year that I want but have not yet acquired, most notably the new Sufjan Stevens and Mumford & Sons. I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons a lot during the past couple of weeks as it’s been streaming at spinner.com, and look forward to getting it soon. So, while there are these and others that might have made my list, this is the top ten of those that did.
 


 

10
American VI: Ain’t No Grave

Johnny Cash

This album is a collection of songs from one of Cash’s final recording sessions, centered on death and eternity. A very good closing album to the American Recordings series. Listen to: “Ain’t No Grave“, “Redemption Day“, “Can’t Help But Wonder…“, “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream“.
 

 

9
So Runs The World Away

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is one of the best singer-songwriters out there today. His last two albums have been exceptional pieces of work, and this newest is also very good. Listen to: “Change of Time“, “Lark“, “Long Shadows“, “Folk Bloodbath“.

 

8
Something’s Coming

Ty Tabor

I’ve been a huge King’s X fan for about 20 years now, and guitarist Ty Tabor’s solo work continues to get better with each album he releases. I believe this one to be his best to date. Listen to: “Free Yourself“, “Politician’s Creed“, “When The Sun Shines“, “Bring It On Back“.

 

7
Contra

Vampire Weekend

I really liked Vampire Weekend’s first album a lot, but worried they would be something of a “one-album wonder”. But I had no reason to fear. Another great pop record and, as good as their first album was, I like this one even more. Listen to: “Holiday“, “Cousins“, “Giving Up The Gun“, “Diplomat’s Son“.

 

6
American Slang

The Gaslight Anthem

If Springsteen and his band had a child, it just might be called The Gaslight Anthem. Another terrific blue-collar rock and roll collection from this New Jersey band. Listen to: “American Slang“, “Stay Lucky“, “The Diamond Street Choir“, “Old Haunts“.

 

5
The Suburbs

Arcade Fire

I had this album at anywhere from #2 to #7 as I was finalizing this list. I read something recently calling them “the next U2.” That’s hard for me to imagine, but nevertheless, another excellent record and they keep getting better. Listen to: “The Suburbs“, “Modern Man“, “Sprawl II“, “City With No Children“.

 

4
The Promise

Bruce Springsteen

The songs were recorded over 30 years ago, but this collection of unreleased songs from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions is just one more example of why The Boss is the legend he is today. Listen to: “Outside Looking In“, “Someday (We’ll Be Together)“, “Save My Love“, “It’s A Shame.

 

3
God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise

Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs

Singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne’s newest adds a bit of a country feel to his brand of folk and his trademark scratchy vocals. I love this album and can’t recommend it highly enough. Listen to: “Beg, Steal or Borrow“, “God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise“, “For the Summer“, “Devil’s In The Jukebox“.

 

2
Heaven is Whenever

The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady is back with another collection of stories set to classic rock and roll music, and it’s a blast. These guys have quickly become one of my very favorite bands and this is a must-have. Listen to: “The Weekenders“, “We Can Get Together“, “Soft in the Center“, “Our Whole Lives“.

 

1
The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden

No surprise here. After one listen, there was never any doubt that this would be at the top of my list. Ten outstanding songs. Despite some great stuff in the last decade, this is their best since 1988’s Seventh Son…, and proof again that Maiden is the best metal band of the last 30 years. Period.

 

Listen to the entire album in all it’s greatness and awesomeness:

1. Satellite 15…The Final Frontier
2. El Dorado
3. Mother of Mercy
4. Coming Home
5. The Alchemist
6. Isle of Avalon
7. Starblind
8. The Talisman
9. The Man Who Would Be King
10. When the Wild Wind Blows

Up the irons!
 


 

That’s it. That’s the list.

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My year in music 2010 (1 of 2)

It’s that time again. I’ve managed to download around 90 albums this year, 50 of which were new 2010 releases.

So, you’re wondering: which ones were your favorites? Well, since you asked…

Here’s the first half of my favorites for the year, at least at the moment. (I always rethink them a month later and wish I’d ordered them differently.) Some of the artists are older (like me) and some of them are newer, but they’re what I listened to and liked the most this year. So, here you go…
 


 

20
Court Yard Hounds

Court Yard Hounds

I admit I’ve always been biased against country music, but occasionally I’ll come across something I find myself enjoying. This one by 2/3 of the Dixie Chicks is one of those. Listen to: “The Coast“, “See You In The Spring“, “Ain’t No Son“.

 

19
Imperium

Grammatrain

I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything Pete Stewart’s had a hand in over the years. Grammatrain was a favorite of mine in the 90’s, and it’s nice to have them back with maybe their best yet. Listen to: “Damaged“, “Forever“, “The Last Sound“.

 

18
Wilderness Heart

Black Mountain

Canadian psychedelic band Black Mountain appeared on my radar a couple of years ago. You would think that they just arrived from the early 70’s. I’ve become a big fan and really love their sound. Listen to: “The Hair Song“, “Old Fangs“, “The Way To Gone“.

 

17
The Learner

Griffin House

Unfortunately, Griffin House’s best song of the year (Head For The Hills) was recorded after this album, but it’s still another solid collection from one of my favorite singer-songwriters over the last few years. Listen to: “If You Want To“, “Standing At The Station“, “Just Another Guy“.

 

16
Mojo

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

I’ve said many times before: I love all things Tom Petty. This newest album, with a heavy dose of blues influence, displays again the greatness of this band. Listen to: “Jefferson Jericho Blues“, “I Should Have Known It“, “Something Good Coming“.

 

15
Scream

Ozzy Osbourne

Ozzy has recorded a handful of good songs in the past 20 years, but, sadly, most of them were spread out over several mostly forgettable albums. Finally, Ozzy’s back with a full album of really good songs. Listen to: “Let Me Hear You Scream“, “Life Won’t Wait“, “Diggin’ Me Down“.

 

14
Band of Joy

Robert Plant

While many artists his age are busying themselves with glory days “reunion” tours, Plant just continues to record great music, this time a folk/rock winner aided by Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin. Listen to: “Angel Dance“, “Silver Rider“, “Harm’s Swift Way“.

 

13
Women and Country

Jakob Dylan

Dylan’s largely-acoustic solo debut was a favorite. He switches gears here with more of a country sound, with backing vocals provided by Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, and it works well. Listen to: “Nothing But The Whole Wide World“, “Everybody’s Hurting“, “Holy Rollers For Love“.

 

12
Le Noise

Neil Young

It’s often loud and heavy, something Young called “folk-metal”. Just a man and his electric guitar. Well, and his producer, who had a large part in making it what it is: one of Young’s best in years. Listen to: “Sign of Love“, “Love and War“, “Angry World“.

 

11
True Believer

Matthew Barber

For the second time in three years, I hated to leave Matthew Barber out of the top 10, but again he’s my #11. I’m sure I’ll rethink that later, as I did two years ago. Nevertheless, a great singer-songwriter and another terrific album. Listen to: “Insanity or Death“, “True Believer“, “Revolution of the Sun“.

 

Next up: my top ten favorites for the year.
 


 
But first, here’s a few honorable mentions that I wanted to mention but didn’t want to bother with a full post. Obviously, I can only put 20 albums in a top 20 list, so here’s a list of other albums I liked a lot but couldn’t make the cut.

In no particular order…

  • As I Call You Down – Fistful of Mercy
  • End Times – Eels
  • High Violet – The National
  • Infinite Arms – Band of Horses
  • Letting Go – Jennifer Knapp
  • Little Vigils – Mark Erelli
  • Sea of Cowards – The Dead Weather
  • Together – The New Pornographers
  • Transference – Spoon
  • Volume II – She & Him

That’s it. That’s the list.

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The dream is true

Part 6 of 6

When Bruce left Maiden, I was disappointed, of course, but also thrilled to hear his solo work. Tattooed Millionaire had been a favorite, and his first post-Maiden album, Balls to Picasso, was also great. I never got into Skunkworks as much, but Accident of Birth and Chemical Wedding were very good. In other words, he was putting out some great stuff on his own.

But in early 1999, the news broke: Iron Maiden had replaced their lead singer. There was really only once choice this time, and so Bruce Dickinson was returning to Iron Maiden. Not only that, they had invited Adrian Smith back as well, and so Iron Maiden would now be a six-piece band with three lead guitarists. Maiden was poised to be better than ever.

And so the fear that Maiden’s career was dying a slow death had now dissipated, and their first album of the new millennium was slated for release in the year 2000. The first decade of the 21st century would see Maiden put out their best work since 1988 and, in my opinion, retake the throne as the kings of heavy metal.

Iron Maiden was back. The future was looking very bright. And my dream (and no doubt countless others) of a reunited “classic lineup” (plus one) had, indeed, come true. And they would not disappoint.

 


 

Brave New World (2000)
Upon first hearing this album, there was no doubt about it: Iron Maiden had been born again. You could hear it in the music. Dave, Adrian and Janick working together was amazing. I’d been waiting for this album for 12 years, and now it had arrived. “Wicker Man”, “Blood Brothers” and the title track were instant classics. “Ghost of the Navigator” and “The Mercenary” were great tracks as well, but “Dream of Mirrors” was also a favorite of mine. This was like most of the 80’s albums – no bad tracks, just great stuff from beginning to end. If the reunion itself wasn’t enough to convince that they were back, Brave New World was.
 

track list:
 
1. The Wicker Man
2. Ghost of the Navigator
3. Brave New World
4. Blood Brothers
5. The Mercenary
6. Dream of Mirrors
7. The Fallen Angel
8. The Nomad
9. Out of the Silent Planet
10. The Thin Line Between Love & Hate

 


 

Dance of Death (2003)
Maiden avoided any letdown in their second album of the new millennium and the new Maiden. I would say I like Brave New World slightly better as a whole, but this album included two epic songs that are as good as anything they had recorded in the previous 15 years (save perhaps “Fear of the Dark”). “Paschendale” and the title track are just phenomenal songs that truly are Maiden at their best. “Rainmaker”, “Montségur” and “Wildest Dreams” are other favorites. The album closer, “Journeyman”, was a first for Maiden – featuring acoustic guitars with no electric – and is one of their better closing tracks ever.
 

track list:
 
1. Wildest Dreams
2. Rainmaker
3. No More Lies
4. Montségur
5. Dance of Death
6. Gates of Tomorrow
7. New Frontier
8. Paschendale
9. Face in the Sand
10. Age of Innocence
11. Journeyman

 


 

A Matter of Life and Death (2006)
Maiden’s next release is a dark and heavy album with many of the tracks focused on war and/or religion. It was also their longest album to date, over 70 minutes for only 10 tracks. “The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg” and “For The Greater Good of God” are my absolute favorites, but once again, everything here is just magnificent. “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”, “The Longest Day” and “These Colours Don’t Run” are other favorites. It was truly remarkable to see a band 30 years into their career producing such an amazing piece of work. Just like during the 80’s, Maiden was again the gold standard.
 

track list:
 
1. Different World
2. These Colours Don’t Run
3. Brighter Than a Thousand Suns
4. The Pilgrim
5. The Longest Day
6. Out of the Shadows
7. The Reincarnation of Benjamin Breeg
8. For the Greater Good of God
9. Lord of Light
10. The Legacy

 


 

The last ten years have been far better than the previous ten. While there was more output in the 80’s then the past decade (seven albums as opposed to three), the quality of their work – which dipped a bit in the 90’s – was back at the level of their early years. These last three albums have been outstanding.

With apologies to those that came before them – Zeppelin, Sabbath, Priest, AC/DC – I say Iron Maiden is the greatest metal band to date. Obviously, I’m heavily biased, but the quality and consistency of their work for 30 years has just been exceptional. There’s nobody better as far as I’m concerned.

And I can say this now: The Final Frontier is right there with these last three as well. Though it’s release date isn’t until Tuesday, I found last night that the tracks had leaked and were on youtube. After an initial listen, I was, in fact, blown away yet again. I plan to have many more listens over the next few days as I await the chance to get my own copy next week.

You may have noticed during all of these posts that I never mentioned seeing Maiden live. Unfortunately, the fact is that I never have. They came to Little Rock a few months before I bought that first album in the fall of 1983, so I’d missed them on that tour. They haven’t returned since. The closest they’ve been (that I’m aware of) is Dallas, but I’ve never been able to make a show. Someday, though, before they pack up the guitars for good, I hope to do that. I have to.

Until then, I say to Steve, Bruce, Dave, Adrian, Janick and Nicko (and, of course, Eddie) – thanks for all you’ve done and continue to do. Iron Maiden has been my favorite band for 27 years, and will continue to be for however many years I have left. You are indeed the best.

Up the irons!

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A fire in the sky

Part 5 of 6

In the mid-90’s, the internet was not yet the go to place for news. Since I didn’t read music magazines or watch much of the music channels (unless “Beavis and Butt-head” were on), I continued to be somewhat in the dark when it came to Iron Maiden news.

I found out about the release of The X Factor when I walked by it in my local Best Buy and saw it sitting there with the other Maiden albums. I didn’t even realize it existed, much less had been released. Naturally, I picked it up and proceeded to the check out. I would soon hear the new Maiden, fronted by a new voice for the first time in over thirteen years.

Blaze Bayley was selected to replace Bruce Dickinson in 1994, and he was not well-received by fans. His voice was no match for Dickinson’s, especially when it came to the high end of his range – which was probably somewhere near the middle of Bruce’s. I admit that I’ve never really warmed up to Bayley as the voice of Iron Maiden, but the Blaze era was not a total loss, as I will discuss below. But by the end, I did fear that Iron Maiden would never come close to being what they once were.
 


 

The X Factor (1995)
The first album of the Blaze era – Maiden’s longest at that point – is actually quite good. Despite my own opinions of Bayley’s shortcomings as a (Maiden) vocalist, this album, in my opinion, was their best since Seventh Son. “Sign of the Cross” and “Man on the Edge” are great songs, and the rest is very solid as well. And I think tracks like “Fortunes of War”, “2 AM”, and “The Aftermath” help make this another very good addition to the Maiden discography. I’ve always thought this album would have been much better received had someone else (ahem) been behind the mic. No, it still was not on par with their 80’s work, but I’ve always liked it much more than most did.
 

track list:
 
1. Sign of the Cross
2. Lord of the Flies
3. Man on the Edge
4. Fortunes of War
5. Look for the Truth
6. The Aftermath
7. Judgement of Heaven
8. Blood on the World’s Hands
9. The Edge of Darkness
10. 2 A.M.
11. The Unbeliever

 

 


 

Virtual XI (1998)
After what many fans saw as a disappointment in both The X Factor and Bayley himself, Maiden returned three years later with what would probably be considered the least of all of their albums. Again, I didn’t dislike it the way some did, but perhaps that’s just my inability to call anything Maiden does “bad”. Seriously, though, while I don’t care for “The Educated Fool” and I find “The Angel and the Gambler” borderline annoying at times, the rest I think is pretty good. “Futureal” and “The Clansman” are strong songs and remained in the early post-Blaze setlists. However, Virtual XI has sold fewer copies than any other Maiden release to date.
 

track list:
 
1. Futureal
2. The Angel and the Gambler
3. Lightning Strikes Twice
4. The Clansman
5. When Two Worlds Collide
6. The Educated Fool
7. Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger
8. Como Estais Amigos

 


 

Despite his best efforts, Blaze didn’t make it with Iron Maiden.

Let me say this: Blaze Bayley is a fine vocalist. I actually have his first post-Maiden album (Silicon Messiah) and it’s pretty good. I think he did a good job with the material they did during that time, but the classic material wasn’t the same with him singing. He just didn’t seem like the right fit, no matter his talent.

Bayley’s crime wasn’t being a bad vocalist. It was not being Bruce Dickinson. And that’s not his fault. Dickinson had not just set the bar high, he’d set it off the chart. Bayley never really had a chance. Neither would have anyone else. Nobody was going to successfully replace Bruce.

And so, less than a year after the release of Virtual XI, Blaze Bayley and Iron Maiden agreed to part ways. Once again, Iron Maiden was without a voice. But that would soon be remedied. And there would be much rejoicing.

Next up: Reunited.

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A man who walks alone

Part 4 of 6

After their impressive run in the 1980’s, the following decade would get off to a bad start and only get worse.

In 1989, before the band began work on their followup to Seventh Son, guitarist Adrian Smith decided to leave the band and carry on with his own band. The so-called “classic lineup” was no more.

Bruce Dickinson had also been working on a solo album at the time, and his guitarist for that album, Janick Gers, was chosen to replace Smith. This would be the lineup for the next two albums, released in the early 1990’s.

It was around this time that I began to lose touch with Maiden a little. As I finished college, a friend had introduced me to a number of “CCM” (Contemporary Christian Music) artists and bands that I began listening to a lot. I began spending more time looking at music in Christian book stores than in real music stores.

I bought No Prayer… upon it’s release, but I admit it that I didn’t get Fear of the Dark until long after it’s release. I can’t recall exactly, but it was at least a year. I just wasn’t quite keeping up with them like I used to. Maiden seemed to be losing something, and my desire to grab next Maiden release immediately seemed to have been lost as well.

 


 

No Prayer For The Dying (1990)
Despite the loss of Smith, Iron Maiden continued on with another good album. I think this album is where they started to slip a bit, though. While it’s a solid album, it’s not, in my opinion, as strong as anything that preceded it. “Holy Smoke” is a fun song, but not a typical Maiden song. “Bring Your Daughter…” was originally a Bruce song, but the band’s version also became a big hit. I’ve always been fond of the title track, and “Tailgunner” and “Fates Warning” as well. But in the end, most of these songs were largely forgotten over the years. Still, listening to it now, it remains quite a good album, but they set the bar so high in the 80’s, I admit it does seem like a bit of a disappointment.
 

track list:
 
1. Tailgunner
2. Holy Smoke
3. No Prayer for the Dying
4. Public Enema Number One
5. Fates Warning
6. The Assassin
7. Run Silent Run Deep
8. Hooks in You
9. Bring Your Daughter…to the Slaughter
10. Mother Russia

 

 


 

Fear of the Dark (1992)
This one is a mixed bag. There are several songs on this album that I really love. The title track, of course, has become a classic, and anti-war song “Afraid To Shoot Strangers” is very good and a personal favorite. I like “Be Quick or Be Dead” and “From Here To Eternity” as well, but beyond that, I’ve never been crazy about this album. It seems like about half the songs are just filler, and it was clearly their weakest to date. I suppose all of the past success and touring was bound to catch up with them, and perhaps they felt pressure to get something else out sooner than they should have. It’s not a horrible album by any stretch, and as I said, there’s stuff to like here. But overall it was just another step down from everything (even No Prayer..) that preceded it.
 

track list:
 
1. Be Quick or Be Dead
2. From Here to Eternity
3. Afraid to Shoot Strangers
4. Fear Is the Key
5. Childhood’s End
6. Wasting Love
7. The Fugitive
8. Chains of Misery
9. The Apparition
10. Judas Be My Guide
11. Weekend Warrior
12. Fear of the Dark

 


 

Adrian Smith’s departure was big, but perhaps more so was the next exit from the band. After twelve years and seven albums, singer Bruce Dickinson decided to go solo as well in 1993. Perhaps his taste of working solo on Tattooed Millionaire (1990) and a solo tour inspired him to move on to something new.

His final concert with Maiden, in August of 1993, was released on video (Raising Hell), which featured a collaboration between the band and horror magician Simon Drake. It was quite a show.

Replacing a guitarist is one thing. Replacing the voice of your band is quite another, and the selection would be an important one for the future of the band. Could the next Iron Maiden vocalist live up to those who had come before him, particularly Dickinson? It sounded like an impossible task.

Apparently it was.

Next up: Blaze Bayley steps up to the mic.

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Part 3 of 6

In the summer of 1984, I got to experience the anticipation of an Iron Maiden new release for the first time. Their first new release since I discovered them about six months earlier was due in stores in September, just after the beginning of my senior year in high school. I don’t believe I’ve ever so eagerly awaited an albums’ release as I did that summer. And when I finally got my copy of Powerslave, it delivered in a big way.

After the success of their previous two albums, Iron Maiden was on top of the metal world and embarked on their first major worldwide headlining tour – the thirteen month “World Slavery Tour”. From this tour was born their first full-length live album (and concert video), Live After Death. The live album was awesome, and I was beside myself when I purchased the concert on VHS and watched Maiden perform live. For it’s time, that was an outstanding show.

Maiden’s next two studio releases would find their sound change ever so slightly, but the music did not suffer. They continued to release excellent work through the end of the 80’s, finishing up a decade not with seven good albums, but seven great albums. In my (obviously biased) opinion, there was no band during the 80’s that was even remotely their equal.
 


 

Powerslave (1984)
Of all the opening tracks from the Iron Maiden catalog, I’d say “Aces High” is probably my favorite. It’s a high energy song that kicks off this fantastic album and is then followed by one of my all-time favorite tracks as well in “2 Minutes to Midnight”. My first new release did not disappoint, despite having only eight tracks. The title track, “Back in the Village”, and the epic 13-minute “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” are other highlights, although like all of their albums to that point, there were no bad songs. I’ve always liked Maiden’s instrumental tracks, and the last one they recorded was on this album (“Losfer Words”), which is very good as well.
 

track list:
 
1. Aces High
2. 2 Minutes to Midnight
3. Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra) [Instrumental]
4. Flash of the Blade
5. The Duellists
6. Back in the Village
7. Powerslave
8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 


 

Somewhere in Time (1986)
Like Killers, it took me a little longer to appreciate this album than it should have. I’m not sure why, because it really is very good. I will say that it’s probably my least favorite of the decade, but that’s not a negative. It’s relative, of course. “Wasted Years”, “Heaven Can Wait” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” are favorites, along with the album closer, “Alexander the Great”. Maiden continued the habit of including an epic song, again with that final track. “Alexander…” came in at a little over eight-and-a-half minutes and, like “Rime…”, is a great closing track. The addition of synthesizers was, in my opinion, unnecessary. It would have been at least as good without them, but nevertheless, another first rate Maiden record.
 

track list:
 
1. Caught Somewhere in Time
2. Wasted Years
3. Sea of Madness
4. Heaven Can Wait
5. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
6. Stranger in a Strange Land
7. Déjà Vu
8. Alexander the Great

 


 

Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
While Somewhere in Time was full of time-related songs, it was not a true concept album. Their seventh album, however, is often considered a concept album, with many of the songs telling part of a story about a clairvoyant. The synthesizers were replaced with keyboards this time, and while I think it worked better, again I feel they would have been fine without them. “Can I Play With Madness?” and “The Evil That Men Do” were the biggest hits from this one, but again, every song is very good and my favorites include “Moonchild” (another strong album opener), “Infinite Dreams” and the title track as well. This was the last album featuring the “classic lineup”, and not surprisingly, they came through once again.
 

track list:
 
1. Moonchild
2. Infinite Dreams
3. Can I Play with Madness
4. The Evil That Men Do
5. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
6. The Prophecy
7. The Clairvoyant
8. Only the Good Die Young

 


 

Regardless of the longevity of an artist or band, you can usually point to a specific span of years that would be considered their “glory days”. There’s always a time when they were both at their best and their most popular. It might be a few years and a couple of albums. It might be longer.

For Iron Maiden, that time was the decade of the 1980’s. Their popularity and following has surged again in the new millennium, with the return of Adrian and Bruce, and they are still as good as ever. But I believe that their time, their finest hour and their very best songs came during the 80’s. The decade was very good to them.

The 90’s, however, would not be as kind.

Next up: Upheaval.

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