If ever Iron Maiden mascot Eddie should find himself “Caught Somewhere in Time,” he could refer to Martin Popoff’s latest book to check his bearings.
Now available from Backbeat / Hal Leonard, 2 Minutes to Midnight is the quintessential chronicle of all things Maiden, from the band’s early days in Leyton (East London) to its most recent EMI album (The Final Frontier) and subsequent “Maiden England” world tour.
Popoff—a columnist (Revolver, Goldmine) and author with over 40 books and a whopping 7,900 reviews to his credit—digs deep into Maiden mythology, raiding the vaults and excavating the catacombs to arrive at a comprehensive history of one of the most prolific and influential bands of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal).
Thanks to artists like Derek Riggs and Melvyn Grant, Maiden is also one of rock’s most colorful ensembles, what with a plethora of albums and singles depicting resident antihero-ghoul Eddie in various settings and attire. Dating back some thirty years, the illustrations give the sum of Maiden’s recorded output unprecedented visual consistency—and render Popoff’s 245-page coffee table timeline a deliriously eye-popping affair.
Collector extraordinaire Dave Wright contributes hundreds of exhibits from his personal archives: Rare picture discs, Japanese releases (with obi strips), T-shirts, lapel buttons, promotional posters, ticket stubs, patches, 8-tracks…even bobble heads. Cataloged and entered into evidence, their images enhance the hardbound 8.5 x 11 “Ephemera de Eddie” scrap book whilst documenting the evolution of metal’s most beloved mascot. Popoff pulls quotes from television and magazine interviews to fashion a career arc that hits on all significant (and seemingly trivial) events that shaped Maiden’s destiny, supplementing Wright’s material with photos from his own library.
Bassist Steve Harris emerges as the band’s spiritual center (and one of two constant members), commenting on the origins of now-famous tracks like “Running Free,” “Run to the Hills,” and “Aces High” as well as the recording sessions for each of the band’s 15 studio albums. But there’s also plenty of input from singer Bruce Dickinson, drummer Nicko McBrain, and guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers.
In his commendable effort to be as inclusive as possible, Popoff also grabs a few words from original singer Paul Di’Annico, drummer Clive Burr, and interim vocalist Blaze Bayley (1994-99). Di’Anno (who later fronted Battlezone and Praying Mantis) admits he couldn’t handle the sudden success of albums like Iron Maiden (1980) and Killers (1981). He turned to drink and drugs to cope with the stress—but just couldn’t handle the rigors of touring (or arguing with Harris and band manager Rod Smallwood. Bayley, the ex-Wolfsbane singer who signed on when Dickinson went solo, debunks notions that heavy metal was losing steam by the mid-‘90s, calling discs like The X Factor (1995) and Virtual XI (1998) the “alternative to alternative.”
Dickinson, the former Samson front man who led Maiden to glory between 1982-1993, dishes on seminal albums like Number of the Beast, Powerslave, and Fear of The Dark—but also discusses why he ventured out on his own. Popoff incorporates imagery from Bruce’s sparse album covers (Tattooed Millionaire and Balls to Picasso, etc.) to contrast with Maiden’s catchy cartoon sleeves and blind (if bold) adherence to galloping metal rhythms in the wake of grunge and gets the inside scoop from Riggs and Grant on the fascinating, sci-fi powered LP jackets for Somewhere in Time, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and The Final Frontier.
There’s no such thing as minutiae in Popoff’s Eddie Almanac. If a person, place, or occurrence somehow affected Maiden’s music, it warrants mentioning by the author. Indeed, the first entry (in the introductory chapter “Ancient Days”) references Egyptian gods Horus and Osiris (circa 2500 B.C.) because they’d feature heavily on the song (and album) “Powerslave” centuries later. Likewise, the release date for Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner is noted because of the movie’s impact on Riggs’ artwork for Somewhere in Time. Subsequent chapters cover the ‘70s, ‘80s,’90s, ‘00s, and present.
Why did Adrian Smith jump ship in the late Eighties? How did Eddie transform from a faceless sketch named “Electric Matthew” to the spike-headed punk on Maiden’s debut album…to the lobotomized cybernetic zombie of the ‘90s? What other historic people and places inspired Dickinson’s lyrics? What bands did Maiden open for in the early days—and which acts supported them after they hit big? What albums do the Maiden men favor, and which eras constitute low points? How does Smallwood view his management style? How does fan enthusiasm in North America rate with the zeal of Maiden disciples in Brazil and Japan?
Popoff leaves few stones unturned, and isn’t afraid to broach sensitive topics once deemed verboten. Playing the part of heavy metal archeologist and curator, rock’s reigning writer assembles the be-all, end-all quick reference guide to the Iron Maiden universe. A selected discography hits on every studio album, several live albums and compilations, and a fair sample of singles, EPs, and videos.