© 2021 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Musical Space

Musical Space: Iron Maiden’s Literary Bent

Iron Maiden - The Trooper - White Label Test Pressing - 7- RECORD-524878.jpg

There’s a long tradition of literature inspiring rock lyrics. Bruce Springsteen borrowed elements of John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath for the song “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” Cream’s “Tales of Brave Ulysses” is filled with images culled from Homer’s Odyssey. And Devo’s signature song “Whip It” was inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s notoriously dense novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

One band that’s borrowed from the classics on a consistent basis is Great Britain’s Iron Maiden. This tradition extends all the way back to the group’s 1980 self-titled debut with a retelling of “Phantom of the Opera.” Later, the band would lean on Edgar Allan Poe for “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” classic myth for “The Flight of Icarus” and even record an epic retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Bassist and founding member Steve Harris credits his early education to this fascination with literature and vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s boarding school studies may have also played a part in this tradition. Whatever the reasons, it’s inspired a wide variety of heavy metal fans to reach for the books and maybe have their ears perk up during English class when reading Julius Caesar and coming upon the reference to the evil that men do living on and on after them.

But maybe the most memorable—and hummable—is the group’s 1983 adaptation of Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” for the song “The Trooper.”