Yesterday I learned to play an Iron Maiden song.
Certain artists and bands are proceeded by so much accumulated conversation and so many cultural references that I assume I’ve heard their music at some prior point without actually knowing anything about what they sound like.
That’s always been the case for me with bands that are generationally a little before my time. I’m sure the same holds true for you with a certain handful of artists. If you’re my age, you might not be able to hum a Rush song, but you certainly know them by reputation. Same for Kate Bush. If you’re older or younger the list will be different, but the sensation will be the same. Niche artists with one or two major hits, there’s no convenient way into their catalogs on the radio, so you hear the version you’ve assumed in your head, maybe reinforced by that one greatest hit.
This covers a lot of early metal for me. Like, I know my requisite share of Black Sabbath and AC/DC songs, but that’s about it. They’re all a long parade of fantastical album covers and t-shirts worn by Wayne and Garth or Beavis and Butthead,
Yesterday, at our first duo rehearsal in over a year, Gina casually announced, “There’s this great Iron Maiden song we should cover.”
I grinned and nodded. If you know Gina or have ever listened to Arcati Crisis, you’d understand that sort of thing is a little out of our wheelhouse. Yet, I bring as many crazy ideas to the band as Gina, and the few of them that work turn into us covering “Love Game” or other similarly entertaining insanity.
Still, my interest was piqued, and I rarely turn down a musical challene, so we marched over to my mixing computer and loaded up “The Wicker Man” by Iron Maiden.
That’s not metal. At least, not the obnoxiously loud, Metallica-adjacent metal I was expecting from Iron Maiden (and, Metallic is a band I actually know). Despite being from 2000 – a time when there are a hundred different genres of metal ranging from Cookie Monster growling to soaring counter-tenors – the song was more like punk in its supreme simplicity, aside from the solo. The guitars weren’t even that loud. And the singing was incredible – ringing and dressed in multiple layers of harmony.
More or less a perfect Arcati Crisis cover tune. I played it again.
“It’s just that riff,” Gina said, indicating my reference monitors as the yoyoing chorus riff began.
“That’s not so hard,” I vowed. I picked up my twelve-string and began to work it out as Gina sang the melody above me. The song transitioned into the second verse, and I kept playing along. “It mostly sits on the root.”
I played the rhythmic Em, sliding down to pick up the C underneath it. Gina nodded and mirrored my changes on her guitar. “Right, but it doesn’t really resolve D, it has a G in bass.”
I tried it, and she was right. “Makes sense, there’s a D at the top of the next progression anyway. Hey, I think this is low enough for me to sing.” I sang through it tentatively and Gina jumped up to harmony, our voices ringing out through the room until we arrived at another chorus. “Okay, well, I can’t sing that.”
“No, wait, there’s an underneath part, give me a second.” These things really do take just a second with Gina, who is a living harmony jukebox. “Here it is, YOUR TIME WILL COME! YOUR TIME WILL COME!” I sang it back. “No, sit on the low note the first time, it only goes up on the second lines.”
The second chorus ended and we were into the extended intstrumental, with its epic guitar solo. I looked up at Gina standing over my desk. “You’re going to play the solo.”
She smirked back at me.
And that is how I got to know Iron Maiden, and how Arcati Crisis learns a cover song.