Mark my words my soul lives on
Please don’t worry cause I’ve have gone
I’ve gone beyond to see the truth
When your time is close at hand
Maybe then you’ll understand
Life down there is just a strange illusion
– Beckett, ‘Life’s Shadow’ (1974)
The greatest heavy metal band of all time is currently embroiled in a plagiarism dispute with Mr. Brian Quinn of 70s progressive rock band Beckett. Iron Maiden, for those who come in late, lifted lyrics and an entire instrumental section from the Beckett song ‘Life’s Shadow‘, co-written by Quinn and one Bob Barton, and put them to fine use on classics ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name‘ – in my opinion, the greatest heavy metal song ever – and ‘Nomad‘, respectively. Nothing remotely subtle about this act of skulduggery; as much as it hurts to admit, Maiden committed outright theft and should be rightfully held to task by their fans and the law. The gory details can be read here.
This blog has previously dealt with the topic of plagiarism in heavy metal, and how much is too much to be pardoned. For what it’s worth, the song ‘Life’s Shadow‘ is a fine workout after the manner of the 70s. It is eerie to hear words and motifs that have been a mainstay for so many years suddenly inhabited, and legitimately at that, inside another skin. It is a different song than ‘Nomad‘ too, exchanging Maiden‘s in-your-face orientalisms for a far more understated delivery.
Trust is a frail commodity which once disturbed sleeks away diffidently into the shadows. I don’t believe Iron Maiden have become as big as they have by perpetually stealing ideas from other people; that would be disingenuous conspiracy-mongering. But never having had much interest in trivia, this disclosure comes as revelation to me. My gut tells me that Harris & Co. were simply offering tribute to an influence from their formative years, but thought themselves too big, and Beckett too obscure, to care about such small fry as permissions and credits. The band has since then come to a settlement with the other half of the song’s creators, Bob Barton, but poor Quinn has been left in the lurch despite professing to be the dominant contributor.
This in no way dilutes my enjoyment of the music of Iron Maiden, but it does leave room for a small nagging seed to be planted in insidious soil. How does one ever really wash clean the stench of perfidy? If they could have done it here once, and so unabashedly, they might have done it elsewhere again. It is a truly vast body of work that Maiden carries with them; for a band which has always been about the single, distinctive thread of melody among standard chord progressions, the possibility of further unsavory discoveries suddenly doesn’t seem as outlandish as it once may have.