Drawing inspiration from fellow Culture Crossfire contributor, Connor McGrath’s “Konnor’s KISS Korner” series of articles profiling the long career of legendary rock band, KISS, I’ve decided to write up my own series of pieces detailing the history of one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal bands of all time, the mighty Iron Maiden!
I’ve been a fan of Iron Maiden ever since I was a teenager. I’ve heard their name growing up, especially when I was really getting into heavy metal, but never bothered to seek out their discography. After hearing my first track of theirs, The Prisoner, I finally was able to get my hands on a copy of The Number of the Beast and listened to it non-stop that weekend. I then found out that one of my best friends was also a huge fan and recommended me more of their stuff to listen to. While I got into them in high school, I truly didn’t start becoming a huge Maiden fan until my freshman year of college. The rest is history.
Iron Maiden are the gold standard of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal scene that originated in the 1980s. Their career spans nearly four decades and like a lot of bands with longevity, they’ve had their fair share of rotating members, including different singers. The group was officially formed in England in 1975 by the only original member and principal songwriter from today’s line-up, bassist Steve Harris, who was seeking a new musical venture. Their influences ranged from English classic and hard rock bands such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and UFO among others. Their name is taken from an old German torture device used in the 17 and 1800’s. It is essentially a casket that is decorated with sharp spikes on its interior, so someone inside one, will essentially become impaled upon closing. Pretty morbid way to name your musical group!
After playing their first gig in 1976, a few singers and musicians were cycled out of the band during the late 70’s before joining with drummer Clive Burr, and guitarist, Dave Murray, who is still with the band today. They seemingly found their footing by recruiting vocalist, Paul Di’Anno in 1978. Di’Anno would serve as Iron Maiden’s voice for the next few years.
Iron Maiden were able to secure a record deal in 1979 and subsequently released their self titled debut album in 1980.
The cover of the album bears the first appearance of Eddie, the band’s official mascot who would also graces the covers of every studio album of theirs and remain a fixture in the most of the group’s merchandise and imagery. During live concerts, a huge, robotic version of Eddie interacts with the band during their set.
The album contained the memorable tracks: Prowler, Sanctuary, Running Free, Phantom of the Opera, and the eponymous album closer, Iron Maiden, which details the origins of their band’s name. I actually quite like Di’Anno’s singing ability and he added a more punk feel to the group with his gritty vocals. The music still has the same feeling that fans are accustomed to today with killer riffs, speedy basslines, and blazing solos.
While it initially made very little impact in America, their debut was very well received in their hometown, peaking at #71 on the U.K. album charts and garnering praise by the British press. For what it’s worth, this is actually my second favorite Iron Maiden album.
As time goes on, you will notice that the band’s songwriting is influenced by popular novels, plays, legends, poetry, and world history.
The band embarked on their first full scale headlining tour in support of the record all throughout Europe to rave reviews. Iron Maiden were slowing gaining a huge following throughout their native continent. At this point though, they’ve yet to play a show on U.S. soil but that’ll all change very, very soon.
Wasting little time with following up on the success of their debut, the band produced their sophomore effort in 1981 entitled Killers.
Dennis Stratton, who played guitar alongside Murray on the previous record, was replaced by Adrian Smith, who is also still with Iron Maiden today. This would also be Di’Anno’s last album with the band as he was booted out not long after its release. Tracks you should get a hold of are Wrathchild, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Prodigal Son, and Purgatory. Killers follows a similar formula from its predecessor with a hot opener and several instrumental tracks and maintains their trademark lyrical content. While not as solid as their debut effort, the record is still damn good and there was a string of time in college where I would play “Murders in the Rue Morgue” for hours straight.
Killers actually fared better in the United States, eventually achieving Gold certification.
The band hit the road yet again with their second world tour which included their debut in the United States (supporting Judas Priest) as well as shows in Canada and Asia.
The band was starting to really hit their stride but the next 12 months would change Iron Maiden forever.
Check back next week for part two of CXF’s Iron Maiden’s Mania! Find out what drove Paul Di’Anno away from the band and who his replacement was that changed the metal rockers’ history forever. Don’t you stray!
Photo credit: www.thetimes.co.uk for Iron Maiden band picture.