40 years ago marked the release of an album with a logo and mascot which would be a hit with thousands of tattooists. The music, needless to say, caught on everywhere.
They’ve just celebrated their fortieth anniversary, and just writing this brings a smile to my face.
Because Iron Maiden, the debut album of the London group of the same name which came out on 14th April 1980 on EMI, was such a youthful record and it is strange indeed to see it turn forty. Cranky and restless as ever but forty years of age.
It was a compact album and it’s still dear to the hearts of heavy metal fans, with vocals by a great frontman (the iconic Paul Di’Anno) who many fans consider the definitive Iron Maiden vocalist.
It’s a short album (a mere 38 minutes) but already featured the logo and mascot (the legendary Edward The Head, at the time very punk-oriented in appearance and not yet the Eddie we know and love today) that would lay down the law in the eighties and nineties. An album with a mix of sounds which have remained more or less intact since they came out of nowhere.
It was not that “Iron Maiden” sounded like nothing else before it (its influences are blatantly clear), but nobody had ever managed to amalgamate these sounds so effectively.
Let’s cast our minds back: in 1980 the punk of the Damned and Sex Pistols was still going strong. Fine, Prowler – the opening track which starts with a crybaby guitar effect worthy of Jimi Hendrix – has precisely that expressive urgency, not to mention the angry lyrics of Di’Anno which hinge on the storytelling of a young misfit. A homeless man who just can’t fit into the rigid social structure of an England which was looking at a decade of metal, the iron of a certain Margaret Thatcher.
Back then, music critics of a certain calibre only sang the praises of the new wave/post punk movement of Talking Heads, Magazine and Devo, looking down their noses at all the rest. Ok so, Steve Harris and company (bassist Harris and guitarist Dave Murray are the only original members in the current lineup) would create their own personal resistance group.
And their musical baggage contained a bit of everything: from the seventies Prog dear to the bass player-Westham United fan to the never relinquished blues of Dave Murray, the melodic hard rock of U.F.O. and the epic punk of Di’Anno, certain guitar harmonies in the style of Queen (with impeccable improvements by the underrated Dennis Stratton) and the unadulterated rock (the future anthem “Running Free”) from the drum kit of Clive Burr, a masterful drummer who we sadly lost seven years ago.
That was their own personal “new wave” – scathingly baptised NWOBHM, or New Wave Of British Heavy Metal – and from there on in, they would get themselves noticed with manifesto tracks like Phantom of the Opera, the instrumental Transylvania, Sanctuary (which only appears on the US and Canadian editions of the record as well as on subsequent reissues), Charlotte The Harlot and the eponymous title track Iron Maiden, setting the metallic seed for the sound which would hallmark their entire career.
Wirh a touch of sweetness too, seeing as how Remember Tomorrow and Strange World, though not actually ballads, are still great songs that would give anyone goosebumps. Especially the former, covered in recent times by Opeth (a magnificent version) and Metallica and dedicated by Di’Anno to the father with whom he had such a problematic relationship.
Put it this way: many fans of Maiden to this day – without turning their back on the album Iron Maiden – prefer its follow-up “Killers” (1981 and, needless to day, another masterpiece) considered the highpoint of the early phase featuring Di’Anno-Harris-Murray-Burr with poor Stratton soon to be out on his ear to make room for the more professional Adrian Smith.
Historians claim that the arrival of icon Bruce Dickinson and the commercial boom – America included – of The Number Of The Beast (1982) marked the squaring of the circle before arriving at the Iron Maiden we still know today, brilliantly crystallised in 1983 by Piece Of Mind (utter perfection) and everything that would come later.
Be that as it may, but Iron Maiden is still up there among the greats in the annals of rock and metal. Because it was already wonderful back in 1980 and came right out of nowhere, even if it did bear the mark of many great things that were already out there. The perfect malicious operation, all said and done.
2) Remember Tomorrow
3) Running Free
4) Phantom of the Opera
6) Strange World
7) Sanctuary (only on the US/Canada edition and subsequent reissues)
8) Charlotte the Harlot
9) Iron Maiden