Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Talkin' Eds: Iron Maiden (14/4/1980)

1980 was a watershed year for heavy metal. Just have a look at some of the important albums that were released in those twelve months; elsewhere future big-hitters are steadily adding to their back catalogue...

• AC/DC - Back in Black
• Accept - I'm a Rebel
• Alice Cooper - Flush the Fashion
• Angel Witch - Angel Witch
• Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell
• Blue Öyster Cult - Cultösaurus Erectus
• Def Leppard - On Through the Night
• Gillan - Glory Road
• Girlschool - Demolition
• Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
• Judas Priest - British Steel
• Kiss - Unmasked
• Krokus - Metal Rendez-vous
• Motörhead - Ace of Spades
• Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz
• Queen - The Game
• Rush - Permanent Waves
• Samson - Head On
• Saxon - Wheels of Steel
• Saxon - Strong Arm of the Law
• Scorpions - Animal Magnetism
• Thin Lizzy - Chinatown
• Tygers Of Pan Tang - Wild Cat
• UFO - No Place to Run
• Van Halen - Women and Children First
• Whitesnake - Ready An' Willing

In other news, Led Zeppelin have played their last gig (or at least their last with John Bonham), and the hard rock firmament is shifting with quiet years from contemporaries Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. The New Wave of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, is now a few years old and becoming less of a groundswell scene and more of a tangible movement - many of the leading names (Motorhead, Saxon, the Tygers, Def Leppard) are included above, and of these Iron Maiden formed five years previously with a greatly different line-up, have become on of THE acts to watch.


L-R Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Paul Di'Anno (vocals), Clive Burr (Drums), Dennis Stratton (Guitar)

Despite it not being their first release Maiden’s album debut has an embryonic sound, arguably as influenced by punk as early Heavy Metal. Lead man and alleged ‘barrow boy’ Paul Di'Anno carries a boot boy swagger to his vocals in stark contrast to the broader range and polish of his later, more famous replacement, Bruce Dickinson. Despite this, Di’Anno’s approach gives this first album an edge of menace that’s unheard in later albums; teetering on post-adolescent assuredly, but less tendancy towards the cartoonish that befell later albums. This sounds like the band that was said to be punchy and cocksure, and for a band in its youth it’s a fitting style. The signature twin guitar approach is less evident here, possibly because this incarnation of the band is missing the vital Adrian Smith, who would join the set of Killers. Instead, the almost forgotten "d’Ennis" Stratton fills the role – capable, but unmemorable.
Influences range from early 70s hard rock to a healthy dose of prog; there's a break in Phantom that sounds as thoough it owes something to BOC, and Murray's Hendrix adulations is evident as well. On the whole it's varied though, enough to keep the interest up. Steve Harris' bass is, it shall be said, a little understated this early on, and on the whole the production sounds... minimalist, probably as much a sign of its budget as its era - there's a lot of drum and guitar, the bass and vocals play second tier.

The Album

As indicated above Iron Maiden sounds at times like an audition piece for extended guitars, with Di’Anno coming and going with verses in longer tracks (Phantom of the Opera, Strange World) seemingly to break up the noodling. On the occasions where he does get to sing in extended pieces he can be at times shouty (Sanctuary) and surprisingly vulnerable (Remember Tomorrow), embodying that weird dichotomy of young male vocalists in rock – the self-assured rebel who takes no prisoners but occasionally just needs a hug.

I like this album, probably more so than its follow-up. Prowler is a hugely energetic opener with some cool wah-wah lead, and Running Free is the anthem I remembered it to be when I first heard it. Remember Tomorrow drops out when the vocals are tested, but in doing so allows a sort of unstaged vulnerability that is rare in Heavy Metal. Shortly after joining a live version was recorded with Bruce Dickinson's vocals overlaid atop Di'Anno's, and while the new lad can hit the highs his bravura delivery doesn't sui the song. Phantom of the Opera was a Lucozade ad! And the lead-in from instrumental Transylvania to Strange World is pretty and subtle, carrying echoes of (shudder) The Moody Blues. Things sort of peter out toward the end with Charlotte the Harlot (God knows why I liked to sing along to this. I was thirteen) and the title track sounding a bit tacked on. On the whole the production isn’t lavish, but plays loud well enough – it would be an album away (two for full effect) before the masterful hands of Martin Birch would be near the consoles at least.


Eddie makes his debut at his wildest and most unkempt. The location is apparently an East End street, and it fits with the general feeling of the band at the time – a hint of the supernatural and of horror in an entirely suburban (but no less intimidating) setting. The theme continues with the covers of singles Running Free (Eddie in semi-silhouette stalking hapless titular runaway) and controvesial Thatcher-baiting Sanctuary. He's a menace in these early portraits, though the least said about the cover of Maiden's Skyhooks cover Women in Uniform the better, probably. My CD version comes from the 1998 remaster, so Derek Riggs’ Eddie portrait on the cover is also retooled not with the mascot’s pin-point ‘wired’ white eyes, but red glowing points (so wrong) and halos around the street lamps. On the back the band stand against a white wall looking young and brattish, and far from the gods of Heavy Metal they’d be.

Tracks via YouTube

Sanctuary (1998 rerelease only)
Remember Tomorrow (and a version sung by Bruce)
Running Free (historic Top of the Pops appearance)
Phantom of the Opera
Strange World (live recording from Maiden Japan)
Charlotte the Harlot (Live via home video at the Ruskin Arms 1980)
Iron Maiden (studio version only)


  1. Wait... Queen's The Game is heavy metal? Surely not!

  2. Crikey, how did I miss that? Oh yeah - Wikipedia!

    There are a few odd inclusions there - Rush and maybe UFO. Some I would say are hard rock rather than metal (and I'm not splitting hairs!). But yeah - Queen ain't metal!

  3. Have only recently listened to this one (was fourth to last that I bought, behind Killers, Dance of Death and Somewhere In Time)

    It’s interesting coming to a band in the middle of their output and either working backwards to the start or going right back to the beginning to play catch-
    up, as you can only view anything you hear with the benefit of hindsight knowing which direction the band took the ideas from their earlier albums. In some

    ways this is nice for Maiden because they mostly built on what the ideas they laid down on this album. All the seeds of future albums are here: the attempts at epic-prog rockers

    (Remember Tomorrow and Strange World), the Harris chugga-chugga bassline (on Running Free), use of historical material to thread a narrative (Phantom of the

    Opera, Iron Maiden) straight to the point album openers (Prowler, Sanctaury), the start of the reoccuring song characters (Charlotte the Harlot).

    D'ianno does have a boot boy swagger but is no slouch himself in the vocal department; no he doesn't have the operatic range of Dickinson (and you could
    argue the two albums with Blaze could've given us a glimpse of what might have been, even though Blaze's vocal register is lower than D'ianno) but he does

    have the 'street authenticity'.

    D'ianno sounds like he's from an East End, punk background. Bruce Dickinson always reminded me of a public schoolboy (which he may well have been)

    benefitting from being raised in that environment. Making good use of what he had is paradoxically what sealed D'ianno's fate early on and two albums later

    he was gone.

    I concur with the remarks about Dennis; for half the songs on this album I'm not even sure there is another guitarist, this is possibly due me being so used
    to Dave's sound (or maybe they mixed the second guitar too low?) And its apparent there's no foil for Dave to bounce off during the quiet bits (Phantom of

    the Opera is a case in point; Dave sounds like he is soloing with himself in the middle!). And sorry P, I don't hear much Hendrix there, plenty of Blackmore

    though, esp in the solos (and how can there not be with that strat :)

    Overall, this is a solid debut and its surprising to see it came out the same year as U2's Boy, which inhabits a completely different soundscape yet draws from the same pool of influences. Both bands have ended up in the same place by having one thing in common: sticking to their strengths and not compromising to passing trends (bass synths aside!). And how many other bands can say that?

    Hey P, how did you miss London Calling on your list (or were you only looking at Uk releases?) It was released in the US in January 1980, so that’s why it

    always makes 'Best of 80s' lists. Though I suppose it's more punk than metal...

  4. Hi Tim

    Like you I collected the albums out of sequence (although the first three are a revisit) and yes, it's all too tempting to view the ealy stuff of any band in the context of a 'road to point X' rather than in their own light. With IM it's that much more significant when one of their most significant personnel changes - possibly their most important - also gave them their greatest album success. And naturally I was looking for 'seeds' of writing, riffs and technique in this album as much as Killers. To wit:

    Harris' bass is there, but less flashy - watch this space! Historical subject matter in the lyrics? Watch this space!

    There's more I want to say about Di'Anno's style so, er, watch this space? Suffice it to say I preferred him on this album, but his Killers stuff is growing on me. As for Blaze, well he has one good album with Maiden and one really not so good - you make an interesting point comparing his range to PD's, and I think I'll be covering that angle too once we get to The X Factor.

    I think I said recently that we listened out for different Hendrixes in Dave Murray's playing! I'm thinking of the less incendiary style - the Hendrix of Little Wing, maybe, in Strange World's intro. Richie Blackmoore's a big miss for me (d'oh!) - I'll just say that I think Running Free is the godchild of Space Trucking with a better chorus and move on!

    I'm intrigued by your comparison with London Calling and Boy. London calling deserves a post by itself, but I'm not sure I'm the person to do that; it's just such a monumental album :)

    As for boy… paging our resident U2 fan! Paul?

  5. Haha, London Calling wasn't intended as a comparison, possibly a replacement for the Queen album ;)

    I think my comment re: coming at the albums from the middle out was to listen to them for what there are/were, rather than going 'Oh well, they did that idea better on Powerslave' because, well, Powerslave was 5 years away at that point :) (And I'm not referring to anything specific, more the mindset I adopted as a listener).

    I too have more to say on D'ianno and the impact of a certain drummer on the sounds of those first three albums, but I'll leave that for later...