This week, we celebrate the 41st anniversary of Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut…..because celebrating it on a daily basis isn’t enough!
After toiling for 5 long years with an ever-revolving door of members, by 1980 Iron Maiden had finally established a promising foundation for the future with the troika of bassist and founder Steve Harris, guitarist Dave Murray, and singer Paul Di’Anno. Remus Down Boulevard guitarist Dennis Stratton joined the band in December 1979 and also managed to leave his mark on Iron Maiden history, though he, too, was out less than a year later. The line-up was completed by the technically gifted Clive Burr on drums, who had earned his first merits with Samson, a NWOBHM competitor that would shortly feature future Maiden prodigy Bruce Dickinson…
In January 1980, the band moved into Kingsway Studios to record Iron Maiden with sound engineer Wil Malone at the production helm, described as absent-minded and uninterested during recording sessions. The album was recorded and produced within 13 days, and to this day Harris remains dissatisfied with the sound on the final product, but the record was hailed by contemporary critics for its dynamism and raw energy. The many comparisons with punk – ironic (ha!), given Harris’s aversion to it, and thus his whole impetus for starting Iron Maiden in the first place – stems partly from the album’s austere production.
Iron Maiden contains a fine mix of hard rock torpedoes: “Prowler” is musically a hugely defining and influential track (and lyrically hilarious). “Running Free” was the band’s first single and an undisputed classic which sees co-writer Di’Anno give life to desires of breaking the chains of convention, the thirst for freedom simmering beneath his trademark snarl. The eponymous “Iron Maiden” may not be the band’s most elegant track, but it remains the centrepiece of the Maiden live experience, always indicating the imminent appearance of a larger-than-life-sized (band mascot) Eddie on stage. “Charlotte The Harlot” is a charmingly sordid London East End tale, which composer Murray has stated was “based on a true story”.
More significantly, Iron Maiden features avant-garde tracks “Transylvania”, an instrumental heavy metal stomper that was a rarity at that time and a bold move for a young band demonstrating their ability to upend their idols. Delicate and eerie ballad “Strange World” is one of the most underappreciated songs in the band’s entire repertoire, and “Remember Tomorrow”, an otherworldly study in contrasts with deeply poetic lyrics from Di’Anno, was arguably the blueprint for later half-ballads from the likes of Metallica (poignantly, the latter have covered the track).
But the real highlight on Iron Maiden is the first true Iron Maiden epic, “Phantom Of The Opera”, the first in a long line of theatrical, progressive compositions that would become Harris’s speciality and would come to define Iron Maiden’s career. The song is characterised by an arrant arc of tension and sophisticated dramaturgy with vast instrumental passages and unconventional time changes, setting the tone for many of the band’s finest compositions to come. It’s worth considering that Di’Anno himself to this day may well be the ‘phantom’ of the Iron Maiden opera, as the band’s rise would not have been possible without the unique voice and attitude of the prodigal son, always lurking in the shadows of the Maiden universe.
With a punky Eddie peering out on the cover to lure you in forever, Iron Maiden hit shelves on April 14th, 1980 – going straight to #4 in the UK charts as a result of the considerable groundwork the band had done in building a passionate and devoted fan base, via unremitting live performances across the UK pub circuit – but the success took them by surprise and propelled them onto tours supporting Kiss and Judas Priest. The album as a whole has had a long-lasting cultural and social impact and beyond launching arguably the most important heavy metal band in history, and influencing innumerable bands in the process, it initiated a genre of a music that refuses to die.
2. Remember Tomorrow
3. Running Free
4. Phantom Of The Opera
6. Strange World
7. Charlotte The Harlot
8. Iron Maiden