In 1985’s Rock and Roll Confidential Report music critic Dave Marsh mentioned a fellow critic, at Creem, who in 1979 declared heavy metal dead. But only a year later, the Creem writer had to admit that metal had “pulled a Jesus Christ” and was back in the form of the so-called “British New Wave of Heavy Metal.” As if to cement that claim, London-based Iron Maiden in 1980 released their first major LP, which prominently featured this new metal—an alloy of the traditional style invigorated by the speed and anti-sentimentality of punk rock. The album, Iron Maiden, entered the U.K. charts at Number Four.
Heavy Metal Thunder author Phillip Bashe called Maiden one of the most literate of the heavy metal bands, evoking dark metallic themes with quotes from British classics, well-regarded films, and even the Bible, and sung, Bashe added, with “the empathy and world-weariness of those who may have actually witnessed the atrocities of war or the doomed flight of Icarus.” No Maiden man had actually witnessed any horrors of war, though singer Bruce Dickinson did serve briefly in the
Members have included Clive Burr, drums; Paul Di’anno (born May 17, 1959, in Chingford, London, England), vocals; Paul Bruce Dickinson (born August 7, 1958, in Worksop, Notts, England; bandmember c. 1982-93), vocals; Steve Harris (born March 12, 1957, in Leytonstone, London), bass; Nicko McBrain (born June 5, 1954), drums; Dave Murray (born December 23, 1958, in London), guitar; Tony Parsons, guitar; Doug Sampson, drums; Adrian Smith (born February 27, 1957, in London), guitar; and Dennis Stratton (born November 9, 1954), guitar.
Band formed by Harris and Murray in London, 1976; debuted at London’s Cart and Horses pub; signed by EMI Records, 1979; released first album, Iron Maiden, 1980.
Awards: Gold record for Number of the Beast, 1982; Golden Raspberry Award for worst original song, 1989, for “Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter.”
Addresses: Record company —Epic Records, 1801 Century Park West, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
British infantry; but as for the bandmembers flying too close to the sun like the mythic Icarus—certainly.
The dark bent of Maiden’s lyrics may be traced to mild-mannered bass player Steve Harris, a man who continued to live with his grandmother for years after Iron Maiden achieved world fame. Harris joined Dave Murray in 1976 to form Iron Maiden, debuting at the Cart and Horses pub in London’s east end. Paul Di’anno served as vocalist, with Doug Sampson on drums. Harris had been gigging with a group called Smiler, during which he gained exposure to bands like Wishbone Ash. That outfit had helped introduce the practice of co-lead guitars, an innovation Maiden brought to metal. But two years of Maiden pub performances failed to interest the major record labels. Undeterred, the band released an EP in 1978 on its own label, which made them popular on the metal club circuit.
1979 saw a setback when one Ilkay Bayram of London stole $12,000 worth of equipment from the band’s van. After recovering most of the equipment, the group appeared in the Bandwaggon Soundhouse Heavy Metal Crusade at London’s Music Machine, the concert considered the first of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal.” Only then did EMI pick up the band. Tony Parsons briefly took on guitar duties, but Dennis Stratton soon replaced him, slinging axe on the debut album, Iron Maiden.
Immediately thereafter, Stratton left, citing “musical differences”—although, according to Rock Movers & Shakers, he was given the boot. Adrian Smith, who’d fought side by side years before with Murray in London’s east side gangs, filled Stratton’s shoes. Smith and Murray’s work was largely derivative of pioneering metal behemoths Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, the typical song beginning with ominous guitar licks that all too soon erupted into a frenzied blizzard of speed, rife with sixteenth notes. The Maiden sound was ragged, and early recordings faithfully reproduced this quality—no polishing with studio overdubbing.
In 1980 the band released a single, Sanctuary, with cover art that introduced Eddie, a psychotic mascot shown slashing British prime minister Margaret Thatcher with a knife. Under legal threat, Thatcher’s eyes were blacked out. In June of that year, EMI held a party honoring Iron Maiden in Madame Tussaud’s famed Chamber of Horrors wax museum. The band, which some critics carped lacked a distinctive sound, nonetheless held the public’s attention with such gimmicks as Eddie’s blade-wielding turn and the wax museum fete, as well as the disturbing imagery of the ensemble’s catchy name. (Webster’s defines the iron maiden as “a supposed medieval torture device consisting of a hollow iron statue or coffin in the shape of a woman and lined with spikes which impaled the enclosed victim.”) Eddie proved popular and appeared on every album cover from then on—now the devil’s buddy (on The Number of the Beast), now a lobotomy patient (on Piece of Mind). Onstage, Eddie evolved from a backdrop painting that spat blood on cue to a walking, rotting zombie portrayed by a roadie and sometimes greeted with more cheers than individual bandmembers.
The band’s second LP, Killers, was released in 1981 and reached the U.K. chart position of Number 12, climbing only to Number 78 stateside. Like most Maiden efforts, the album was produced by Martin Birch, who had also labored at the console for British metal bands Deep Purple and Whitesnake. Beginning in Japan, Maiden kicked off “The Killer World Tour,” terrorizing 15 countries in all, including the United States, where the band opened for countrymen Judas Priest. A noticeably voice-weary Di’anno departed after the tour, later to aid groups Lone Wolf and Battlezone. Ex-Samson singer and public-school man Bruce Bruce stepped into the Maiden and in honor of the occasion, resurrected his real name, Bruce Dickinson.
Jettisoning Iron Maiden’s punk vocals in favor of the traditional metal stylings preferred by the likes of Led Zep’s Robert Plant and Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Dickinson set the band on a new path. This seemed to sit well with fans; the band’s 1982 tour sold out. In April of that year a third record, The Number of the Beast, proved popular indeed, reaching Number One in the UK—knocking Barbra Streisand from that slot. Seven of the album’s eight songs concerned death; the other was about a prostitute. The tour supporting Number reached a crescendo at New York City’s Palladium when Eddie triumphantly waved aloft a “bitten off” head of erstwhile Black Sab frontman Ozzy Osbourne.
By then in tax exile from Great Britain, Iron Maiden recorded Piece of Mind, their 1983 offering, in the Bahamas. Annoyed over fundamentalist claims that heavy metal bands were implanting satanic messages in their albums (allegedly audible when played backward), Maiden approached the issue head-on by inserting a backwards message of their own, after the track ‘The Trooper,” warning folks not to mess with things that they didn’t understand—the advice followed by a loud belch. Clive Burr, who’d replaced drummer Samson in 1980, departed Maiden in January of 1984; his duties were assumed by former Pat Travers bandmember Nicko McBrain. Piece of Mind ultimately reached Number 14 in the U.S. It was a good year for the group, readers of an English heavy metal journal voting the records Piece and Beast the Top Two heavy metal albums of all time. This success was followed by the band’s 4-2 soccer victory over fellow rockers Def Leppard.
Renaissance Man Dickinson
Dickinson proved a formidable leader; nicknamed “Air Raid Siren” for his vocalizing, he was arrested in the mid-1980s in Lubbock, Texas, for allegedly hitting a fan with a microphone and then strangling him with the cord. Luckily for the fan, Dickinson hadn’t taken to wearing a sword onstage, a weapon with which he was expert—in 1989 he would place seventh in Great Britain’s ranking for Men’s Foil and represent his country in the Parisian competition for the European cup. A lesser honor was his 1989 Golden Raspberry Award for worst original song; the offending ditty appeared in the fifth Nightmare on Elm Street movie. “Take Your Daughter to the Slaughter” was also released as a single, in 1991, and hit Number One in the U.K. A true Renaissance Man, Dickinson the previous year had published a novel, a bawdy tale entitled The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace.
Iron Maiden chained themselves in the studio to record 1984’s appropriately titled Powerslave. The “World Slavery” tour began with sold-out concerts in Poland and ended almost a year later in Southern California after some 200 shows. The act boasted what one observer deemed “impressive” Egyptian themes, the band rejecting the macabre either because of boredom with blood and guts or the result of exhaustion from attacks by conservative groups like the parents’ Music Resource Center. Tour stats were revealing: Approximately 50,000 cans of beer were consumed by the band and a 42-man road crew, who lugged 40 tons of light and sound equipment capable of delivering 152,000 watts. The production entailed “the equivalent of setting up and taking apart a small office building and moving it to a new city four times a week,” reported Stereo Review, concluding glumly, “All in pursuit of one and a half recorded hours of monotonous, uninventive, hopelessly hackneyed guitar pyrotechnics and unintelligible screaming that could pass for a parody of Black Sabbath.”
Apparently undaunted by such caviling, the band cranked out 1985’s Live After Death and the following year issued the eery Somewhere in Time. A 1988 album, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, did well in both the U.K. and the U.S., confirming the band’s position as Britain’s premier heavy metal spawn. In October of that year, a tape by the band woke fan Gary Dobson from a two-month coma caused by a crushing received at a heavy metal festival at England’s Castle Donington. Throughout the 1980s, Iron Maiden continued to outdo itself with dramatic props and stage show theatrics. “We sell T-shirts, thank god,” Dickinson once told a California newspaper reporter who’d asked about the costs involved, “or else we wouldn’t make a bean.”
Maiden’s fans remained loyal into the 1990s, carrying the 1992 album Fear of the Dark to Billboard’s Top Twenty. But more than a decade of metal mayhem had seemingly exacted a heavy toll; founder Steve Harris admitted in an October 1992 issue of Bass Player that sometimes in the middle of songs played for years “you might go running across the stage and forget where you are. But obviously it comes back, and you manage to blag your way out of it.” And New York Times contributor Jon Pareles reported that with Fear of the Dark, the band had come to rely on both musical and lyrical clichés and had fallen behind metal bands faster, smarter, and less hokey. Even more distressing, in the spring of 1993 Dickinson bid his Maiden mates farewell—around the time Epic chose to drop the group from its roster. Perhaps only fun-loving figurehead Eddie would prove deathless: During the Fear tour, for example, there were no signs of “blagging” as Eddie bobbed and weaved with customary gusto, hungrily licking his fingertips while eyeing the fans.
The Soundhouse Tapes (EP; self-distributed), 1979.
Iron Maiden, EMI, 1980.
Killers, EMI, 1981.
Number of the Beast, Capitol, 1982.
Piece of Mind (includes “The Trooper”), Capitol, 1983.
Powerslave, Capitol, 1984.
Live After Death, Capitol, 1985.
Somewhere in Time, Capitol, 1986.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, EMI/Capitol, 1988.
No Prayer for the Dying, Epic, 1990.
Fear of the Dark, Epic, 1992.
A Real Live One, Capitol, 1993.
Bashe, Philip, Heavy Metal Thunder, Doubleday, 1985.
Marsh, Dave, Rock and Roll Confidential Report, Pantheon Books, 1985.
Marshall Cavendish Illustrated History of Popular Music, Vol. 19, Marshall Cavendish Corp., 1990.
Rees, Dafydd, and Luke Crampton, Rock Movers & Shakers, ABC/CLIO, 1991.
The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, edited by Jon Pareles and Patricia Romanowski, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Bass Player, October 1992.
Boston Herald, July 11, 1988.
Circus, July 31, 1992.
New York Times, June 11, 1992.
Sports Illustrated, October 1, 1990.
Stereo Review, April 1986.
—Joseph M. Reiner