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"Iron Maiden" is the eponymous debut album by the British heavy metal band of the same name. It was released in 1980 on EMI Records and produced by Will Malone. The line-up for the album was Paul Di'Anno (vocals), Dave Murray (guitar), Dennis Stratton (guitar), Steve Harris (bass) and Clive Burr (drums).
It took Iron Maiden five years from the beginning of the band to the recording of their first album, undergoing numerous line-ups in the process, but in February of 1980, the band finally entered the studio in Kingsway, London to record this album. What transpired over that month was a piece of heavy metal history. This was Dennis Stratton's only album with the band, soon to be replaced with Adrian Smith.
From the opening bars of "Prowler", you know that Iron Maiden means business and the band sets the bar that little bit higher for heavy metal, branching out from 1970s British acts such as Judas Priest and Motörhead. There are punk rock tones in the song, and although Di'Anno is an accomplished metal vocalist, there are definitely punk elements in his singing. The main riff has stood the test of time over the 30+ years since it was released on the album and the song structure is perfect for a debut song on a debut album. Steve Harris noted "This is a very special song for us. When we made the "Soundhouse Tapes" we took the actual tape to Neal Kay who was a DJ in north London. He used to have a heavy metal chart which was compiled from record requests and printed in the magazine "Sounds". "Prowler" got to be number one just from requests for the demo tape. That's why we had the tape made into a record, because so many kids were asking us how they could get hold of the demo tapes."
In complete contrast to the opening song, "Remember Tomorrow" starts off slow with a haunting melody before the pre-chorus guitars join in, blending well with DI'Anno's vocals. Now here's the thing about this song - I like it, and I think DI'Anno's vocal range is impressive - but I often wish Rob Halford would cover it, or at least collaborate with Maiden to sing it because it's suited to his style perfectly. What I love the mostly about this song is its ability to impress without really trying; simple yet very effective. When I saw Iron Maiden at Ozzfest a few years ago in the States, they played a back catalogue of older material and this was one of those. Bruce Dickinson does a stellar job of singing it but I often pine for Di'Anno on this one whenever I hear it live. Steve Harris said "This song is an old stage favourite. The crowds used to be really into this one. Paul Di'Anno wrote the lyrics to it and I wrote the music. Actually, I played him the parts I had and he worked it out. There's a lot of feeling in this song. Mind you, I think any song should be filled with feeling, but on the slow parts of this one I think there is that extra measure."
"Running Free" is the first Iron Maiden song in which we get a taste of what Steve Harris is capable on the bass. The best thing about this song is the interaction between bass and drums, which almost play together as one and compliment each other brilliantly with both galloping over the guitars which take a back seat. Of the song, Steve Harris said "This came together when I put a riff to the main drum beat by Doug Sampson. The part in the middle I worked up from a bunch of bits I wrote. We thought we'd try and do something a bit different. Most songs have a guitar solo in the middle, but we thought instead of a guitar solo we'd have a guitar break which would consist of guitar runs and harmonies.
Most Brits that lived during the 1980s will remember "Phantom of the Opera" mostly for the Lucozade TV advert with Olympic gold medal decathlete, Daley Thompson. Those hardcore Iron Maiden fans, however, knew of its existence way before it was used in the commercial. The one thing that sticks out in my mind about this song when I was growing up is that I always felt it would have served better purpose as an instrumental. With Di'Anno's departure after Maiden's second album, "Killers", this track wasn't played much live. Bruce Dickinson's vocals don't really fit the mood of the song and I'd often yearn to hear it without singing. Steve Harris said "This is a very long song that was done in sections. The middle part was totally separate but it fit right in. It felt right to go from the slow part into the middle section. This is one of the best pieces I've ever written, and certainly one of the most enjoyable to play. It's got all these intricate guitar lines which keep it interesting. Then there's the slow middle part which creates a good mood. It's also got fast heavy parts which are really rockin' and it's also got areas for crowd participation. It pretty much covers all the bases for a band. It was a good example of what I wanted to get across."
As I thought the previous song should have been without lyrics, up pops "Transylvania" as the instrumental song on the album, but this is a track that's something very special. It probably goes against the laws of music that you can't have two instrumentals on one album, so I'm pretty happy that "Phantom of the Opera" and "Transylvania" are both on this debut album. I especially love the guitar riff intro which is paced nicely by a clever drum beat that practically stays at the same tempo throughout the song. I do have to wonder if an older and more experienced Iron Maiden would have joined both songs together, because they seem to go hand-in-hand without even trying to do. Steve Harris commented "The initial idea on this one was to have lyrics. It originally had a melody line for the vocal, but when we played it, it sounded so good as an instrumental that we never bothered to write lyrics for it."
"Strange World" is the only song on the album I really can't get into. It's too slow and too laboured in my opinion. While I don't like using the term 'filler', unfortunately I do think that this song is just that. There are some nice melodic blues guitar solos going on here, but the ballad-like tempo just doesn't quite cut it. Steve Harris noted "It's one of the only sort of slow songs we've done, but it's got a lot of feeling. It used to be a stage favourite and Dave really enjoyed playing the solo on this one."
"Charlotte the Harlot" is one of Iron Maiden's most famous songs from the early years and was a huge crowd favourite with Di'Anno at the helm. It's another of those fast-paced almost punk rock style numbers that cannot fail to grab your shoulders and bang your head from start to finish, save the slower middle part. That is forgiven, though, as the song kicks up the pace during the bridge with some intense solos from the guitarists. It's a song about a prostitute in London and is the first of a series of songs about the same woman. Steve Harris said "This is really Dave's song. I would have been proud to say that I'd written it and I like playing it live because it was something different than I would write."
Finally, the title track of album and band, "Iron Maiden". You can absolutely guarantee that every Iron Maiden concert will feature this song. In the studio the song sounds a little watered on the guitar riffs but once you hear it live, it completely comes into its own. Eddie the Head usually makes an appearance in one form or another, too, and although it's difficult to name my favourite 10 Iron Maiden songs, I'm pretty sure this will be in there. Steve Harris said "As long as I can remember, we've closed our set with this song. It's quite simple; the bass line is fairly straightforward as is the drumming, but the guitar is over the top with harmony, and the bass is descending behind it. I think this makes it pretty special."
In summary, "Iron Maiden" is a timeless classic album, and still remains one of my favourite Maiden albums. OK, the production might be iffy, but these are songs that shaped the band's career. The guitars of Murray and Stratton complement each other quite well, and the bass of Harris is loud and raw. This was the Iron Maiden of its day, and this is an album you need in your collection. The band has been very vocal in the past regarding the contribution of producer Will Malone, and Steve Harris especially has stated that he did very little on the album and left a lot of it to the inexperienced band. However, I think that's what makes the album tick. As stated on the song-by-song review, the unforgettable pace of "Phantom of the Opera" was good enough to be used in a Lucozade commercial, and the titular song always brings out an appearance on-stage by the band's mascot, Eddie the Head.
2. Remember Tomorrow
3. Running Free
4. Phantom of the Opera
6. Strange World
7. Charlotte the Harlot
8. Iron Maiden
My rating: 8/10
Over the years I have enjoyed a wide and varied music taste ranging from rock music through to country music and even into popular music. During all these various musical tastes though there has been one genre and in particular one band that has stayed close to my heart and that is heavy metal and the almighty Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden was first formed back in 1975 by their bass player Steve Harris who is the only original member of the band since its conception. The band themselves pioneered the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement and soon found success with the release of their self titled debut album Iron Maiden. Released in April 1980 it marked the first of many chart hits for the band when it reached number 4 in the UK album charts in its first week of release.
Steve "Bomber" Harris - Bassist
Steve is the real driving force behind the band and due to his founding of the band itself has most of the say over the musical direction of the band as a whole, in fact a vast majority of the songs on each of their albums is either penned solely by him or co-written by him. As far as playing is concerned Steve has very distinctive sound, his franticly paced bass line can be heard tearing through the songs at all times. This provides each of the tracks with a clear and decisive direction to them.
Paul Di'Anno -Vocalist
Paul has a great range to his vocal talents and can quite easily change from a soft and subtle tone through to a rip roaring scream in a matter of a few short moments. Unlike Bruce Dickinson ( Paul's successor), Paul has a much rawer and almost unkempt sound to him which gives the tracks a dirty sort of feel to them.
Dave Murray - Guitarist
Asides from Steve, Dave is one of the longest serving members of the band. His initial wailing guitar sound on the first track of the album has made him a true firm favourite of mine in the band, and although looking quite reserved his playing is anything but.
Dennis Stratton - Guitarist
Alongside Dave the manic guitar work of the band was taken by Dennis, this was the only album to feature Dennis on it as he was later replaced by Adrian Smith a friend of Dave Murray from a previous band. Similarly to Paul, Dennis has quite a raw sound to him as well all be it in the form of his rhythm guitar work.
He certainly provides a great accompaniment to Dave's playing.
Clive Burr - Drums
Clive has a great no holds barred powerful drumming style, which at times was required to keep up with some of the complex and demanding guitar riffs during the tracks on this album. Clive would go on to make a further two albums with the band before leaving to be replaced by the half crazed Nicko McBrain Maiden's current drummer.
Dennis starts off the album with a feisty guitar riff punctuated by Steve and Clive's bass and drums, after just a few seconds Dave then wails his way in, shortly followed by Paul as the whole band explode from the speakers in a raw manner. The main content of the story is about a flasher exposing his self to women which seems like a rather unusual subject to base a song upon, but has worked out so well that the song has been a constant part of their live set to this date.
2. Remember Tomorrow
After the frantic pace of the previous track this song takes a really down turn in pace well initially anyway. The song itself follows a very set pattern of a slow quiet section leading to loud raucous part and then back to the quiet section. This song pattern can be seen with a number of other bands who have taken influence from Maiden. Perhaps one the best examples of this is with the band Metallica who were heavily influenced by Maiden as shown with the similarities between this track and such songs as Fade to Black and (Welcome Home) Sanitarium. Along with the great musical side to this song Paul truly rips his vocal line over the top of everything.
3. Running Free
A true classic in the Maiden repertoire this song just has everything that makes for a great Iron Maiden song, firstly we get the thumping bass line of Steve with Clive's drums hammering home underneath it then the tearing sound of the twin axemen not only providing some nice power chord sections to the song, but the true corner stone of the Maiden guitar sound in the form of the complex dual guitar riffs which are beautifully overlaid upon each other. The vocals to this song are of a fairly simple content which makes this the prefect song for the band to perform live as they have so well over the years.
4. Phantom of the Opera
Over the years the main song writer for the band Steve has drawn inspiration for some of the Maiden tracks from various literacy works. This is the first of his attempts at translating story to song, as him and the band try to tell the tale of the infamous Phantom of the Opera. Along the way we are again give the key musically traits of Maiden, with a bass line that hammers along overlaid with the two pronged guitar attack of Dave and Dennis. On an album that lasts just a little over 37 minutes this song is a true behemoth at just under 7 ½ minutes, despite this the various changes in pace and musical styling to the song leave the listener in a constant state of pleasure as the song almost whistles past you at breakneck speeds.
Time for vocalist Paul to sit out on this song, as the rest of the band breakout into an awe inspiring instrumental which literally attacks your ears from every which way it can. The song is seemingly unrelenting from the word go as it takes us along with it on a musical rollercoaster ride that takes to every high and low that an instrumental could go, without becoming tedious and boring.
6. Strange World
The end to the previous track Transylvania forms the beginning of this track as they seamlessly blend together to give us almost one complete track. However unlike its predecessor this song has much less sense of urgency to it, and forms the almost ballad of the album. The song not only provides a great break to the manic speeds we have encounter so far on the album, but also proves that Paul has a great sounding voice and that the band are more than just a one trick pony. There are some real haunting sounding guitar parts throughout the track which add to the overall feel of the song and provide a great backing to Paul's vocals.
7. Charlotte the Harlot
Along with the band's mascot Eddie the band have another reoccurring character through their career by the name of Charlotte. This is the first of their songs involving her and her antics as a prostitute. After the down turned beat of the last track this song has a real rocky and raw feel to it, and makes you just want to turn that volume knob up to 11 and thrash about like a mad man. During the whole song Paul's vocal line runs right over the top of the guitar almost in an attempt to punctuate each of his words with a strum of the guitar. In spite of the lyrical content to the song it doesn't feel as though there is anything that is really put in to the song that is all that offensive.
8. Iron Maiden
This track is by far and away the best on the album and really acts as the almost theme tune for the band. The song itself has a very simple structure to it, but it is this simplicity that makes it such a great song. Not only does the song provide us with a real feel to what it is that the band is trying to do, but provides the band with an almost perfect self indulgent live song to get the crowd singing along to. Paul's raw and raucous vocal tone rips over the pounding bass and twin guitar licks with a real sense of power and determination.
Looking back at this album now after what has been over 30 years since its original release the raw energy and enthusiasm of the band can still be heard. The album itself is one that frequently I will come back to as despite the fact that I find the current line up of Iron Maiden to be outstanding, it is the almost lack of polish to the sound of this album that draws me back time and time again. Along with this raw feeling, every song on this album is a true classic with each of them having become part of the Maiden live setlists throughout the years and still even now standing the test of time and being not just a winner to me, but the thousands upon thousands of Maiden fans out there. With the up and coming album New Frontier being released later in 2010 this is a great time to listen to just how this truly magnificent band started out with this album.