Iron Maiden’s Debut Album Is Forty

Written by Phil Ashdown

On 14th April 1980 Iron maiden released their highly anticipated eponymous debut album. Buoyed by the success of the Running Free single reaching No 34 on the UK charts and a performance on BBC’s Top Of The Pops, for which the band refused to mime, insisting on playing live they were finally ready to let the record buying public hear what all the fuss was about.

Maiden had toured solidly throughout the UK on the Metal For Muthas tour and had built up a solid reputation as an excellent live band. They were even offered a support slot on Judas Priest’s British Steel tour (Priest’s British Steel LP was released on the same day) and some claimed that Priest had to considerably raise their game having to follow Maiden onto the stage.

The album contained eight tracks, picked from songs mainly written by Steve Harris that had been honed to perfection by the band on the road. It is produced by Wil Malone whom the band have since claimed lacked interest, effectively leaving the young band to produce it themselves. Steve Harris claims it took only thirteen days to complete at Kingsway Studios in West London during January, with the band taking time out from touring to complete the mixing process at Morgan Studios in West London in February. Earlier efforts in December 1979 with Guy Edwards and The Sweet’s Andy Scott both ended in failure, particularly when Scott insisted on Harris playing the bass with a pick instead of his natural way of using his fingers!

Despite the band’s criticism of the overall sound and production it was met with critical and commercial success, reaching No4 on the UK album charts. Geoff Barton, reviewing the album in Sounds said, “Heavy metal for the ’80s, its blinding speed and rampant ferocity making most plastic heavy rock tracks from the ’60s and ’70s sound sloth-like and funeral-dirgey by comparison.”

This was to be the only studio album with guitarist Dennis Stratton who was dismissed after a European tour supporting Kiss. The reason was given as “musical differences” due to alleged claims that Sratton added harmony guitars and backing vocals to the track Phantom Of The Opera which were promptly removed by the band.

They were soon back on the road on the Iron Maiden Tour which included their first headline dates in mainland Europe. They were shocked to find how popular the band were in places like Leiden in Holland with fans getting the message by word-of-mouth in these pre-internet days.

Another single, Sanctuary, was released on 23 May. It featured a recording made during the album sessions and was never intended to be included on the LP. The B-side included two live recordings from London’s famous Marquee, Drifter – which would be included on the next album and a cover of Montrose’s I’ve Got The Fire. It entered the UK charts at No33 before peaking at No29 a week later. The cover artwork caused controversy as it showed band mascot Eddie, wielding a bloodied knife, standing over the body of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. At the suggestion of band manager Rod Smallwood EMI released two versions of the single, one with Thatcher’s face censored as a way to gain more press coverage. This proved successful with the Daily Mirror running a story about the single and publishing the uncensored artwork.

Tracks on the album include the 7-minute “Phantom of the Opera” which is one of Harris’s favourites and is still performed live relatively frequently. With lots of mood and time-changes, Harris marks it as “the first song I’d written that was a bit more proggy” “Transylvania” is an instrumental piece composed by Harris, Iron Maiden is the only song played at every Maiden show and normally involves a giant Eddie rising from behind the drumkit. Charlotte The Harlot is written by guitarist Dave Murray and on Running Free and Remember Tomorrow, Harris collaborated with singer Paul Di’Anno.

Of all the album’s songs, “Phantom of the Opera”, “Running Free”, “Sanctuary” and “Iron Maiden” are the most frequently played in the band’s concert tours. All of the album’s songs, excluding “Strange World”, have been recorded with Bruce Dickinson on vocals, either on live albums, studio B-Sides or both

  1. Prowler
  2. Remember Tomorrow
  3. Running Free
  4. Phantom Of The Opera
  5. Transylvania
  6. Strange World
  7. Charlotte The Harlot
  8. Iron Maiden

On release the album received immediate critical acclaim, with Geoff Barton, reviewing the album in Sounds, writing, “Heavy metal for the ’80s, its blinding speed and rampant ferocity making most plastic heavy rock tracks from the ’60s and ’70s sound sloth-like and funeral-dirgey by comparison.”

To promote the second part of the Iron Maiden Tour the band entered the studio to record a cover of Australian band Skyhooks’ Women In Uniform. Steve Harris was not keen on the idea of doing a cover but when producer Tony Platt got involved, as he had worked with AC/DC Harris agreed. The idea had been suggested by the band’s publishers, Zomba and it turned out that Platt and guitarist Dennis Stratton had been tampering with the song’s mix and had been told by Zomba to get a hit single. Harris sacked Platt and mixed the song himself. The single was released on 27 October and peaked at No35 in the UK charts. They also shot a video that was filmed at London’s Rainbow theatre and directed by Doug Smith.

Again, the artwork was created by Derek Riggs and featured Eddie arm-in-arm with two young women (in uniform) with Margaret Thatcher waiting round a corner with a sub machine gun. Again it was intended as a tongue-in-cheek joke but even prompted a demonstration at Maiden’s show at Leeds University on 22 November.

ALBUM TRACKLISTING

  1. Prowler
  2. Remember Tomorrow
  3. Running Free
  4. Phantom Of The Opera
  5. Transylvania
  6. Strange World
  7. Charlotte The Harlot
  8. Iron Maiden

ALBUM LINE-UP

Steve Harris – Bass

Paul Di’Anno – Vocals

Dave Murray – Guitar

Dennis Stratton – Guitar

Clive Burr – Drums

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