‘The Beast’ IS 40 – A personal celebration of Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast

By Phil Ashdown.

Original 1982 Album Artwork

It seems amazing to me that some of the music and albums of my youth are now reaching their 40th anniversary. Indeed, many have already surpassed this particular landmark!

The one I want to celebrate today I remember buying from Cloud 9 Records on Bexleyheath Broadway back on 22 March 1982 after pre-ordering it as soon as it was announced a few weeks earlier. The album in question is Iron Maiden’s important third studio LP: The Number Of The Beast.

I first became aware of them around 1979 when their name was being mentioned in the music press, particularly the weekly Sounds music paper. I had seen them support Judas Priest at Hammersmith Odeon (always be ‘The Odeon’ to me) on their 1980 UK Tour and had been suitably impressed.

This was swiftly followed with one of their own headline shows at Chatham, Central Hall just as Maiden were riding on the crest of the so called ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’. The only music of theirs I owned  was The Soundhouse Tapes, a three track EP and two tracks on the Metal For Muthas compilation album. Their eponymous debut album came out in April 1980 which was followed, less than a year later by second album Killers in February 1981.

I saw them again at a special Christmas show at The Rainbow theatre in Finsbury Park, London, which was filmed for a future video release, and again at the same venue in March 81 as part of Maiden’s Killers World Tour. The lead singer at the time, Paul Di’Anno, left the band and was swiftly replaced by former Samson frontman, Bruce Dickinson. After a couple of warm-up shows in Italy it was time to unveil Bruce at the band’s first UK show at The Ruskin Arms pub and a major gig at The Rainbow on December 15th, which again, I attended.

Following this it was time for them to enter the studio and record that tricky third album. Recorded at Battery Studios, London with Martin ”Headmaster” Birch during January and February 1982. The recording was allegedly delayed due to a couple of mishaps with Steve’s bass stack blowing up and Dave’s guitar cutting out, even though the gear had been working perfectly during the previous world tour! After finalising the mixing of the album’s title track, Martin Birch was involved in a car crash on the way home – for which the repair bill was £666.66!

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Due to legal reasons Bruce was not allowed to share any song-writing credits, although it is now widely known that he was involved, particularly on tracks Children Of The Damned, The Prisoner and first single Run To The Hills. The album is the only one to feature writing credits for drummer Clive Burr and the first to have credits for guitarist Adrian Smith. In addition chief writer Steve Harris started to adopt a different approach to cater for Dickinson’s vocal style and range. Producer Birch remarked “I simply didn’t think former vocalist Paul Di’Anno was capable of handling vocals on some of the quite complicated directions I knew Steve wanted to explore…When Bruce joined, it opened up the possibilities for the new album tremendously”.

The band had some written prior to the pre-production stage as about five songs had been tested live at the end of the Killer world tour when Bruce joined the band, including 22 Acacia Avenue, Children Of The Damned, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Run To The Hills and The Prisoner. Due to song-writing delays, recording and mixing had to be completed in just five weeks.

For the artwork Maiden once again, called on the services of Derek Riggs. The cover was originally created for the song Purgatory, but manager Rod Smallwood decided it was too good and wanted it to be used for the album instead. The original 1982 release included a printing error making the sky a blue shade instead of black that was then used on a 1998 compact disc remaster edition.

1998 Remaster Edition Artwork

In the United States it became the centre of controversy due to the lyrics of the title track and the artwork that depicted band mascot Eddie controlling a Satan-like puppet  that was also controlling a smaller Eddie. The band were accused of being Satanists and public burnings of the band’s catalogue were organised, although some religious groups smashed the records with hammers, for fear of inhaling fumes from burning vinyl. Harris has stated, “It was mad. They completely got the wrong end of the stick. They obviously hadn’t read the lyrics. They just wanted to believe all that rubbish about us being Satanists.”

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Run To The Hills was the first single, issued ahead of the album’s release on 12 February 1982 and just two weeks prior to the UK Tour, dubbed ‘The Beat On The Road Tour’ and acting as a teaser for the album which would not see the light of day until two days after the UK dates had been completed. The accompanying video mixed live footage and clips from Buster Keaton films and helped the band have their first top ten entry into the UK single charts.

The B-side was a superb non-album track Total Eclipse that subsequently many fans thought should have been included on the album in the place of Gangland. Indeed Steve Harris commented “We just chose the wrong track as the B-side. I think if ‘Total Eclipse’ had been on the album instead of ‘Gangland’ it would have been far better.” He also claimed that album opener Invaders was not good enough claiming it “could have been replaced with something a bit better, only we didn’t have anything else to replace it with at the time. We had just enough time to do what we did, and that was it.”

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KERRANG! ALBUM REVIEW

On release The Number Of The Beast was met by a largely favourable reception from the music press, with Sounds’ Gary Bushell giving it 4.5 stars (out of 5) and claiming “nothing can detract from the sheer power of the bulk of new material” and “The best written and executed Maiden album to date. Long may they reign.”

The title track features a spoken word introduction from the Book Of Revelation read by actor Barry Clayton. The band wanted horror actor Vincent Price to record it but were not willing to pay his fee of £25,000.

The epic closing song, Hallowed Be Thy Name has remained a live staple since the album’s recording and remained in the setlist in all but two tours to date. It tells the story of a prisoner reflecting on his life prior to his imminent hanging. Bruce Dickinson describes it as “fantastic” and loves performing it live. In fact a live version of the song was released in 1993 which gained another top ten entry in the UK singles charts.

The Prisoner was inspired by the cult British TV show of the same name and features dialogue from the show’s opening sequence. After a call from band manager, Rod Smallwood, lead actor in the series Patrick McGoohan gave them permission to use the clips. Maiden later made another ‘follow-up’ song, Back In The Village on their 1984 Powerslave album.

Guitarist Adrian Smith wrote the song 22 Acacia Avenue while in is previous band Urchin and modified it for the album and making it the second song in the “Charlotte The Harlot” saga.

The title track was released as a second single on 26th April and reached number 18 in the UK.

The album was the first Maiden record to top the UK charts, staying there for another week and remaining in the Top 75 for 31 weeks.

The Beast On The Road world tour featured their biggest stage production yet, starting in Dunstable, UK on 25th February and continued through Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and Japan and included the band’s first UK festival headline show at Reading in August.

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The show that I attended on this tour was at Hammersmith Odeon. Bruce Dickinson had settled into the band and his stage persona had improved in such a short time. His natural charm was very different to Paul Di’Anno, more of a classic rock frontman, with incredible power. After the show I decided to wait outside the stage door, programme in hand and see if I could get an autograph. I certainly wasn’t alone as quite a throng had gathered. Even in these pre-internet days word had got round that the band like to meet fans after a show. Although I didn’t get to meet the band properly I did manage to hand over my item and each of them did sign it. This is still framed on the wall at home and remains one of my most treasured items of memorabilia.

Again the whole show was being recorded and filmed for a planned video release. Unfortunately, due to poor lighting on the finished film it was decided not to release it. Some of the video of this concert was eventually made available when it was included on the ‘Iron Maiden: Part 1 – The Early Years’ DVD release that also featured the show from The Rainbow concert I went to in 1980 along with one from The Ruskin Arms.

The album proved pivotal for the band and helped catapult them to headline larger venues around the world. It seems certain that the decision to replace singer Paul Di’Anno with Bruce Dickinson, although difficult for both Maiden and their hardcore fans, was crucial to their growing strength. Not only Dickinson’s vocal power and range but his work ethic and charisma was very important in the growth of the band. Along with Harris he clearly had a vision and a goal to make Iron Maiden the best heavy metal band in the world.

As Iron Maiden have now been around for over forty years and continue to make quality albums and have reached dizzying heights of success, I find it difficult to choose one of their seventeen studio albums as a favourite (almost like choosing a favourite child!) but The Number Of The Beast does stand up as one of their very best. They really worked hard with the more complex song writing, particularly on the aforementioned Children Of The Damned and Hallowed Be Thy Name while the musicianship on show still blows me away. In particular, self-taught bass player Steve Harris’ unique ‘galloping’ style is truly incredible, whilst being ably assisted by all the other band members, gutarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray along with drummer Clive Burr. Certainly without TNOTB being of such a high quality the band would not have grown into the global dominating force they have become. British rock at its very finest. UP THE IRONS!

 

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