Formed in London, England, in 1976, Iron Maiden was from the start the brainchild of Steve Harris (b. 12 March 1957, Leytonstone, London, England; bass), formerly a member of pub rockers Smiler. Named after a medieval torture device, the music was suitably heavy and hard on the senses. The heavy metal scene of the late '70s was widely regarded as stagnant, with only a handful of bands proving their ability to survive and produce music of quality. It was just at this time that a new breed of young British bands began to emerge. This movement, which began to break cover in 1979 and 1980, was known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM.
Iron Maiden were one of the foremost bands in the genre, and many would say its definitive example. Younger and meaner, the NWOBHM bands dealt in faster, more energetic heavy metal than any of their forefathers (punk being an obvious influence). There were several line-up changes in the Iron Maiden ranks in the very early days, and come the release of their debut EP, the group featured Harris, Dave Murray (b. 23 December 1958, London, England; guitar), Paul Di'anno (b. 17 May 1959, Chingford, London, England; vocals) and Doug Sampson (drums). The group made its live debut at the Cart & Horses Pub in Stratford, east London, in 1977, before honing its sound on the local pub circuit over the ensuing two years.
Unable to solicit a response from record companies, the group sent a three-track tape, featuring Iron Maiden, Prowler and Strange World, to Neal Kay, DJ at North London's hard rock disco, the Kingsbury Bandwagon Soundhouse. Kay's patronage of Iron Maiden won them an instant welcome, which translated itself finally into the release of The Soundhouse Tapes on the band's own label. November 1979 saw the group add second guitarist Tony Parsons to the line-up for two tracks on the Metal For Muthas compilation, but by the time the group embarked on sessions for their debut album, he had been replaced by Dennis Stratton (b. 9 November 1954, London, England), and Sampson by Clive Burr (b. 8 March 1957; drums). A promotional single, Running Free, reached number 34 on the UK charts and brought an appearance on BBC program Top Of The Pops. Refusing to mime, they became the first band since the Who in 1973 to play live on the show.
Iron Maiden was a roughly-produced album, but reached number 4 in the UK album listings on the back of touring stints with Judas Priest and enduringly popular material such as Phantom of The Opera. Killers boasted production superior to that of the first album, and saw Dennis Stratton replaced by guitarist Adrian Smith (b. 27 February 1957). In its wake Iron Maiden became immensely popular among heavy metal fans, inspiring fanatical devotion, aided by blustering manager Rod Smallwood and apocalyptic mascot Eddie (the latter had been depicted on the cover of Sanctuary, standing over PM Margaret Thatcher's decapitated body).
The release of Number Of The Beast was crucial to the development of the band. Without it, Iron Maiden might never have gone on to be such a force in the heavy metal arena. The album was a spectacular success, the sound of a band on the crest of a wave. It was also the debut of former infantryman and new vocalist Bruce Dickinson (b. Paul Bruce Dickinson, 7 August 1958, Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England) replacing Paul Di'anno (who would go on to front Lone Wolf, Battlezone and Killers).
Formerly of Samson, history graduate Dickinson would make his live debut with Maiden on 15 November 1981. Singles such as "Run to the Hills" and "The Number of the Beast" were big UK chart hits, Iron Maiden leaving behind their NWOBHM counterparts in terms of success, just as the movement itself was beginning to peter out. Piece Of Mind continued their success and was a major hit in the USA (number 14). Clive Burr was replaced by Nicko McBrain on the sessions, formerly drummer with French metal band Trust, who had supported Maiden on their 1981 UK tour (he had also played in Streetwalkers).
Piece Of Mind was not dissimilar to the previous album, showcasing the strong twin guitar bite of Murray and Smith, coupled with memorable vocal lines and a sound which fitted their air-punching dynamic perfectly. Single offerings, "Flight of Icarus" and "The Trooper," were instant hits, as the group undertook two massive tours, the four-month World Piece jaunt in 1983, and a World Slavery retinue which included four sellout dates at London's Hammersmith Odeon a year later. With the arrival of Powerslave in November some critics accused Iron Maiden of conforming to a self-imposed writing formula, and playing safe with tried and tested ideas. Certainly, there was no significant departure from the two previous albums, but it was nonetheless happily consumed by the band's core supporters, who also purchased in sufficient quantities to ensure UK chart hits for "Aces High" and "Two Minutes to Midnight."
Live After Death was a double album package of all their best-loved material recorded live on their gargantuan 11-month world tour. By this time Iron Maiden had secured themselves an unassailable position within the metal hierarchy, their vast popularity spanning all continents. Somewhere In Time was a slight departure. It featured more melody than before, and heralded the use of guitar synthesizers. Their songwriting still shone through and the now obligatory hit singles were easily attained in the shape of "Wasted Years" and "Stranger in a Strange Land." Reaching number 11 in the US, this was another million-plus seller.
Since the mid-'80s Maiden had been staging increasingly spectacular live shows, with elaborate lighting effects and stage sets. The Somewhere in Time tour (seven months) was no exception, ensuring their continued status as a live band, which had been the basis for much of their success. A period of comparative inactivity preceded the release of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, which was very much in the same vein as its predecessor. A concept album, it still retained its commercial edge and yielded hit singles in "Can I Play With Madness," the surprisingly sensitive "Evil That Men Do" and "The Clairvoyant."
After another exhausting mammoth world trek, the band announced their intention to take a well-earned break of at least a year. Speculation abounded that this meant the dissolution of the band, exacerbated by Dickinson's solo project, Tattooed Millionaire, his book, The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace, and EMI Record's policy of re-releasing Maiden's single catalogue in its entirety (on 12-inch). After a considerable hiatus, news of the band surfaced again. Steve Harris felt that the direction pursued with the last two albums had been taken as far as was possible, and a return to the style of old was planned. Not wishing to pursue this game plan, Adrian Smith left to be replaced by Janick Gers (b. Hartlepool, Lancashire, England), once guitarist with White Spirit and Gillan (he had also contributed to Dickinson's solo release). The live show was also to be scaled down in a return to much smaller venues.
No Prayer For The Dying was indeed much more like mid-period Iron Maiden, and was predictably well-received, bringing enormous UK hit singles with "Holy Smoke" and "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter." The latter, previously released in 1989 on the soundtrack to A Nightmare On Elm Street 5, had already been granted the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Song in that year. Yet it gave Iron Maiden their first ever UK number 1. The obligatory world tour followed.
Despite being denounced as "Satanists" in Chile, 1992 also saw the band debut at number 1 in the UK charts with Fear Of The Dark, which housed another major single success in "Be Quick or Be Dead" (number 2). However, it was to be Dickinson's swan song with the band, who invited demo tapes to be sent to them following his announcement that he would permanently depart following current touring engagements. His eventual eplacement was Blaze Bayley (b. 1963, Birmingham, West Midlands, England) from Wolfsbane. His debut album was X-Factor, and on this and at live gigs (which they only resumed in November 1995) he easily proved his worth. This was a daunting task, having to learn Maiden's whole catalogue and win over patriotic Dickinson followers. Smith resurfaced in a new band, Psycho Motel, in 1996.