Iron Maiden turns 40

Today, April 14, 2020 sees the self titled debut album from metal legends Iron Maiden turn forty years old. We’ll examine the record track by track to see how it measures up.

As a debut goes, the record does its primary job right off the bat. One look at the cover probably did exactly what it was intended to. Circa 1980, one look at Eddie probably either scared you away or piqued your interest. Relatively unknown outside of England at the time, this was their first real chance to make an impression to the rest of the world.

Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, it’s a pretty standard length record for the times, although it’s a much more frantic pace than their recent releases. While I disagree with many assessments that liken early Maiden to punk, their sound on the first two albums with Paul Di’Anno on vocals is much different than the sound they’d become famous for years later.

The opening track is “Prowler” and is a smack to the face. It features elements that will later become their feature sound, albeit with Di’Anno’s more gruff voice. As for being the introductory song for the group, it’s a classic. It’s meant for Di’Anno’s vocals though, so sadly it’s time of being played live is probably over.

“Remember Tomorrow” follows and is quite honestly one of the most underrated songs in Maiden’s illustrious catalog of music. It very well could be Di’Anno’s greatest performance with the band before he was replaced by Bruce Dickinson. Seldom played live, it’s an absolute treat when it is. It is so unique when compared to the rest of their stuff.

The first hit off the record is the third track. “Running Free” is about as essential to their catalog of music as it gets. The single charted at 34 in the UK. The live version from 1985’s “Live After Death” recording is the absolute best with crowd participation. This fun song still gets played regularly when the group is touring.

The fourth track is without question the defining song of the Di’Anno era of the band. “Phantom of the Opera” is in your face from the opening get go and doesn’t let up for over 7 minutes. The musicianship on this one is phenomenal and is the first “epic” in a long line of “epics” that the band would go on to be known for. The entire band is at their absolute best on this one. It still gets played live regularly and for good reason. This one simply captures everything that they do well and is a precursor to where they’d end up fifteen records later. Turn this one up all the way!

All of that concludes the first side of the record. Side 2 opens up with an iconic jam that is entirely an instrumental piece. “Transylvania” is another one that has the vintage Maiden sound, and I’d love for it to be played live. That won’t happen, but the song is just the first of a few great instrumentals that they band would go on to release over the years.

“Strange World” follows and is another underrated Di’Anno gem. The song has a mellow opening, followed by a brief wailing guitar solo, and along with the aforementioned “Remember Tomorrow”, one of Di’Anno’s greatest vocal achievements. The track also foreshadows the progressive rock elements that would later become staple but in the early years were not as common for them. An absolute killer that I’ve yet to see performed live, but would love to.

The second single from the album follows, and as is usually the case with me and this band, it’s not one of my favorites. It’s not that the song is bad by any means. However, the first six tracks are what I’d call definitive Maiden songs. This one doesn’t meet that bar for me. What do I know though? It charted at 29 in the UK as the better performer of the two singles. It jams, but “Sanctuary” falls short for me of the six songs before it.

The next song is also one that I could do without. It has a fun opening and has some good rhythm work. Songs about ladies of the night are a tough sell for me I suppose. “Charlotte the Harlot” is a good play on words and the breakdown midway through is quite enjoyable and has some good vocals. Once again, it just doesn’t measure up to tracks 1-6. However, it would spawn a sequel a couple albums later that is flat out brilliant. So, I’ll give credit where credit is due.

The self titled album ends quite fittingly with the self titled track, “Iron Maiden”. In a sense the song may be a tad overrated. Simply because if you go to an Iron Maiden show you two things are for certain. One of them is that this song will be the closer to their main set. The second is that is when we will get an appearance on stage from the infamous Eddie that adorns each of their record covers. He will either be in classic Eddie form or reimagined to fit whatever “new” album the band is touring on. It is an absolute essential song to the band and as mentioned before is forever locked in to the live set. Watch the crowd reaction to this one!

Overall, this record is an iconic debut for an iconic band. Tracks 7 & 8 are the weakest in my opinion and one of those is the highest rated single from the album. That means it’s in pretty good shape. The overall grade for 1980’s Iron Maiden is a solid A! It is one of the early records that would shape heavy metal for the next four decades and counting.

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