I first got a copy of Iron Maiden Iron Maiden on a C90 from Metal Dave on the school bus. Metal Dave, being Metal Dave had taken the law into his own hands and edited off ‘Strange World’ and replaced it with ‘Sanctuary’ instead because ‘it was way fucking harder’ – we didn’t call him Metal Dave for nothing you know*. So that’s how I came to know the LP and in those far off pre-iTunes days when you actually had to pretty much listen to a LP all the way through, rather than 10 seconds of a track before flicking onto the next one, you got used to anticipating the sound of the next tune as soon as the previous one ended. So when I finally bought Iron Maiden on vinyl (a cheap Fame reissue, naturally) in June 2008 (it was late, I was feeling slightly tipsy and maudlin on eBay and trying to recapture my lost youth) the second side of the LP just sounded wrong to me, still does actually. Metal Dave Lives!
Just like Kill ’em All this LP has a real rough-around-the-edges charm for me that Maiden’s later, far more technically accomplished LPs lack; I know they got a lot better, but I think it’s the sound of all that brash exuberance and naiveté banging right up against their technical limitations which make this LP for me. Much has been made of the way that the NWOBHM in general and Maiden in particular were informed by the energy and DIY ethos of UK punk, a point which Steve Harris always seems to want play down, but you can hear that energy, whether it stems from punk or just young men’s impatience with the status quo (note no capital letters!) is a moot point. A major part of this to my mind is the vocals of Paul Di’anno, I just love the attack he puts on his vocals all the way through this LP – particularly on the Metal Dave bonus track ‘Sanctuary’ ! They gained everything technically, but lost a certain part of their soul when they swapped vocalists.
Kicking off with the sex-offenderly ‘Prowler’ this LP really hits the ground running (free), ‘See the ladies flashing, all their legs and lashes’ really struck a chord with my hormonally wired adolescent self back then and even now I think this is a great rocker, although I do mainly control my flasher urges these days. The pace of the tune and the guitar sound are awesome today, back in 1980 it must have hit like a bazooka. ‘Remember Tomorrow’ was a pleasant surprise this time around, the guitar interplay on this slower track is excellent and again, this track just drips with ambition. ‘Running Free’ again hits all the right marks for me but it is ‘Phantom of the Opera’ that really rocks my world. POTO is their first bona fide epic and the technical prowess here is impeccable, even though Di’Anno strains in places. I love the time changes and just the sheer charge of the song, which I associate really strongly with a 1980s Daley Thompson advert for Lucozade, good though other tracks are on the first two Maiden LPs POTO is where the band serve notice that they were the real thing and that they were in for the long haul. They get bonus 1537 points for the line, ‘You know I’m helpless from your mesmerizing cat call’.
The instrumental ‘Transylvania’ is excellent, guitars and time changes meshing seamlessly, showing that instrumental does not equate to wimpiness in Maiden’s world. I have to say that in my opinion Metal Dave made exactly the right call on ‘Strange World’ which is a pasty-faced wussy creature, compared to the pumped up monsters which make up tunes on the rest of this LP. ‘Charlotte the Harlot’ I’ve always liked, mostly for lyrics which I used to think were outrageously rude (although not as rude as they got on ’22 Acacia Avenue’) but now for the speeding riff and ‘Iron Maiden’ is just plain nasty, a real chain mail fist of a track, with entirely pants but effective lyrics.
Add all this to a bog-awful back cover photo of the band live and a good, borderline Van Gogh take on Eddie on the front cover and you have a foundation stone heavy enough to base the tottering metal edifice (Eddie-fist?) that Maiden would become later. This LP and Maiden never truly rocked my whole world but the fact that I do still spin this one every few months for a fix does show something.
If only they’d listened to Metal Dave though…
*and no, it wasn’t because he had any type of prosthesis, don’t even think that!