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Iron Maiden in the Studio
The Stories Behind Every Album
By Jake Brown
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2011 Jake Brown
All rights reserved.
IRON MAIDEN (1980)
'There may be no better place to hear how both punk and prog rock informed the New Wave of British Heavy Metal than Iron Maiden's self-titled debut' Billboard
'This debut stands as a virtual heavy-metal textbook for anyone eager to learn' iTunes
From day one, bassist/founder Steve Harris has been the driving force behind Iron Maiden. According to Kerrang! Harris's edict heading into the band's first album was to make a plan and stick to it. 'That's the key to success. It's a credo that [he] has followed since he started the band on Christmas Day, 1975.' Former lead singer Paul Mario Day – who fronted the band in 1975–76 – later told Maidenfans.com that, even in the early days, 'Steve generally came up with the ideas. I pushed to do more covers but Steve always wanted to stick to his guns and write original stuff. He was amazing like that really and he deserves all the success that he's got.'
In describing some of the band's earliest recordings, Steve Harris told Maidenfans.com years later, 'I've got audio tapes that go right back from 1976, not right from the first gigs, but from the days when we used to play places like the Bridge House. They're a bit dodgy. There's a version of "Purgatory", which was then called "Floating", and it had an arrangement that was a bit different. I've also got a tape of my very first band, Gypsy's Kiss, of us at the Cart and Horses. It might have been the first gig we did. There's a song called "Endless Pit", which later became "Innocent Exile". The tapes exist but I never play 'em to anyone!'
As Rolling Stone noted, 'the first incarnation of the band was inspired by the do-it-yourself punk ethos.' But by 1977, according to the LA Times, 'while most wannabe London rockers were embracing punk's stripped-down sound and fashionista aesthetic, [Harris was] defiantly creating ... a hairy, denim-clad band that proudly performed heroic, escapist heavy metal.'
In 1979, following numerous line-up changes, the group released an EP, The Soundhouse Tapes, on its own label, Rock Hard Records. As guitarist Dave Murray recalled years later to Metal Hammer, 'The first Iron Maiden thing we did where I can remember that we were all travelling together was when we went out of London to record what became The Soundhouse Tapes, at the Spaceward Studios in Cambridge on New Year's Eve, 1978. There must've been three feet of snow everywhere and we were freezing our balls off, all cramped together in the back of a van.'
Their dedication would pay off. The band recorded the original version of 'Prowler', which, as Harris recalled to journalist John Stix, was a 'very special' song for them. 'When we made The Soundhouse Tapes, we took the actual tape to Neal Kay, who was a DJ in north London. He used to have a heavy-metal chart, which was compiled from record requests and printed in the music magazine Sounds. "Prowler" got to be No. 1 just from the requests for the demo tape. That's why we had the tape made into a record because so many kids were asking us how they could get hold of the demo tapes ... It was brilliant because that got us work elsewhere as well.'
The bassist added his memory of feeling that there was a certain amount of irony in the fact that The Soundhouse Tapes was the very first thing that Iron Maiden had recorded. '[The song] was just a demo ... It really wasn't great quality.'
Still, the quality was good enough for it to sell 5,000 copies within a month of release and land the band a spot on the compilation LP Metal for Muthas. This featured early versions of 'Sanctuary' and 'Wrathchild', eventually earning the band a record deal with EMI in late 1979. As the decade turned into 1980, the band made plans to record that spring with producer Will Malone, who had previously worked with Black Sabbath and Meat Loaf, and whose CV would go on to include Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Seal, The Verve, Dido, Jewel, Oasis and Jeff Beck.
But before Maiden could head into the studio they had to deal with yet another change in their perpetually evolving line-up, following the departure of lead guitarist Paul Cairns.
Years later his replacement, Dennis Stratton of Remus Down Boulevard, recalled to Praying Mantis webzine the circumstances that led to him being hired. 'My wife at the time noticed an advert in the Melody Maker – "Iron Maiden, EMI recording artists seek guitarist/backing vocalist" – and we were debating whether to write off or phone up for it. I was doing a painting job at Stratford and I got on a bus at Stratford Broadway to go to Canning Town where I was living. A girl came up to me on the bus and said, "You're Dennis Stratton?" I went, "Yeah," and she said, "Oh hello, my name's Lorraine. I'm Steve Harris's girlfriend." And I said, "Yeah?" rather blankly. And she went, "I take it you haven't been home yet?" and I said, "No." "Oh well, when you get home there is a telegram waiting for you to ring Rod Smallwood because they're interested in you joining Iron Maiden."
'I said, "Well, how did they know about me?" She said Steve used to come down every night and watch the band play. I didn't know Steve at the time. He apparently loved it. Iron Maiden weren't allowed to play in the Bridge House club because they were too heavy. So they were over the Cart and Horses. On the nights they weren't playing and when he knew RDB were going to play the Bridge House, he would come down. Again one night I remember him in there because he had a West Ham scarf on and I was taking the mickey out of him.
'When I got home my wife said, "There's a telegram here for you," and I said, "I know what it is." And I picked up the telegram and it just said, "Dear Dennis, please ring Rod Smallwood at the above number re Iron Maiden." The following day I was down at Wardour Street, in the Ship pub near the Marquee, and I met up with Steve, Dave Murray and Rod. From there Rod said, "Steve wants you in the band. I don't think you will have any trouble learning the material."'
As excited as he was about the opportunity, Stratton also admitted that, heading into the gig, he was nervous because 'I was a bit ignorant about Iron Maiden's material at the time because I had been so involved with RDB and the tour with Quo. I had, therefore, never really got to listening to the really heavy metal stuff. And he said they had a really big following and they had done The Soundhouse Tapes but "we are due to go into the studio and record the first album" on EMI.
'He told me about this big following at the Soundhouse [club] and Neal Kay, [and that] they had signed this big deal with EMI. What they were looking for was not only a guitarist that could do backing vocals and whatever but someone who also had a bit of experience in the recording studios and touring because you have got to remember they were still very young. Although they had done lots of gigs in clubs and travelled around a lot in the old Green Goddess – they'd done one-night gigs up in Wigan and places – they had never actually done a full tour.
So I said, "Yeah, no problem." There was a little bit of an argument about money because I was married and had a little daughter, and I needed a bit more money than the rest of them because they were all living with their parents and whatever. So we got all that out of the way and they gave me a tape of some songs. I went home and I think the first one I played was "Phantom of the Opera", and it had all these harmonies and I thought, "Yeah, this is all right." They were rehearsing over at Hollywood Studios, Clapham, just round the corner from where Dave was living with his mum. I went over there and there was tons of gear, and I have never rehearsed so bloody loud in all my life. We went through a few harmony things and they were over the moon. They just said, "This is exactly what we have been looking for. You're in. Let's get going," and all that.
But in addition to replacing Paul Cairns, the band also needed a new beat-keeper following the departure of Doug Sampson. 'We went for a beer in the pub next door,' Stratton continued, 'and I was talking to Steve and Paul or Dave, and I said, "I didn't realise you were looking for a drummer." They were auditioning at the time and they had tried out Thundersticks [of Samson] and a few others, and they said, "Can you recommend anyone?"
'At the time I had played with two drummers. Johnny Richardson was an excellent drummer. Unfortunately, his hearing was playing up: he was told by the doctor that he couldn't carry on playing. If he did, he would end up deaf. The other drummer was Clive Burr. So I said, "There are a couple of drummers I know."
My preferred choice was Johnny Richardson. He was the best drummer – very technical, very clever and fast. He came down and gave it a go but he couldn't handle the volume. And he just said, "Sorry, Den, I can't do it."
'So I said, "There is one more person." I used to see Clive Burr over at the Fleece. It's a pub on Wanstead Flats that everyone goes to in the summer and they all sit outside. I saw him in there one night and I said, "What are you doing? I'm now working with Iron Maiden and they're looking for a drummer." And he said, "Well, stick my name forward." He came down to the rehearsal the next day and played, and they went, "Yeah, fine," and that is how he ended up coming in.'
With the line-up problem sorted out, attention turned to the material for the band's debut. One fascinating signature of Maiden's broader sound began from album one with Steve Harris's bass lines. 'I think the songs sound a bit different because they are written on the bass,' he told journalist John Stix. 'Some I write with a main bass riff and work out the melody on top of it. Some songs begin with a strong melody line and I work out the music behind it. I pretty much work everything out on the bass, the actual riffs and the harmonies ... Mainly they are little melodies, which have harmonies put to them.'
Giving fans an insight into his creative side, Harris added of his songwriting process that among his biggest challenges was assembling the many song sections he wrote individually into cohesive finished pieces, sharing in the same interview that, 'A lot of songs were written in different sections that could possibly have been used in other songs.'
Touching on some of his collaborative moments with his bandmates, Harris offered 'Remember Tomorrow' as an example. '[Singer] Paul Di'Anno wrote the lyrics to it. I wrote the music. Actually, I played him the parts I had and he worked it out. There's a lot of feeling in that song. Mind you, I think any song should be filled with feeling. But on the slow parts of this one I think there is that extra measure.'
'Charlotte the Harlot' the bassist happily acknowledged as 'Dave's song. I would have been proud to say that I'd written it. I like playing it live because it was something a bit different than I would write.'
The song's co-writer, Paul Di'Anno, told Battle Helm e-zine that the lyrics were actually autobiographical. '[Charlotte's] real name is High Hill Lil and she's basically an old prostitute. Well, actually she was more of a slut, ha ha. I mean, if you turned up to her house with some booze or some speed, you were more or less guaranteed a lay. She was a legend in Walthamstow, everyone knew her. She was about forty-five but a real rock-out bitch. She'd take any guy from fifteen upwards, ha ha! The song says that she lived on Acacia Avenue but it's actually Markhouse Road, just before you go into Leyton, 'cause that's the area where I lived.'
The singer added that 'Running Free' was equally autobiographical. '[It's] about me as a kid. My mum ruled my life but she said to me, "You live in a shit area but do what you can do and see what happens. As long as you don't hurt anybody, just get on with it." But I did get into trouble with the law a few times and that's the only thing I wish I could change – the grief I gave my poor mama. I never really knew my real dad but my step-dad was really cool. Sometimes he'd surprise us and walk in when we were doing some speed but he'd just brush it off as long as it wasn't heroin or the hard shit. I don't have the same attitude with my kids though – if I catch 'em with anything, I'll kick the crap outta them.'
Of the song's music, Harris added to Stix that '"Running Free" came together when I put a riff to the main drum beat by Doug Sampson. He was the drummer on The Soundhouse Tapes.' Guitarist Dennis Stratton would add later that the band were fond enough of the song to include it on their debut LP, recalling to Praying Mantis, 'We went back in and re-recorded "Running Free". It had to be a different mix and have different bits in it for radio play. It was the same with "Woman in Uniform".'
Citing the fan favourite 'Phantom of the Opera' as an example, Harris told Stix how he and his bandmates developed the musical side of the album's very long songs. As a result of its length, the song 'was done in sections. The middle part was totally separate but it fit in very well. It felt right to go from the slow part into the middle section.' The song would wind up as one of Harris' personal favourites. '"Phantom" is one of the best pieces I've ever written and certainly one of the most enjoyable to play. It's got all of these intricate guitar lines, which keep it interesting. Then there's that slow middle part, which creates quite a good mood. It's also got the fast heavy parts, which are really rockin'. And it's also got areas for crowd participation. It pretty much covers all the bases for the band. It was also a good example of what I wanted to get across.'
Billboard hailed the result as 'a landmark, the band's earliest progressive epic and still among its best. With its ambitious fusion of musical styles, its multi-sectioned construction and the literary retelling of the lyrics, it seemed to encapsulate all the promise of both the band and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.'
Of 'Transylvania' – another signature of Iron Maiden's catalogue, the elaborate prog-metal instrumental – Harris would recall in the same interview that 'the initial idea on this one was to have lyrics. It originally had a melody line for the vocal but, when we played it, it sounded so good as an instrumental that we never bothered to write lyrics for it.'
In the opposite direction, the bassist singled out 'Strange World' as 'one of the only sort of slow songs we've done. But it's got a lot of feeling. It used to be a stage favourite. Dave [Murray] really enjoyed playing the solo in this one.'
Of another mainstay with the band's live audience – the title track – Harris recalled in the same interview – that for 'as long as I can remember we've closed our set with ["Iron Maiden"]. It's quite simple. The bass line is fairly straightforward, as is the drumming. But the guitar is over the top with harmony and the bass is descending behind it. I think this makes it pretty special.'
Guitarist Murray, a member of the band since 1976, quipped of the song that it had gone through several evolutions in line with the band's varying vocal line-ups prior to recording. In response to Metal Hammer's question of 'who sings it the best?' he answered, 'No comment! Obviously, each singer has their own inflections but "Iron Maiden" was written and sung by vocalists before Paul Di'Anno; it's only that he was the one to be heard singing it first.'
The band entered Kingsway Studios in London in February 1980. The studio has a rich recording history that includes Jimi Hendrix, Herman's Hermits, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Nazareth and T-Rex among others. It had been sold to Olympic in the mid-1970s but the studio's classic design and technical layout remained largely intact into the early 1980s.
Excerpted from Iron Maiden in the Studio by Jake Brown. Copyright © 2011 Jake Brown. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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