How Iron Maiden Nearly Went Blues: 40 Years Since The Band’s Debut

Discover how the album emerged and why it is just as important today as it was four decades ago.

Four decades ago, the pioneers of Heavy Metal, Iron Maiden, debuted their eponymous first album. Yet, in many ways, the album nearly led the band down a very different path.

Now, nearly half a century since its emergence, we ask: what was it that made the album quite so important?

Released back on April 14th 1980, the album quickly became one of the most influential debut releases of all time: shaping the sound of rock music and founding the genre of Great British Heavy Metal. 

An immediate commercial success, achieving Platinum Status in the UK and Canada, Gold in Germany and peaking at number 4 on the UK Album Charts (which it remained for an impressive 15 weeks), it was immediately clear that Iron Maiden didn’t hesitate when it came to taking the world by storm. 

However, to diehard fans, it is painfully clear that the origins of the band were very different to the Iron Maiden we know today. Whilst most widely associated nowadays with legendary vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, it was originally the roaring voice of original vocalist, Paul Di’Anno, that initially catapulted the band into the spotlight. 

With a greater sense of rasp and more autobiographical lyrics than in the band’s recent albums, Di’Anno’s approach to Iron Maiden was a distant shout from the elaborate and epic lyrics of Bruce Dickinson.

Nowhere was this more expertly seen than in the lead single of the album, ‘Running Free’. An immediate hit for the band, it was clear that the debut album had something previously unheard in the music scene.

With overnight success, the single peaked at number 34 on the UK Singles Chart and earned the members a performance on iconic show, Top Of The Pops.

Separating the band from the crowds with their Punk-inspired angst and rhythmic, distorted tone, ‘Running Free’ thrust Iron Maiden into the mainstream music scene and changed the members lives overnight. What’s more, by becoming the first band since The Who to refuse to mime during Top Of The Pops, the band galvanised crowds far and wide due to the passion exemplified in their live performances- paving the way for the iconic shows the band provide now.

However, although the album revolutionised the world of rock music and became an overnight success, it didn’t come without it’s share of disputes.

Their only album with Dennis Stratton as the guitarist, the band were edging closer to following an alternative route. Although the fast-paced, galloping riffs of songs such as ‘Prowler’ and ‘Sanctuary’ are inextricably associated with modern-day Iron Maiden, at the time, the band were being urged by Stratton to follow a much more blues direction: taking inspiration from bands including Wishbone Ash.

After dividing the members and stirring discontent among the band, this decision was eventually overruled as the band parted ways with Stratton due to their musical differences. Now, after touring across Europe with Kiss, the band decided to expand their heavier sound- developing the intensity that enabled them to evolve into one of the most monumental bands of all time.

With most of the writing on the album being credited to bassist, Steve Harris, the self-titled debut had already incorporated many aspects similar to that of their later releases with Dickinson.

For example, the fan-favourite, ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ enabled Iron Maiden to emerge from the masses as a force to be reckoned with. Still played live to this day, the song incorporated elements of Prog with their rhythmic, catchy riffs- capturing a gap in the music industry and laying the foundations for some of their greatest hits. 

By fusing alternating niche genres together, hits such as ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ established the guidelines for their later releases- allowing the band to revive the music industry with a new genre not yet heard prior to 1980.

Now, four decades on, Iron Maiden are still just as relevant as they were in the 80s. By deviating away from the blues-inspired riffs of Classic Rock bands at the time and opting for a more experimental, distinctive route, the band not only made themselves into a household name from their debut album, but also pioneered a new genre that would revolutionise the music industry from then on.

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What are your thoughts on the album? Let us know via the comment section below!

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