Line-ups that make (or break) the band
Iron Maiden were formed in Leyton (East London) in 1975 by bassist/songwriter Steve Harris. Almost immediately, singer Paul Day was sacked because he lacked “energy or charisma onstage”. His replacement, Dennis Wilcock, didn’t last long, either. The band’s in-fighting led to guitarist Dave Murray being temporarily fired in 1977, but his reinstatement (after Harris sacked the entire band) makes him the longest-standing member of the group, aside from Harris.
The first successful line-up for Iron Maiden was the recruitment of vocalist Paul Di’Anno. They recorded an EP and sold all 5,000 copies within weeks. A track (‘Prowler’) went to Number One in the metal Soundhouse charts in Sounds magazine.
The album, Iron Maiden, made Number 4 in the UK charts, but Di’Anno’s self-destructive behaviour was proving problematic. He was fired in 1981, and replaced with Bruce Dickinson. The ensuing album, The Number Of The Beast, sold 14 million copies. Iron Maiden became one of the biggest rock bands in the world.
After releasing a solo album, Tattooed Millionaire, in 1990, Dickinson decided to leave the band when his outstanding commitments to the group were fulfilled – a farewell tour and two live albums – ending with a concert in August 1993, which was filmed and broadcast by the BBC (Raising Hell).
Following hundreds of auditions, Iron Maiden recruited Wolfsbane’s Blaze Bayley, and returned with The X Factor. Bayley was never accepted by the fans. The following album, Virtual XI, was the first to fail to sell one million copies. Bayley left the band by mutual agreement in 1999.
Perhaps it was unfair to blame Bayley for the band’s decline: they had been experimenting with a more lo-fi production (by Harris himself, as Martin Birch retired) to try to capture the energy of the band’s live shows. In tandem, events in Harris’s life inspired a darker songwriting style which broke from the band’s established formula. The combination proved unpopular with fans. Heavy metal in general was out of fashion, with grunge and later nu metal dominating the rock music charts.
Bruce Dickinson returned with guitarist Adrian Smith, with a popular tour and an album, Brave New World, produced by Kevin Shirley. The band’s changing direction – melodic, progressive rock – and Dickinson’s new-found enthusiasm were an electric combination. Adrian Smith’s contribution is often overlooked as one of the key songwriters in the band, so his return brought with it stronger material. The ‘Rock In Rio’ show in 2001 was … well, see for yourself. I’m not much of a Maiden fan, but this is one of the best live music clips I’ve ever seen.
Steve Harris might have been Iron Maiden, but sometimes you need a star in the band to really shine.