Iron Maiden (named after the medieval torture device which was featured in the Hollywood film The Man With The Iron Mask) probably became the biggest success and the kings of marketing above them all with their releasing of singles, albums and EP's in several different formats continuously. They also set the standard of Heavy Metal art by the presentation of their wrath-from-the-grave demon "Eddie", who was gleefully plastered onto as many posters, records and T-shirts that was technologically possible. One could say that Iron Maiden are the Henry Ford of heavy metal because, even-though they never created the genre, they standardized it, packaged it, and made it accessible to the average fan in huge numbers.
Iron Maiden started on the east side of London in 1976, many line-up changes plagued the band at the start but by the time their act hit the road they had settled on Steve Harris (bass), Dave Murray (guitar), Paul D'Anno (vocals) and Doug Sampson (drums). The group would make its debut at the Cart & Horses pub in London in 1977, and over the next two years they would perfect their brand of music. Even though Iron Maiden offered some of the heaviest music of their day record companies largely ignored them. Their very first publication, the self financed and self-published The Soundhouse Tapes EP (1979), is a highly sought after collectors item as it's one of the only recordings that exists before they became big in 1980; only 5000 exist. This recording is also given credit for being the first truly modern NWOBHM record.
In 1979 they added guitarist Tony Parsons for their featured tracks on 'EMI's' Metal For Muthas II compilation record (1980), but soon after he would depart, making room for Dennis Straton; Doug Sampson would also be replaced at this time by Clive Burr (ex-Samson). 'EMI', who was hot on the lookout for NWOBHM bands, would subsequently sign them in 1980.
Their debut single, Running Free, gave them a U.K. #34 and a spot on the TV program Top Of The Pops, and they were the first band since The Who in 1973 to play it live instead of mime the lyrics.
Iron Maiden (1980), their debut LP, reached #4 in the U.K. It was a raw and roughly produced record which would later show its age leaving only three songs fit for play at concerts in later years, but it was not a bad start. Running Free was one such song which became dated quickly despite its catchy beat, Iron Maiden was a simple almost silly song with simple lyrics but again was a catchy tune, and The Phantom Of The Opera, a piece which still receives praise gave them some small notoriety. The 1981 follow-up, Killers, saw Stratton replaced by Adrian Smith and a superior production quality to the former album.
After the completion of Killers, Iron Maiden would enter its most popular period and its classic line-up when ex-Samson vocalist Paul Bruce Dickinson replaced D'Anno. Bruce Bruce', as he was known previous, went only with Bruce Dickinson' for his tenure with Iron Maiden. Now Iron Maiden was complete and ready to take on the world. With the work of manager Rodney "small wallet" Smallwood and their mascot "Eddie", they would arouse deep devotion from Heavy Metal fans and set the standards for Metal in the 1980s.
Number Of The Beast (1982) was the most important release of their career, for it was here that NWOBHM was fused with the energy of Punk; Dickinson's versatile voice was shining though and the press coverage received by various churches condemning the band for the lyrics "666 The number of the beast..." gave them the boost that would set their career and place them into history. The album sailed to the lofty 1 position in the U.K.
Peace Of Mind (1983) continued this trend and broke them in the U.S.A. (at number 14), and Nicko McBrain would replace Clive Burr. (McBrain had previously been hired by the band way back in the days of the Killers tour to be a devil character on stage). Two huge tours commenced shortly after. The follow-up album, Powerslave (1984), was another attempt to continue with this trend, but it ended off leaving critics complaining that Iron Maiden were locking themselves into a standardized formula. The fans, on the other hand, didn't mind the style for they forced the single spin offs of the tracks Two Minutes To Midnight and Aces High into the charts.
The follow-up, Live After Death (1985), was recorded on their 11-month world tour that followed, and was their first live recording.
Reaching 11 in the U.S., 1986's Somewhere In Time featured their first use of guitar synthesizers, a move to which even fans complain about today, but it didn't harm the quality of the music nor its sales for it was another million seller with the hit singles Somewhere In Time, Wasted Years and Stranger In A Strange Land resulting. A huge 7-month tour would ensue. Since the early part of their career their live shows were increasingly more elaborate and spectacular and the Somewhere In Time Tour, to date, was the most spectacular of them all. Iron Maiden, it seemed could do no wrong. They were at the height of their career. From this point on their shows would feature a huge Muppet Eddie', selected fans coming to the stage to sing, huge poster backdrops, Bruce Dickinson in an array of fancy costume dress, elaborate light shows and more.
Can I Play With Madness, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and The Clairvoyant helped make the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988) album another classic and gave it a #1 U.K. chart position (12 in the U.S.). It remained commercially savvy and on the idea of a concept album, like its predecessor. But after the huge world tour that followed the band called a sudden and extended vacation; this led to fears that they were ending their career.
Dickinson's solo project, Tattooed Millionaire (1990), and children's book The Adventures Of Lord Iffy Boatrace (which 'Maiden fans put into the best seller list by buying them all up; he would publish two more books and a total of 5 solo albums), as well as 'EMI' releasing the entire EP and singles catalog again on 12", kept them in the spotlight during their down time. By the time No Prayer For The Dying was released in 1990 the band had taken a few turns; Adrian Smith was out and Janick Gers (ex-White Spirit/ex-Gillian) was in. (Adrian Smith would have a solo career in his own A.S.A.P. [Adrian Smith And Project] who's only minor hit would be the single Silver And Gold from the album of the same title; he would then go on to found Psycho Motel). The band would also strip down their performance and keep away from the grandiose concept albums. It was clear that the fears of Iron Maiden disbanding were unfounded. The album was considered one of the worst by many fans but in fairness, it did yield some hit singles like Holy Smoke and Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter; the former was recorded for the 1989 film A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 5 and won the Golden Raspberry in theWorst Song category; the song was on the movie soundtrack but ended off not being featured in the film. Again, that didn't stop the buying public who, that Christmas, gave Iron Maiden their first U.K. #1.
Be Quick Or Be Dead from the 1992 Fear Of The Dark album would give them a #1 charting in the U.K. Soon after, however, Dickinson would leave. Dickinson chose to continue in his solo career after the two live albums, A Real Live One and A Read Dead One (1993; later released together as A Real Live Dead One) were released respectively. More rumors of the band's demise thrived before a replacement in the form of ex-Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley would be found.
The X-Factor (1995), with the hit single Man On The Edge (based on the Hollywood movie Falling Down), the "best of..." compilation Best Of The Beast (1996), and the follow-up Virtual XI (1997), their 11th studio recording, would follow. On the former and latter account the band would loose none of their heaviness but the albums, by both fans and critics, didn't pass the test and were dismissed as dated and flat. The populace at large did not like Bayley and internal struggles with the band membership made it a relationship doomed to failure.
In 1999 Bruce Dickinson would rejoin Iron Maiden along with Adrian Smith. Blaze Bayley would leave to go solo, simply to be known as Blaze. Now the band had three guitars and the largest band membership it had ever saw. They immediately went on tour to announce the big news. They then promptly released the album Brave New World (2000) to mixed reviews. The disc was an attempt to return to their classic 1980s days in both style and lyrics. The album was followed with a double set compilation in support of Muscular Sclerosis (MS), a human neurological disorder that eventually renders its victims bound to wheelchair or dead.The album was a live set called Rock In Rio (2002). The band felt it necessary to do so when long-time loyal friend and former member Clive Burr was diagnosed with it in 2001.
For sometime now, the act were forced to return to clubs but Iron Maiden were once again on stadium tours with elaborate stage shows like the days of old while their sense of humor raged on by adding dancing Eddies', kicking soccer balls into the crowd and even resorting to playing a recording of the Monty Python version of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life at the end of the shows. Following the release of the Edward The Great compilation in 2002, 2003 would see Iron Maidenin the news again with their release of Dance Of Death , an album harping back to their styles of the early 1990s circa Fear Of The Dark and the lot. The compilation Death On The Road arrived in 2005 with a full studio album finally appearing in 2006 with A Matter Of Life And Death. 2007 was an interesting year for on the 5th of September 2007, the band announced their Somewhere Back in Time World Tour, which tied in with the DVD release of their Live After Death album. The set list for the tour consisted of hits ranging from the 1980s, with a specific emphasis on the Powerslave era for set design. The first part of the tour, commencing in Mumbai, India on February 1, 2008, consisted of 24 concerts in 21 cities, traveling nearly 50,000 miles in the band's brand new own chartered airplane named "Ed Force One" (Bruce Dickinson has a professional pilot's license). During the tour, they played their first ever concerts in Costa Rica and Colombia and their first shows in Australia and Puerto Rico since 1992.
The tour led to the release of a new compilation album, entitled Somewhere Back in Time, which included a selection of tracks from their 1980 eponymous debut to 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, as well as several live versions from Live After Death.
The Somewhere Back in Time World Tour continued with two further legs in the US and Europe in the summer of 2008, during which the band used a more expansive stage-set, including further elements of the original Live After Death show. With the sole UK concert taking place at Twickenham Stadium, this would be the first time the band would headline a stadium in their own country. The last part of the tour took place in February and March 2009, with the band, once again, using "Ed Force One". The final leg included the band's first ever appearances in Peru and Ecuador, as well as their return to Venezuela and New Zealand after 17 years, as well as India. The three 2008 legs of the tour amounted to the second highest grossing tour of the year for a British artist.
At the 2009 BRIT Awards, Iron Maiden won the award for best British live act. Voted for by the public, the band reportedly won by a landslide.
The Final Frontier (2010), the band's fifteenth, was released on August 16th of that year to critical acclaim and the band's greatest commercial success in their history, reaching No. 1 in 28 countries worldwide. Although Steve Harris had been quoted in the past as claiming that the band would only produce fifteen studio releases, band members have since confirmed that there will be at least one further record. The promise of that record came true in September of 2015 with the release of the 2 CD set, The Book of Souls. After Bruce Dickinson fought a bout with tongue cancer to which the therapy was successful, a world tour supporting the album followed in 2016 with The Raven Age, a thrash metal band founded by Steve Harris' son, George.
Iron Maiden has proven to be an essential element in heavy metal. Most people who do not even know much about heavy metal will recognize the name 'Iron Maiden'; like 'IBM' or 'Ford', it is a name you can easily match a product to, and know the reputation of that product. If it wasn't for them much of the NWOBHM movement would not have started - leaving the thrash and death sub-genres to never rise and also leaving metal to die before its time. Iron Maiden, widely considered "thinking man's metal" because of the subjects discussed discreetly in their music, live on to set examples and show would-be metal musicians how it's done.
Footnote: The bluish background on Number Of The Beast was supposed to be gray much like the previous effort Killers was but a mess up in the arts department at EMI caused the resulting output to be blue but it was too late to correct, the resulting cover art has made history ever since.