The Audition Part Two: Iron Maiden – Paul Di’Anno or Bruce Dickinson

In today’s selection meeting, we fall deeper down the rabbit-hole as we move from the world of cock-rock to heavy metal.

Get out your battle jackets and hi-top sneakers as we look at arguably the biggest band in ‘evvy meddul’, Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden: 

IN: Bruce Dickinson (1981-1993, 1999-present*)
OUT: Paul Di’Anno (1978-1981)

There’s no bigger heavy metal act than Iron Maiden. Whether you’re a metal fan or not, you’ve got to respect a band successful enough to gut a Boeing 757, customise it to fly your band, crew and equipment around the world to play gigs in places like India, UAE, and Ecuador as well as the usual European and North American suspects – and still turn a profit. Okay, so their lead singer moonlights as a fully qualified commercial airline pilot, which certainly helps, but I’m sure you get the point.*

They’re the band that all other metal bands wish they were, and with far too many examples to specify here, in their 40 years of recording and performing, the Irons have inspired a generation of musicians to grow their hair, buy a distortion pedal, wire in some humbucker pick-ups, turn their amps up to eleven and give the world the devil’s horns.

One of the secrets – if it even is a secret – to the Iron’s success apart from their relentless work ethic is undoubtedly its principal songwriter: founding member and bassist, Steve Harris. The contributions of vocalists Paul Di’Anno and Bruce Dickinson though, have also had a massive say in the band’s success.

The legacy of Paul Di’Anno’s (1978-1981) as to Iron Maiden cannot be overlooked. Not so much a flat-earth view of the Irons as a nod to the genre they inspired, there are some who maintain that their eponymous debut album in 1980 and 1981s Killers remain two of the band’s three most creative and profound moments (the other being 1982s The Number of the Beast – more on that album in a moment).

Di’Anno was the perfect fit for a formative and burgeoning Iron Maiden. As a generation of Britons unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of the post-World War Two boom years grew increasingly marginalised through the restructuring of the British economy and the rise of Thatcherism, his unsexy, no-nonsense, pub-brawler persona and visceral-sounding vocals were the icing on a musical cake already laden with machismo, and played no small part in attracting a growing army of fans to the band like moths to a headbanging flame.

A relentless schedule of touring and recording began to take its toll and Di’Anno acquired a near-fatal love of cocaine and alcohol, which inevitibly led to his sacking/resignation (depending on your point of view) from Iron Maiden. As he cleaned out his metaphorical locker, his bequest would be co-writing the songs KillersRemember Tomorrow and Running Free with Harris – the latter of which remains an integral piece of the band’s live set to this day – and an Australia-only cover of the Skyhooks’ Women in Uniform on local pressings of the Killers LP.

Bruce Dickinson (1981-1993, 1999 –present) was hired as Di’Anno’s replacement. His debut album – 1982s The Number of the Beast – propelled Iron Maiden into the metal and pop-culture stratosphere. Gone were the raspy, aggression-tinged snarls of the Di’Anno, replaced by Dickinson’s operatic, almost bombastic approach that lit up the fantastical, mystical imagery contained within the Irons oeuvre.

The Number of the Beast broke the band internationally, thanks partly to the storm of controversy surrounding the title track and its accompanying music video. Musically though, the album is universally acknowledged as all killer, no filler. As well as the legendary title track, the album also contains numbers considered Irons classics: Run to the HillsThe Prisoner and Hallowed Be Thy Name. A pretty handy debut for Dickinson, when it’s all said and done – as good as, if not better, than Brian Johnson and AC/DC with Back In Black or Sammy Hagar and Van Halen with 5150.

Dickinson era classics alongside those already mentioned include: The TrooperStranger in a Strange Land, Two Minutes to MidnightThe Rime of the Ancient MarinerMission from ‘Arry**, RevelationsAces HighCan I Play With Madness? Wasted YearsChildren of the Damned and the live set show-stopper; Hallowed By Thy Name.

The Verdict?

Bruce Dickinson gets the nod here, and by the length of the straight six at Flemington. I have a lot of respect for Di’Anno, but if you compare the output of both singers in their first three years, Bruce has got panels on Paul. And besides, without Bruce in the line-up, we would never have got the classic live introduction to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (“this is what not to do if a bird shits on you”) and the much loved Dickinson entreat to fans between (and sometimes within) songs at concerts: to “scream for me Brazil/Costa Rica/Long Beach/Hammersmith, etc.” Paul Di’Anno isn’t licensed to pilot a 757 either, so that’s another thing.

Bruce or Paul? Who would you have up front of Iron Maiden?

*Whether you’re a fan of the Irons or not Flight 666 is an amazing behind the scenes look at how Iron Maiden Inc. goes about its business. After 40 years in the caper, they’ve certainly earned the right to do things however they damn-well please.

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