Taking its name from the medieval torture device, Iron Maiden was part of England's late-Seventies crop of heavy-metal bands that boasted simple guitar riffs, bone-crunching chords and shrieking vocals.
Formed in 1976 by bassist Steve Harris (b. March 12, 1957, London) and guitarist Dave Murray (b. Dec. 23, 1958, London), Iron Maiden has had a revolving-door lineup of musicians. The first incarnation of the band was inspired by the do-it-yourself punk ethos, and the group released an EP, The Soundhouse Tapes, on its own label, Rock Hard Records. Iron Maiden, the band's 1980 debut album for major label Capitol Records, was pure, unadulterated, screaming heavy metal. It reached the Top Five in Britain; the following year's Killers went to Number 12. America was slower to embrace the denim- and leather-clad group, which distinguished itself from its peers with unusually literate songs (written by Harris) full of hellish imagery (the melting faces in "Children of the Damned"), with themes borrowed from films ("The Number of the Beast," inspired by The Omen II) and ancient mythology ("Flight of Icarus"). Iron Maiden was one of the few bands of any genre to employ a mascot, a ten-foot rotting corpse named Eddie.
The Number of the Beast, featuring new vocalist Bruce Dickinson (b. Paul Bruce Dickinson, Aug. 7, 1958, Worksop, Eng.), topped the album chart in Britain and initiated a streak of seven consecutive platinum or gold albums in the United States, despite virtually no radio or MTV exposure. The followup, 1983's Piece of Mind, reached Number 14 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, and 1984's Powerslave went to Number 21 on the Billboard 200. By then, Iron Maiden were superstars of heavy metal and remained in the Top 25 of Billboard's dominant album chart for several subsequent releases: Live After Death (Number 22, 1985), Somewhere In Time (Number 23, 1987), Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (Number 12, 1988), No Prayer for the Dying (Number 17, 1990), Fear of the Dark (Number 12, 1992). No Prayer for the Dying was Maiden's last studio album to go gold in the U.S.; it contained "Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter," a song originally recorded by Dickinson alone for the Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 5 soundtrack. Dickinson's solo version went to Number One in the U.K. Guitarist Adrian Smith (b. Feb. 27, 1957, London), who had joined in 1980, left in 1990 to form A.S.A.P. with drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr. Janick Gers replaced Smith. Dickinson left in 1993, replaced by Blaze Bayley.
Iron Maiden weathered its numerous personnel changes without a hitch, continuing to put out albums (three live discs as well as 1995's The X Factor and 1998's Virtual XI), although they weren't as successful as the band's earlier releases. Dickinson – who became a top-rated fencer and swordsman, a published novelist (The Adventures of Lord Iffy Boatrace) and solo singer – reunited with the band in 1999, as did Smith. The revived, Dickinson-fronted Maiden went on to have a second successful career, releasing another string of charting albums including Brave New World (Number 39, 2000), Dance of Death (Number 18, 2003) and A Matter of Life and Death (Number 9, 2006). The group's three-disc greatest-hits album of 1999, Ed Hunter, spawned a namesake Maiden video game.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).