How Iron Maiden Defined a Genre With ‘The Soundhouse Tapes’
On the surface, The Soundhouse Tapes represent a three-song, 12-minute demo that launched Iron Maiden's amazing career. In a larger sense, however, this EP arguably sparked the entire New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement.
To be sure, numerous upstart bands now associated with the N.W.O.B.H.M. were also recording similar independent singles and EPs around this time, including Sheffield's Def Leppard, Suffolk's Trespass and London's own Praying Mantis – while Saxon, from South Yorkshire, would soon release a debut album, as well. But Maiden (then comprised of bassist Steve Harris, vocalist Paul Di'Anno, guitarist Dave Murray and drummer Doug Sampson) were the unofficial leaders of a pack of fledgling bands attempting to bring heavy metal back to relevance in the post-punk British capital.
Prior to The Soundhouse Tapes' arrival on Nov. 9, 1979, their meager numbers – including Iron Maiden, who had been paying their dues since 1976 – usually congregated at the so-called Heavy Metal Bandwagon, hosted by DJ Neal Kay at a small club called the Soundhouse. In fact, when Iron Maiden finally scrounged together £200 to pay for precious studio time on New Year's Eve 1978, their primary goal was to give Kaye something to spin during his DJ sets.
They made the most of that late-night session by quickly capturing four well-rehearsed songs from their live set, including the serpentine-riffed tune that bore their name, two high-energy numbers named "Invasion" and "Prowler," and the more melodic "Strange World" – the latter of which was left off the EP, then later re-recorded for Iron Maiden's debut album. Not surprisingly, the resulting tracks provide a fascinating glimpse into the pre-success Iron Maiden. They were played to death by Kaye and swiftly rose to No. 1 on his Bandwagon Soundhouse chart, which were published weekly in Sounds magazine.
That, in turn, sparked some serious record company interest in Iron Maiden. Even as an eventual deal with EMI Records began gathering momentum, the band decided to press 5,000 copies of their demo, name it The Soundhouse Tapes (but of course) and sell it via mail order as a memento to loyal fans like Rob Loonhouse who had supported them throughout their journey. They in turn eagerly snapped up 3,000 copies of The Soundhouse Tapes within the first week, and the remaining 2,000 in very short order. It was in deference to them that Iron Maiden and manager Rod Smallwood resisted the temptation to capitalize on this demand when both the HMV and Virgin record-store chains allegedly requested as many as 20,000 copies each.
Instead, Iron Maiden focused its energies on making their aforementioned full-length, major label debut as powerful as they could. As we all know, the resulting Iron Maiden LP, which arrived in stores in April 1980, launched the group to international fame and glory. But it all begins with The Soundhouse Tapes.