Fists of metal to the ready! For yes, you read correctly: Iron Maiden have a number one single.
Bring Your Daughter… To the Slaughter, by Iron Maiden (their 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 30th December 1990 – 13th January 1991
Though whether this is truly heavy metal, or just hard rock, is a valid question. It’s a straight-forward, riff driven song; distinctly Iron Maiden – few lead singers have as recognisable a voice as Bruce Dickinson – but stripped back, lacking the prog touches that many of their songs have. The opening chords are almost punk – short sharp jabs to the side of the face – before we settle into something more, well, silly.
I’ll be far from the first to point out that, for a genre so given to machismo, sweat and greasy hair; heavy metal can be quite camp. And there have been few camper moments in a #1 single than when Dickinson starts to purr: True love and lipstick on your linen, Bite the pillow, Make no sound… Oo-er! Unchain your back door… he then growls, presumably trying very hard not to giggle… Invite me around…
In fact, the entire record sounds like Iron Maiden put themselves under the control of a group of schoolboys for the day. Even the writers of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ would have turned this down as too silly. But hell, it’s fun. The way Dickinson goes all operatic on the word ‘slaughter’, the middle-eight with demonic monks chanting, the shredding solo, and the sudden ending – I’m comin’ to get ya! – marking the point where the band clearly decided this nonsense had gone on long enough.
Even though ‘Bring Your Daughter…’ gave the genre its first ever chart-topper, it doesn’t have a lot of love in the heavy metal community. (One article I read online named the title line as the laziest rhyme in music history.) On the one hand it’s a bit of a sell-out for band that were capable of truly genre-defining rock. On the other, though, it is a unique moment in UK chart history. The list of hard rock #1s is short, and up for debate: ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘Fire’, ‘Baby Jump’, ‘School’s Out’… and this? Plus, it knocked Cliff and his God-bothering ‘Saviour’s Day’ off number one, a fact that Maiden were well aware of when they promoted the single.
In fact, this may well be the first example of a very 21st century phenomenon: the chart campaign. Most of these will come much later, fuelled by the democracy of the download era, with a little help from social media, in which any song from any band, any genre, any time, can chart if bought in sufficient quantities, often for a cause (charitable, or just to be obnoxious). It’ll give us some interesting moments as we go along on our journey. Back in 1990 though, the internet was a strange, new thing that most people had never actually experienced, and so Maiden had to rely on word of mouth, a ban from the ever-willing BBC, and the publicity of whacking Cliff Richard out the way.
They also had the sense to release it on the quietest week of the year – the one after the Christmas rush – and so it entered at #1 with fairly low sales. In fact, one source names ‘Bring Your Daughter…’ as the lowest-selling #1 of all time, with total sales of around 100,000. It’s an old article, though, and that figure was probably beaten in the mid-00s sales slump. (It’s definitely been beaten by now, if you don’t count streams as ‘proper’ sales.) Iron Maiden, though, were no strangers to the top end of the singles chart by late 1990: this was their sixth consecutive Top 10 hit, and one of seventeen in total.
Anyway, who cares if it barely sold, if the BBC didn’t play it, and if it’s a bit crap? It’s heavy metal, at number one. The anonymous dance tracks, movie soundtrack monster hits and boy-band preeners will be back soon enough. Until then, raise those fists once more, and pray for mercy from the Gods of rock.