* by Andreas Georgiou
** στα Ελληνικά εδώ
It’s like comparing your first classic car with the convertible car you own now. Or like comparing your first love with the woman of your life (if she’s not the same one!). It’s one of those questions that cannot really be answered but yet everyone tries to answer by putting some – often twisted or subjective - logic to his/her reasoning. For me, it is not really a question – in the sense that it can have essentially no answer – but just an enquiry and this is how I want to approach it in this article.
For those who don’t know the background, Paul Di Anno is the -almost- original lead singer of the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. He was a member of the band from 1977 until 1981, having released two albums with the band, Iron Maiden (1980)and Killers (1981), before departing and forming his own self-titled band Di Anno. His departure is attributed to his heavy drug abuse and self-destructive behaviour, which himself has since confirmed. He was subsequently replaced by Bruce Dickinson and the rest is history. Bruce Dickinson released 12 albums with the band from The Number of the Beast (1982) to The Book of Souls (2015),with a small break between 1994 and 1999, when he was replaced by Blaze Bailey, a period during which the band released two more albums.
So, we are essentially comparing the lead singer with which the band became famous, with the lead singer which carried the band through most of its career, making it a really difficult comparison to make, something similar to the case of AC/DC’ s Bon Scott and Brian Johnson. So the real comparison comes down to the contribution each has made to the band’s rise to the top. We will look at the technical part and who is the ‘better’ vocalist later. The first thing we should take into consideration is timeframes. Obviously, Bruce Dickinson has been in the band for a lot more years than Paul Di Anno. Here we can approach this point in two ways. On the one hand, the obvious thing one could say is that Dickinson contributed to a lot more of the band’s work and managed to keep the band at a world class level for about 35 years. On the other hand, we could also say that Di Anno has also had a tough job to carry out, as he essentially managed to make a contribution to the band going from nothing to the top in just 4 years and only two albums and it is obvious that a band certainly needs a highly influential lead singer to manage that. So, who has had a larger contribution to the band’s way to the top is subject to a much larger discussion than just the years or the amount of songs each one recorded, although I would insist that no discussion can ever solve this question anyway.
Another thing we should consider is the fact that the band has not essentially kept the same style throughout its career. Comparing the Paul Di Anno era to the Dickinson era, the music seems to have been to a point adjusted to suit the personal style and abilities of each singer. So in reality we are not really comparing apples to apples here.
Now the question is, would the band have managed to make a breakthrough if it began with Dickinson and the style of music they played with Dickinson in the line up, and similarly would they have managed to reach the point they are now having had continued to play the music they played with Di Anno in the line up? A lot of people use their personal preferences to make a comparison saying that one or the other is better because the music released with let’s say Di Anno is ‘better’ than the music released with Dickinson or vice-versa, failing however to take into consideration the different eras the band has evolved through and the different characteristics and requirements of each era. They also fail to acknowledge the obvious thing that a ‘good’ song is much more than the vocalist. In the Di Anno era we have a classic British heavy metal band, which many people may actually prefer and even feel nostalgic about, whereas in the Dickinson era we have a band that evolved to become a more flexible - and even progressive at times – band. The truth is, I’m not sure if starting with this more progressive style supported by Dickinson, would have given the band the break-through they looked for in an area when the music was kind of more stiff, loud, aggressive and often rebellious, with bandslike Judas Priest and Saxon flourishing, however I am even more unsure if continuing at that -too classic for today- style, with Di Anno in the line up, would have allowed the band to make the impact it has made. For me, it’s really two different eras and as such they should be approached. The only thing we can say for sure is that the band has been wise – or lucky- enough to have the right man at the right place at the right time, as the results suggest.
Technically, the two singers are very different, but this again comes back to the difference in style the band has had during their tenure. Paul di Anno is arguably a more aggressive, darker vocalist who successfully gave out and supported this image of rebellion and resistance which characterised British heavy metal bands at the time. On the other hand, Bruce Dickinson is certainly a more technically gifted vocalist with higher and wider range, as well as a more flexible stature which has allowed him to introduce various theatrics into the band’s shows over the years. The comparison is really impossible, however I would take the risk and responsibility to express a personal opinion here. I believe Dickinson is actually the better vocalist and I would guess that in theory, Dickinson would have had the ability to better support the Di Anno era than the other way round, strictly because of technical abilities, something which Blaze Bailey fell victim to when he called up to replace Dickinson in the 90s. Having mentioned Blaze Bailey, I certainly don’t believe that he was anywhere near the level of the other two both in abilities and in terms of his contribution to the band, however, I do believe that he has put his vocals to some good tunes, including the legendary Sign of the Crossand The Man on the Edge. At the end of the day, it all really comes down to personal preference.