’Get Rid of That, It Sounds Like Queen!’ Ex-Iron Maiden Guitarist Recalls Creative Disagreements With Band’s Manager

Former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton reflected on the recording of the band’s early classic “Phantom of the Opera” and how manager Rod Smallwood “went absolutely ballistic” over some of his ideas.

Early Maiden was pretty much Steve Harris with a revolving door of musicians going in and out. But once he settled with Paul Di’Anno on vocals, Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton on guitars, as well as Clive Burr on drums, nothing could stop them. However, one person who’s crucial for their worldwide fame is Rod Smallwood.

But as Stratton recalled during an interview with Metal Express Radio, while Maiden were recording their self-titled debut album, Smallwood wasn’t happy about some of the members’ proposed ideas. Reminded of how there was an experimental version of “Phantom of the Opera” with added guitar tracks, Dennis was also asked whether there was any chance this would see the light of day. He replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Basically, that was a little bit of free time we had in the studio because I always used to go in on my own — doing the guitar harmonies and maybe some backing vocals — and they would pick what they wanted if they wanted to keep it, or they took it off.”

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“But that was a bit of fun because I was in the studio with the engineer, and we were doing the ‘You haunt me, you taunt me / You torture me back…’, and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a big Queen sort of powerful chorus on that?'”

Of course, Stratton knew this would never fly. Nonetheless, he still enjoyed doing this experimental stuff just for the sake of it. Stratton continued:

“I knew it would never happen because it’s Iron Maiden, but what happened was that we put a couple of layers down — a higher one, lower one, mid-range — and we were listening to it.”

Iron Maiden - Phantom of the Opera [HD]

But as he adds, this was going on late at night, and Rod was listening in without their knowledge, making sure that none of this creative Queen-style funny business was going on.

“What I didn’t realize was that Rod Smallwood had crept in the studio behind us, and we didn’t know he was there,” he said. As they were just hanging around and laughing about these added tracks, commenting positively about how it all sounded, the manager came right in with his own remarks.

“And then he went absolutely ballistic,” Dennis added. “‘Get rid of that, it sounds like Queen!’ ‘And that’s what it’s supposed to sound like,’ I said. [Laughs]”

Phantom of the Opera- Iron Maiden LIVE 1980

“I said, ‘Rod, Rod, we’re only messing about! We only got the two parts that are here. That’s it, don’t worry.'”

Eventually, Dennis Stratton would get fired from the band due to creative differences. While there’s no official record on why he was exactly fired, it turns out that Smallwood, and possibly Steve Harris, weren’t all that thrilled about his lighter musical preferences at the time.

Continuing about this alternate version of “Phantom of the Opera,” Stratton said that he’d be happy to make his own version with his band Lionheart:

“But as I said many times in interviews, I’ve always wanted to re-record that song with Steve Mann and Lionheart and do it more like a massive production with cellos.”

Phantom Of The Opera

“I think it would be great, if Steve stops working for a little while,” he added with a laugh. But what’s really interesting is that he got inspired to do a re-recording while listening to a version by Apocalyptica cellist Perttu Kivilaakso and acoustic Iron Maiden Tribute band Maiden uniteD. He added:

“What gave me the idea was Perttu, who I worked with in Maiden uniteD. He plays cello with Apocalyptica, and he plays with Maiden uniteD.”

“Then I went and saw him at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge as Apocalyptica — three cellos, powerful. So imagine the breakdown in ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where you go with cellos rather than guitars — just different ideas being thrown in — with a very classical chorus, with lots of singers and lots of vocals.”

Photos: Chimera963 (Dennis Stratton), adels (Rod Smallwood Costa Rica2)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.