Metal Ten to One: Iron Maiden

MaF editor Scott Adams kicks off a new series counting down his favourite Iron Maiden tracks...

As a young headbanger growing up in England in the early eighties, Iron Maiden were one of the most important bands in the world, and not just because they were the ‘entry level’ band for all young fans my age. Looking back now, it transpires that their work from 1980 to 1989 was influencing the way heavy metal would be made deep into the twenty first century, when I sat down to think about my favourite ten Maiden songs I was convinced everything would come from the seminal (for me) triumvirate of albums Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind and Powerslave. Was I right? Or would Blaze Bayley make a few shock appearances? Read on – you almost certainly won’t agree with the list I’ve come up with, but I bet you love every one of these classic metal nuggets…

10. Flash of the Blade (Dickinson) (Powerslave)

To my mind one of the great underrated Maiden songs. Coming as it does on a record choc-full of out n’out Maiden faves, it’s sometimes easy to forget just what a great, dynamic, headbanging song this is. One of the all time great Maiden intro sequences and a blinding solo top things off.

9. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Harris) (Live After Death)

‘And the moral of this story is this is what not to do if yer bird shits on you’. Oh Bruce, you wag… whilst the studio version of Rime... is, of course, fantastic, there’s something about this version that tops it. Primal, unfettered, glorious, it romps along as only a galloping Steve Harris-driven Maiden romp can, and that moment at 8:57 when the flashbombs start going off, heralding the solos is one of the most spine tingling moments in metal history.

8. Coming Home (Smith/Harris/Dickinson) (The Final Frontier)

Maybe it’s the fact that I’m an expat living a long way from home, maybe I’m just a sentimental old fool, I don’t know, but when Maiden played this at Sydney on their last tour Down Under, it had me blubbing like a schoolgirl with it’s allusions to coming home to Albion’s land; I was banging my head like an idiot too, natch, and singing along like a loon but you get my point. There’s an emotional grandeur to this piece of latterday Maiden that the band rarely touched upon during its glory run of the mid eighties, and Bruce Dickinson puts in one of his finest peformances on any Maiden record. Magnificent.

7. The Trooper (Harris) (Piece of Mind)

The archetypal Maiden single; short, to the point yet crammed with melody, singalong hooks and genuinely anthemic guitar playing courtesy of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Although it doesn’t actually have a chorus, that ‘woaho-oh-oh-oh’ chant was enough of an earworm to do the job, and still gets crowds roaring along wherever the tune is heard. And now, of course, the song has it’s own beer too. Perfection. 

6. Aces High (Harris) (Powerslave)

Predating the Euro power metal explosion of the nineties by a decade, this still shows all those leather panted, permed-haired goons how it’s done. And, of course, since this is Maiden we’re talking about, it comes equipped with another radio-devouring chorus, and a melodic, whisteable solo par excellance. Best show opening tune of all time? Quite possibly.

5. The Number of the Beast (Harris) (The Number of the Beast)

You know all about the stories surrounding the recording of this song, of this album; But strip away all the 666-besotted hoopla and what you have here, once again, is an object lesson in heavy metal songwriting. The slow, yet still innately powerful build up leading to the histrionic, orgasmic release of Bruce’s opening scream – then headbanging and air guitaring ad, sometimes quite literally, nauseam. Except of course we never get sick of hearing this Satanic anthem to end ‘em all, do we?

4. The Evil That Men Do (Smith/Dickinson/Harris) (Seventh Son of a  Seventh Son)

Roof raising, rabble rousing, singalongabruce anthemic mayhem at its finest. Not particularly heavy, I’ll grant you, though Harry’s bass rumbles along in suitably bowel-rattling fashion if you crank the speakers high enough; What this is, is further proof that, during that period between 1982 – 1988 when the band was truly in its pomp, they were not only metal masters, as if that wasn’t enough. But more than that they truly knew how to write stone classic pop singles too, which is no mean feat when you have a reputation to upkeep amongst the Headbangers, Rivet Heads, Earth Dogs, Hell Rats and Metal Maniacs that constitute your standing army of followers. The aural equivalent, then, of having one’s cake and eating it!

3. Hallowed be Thy Name (Harris) (The Number of the Beast)

If you’ve stood in a crowd somewhere in the world and cheered at Bruce’s bidding as this epic snakes it’s way to its conclusion, you’ll be able to testify to the power of this song. Bruce Dickinson, of course, has never sat in a cold cell waiting for the executioner, but do we care? Like buggery do we, and it’s a testament to the man’s consummate skills as a storyteller that we hang on every one of his words as he takes us to the gallows pole. 

2. The Prisoner (Smith/Harris) (The Number of the Beast)

If Flash of the Blade is one of the great underrated Maiden songs, then this is undoubtedly – in my fevered brain at least – the most underrated. Christ alone knows why they didn’t play it live for years. Great chorus, thunderously propulsive drumming from the much-missed Clive Burr – and Adrian Smith’s greatest ever piece of soloing under the Maiden banner. Almost my favourite Maiden song ever, if this hadn’t have been written…

1. Revelations (Piece of Mind)

To me, this really is the quintessential Maiden track:  Lifting from GK Chesterton’s English Hymnal at the start, it then takes us through some crypto-mystical ravings from Bruce Dickinson before breaking down into another non-chorus that still lends itself to repetition and singing along in the live environment, before once more taking off into the stratosphere for a dual lead extravaganza and a final, heads down finale and another quasi-religious intonment from Mr Dickinson. My schoolobooks were covered with the lyrics to this when it came out, hand written in my best gothic script in an act of devotion that took me bloody hours to complete when I should have been writing about something important like ground nut production in West Africa. And yet, thirty years later I’m still devoting hours to this band at the expense of other, ‘more important’ stuff – and this song is still my favourite Maiden-based waste of time.