Iron Maiden’s 1982 landmark The Number Of The Beast was the point where everything changed for the British metal icons. With leather-lunged new singer Bruce Dickinson replacing the wayward Paul Di’Anno, it marked a step up on every level, transforming Maiden from plucky underdogs to title contenders.
But even classic albums have their weak spots, and Number Of The Beast is no exception. Which is why we’ve taken it up ourselves to rank its nine – yeah, nine - tracks in order of greatness, from worst to best. You’re welcome.
Widely loathed by Maiden connoisseurs, partly because it kept the far superior Total Eclipse off the album (we'll get to that in a minute) but mainly cos it's not very good.
Sure, it captures the rough’n’tumble of the East End bad lads that certain members of Maiden may or may not have grown up hanging around, but it would have been nice if they’d remembered to set it to a decent tune.
An inauspicious kids’ TV theme tune of a song to open Iron Maiden’s defining statement, Invaders gave Bruce a convoluted tongue-twister to kick off his first Maiden album: “Longboats have been sighted and the evidence of war has begun.”
However it’s a poetical improvement on the first line of Maiden’s earlier B-side on the same theme, Invasion: “The Vikings are coming, you’d better get ready for we’re having a fight.”
7. 22 Acacia Avenue
Essentially a sequel to the equally fiery Charlotte The Harlot from Maiden’s eponymous debut, 22 Acacia Avenue is a great example of the band’s gift for telling stories and writing music that drags an audience along for the narrative ride.
Originally a song by Adrian Smith’s earlier band Urchin, it was reshaped by Steve Harris for Maiden’s third album and duly showcased Maiden’s mastery of tempo changes and elaborate arrangements. It also kicks arse.
6. The Prisoner
Inspired by the cult late 60s TV show, The Prisoner is magnificent. From the opening drama of dialogue from the titular TV show, featuring the late, great Patrick McGoohan, through to that monstrous opening riff and on to one of the biggest choruses Maiden have ever produced.
McGoohan gave his personal approval for the band to use his voice, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Who wouldn’t want to be associated with the most exciting young band on the planet?
5. Children Of The Damned
This deep album classic is loosely inspired by the 1962 British black and white horror movie of the same name (the sequel to Village Of The Damned), in which six children turn out to be extraterrestrials, all manner of violence ensuing.
Offers Bruce, “I love that song. I have to say that musically we were heavily influenced by ‘Children Of The Sea,’ the Black Sabbath song. Take a listen. There’s a little bit of that about that song, in terms of structure. But other than that, it’s a beautiful song, almost plaintive at times, until it gets going (laughs).”
4. The Number Of The Beast
Despite the fact that it also upset lots of stupid religious people, Maiden’s third album The Number Of The Beast was widely and rightly hailed as a masterpiece upon its release in 1982.
Its title track is still one of the most exciting metal songs of all time: Steve Harris’ love of a spooky yarn blending perfectly with the sound of a soon-to-be world-conquering heavy metal band hitting their stride at a tooth-rattling pace.
3. Total Eclipse
A muscular, brooding mini-epic about the coming of a new ice age, Total Eclipse was surely a natural fit of The Number Of The Beast LP. Strange, then, that it ended up relegated to b-side status instead of the chirpy throwaway Gangland.
The band now admit this was a mistake, and Total Eclipse – which was strong enough to make the setlist for the European leg of the Beast On The Road tour – takes its rightful place as the penultimate song on the CD reissue. Which is why we’ve included it here. You wanna make something of it?
2. Run To The Hills
This was the first Iron Maiden song the world heard with new boy Bruce Dickinson singing on it, and it’s an all-time metal Hall Of Famer.
The tale of European settlers’ travails in the so-called New World, Run To The Hills is told from the perspective of both the foreign invaders and the oppressed Native Americans (though using the term ‘redskins’ is rightly a no-no today), it’s an exhilarating history lesson and the perfect taste of what was to come.
1. Hallowed Be Thy Name
Feel free to argue about whether this or Metallica’s Master Of Puppets is the greatest heavy metal song of all time, but either way Hallowed Be Thy Name is in the top two. Wielding real emotional power and highlighting Maiden’s burgeoning storytelling chops, Hallowed’s tale of a condemned man facing the gallows captured the imaginations of a generation of metal fans.
It also firmly established Steve Harris as one of heavy music’s most distinctive songwriters, via melodies and riffs that will live on forever.