With their cover versions of Jethro Tull, Focus and Beckett, it should come as no surprise that Iron Maiden’s founder Steve Harris is a prog head. Covers aside, prog’s been permeating Maiden’s music since the late 80s, below are ten highlights from the band, as Harris says, “Prog taught me to do whatever the hell you wanted to do and go in any direction you want to”. Amen to that.
Cross-Eyed Mary (The Trooper - 1983)
This cover of the 1971 Jethro Tull song from Aqualung was the b-side to The Trooper single, and the first indication for many fans that there was some love for prog rock within Maiden’s ranks. Unlike Bruce Dickinson, who has performed with Tull main-man Ian Anderson, Steve Harris tells Prog, “I’ve never met Ian Anderson. I sort of don’t want to, because I love his music so much.”
Rainbow’s Gold (2 Minutes To Midnight - 1984)
Nestled away on the b-side to 1984 single 2 Minutes To Midnight is this cover of a song by 70s UK prog rockers Beckett, who's mian claim to fame was singer Terry Wilson-Slesser, who would later sing for Backstreet Crawler and Geordie, as well as being linked with AC/DC after Bon Scott's death. He also unsuccessfully auditioned for Maiden after Paul Di'Anno left. Maiden manager Rod Smallwood had been an agent for Beckett and a young Steve Harris had seen the band play live.
Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Powerslave - 1984)
The epic closing track for 1984’s Powerslave album was the first Maiden-penned tune to offer a glimpse of the band’s proggy proclivities. Based on Coleridge’s epic poem (Rush had previously based Xanadu on Coledridge’s poem Kubla Khan). “It might be significant that my two favourite pieces of music of all time are Supper’s Ready and Thick As A Brick says Harris, of lengthy epics.
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son - 1988)
It was all-out prog rock with keyboards introduced into the Maiden sound for the first time. The title track of the band’s seventh album - their first ever concept record - was the proggiest of the lot . “A lot of thought went into it,” says Steve Harris. “It was a good change for us and I think it worked really well.”
Sign Of The Cross (The X Factor - 1995)
The band’s first album, The X Factor, since Bruce had left, replaced by Blaze Bayley, Maiden didn’t go for the easy option, but opened the album with this 11-minute epic with it’s moody intro of chanting monks, building the suspense until it explodes in emphatic style.
Dream Of Mirrors (Brave New World - 2000)
The band’s passion for prog really came to the fore when Bruce returned for 2000’s Brave New World, especially this proggy workout from the album. “I don’t really know the reason for it,” says Harris of Maiden’s increased progginess since Bruce’s return. “It was the way it naturally evolved.
Paschendale (Dance Of Death - 2003)
Although he normally writes shorter, more commercially minded material, guitarist Adrian Smith got his prog on with this epic about the Battle Of Paschendale from WWI from the Dance Of Death album. Did you know the infantryman’s outfit donned by Dickinson when the band performed this song live was in fact Hungarian and not British as many thought? Take that to your next pub quiz with you.
When The Wild Wind Blows (The Final Frontier - 2010)
Another epic album closer from 2010’s The Final Frontier, this time clocking in at almost 11 minutes and as complex as you get with Maiden. Penned by Steve Harris alone, this soon proved to be a live favourite in the band’s set.
Empire Of The Clouds (The Book Of Souls - 2015)
With its Bruce Dickinson-played laid back piano intro, the final track on 2015's The Book Of Souls remains the longest song on any Iron Maiden album. Penned not by Steve Harris, however, but by fellow prog loving band member Dickinson, the song tells the story of the British R101 airship, which crashed in northern France on 5 October 1930 during its maiden voyage. “I just had to say to him ‘You’ve outdone me, you bugger!’” laughs Harris.
Death Of The Celts (Senjutsu, 2020)
In truth, you could take any of the final three tracks, all penned by Steve Harris, from 2020's Senjutsu and make a claim for them being some of Maiden's proggiest. Indeed, on the vinyl version the last disc almost makes for its own Maiden prog album! We've gone for Death Of The Celts, a stridently uplifting tale of days of yore. A bit Spinal Tap? Never...