Iron Maiden: the 10 best songs sung by Paul Di'Anno

 Paul Di'Anno
(Image credit: Paul Natkin / Getty Images)

It’s still one of the most divisive subjects in hard rock and metal. Are you a Paul Di’Anno person or do you prefer Bruce Dickinson as Iron Maiden’s lead singer?

Di’Anno spent just three years (1978–1981) fronting Iron Maiden, but his contribution to their eventual global success remains incalculable. The two albums on which he appeared remain cherished in an entirely different manner to their successors. With Di’Anno at the mic, Maiden were unpredictable. They were underdogs. And above all they were ravenous for a place on the world stage.

Paul had the talent to have been a part of that, for sure. But he has never had the greatest respect for authority. It’s among his major downfalls. Being told where to be at a certain time, how to behave, how much to drink… all are expectations guaranteed to bring out the singer’s demons.

To this day, some fans continue to cite Iron Maiden and Killers as their favourite Iron Maiden albums. After Paul’s departure, a few real diehards stopped listening to them altogether.

Here are the 10 songs that might explain such passionate viewpoints. Sorry, but I cannot and will not list them in order of priority – these tracks are part of my musical DNA. And I’m already smarting from the omission of Transylvania, Twilight Zone, Burning Ambition, Innocent Exile and all the rest.

Iron Maiden (The Soundhouse Tapes, 1979) 

Here’s the song that started it all, in its rawest form. An early incarnation of Iron Maiden famously spent £200 recording four songs at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge on New Year’s Eve 1978, all of which except Strange World would surface on a self-financed EP. The Soundhouse Tapes was limited to a mere 500 copies which now fetch as much as £800. 

Incredibly, two weeks later, upon returning to Spaceward to remix and overdub some extra parts, the band found the master tapes had already been wiped. Consequently, this version of their signature anthem – a track that has closed the set proper of just about every Maiden show performed until the present day – is rough and ready, yet incredibly spirited.

Running Free (single, 1980)

Reflecting their steadily growing impetus, Maiden’s first single for EMI Records preceded their debut album by months, taking them into the UK’s Top 40, where they memorably refused to mime for Top Of The Pops, insisting upon performing the song live (the first band to do so since The Who eight years earlier). 

It’s notable for the galloping bass patterns of bassist Steve Harris, who penned the music, and Di’Anno, who wrote and growled its lyrics of being 16 years old and doing whatever the fuck he wanted. Despite never having been incarcerated in Los Angeles – that would come later – Paul insisted they were autobiographical, “from my days as a skinhead.”

Prowler (Iron Maiden, 1980)

Penned once again by Harris and Di’Anno, Prowler was the opening track of an album that catapulted Iron Maiden from the pub circuit to the ranks of serious contenders. 

With lyrics that place the listener in the headspace of a deranged predator – ‘Well, you see me crawling through the bushes/With it open wide,’ Di’Anno sings, later admitting that he is ‘feeling myself and reeling around’ – the song’s tone is sexually threatening, albeit in a slightly cartoonish way, though whilst Will Malone’s production is quite rightly maligned (Bruce Dickinson once said the album sounded “like a sack of shit”), Maiden’s musical treatment packs an aggression that the words don’t quite convey.

Charlotte The Harlot  (Iron Maiden, 1980)

It was guitarist Dave Murray that supplied Charlotte The Harlot for the debut. Davey’s songs are somewhat rare, but experience informs us that they’re generally worth the wait. This one was inspired by the inhabitant of an East End brothel and the man who quite possibly makes the mistake of falling in love with her, hence its line of ‘Charlotte you’ve got your legs in the air/Don’t you hear all the laughter?’ 

Though boyishly salacious, it also conveys an air of sadness – ‘You charge them a fiver, it’s only for starters/And 10 for the main course/You’ve got no feelings, they died long ago’. However, when performed live Charlotte… was a tour de force whirlwind of promo-metal boogie.

Sanctuary (Live!! +one, 1980)

Those of us lucky (and ancient!) enough to have witnessed Iron Maiden blazing across the tiny stage of the Marquee Club, Di’Anno a tightly knit blur of energy out at the front, will never forget the experience. They were incredible times. “We had a certain summink,” 

Steve Harris told me years later, “the songs were strong and we had such aggressiveness, a real want to do well. In those days it was really like a magical thing.” Live!! +one, a Japanese EP recorded in part at the Marquee in the summer of 1980, is a captivating document of the band during that hallowed era.

Phantom Of The Opera (Live) (Women In Uniform b-side, 1980)

The flipside of Maiden’s cover of the Skyhooks song Women In Uniform, this is also culled from those Marquee days, introduced with dropped aitches and still-friendly onstage banter (“We’re going to do the song ’e wants to do… stuck-up bastard”), dating back to the same show in July 1980. 

A vehicle for the twin guitars of Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton, Harris’ insistent bass, Clive Burr’s metronome beat and the interjections of Di’Anno, who can be hear cajoling “Come on! Come on!”, its lengthy instrumental sections are multi-paced yet rarely less then pummelling in their intensity. Harris has always fought the suggestion of Maiden having had punk leanings but Phantom… reminds us why those questions were asked.

Wrathchild (Killers, 1981)

Iron Maiden chose the producer of their second album with extreme care. Martin Birch had worked with the likes of Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult and, especially Deep Purple and Wishbone Ash. Titled Killers, it contained several tracks that they had performed live since before the release of their debut, including the punchy, athletic and Harris-derived Wrathchild

Birch’s introduction made Maiden, now featuring Adrian Smith in Stratton’s place, sound like a million dollars, tempering their aggression with professionalism but without sanding down the rough edges. It’s unsurprising, then, that the ‘Headmaster’ (as the band nicknamed him) stayed at the console until his retirement in 1992.

Murders In The Rue Morgue (Killers, 1981)

Named after and inspired by a short story from US writer Edgar Allan Poe, in which its hero, C Auguste Dupin, solves the mystery of the brutal murder of two Parisienne women, …Rue Morgue was penned by Harris specifically for the Killers sessions. Heralded by some gently plucked bass which gives way to a strident twin guitar intro and, eventually, a strident foot-on-the monitor riff, it’s a belting Iron Maiden tune. 

Di’Anno roars outs its slightly tongue-twisting lyrics of ‘running from the gendarmes’ in staccato fashion. ‘Am I gonna be free?’ Paul wonders, in one of his best vocal displays for the group. And the sad truth was that, yes… liberty from the routine that had begun to drag him down wasn’t too far away now.

Killers (Killers, 1981)

Another track that had been in Maiden’s repertoire for a while, Killers is among the most powerful and dramatic tunes in their catalogue. Di’Anno’s singing here is superb. His voice is utilised as an additional instrument during the song’s early stages, and elsewhere they are full of charisma, especially when he bellows: ‘Oh God help me, what have I done!’ 

The Killers album was his chance to step up to the plate, and in the studio at least that’s exactly what he did. That Paul’s potential should never have reached its fullest potential is a subject for genuine sadness.

Remember Tomorrow (Live) (Maiden Japan, 1981)

Recorded in Kosei Nenkin Hall in Nagoya in May of 1981, Maiden Japan – a pun based upon Deep Purple’s legendary double-set Made In Japan – was Di’Anno’s swansong with the band. Dickinson had joined them a week after its eventual release four months later. No wonder manager Rod Smallwood, knowing Paul was most likely destined for the axe, went apeshit when the Japanese label proposed a sleeve in which Di’Anno was portrayed as decapitated by their mascot, Eddie. 

Founded upon a smooth emotional performance from the singer that both complemented and juxtaposed the song’s softer feel and its eventual thunderous musical crescendos, Remember Tomorrow was a fitting way to remember the singer’s huge contribution to the band.

The Top Ten Iron Maiden Album Sleeves – As Voted For By You!

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.