In a career that's spanned over forty years, Iron Maiden have become one of Britain's greatest exports. Whether singing about Wicker Men, the travesties of war, or warrior kings, the Maiden machine has been unrelenting on an international scale. Below are just twenty reasons why...
2003’s Dance Of Death might have been a little inconsistent, but its highlights were as strong as anything Maiden had ever done. This Adrian Smith First World War epic was the best of the lot: a subtly inventive and tirelessly explosive requiem to the fallen.
Written by Bruce Dickinson, Revelations begins with a quote from GK Chesterton, evolves around a conceptual core that’s clearly influenced by Aleister Crowley and managed to bring acoustic guitars and a dash of prog to Maiden’s sound.
18. Alexander The Great
One of Maiden’s greatest epics, the final track on Somewhere In Time tells the tale of its titular hero via some metal bombast and a sprinkling of otherworldly eeriness. Somewhat disappointingly, the band are yet to perform this live.
17. Flight Of Icarus
Written by Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, the flagship single from the Piece Of Mind album is arguably the most majestic song of Maiden’s entire career – a retelling of the tragic Greek myth of Icarus and his melting wings, on which Dickinson channels his inner Ronnie James Dio.
16. Children Of The Damned
There are more famous tracks on The Number Of The Beast, but Children Of The Damned is a stone cold Maiden standard. With a title and narrative lifted from the 60s cult movie, the song is as richly melodic as it is crushingly heavy.
15. 22 Acacia Avenue
The follow-up to the debut album’s Charlotte The Harlot, an ode to a fictional East End prostitute, 22 Acacia Avenue was originally written by Adrian Smith for his previous band Urchin. Amid the sleaze was empathy for the ‘sadness’ of the hooker’s life.
14. Can I Play With Madness
Maiden astonished the mainstream by bursting into the UK singles chart at a lofty No.3 with this deceptively intricate anthem in March 1988, precipitating the huge success of Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son a few months later. Its video famously features a starring performance by Monty Python legend Graham Chapman.
13. The Evil That Men Do
With a title taken from Marcus Antonius’s speech from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, this thunderous slab of none-more-Maiden gallop ’n’ bellow from Seventh Son was released as a single in the summer of 1988 and peaked at No.5 in the UK.
The title track from the album that confirmed Maiden’s status as the world’s biggest metal band brought the atmosphere and grandeur of ancient Egypt to bear on the band’s sound. It also contains one of the finest guitar solos Dave Murray has ever produced.
**11. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son **
The title track from Maiden’s semi-conceptual 1988 masterpiece, which was inspired by Orson Scott Card’s Seventh Son fantasy novel, showcased Steve Harris’s love of progressive rock and bewildering shifts of pace and mood for the first time. A truly epic endeavour.
**10. Wasted Years **
A gleaming, radio-friendly anthem written by guitarist Adrian Smith, this 1986 gem amounted to a significant detour from Maiden’s trademark sound, but its carpe diem message and insistent melody made it an instant classic and a live favourite.
**9. Phantom of The Opera **
The monster track on Maiden’s first album, Phantom Of The Opera is a titanic, seven-minute riff-fest lit up by brilliant twin-lead interplay between Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton. With Paul Di’Anno’s vocal loaded with menace, it’s enough to give Andrew Lloyd Webber nightmares. Stranger still, it ended up on a Lucozade advert starring decathlete Daley Thompson.
**8. Run To The Hills **
The story of European settlers’ travails in the so-called New World, it’s told from the perspective of both the foreign invaders and the oppressed Native Americans (although Maiden use the non-PC expression ‘redskins’ in the lyric). Their debut release with Bruce Dickinson on vocals, Run To The Hills gave the band their first Top 10 hit, reaching No.7, in 1982.
**7. Aces High **
The opening track from Powerslave marries tales of dogfighting derring-do with some of the most furious and aggressive music in Maiden history. Live it is always preceded by Winston Churchill’s ageless ‘fight ’em on the beaches’ speech.
6. 2 Minutes To Midnight
A furious anti-war protest song with a lyric that hits as hard as the music, 2 Minutes To Midnight is, in essence, Maiden’s War Pigs. No matter that the bludgeoning riff somewhat echoes Riot’s charging Swords & Tequila, this is classic Maiden.
**5. The Number Of The Beast **
Offering chills and thrills in equal measure, this was inspired by a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching the film Damien: Omen II. And no, that’s not Vincent Price doing the sinister spoken-word intro (Maiden couldn’t afford his fee). In fact it’s Barry Clayton, who used to read ghost stories on Capital Radio.
**4. Fear Of The Dark **
Manifestly the strongest song on Maiden’s final album before Bruce Dickinson left in 1994, its irresistible refrains have made it an adored fan favourite and live show staple.
**3. Rime Of The Ancient Mariner **
A 13-minute re-imagining of Coleridge’s poem, Rime is simply the most dramatic and ambitious song Maiden have ever recorded. As Dickinson cheerily explains on 1985’s Live After Death: “This is what not to do when a bird shits on you.”
2. The Trooper
The legend of The Charge Of The Light Brigade, the doomed British cavalry mission of the Crimean War, was the inspiration for the bloody lyrics and galloping riff of The Trooper. Brilliant lead guitar harmonies and a battle-cry chorus make it an heroic anthem (and an unlikely moniker for the hugely popular Maiden beer).
1. Hallowed Be Thy Name
On Maiden’s definitive album, The Number Of The Beast, is what you’ve chosen as the band’s definitive song: Hallowed Be Thy Name. There are many epic tracks in the Maiden catalogue – from Phantom Of The Opera on the first album through to When The Wild Wind Blows on 2010’s The Final Frontier – but no other song captures the power and the glory of Iron Maiden better than this, Steve Harris’s masterpiece. The story of a condemned man awaiting the gallows, it builds from a darkly atmospheric intro to a blazing finale, powered by thrilling high-speed riffage. Befitting its title, it is an epic of truly Biblical proportions.
This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #199
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