The 50 best Iron Maiden songs of all time

An illustration of the 50 greatest iron maiden songs of all time

Iron Maiden are one of the greatest bands of all time, there's no doubt about that. From their 1980 self-titled debut through to 2015's double-disc epic The Book Of Souls, the East London boys have unleashed 16 albums throughout their career, producing some of the most iconic songs in all of heavy metal. They've given us The Trooper, Fear Of The Dark, Run To The Hills, Wasted Years, Wrathchild... the list goes on. In fact, it goes on for 50 songs. Here we count down the 50 best Iron Maiden songs of all time. Let's begin...

50) Empire Of The Clouds

Clocking in at just over 18 minutes, Empire Of The Clouds is officially Iron Maiden’s longest song – surpassing previous record holder Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. Written entirely by frontman Bruce Dickinson, the concept track tells the tale of the doomed R101 airship that crashed in 1930, killing 48 people. 

“I think it’s a masterpiece, actually – I think I can say that because I didn’t write it!” said Iron Maiden bassist Steve Harris in 2015. “It sounds like Maiden but it’s totally different from what we’ve done before.

“Eighteen minutes sounds like a long time, but it’s actually such a journey that… well, it’s best just to leave people to listen to it and see what they think. But it’s very interesting. It’s certainly not boring.”

Empire Of The Clouds was released as a single for Record Store Day in 2016, although it is yet to be performed live by the band.

49) Be Quick Or Be Dead 

The opening track to Iron Maiden’s most underrated album Fear Of The Dark, it comes screaming straight out of the gate with a neck-snapping riff straddled by Bruce Dickinson wailing away like a banshee with her tits caught in a car door. Released in 1992, the song is based on several political scandals happening around that time, including the European stock market crash, and the artwork depicts Eddie staring menacingly into the face of a man resembling Robert Maxwell (the former media proprietor and MP who died in 1991).

Be Quick Or Be Dead managed to reach #2 in the UK singles chart, is also the first Maiden single to be co-written by Janick Gers – penning the song with frontman Bruce Dickinson.

48) Man On The Edge

There are some absolute gems hidden away in the Blaze Bayley albums, not least this pacy, urgent and claustrophobic single from the icons’ 10th studio album The X Factor. Man On The Edge was the first single to feature Bayley on vocals, and the first real glimpse of the beast Maiden would form into (until Bruce’s return in 1999). 

Lyrically, the song was based on the Michael Douglas-goes-batshit classic Falling Down. Speaking to SongFacts in 2014, Blaze Bayley said of the song: “A lot of things happened in that movie. One of the key lyrics is ‘cannibal state,’ where the system of government consumes the individual and the materialistic society consumes the individual and digests him and spits him out, so his identity is completely gone."

Man On The Edge was also the only song on The X Factor that didn’t involve Steve Harris in the writing process.

47) Alexander The Great

Iron Maiden are yet to perform Alexander The Great onstage, but drummer Nicko McBrain has remarked that he’d like the band to play this live one day – and you can hear why, as the brooding and militaristic drumbeat leads into a gut-stirring chorus.

The closing track to Maiden’s 1986 Somewhere In Time album, the Steve Harris-penned anthem chronicles the life and times of Alexander The Great (go figure). Iron Maiden are keen history buffs and there’s nothing like making a heavy metal song factually accurate, as the lyrics tell the complete history of Alexander and his reign over Egypt, his battle with Persia and death in Babylon. Maiden also manage to make the word Macedonia sound metal.

46) Montségur

Montségur is the fastest track Iron Maiden have penned since Bruce Dickinson’s return – and it absolutely crushes. Although somehow this his 100%, iron-clad rager got left off the Dance Of Death-era setlists!

Montségur was based on the fall of the Cathar stronghold of the same name, which fell in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade in 1244,” said Bruce of the song in Mick Wall’s book Iron Maiden: Run To The Hills. "There is so much great stuff and so many great stories throughout history that you can make parallels with the modern day – particularly when history repeats itself as often as it does – that it makes for some very colourful subject matter."

45) Tailgunner

The opening track to Iron Maiden’s eighth studio album No Prayer For The Dying, Tailgunner is a simplistic, fun and pacy spiritual soulmate to Aces High

Bruce Dickinson previously revealed to Classic Rock that the song title came from “a porno movie about anal sex” but thought he couldn’t write Maiden lyrics about that. “So I wrote it about real tailgunners. I had some words which began, ‘Trace your way back fifty years, to the glow of Dresden, blood and tears.’ I know we shouldn’t mention the war but it’s about the attitude of bombing people. It was real death in the skies back then. But there aren’t any tailgunners on planes any more – it’s all done by computers, using missiles. At least it used to be man on man, but now it’s machine on machine. Who uses bullets any more?”

Tailgunner is a real highlight of Iron Maiden’s no-strings-attached but generally misfiring No Prayer For The Dying opus.  Admit it, you’re air-machine-gunning as you read this.

44) Where Eagles Dare

The bombastic opener to 1983’s Piece Of Mind, Bruce Dickinson regales the listener with a war story of bullets and blizzards, amidst a triumphant soundtrack that is as acrobatic rhythmically as it is imagistic, based on the 1968 movie of the same name.

“I remember that quite vividly, because first of all, I was a huge fan of the movie – we all were,” said Bruce Dickinson. “And secondly, there’s a drum part on it which is great. Nicko wanted to use a double bass drum and we wouldn’t let him and he did the whole thing with a single bass drum, and he still does and still refuses to use double bass drums. Because after playing that bit with a single bass drum pedal, he’s like, ‘No, that’s it. I’m going to use a single bass drum pedal. Everybody else is going to have to catch up.’”

Speaking to Hammer about the song, Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor said Where Eagles Dare was the first Iron Maiden song he ever heard. “I bought Piece Of Mind, and when Where Eagles Dare came in, it just hooked me. That drum fill alone was more than enough. What an album opener!”

43) Sign Of The Cross

How would Maiden officially kick off the Blaze era following Bruce’s departure? With a dark and lumbering 11-minute monster, that’s how! The X Factor’s opening track Sign Of The Cross rolls along on a sinister, rumbling bassline, gaining bonus metal points for those sweet sinister monk chants.

Many of the songs The X Factor were based on movies and books, and Sign Of The Cross came from the Umberto Eco novel The Name Of The Rose. It’s one of the few Blaze Bayley era songs to remain in Iron Maiden’s set following Bruce Dickinson’s return.

42) The Longest Day

“From the same album as The Pilgrim – the war concept record A Matter Of Life And Death – comes this account of the D-Day landings. It’s relatively optimistic war song for Maiden, as the soldier in question doesn’t actually die. When stood next to the band’s other tales of fallen soldiers dying far from home, The Longest Day is positively jubilant,” author and Iron Maiden fan John Higgs told Louder

The Longest Day stands out because of its spine-tingling building of tension during the verses and then the explosive euphoria of that towering chorus. Oh no, hang on… it’s not the chorus, it’s the bridge. And then the actual chorus arrives, and it’s ridiculously huge.

“Lots of Maiden songs gives me goosebumps, but the first time I heard this gem from A Matter Of Life And Death, I nearly fell off my chair,” said resident Metal Hammer superfan Dom Lawson. “Best played at excruciating volume, it’s a dark and devastating paean to the horrors of D-Day.”

41) Coming Home

One of Iron Maiden’s most earnest and uplifting tracks ever, Coming Home perfectly encapsulates the feeling of touching back down on home turf after a long time away. Released as a radio single in October 2010, it’s the ultimate lighters-up, arms-loft heavy metal anthem.

Despite Iron Maiden rarely being celebrated for their ballads (because rampant guitars are much more fun),  Coming Home was an instant hit with just about every metalhead across the planet upon The Final Frontier’s release. It’s bombastic, stirring and poignant in equal measure and showcases Bruce Dickinson’s extraordinary vocal ability. Understandably, it became an instant live favourite.