The 50 best Iron Maiden songs of all time

10) Phantom Of The Opera (Iron Maiden, 1980)

The monster track on Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut 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. 

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, its lengthy instrumental sections are multi-paced yet rarely less then pummelling in their intensity – it’s enough to give Andrew Lloyd Webber nightmares. Stranger still, it ended up on a Lucozade advert starring decathlete Daley Thompson.

“I first heard Phantom Of The Opera when that first Maiden album came out in 1980, and it was so different to anything else out there,” Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett tells Metal Hammer. “The riffs, the arrangement, the cycles it goes through… I love it, man. It’s such a unique song, it’s my favourite by them.”

9) Run To The Hills (The Number Of The Beast, 1982)

The story 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 (although Maiden use the non-PC expression ‘redskins’ in the lyric). Their debut release with vocal powerhouse Bruce Dickinson, Run To The Hills gave the band their first Top 10 hit, reaching No.7, in 1982.

“It’s a song that I have sung many times! I can hit all of the notes in that one, but I’m not comparing myself to Bruce – I’d never do that,” Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia tells Metal Hammer. “It’s just a fucking great song, an all-time classic. I don’t want people to think of me as a weirdo who picked some obscure B-side, so I’m going with one of the greatest songs ever made.”

“Listening to this as a young man on headphones on my parents stereo felt a little bit awkward,” Blaze Bayley tells Classic Rock. “I started to have the feeling that this music would break the stereo, because it was so different to the Satchmo my father listened to. Dickinson was the future voice of maiden. It was 1982. This song still gives me some of the excitement of the first few times I heard it even now.”

8) 2 Minutes To Midnight (Powerslave, 1984)

A furious anti-war protest song with a lyric that hits as hard as the music, 2 Minutes To Midnight is, in essence, Iron Maiden’s War Pigs. No matter that the bludgeoning riff somewhat echoes Riot’s charging Swords & Tequila, this is classic Maiden through and through.

“It combines the very best of Maiden,” Prophets Of Rage guitarist Tom Morello tells Metal Hammer. “There’s metal fury, technicality… it’s a big metal banger! It became this huge MTV hit despite never going anywhere near a major key, and it has one of the best ever Maiden riffs and choruses.”

7) The Number Of The Beast (The Number Of The Beast, 1982)

Offering chills and thrills in equal measure, The Number Of The Beast 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.

When Maiden play the title track live, it only takes a couple of seconds of this intro before the fans are bellowing with such enthusiasm that the rest of the speech disappears. The Number Of The Beast is one of those songs that screams ‘heavy metal’. The fact that a lot of very dim religious folk got upset, wrongly assuming that Maiden were Satanists, just makes its legendary status in the band’s catalogue all the more enjoyable.

6) Aces High (Powerslave, 1984)

The opening track from Powerslave marries tales of dogfighting derring-do with some of the most furious and aggressive music in Iron Maiden history. Live Aces High is always preceded by Winston Churchill’s ageless ‘fight ’em on the beaches’ speech.

“An impossible song. Too fast. Too high. Too catchy. Too uplifting,” said former vocalist Blaze Bayley. “Popular with Maiden tributes, but very rarely can any of those happy-hearted hopefuls ever get close to the precision required to get near to the original album recording. It has alway felt to me that Iron Maiden were proving something to themselves with this song. I’m probably wrong and I’ve never had a conversation with any of the guys in the band that would back up or justify my opinion. But I stick with it anyway.”

5) Wasted Years (Somewhere In Time, 1986)

Wasted Years is a gleaming, radio-friendly anthem written by guitarist Adrian Smith. This 1986 gem amounted to a significant detour from Iron Maiden’s trademark sound, but its carpe diem message and insistent melody made it an instant classic and a live favourite.

“I love the guitar line in the beginning, it’s just super-triumphant, man,” Ben Weinman tells Metal Hammer. “One of those songs where you can see people on horses galloping into the night, but it isn’t corny. How can you have this song that sounds like these guys riding into the homes of the natives and not make it sound corny? It’s so gratifying.”

4) The Trooper (Piece Of Mind, 1983)

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 Iron Maiden beer).

“I was never a massive Maiden fan when I was a kid – I was much more into heavier bands like Pantera – but I went back to them when I was a bit older and I just don’t think you can fuck with them or songs like this,” Bury Tomorrow vocalist Dani Winter-Bates tells Metal Hammer.

“Even if there’s a language barrier, where English isn’t the first language, everybody knows the words,” says Nikki McBurrain from The Iron Maidens. “I don’t know if they know what it means or not, but it’s very powerful and uniting. We’ve had [Motörhead guitarist] Phil Campbell join us onstage a couple of times for that one, and Alex Skolnick. The crowd go nuts every time we play it, no matter where we are.”

3) Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Powerslave, 1984)

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is a 13-minute re-imagining of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge through the mind of Steve Harris. It’s the most dramatic and ambitious song Maiden have ever recorded and  remains a triumph of light, shade and ambition. Or, as Bruce put it on the band’s Live After Death live album, “what not to do if your bird shits on you”.

As the epic closer of the band’s 1984 Powerslave album, it offered a glimpse of the Iron Maiden’s proggy proclivities.

Rime Of The Ancient Mariner is so epic!” Myles Kennedy tells Metal Hammer. “It’s that breakdown section in the middle, that kind of cool bass arpeggio thing. It’s very eerie and mysterious, and then the way it builds up… it’s just massive when it finally hits you again. I just love that approach to songwriting.”

“Sometimes, some of the other girls in the band think this one’s too long to play, but it’s one of my favourites because it is such an epic song,” says Nikki McBurrain from The Iron Maidens. “It’s really fun for me, especially after that break with the speaking part, when the bass kicks in with the hi-hats, the crowd just loves that. There was one particular show where I really had to use the bathroom, and during that break I ran backstage, went to the bathroom and came back right as it was time to cue up with Wanda on bass!”

2) Fear Of The Dark (Fear Of The Dark, 1992)

Fear Of The Dark is manifestly the strongest song on Iron Maiden’s final album before Bruce Dickinson left in 1994, its irresistible refrains have made it an adored fan favourite and live show staple. C’mon, we all love a good whooooooaaaaaaaaaa.

“We knew right away that it was going to be a standout live track,” said guitarist Dave Murray. “Everything about it – the power, the melodies, the lyrics, the pacing of the song and the way it changes – it really sums up what Maiden is all about. The way the fans sing it when we’re playing live, it really has become an anthem for us.

1) Hallowed Be Thy Name (The Number Of The Beast, 1982)

‘I’m waiting in my cold cell/When the bell begins to chime…’

If writing immortal heavy metal anthems was easy, everyone would be doing it. Iron Maiden mastered the art of writing songs that every fan wants to scream along with early in their career, with instant crowd-pleasers like Running Free and Wrathchild swiftly entering the established metal canon. But it wasn’t until the band’s third album, their first with Bruce Dickinson and a record that would turn them into superstars, that the finishing touches were put to Steve Harris’s blueprint for the Maiden sound. The Number Of The Beast was full of definitive moments, from Run To The Hills’ chart-busting fury to Children Of The Damned’s dark melodrama, but it was the final track on the album that had the greatest and most enduring impact.

Superficially, Hallowed Be Thy Name is a song about a man facing execution and his thoughts as he awaits “the gallows pole”. An early example of the existential uncertainty that Steve Harris has since expressed regularly through his lyrics, the song is plainly a lot deeper in theme and thought than it first appears. The doomed man’s terror of the unknown, his regrets, his despair and, as the song draws to a close, some degree of acceptance and surrender to the void… well, let’s just say that Hallowed Be Thy Name is no Party Hard. In some ways it was an unexpectedly profound statement from a band that had certainly touched upon big ideas before, but never with the precision and poetry that Steve conjured for The Number Of The Beast’s explosive denouement.

While Hallowed’s lyrics are certainly powerful and memorable, they would not have had the same effect on the Maiden faithful and the wider metal world beyond had the music underpinning them not been up to scratch. Luckily for everyone, Steve’s singular vision enabled him to attain his creative goal of bringing thunderous, melodic heavy rock and adventurous, progressive song structures together. From its ominous, restrained intro, with its tolling bells and Dave Murray’s classical guitar, to the numerous gloriously fluid twists and turns, all drenched in Dave and Adrian Smith’s blissful harmonies, Hallowed Be Thy Name is an immaculate mini-symphony. Like all great stories, it has a beginning, a middle and an end, but like all great anthems, it has several unforgettable hooks, too.

Beyond bringing their breakthrough album to a stunning close, Hallowed Be Thy Name has also been an incredibly important live song for Maiden over the decades. Traditionally a set closer, it was almost obligatory at the band’s gigs from its first performance in 1982 until the conclusion of the Final Frontier tour at the O2 Arena in London in August 2011. Many fans were distraught when the song disappeared from subsequent setlists – although, it has to be said, Maiden have more than enough great songs to distract us with – and it’s no exaggeration to say that joy was unconfined when Hallowed… was reintroduced for the Book Of Souls tour. The song, and Bruce Dickinson’s high-energy demands for crowd participation during it, have become such a part of the Maiden live experience over the years that it must now be inconceivable that they will ever drop it from their sets again. Or, at least, we hope that’s the case.

Considering its length and its complexity, Hallowed Be Thy Name has defied the odds to become one of the greatest metal anthems of all time. It has been covered on countless occasions, most notably by Machine Head, Cradle Of Filth, Iced Earth and Dream Theater (the latter having performed The Number Of The Beast live in its entirety in 2002), but it is also one of very few songs that have transcended mere popularity and passed into the emotional fabric of the world of heavy music. No wonder that Steve Harris himself cites the song as his favourite Maiden song of all. Hallowed Be Thy Name sits at the top of this list because it’s not just Iron Maiden’s greatest ever song – it might just be the greatest heavy metal song of all time.

“If someone who’d never heard Maiden before – someone from another planet or something – asked you about Maiden, what would you play them? I think Hallowed… is the one," says Steve Harris. "It’s always nice to rest songs if you’ve been playing them forever, because when you bring them back it’s exciting again. It’s always enjoyable to play that one.”

Metal Hammer

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