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The 20 greatest Iron Maiden songs. The PlanetMosh Playlist series

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On Christmas Day in 1975, a young man from London by the name of Stephen Percival Harris decided to form his own band. That band was Iron Maiden. Four decades, sixteen studio albums, numerous critically acclaimed tours and one specialist beer later, he must wonder what he’d let himself in for.

Put simply, name any metal band formed since 1980 and they will have been influenced by Iron Maiden somewhere down the line, even if not directly so. Loved and revered around the globe by at least three generations of fans, by rights they should be coming into land and beginning to wind down on such an illustrious career. Instead, they’ve done a 92-minute double album, reached #1 in 24 different countries and announced a huge world tour that even takes in their first ever visits to China and El Salvador. To them, the term ‘slowing down’ simply doesn’t exist.

It’s pretty much accepted that you could put 95% of Maiden’s back catalogue into their setlist and nobody would complain, such is the richness of the material they’ve produced. Therefore, to even attempt to select the best 20 songs out of the plethora available is borderline madness. Nevertheless, I’m not the sanest of people so I’ve tried all the same. Please note as well that there is no order to this list other than chronology – telling me to pick Maiden’s all time favourite song would quickly reduce me to little more than a puddle on the floor.

The Iron Maiden Top 20 PlanetMosh Spotify Playlist

1. Phantom of the Opera

A sign of things to come – Steve’s love for the works of Genesis, Yes, Wishbone Ash and others of the prog rock era were bound to filter into his work with Maiden, and the first of the band’s ‘epics’ is the backbone of their explosive debut album that has stood the test of time. It was even featured in a Lucozade advert with athlete Daley Thompson.

Find it: Iron Maiden (1980)

2. Run to the Hills

Without this song, Maiden wouldn’t have hit the stratosphere, simple as that. Hitting #7 in the UK charts when it was released (and #9 thirty years later in 2002), it cemented in place the famous galloping triplets that would become their signature and sent the following album to Number One on release week.

Find it: The Number of the Beast (1982)

3. The Number of the Beast

Written about a nightmare Steve had after watching Damien: Omen II and boasting one of the most recognisable spoken-word intros in metal, it also brought to the foreground just what a powerhouse Maiden had in then-new vocalist Bruce Dickinson. Getting increasingly annoyed by producer Martin Birch’s insistence that he sing the first verse over and over, the piercing scream that features as the song kicks in is the sound of four hours of frustration exorcised in ten seconds.

Find it: The Number of the Beast (1982)

4. Hallowed Be Thy Name

So, how do you top something like Phantom of the Opera? Well, this isn’t a bad place to start. Written about a prisoner due to face a death sentence and featuring some of the greatest lyrics Harris ever penned, the fact that it’s only been removed from one tour since it was released speaks volumes about its place in Iron Maiden legacy.

Find it: The Number of the Beast (1982)

5.  Where Eagles Dare

Any doubts that drummer Nicko McBrain would struggle to replace Clive Burr were evaporated with the opening track to Maiden’s fourth album. Featuring a quite brilliant rolling drum intro and more solos than you can raise the horns to, it lit the touch paper for the most classic of Maiden eras to flourish.

Find it: Piece of Mind (1983)

6. The Trooper

If you’re ever asked to name a great song based on a moment in history, then this should be the go-to answer. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Charge of the Light Brigade was poignant enough; Maiden managed to get that same feeling into just over four minutes of metal perfection.

Find it: Piece of Mind (1983)

7. Two Minutes to Midnight

The theme of war features heavily amongst Maiden lyrics – ‘Aces High’, ‘Tailgunner’, most of A Matter of Life and Death…but no song is as sinister in tone and in word as the affectionately known 23:58, which critically addressed the surroundings of the Doomsday clock and the politics of conflict.

Find it: Powerslave (1984)

8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Rumour is that when Maiden were recording this the lyrics hung from the ceiling right to the floor. A glorious rampage inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s immense poem of the same name, it was the band’s longest song for over thirty years and encapsulated everything that was brilliant about them with no care for time constraints.

Find it: Powerslave (1984)

9. Stranger in a Strange Land

Opening with a sumptuous bass hook and evolving into a gorgeous story about an Arctic explorer trapped in ice, Maiden’s second single from their very underrated sixth album is one of the best hidden gems of their career, and far more interesting than well-known hit ‘Wasted Years’.

Find it: Somewhere in Time (1986)

10. Can I Play With Madness

Maiden’s most commercially successful single at the time, it even made it onto the 12th edition of the Now! That’s What I Call Music compilations. Featuring cowbells, keyboards and boosted by one of the final television appearances by former Monty Python star Graham Chapman in the music video, it was the first of four Maiden singles from the album to make the Top Ten of the charts.

Find it: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

11. The Evil That Men Do

If ‘Can I Play With Madness’ was a snappy, impact song perfect for a lead single, The Evil That Men Do was certainly a more traditional Maiden song that most befitted as a follow up. It didn’t stop it from entering the charts at #6 and rising to #5 the following week though. The opening riff is certainly one of the most spine tingling the band have ever written as well.

Find it: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

12. Afraid to Shoot Strangers

Although mainly known for their gallops and fast tempos, Maiden have never been afraid to slow things down as they proved on this anti-war anthem from the early 90’s. Powerful and emotive, its return to the setlist for the first half of the 2012-14 Maiden England tour was very well received.

Find it: Fear of the Dark (1992)

13. Fear of the Dark

Songs should always sound better live than they do on albums. The title track from Maiden’s ninth record is one of the best examples around. It’s a brilliant song anyway, but standing in a field with 50,000 other people singing the guitar hook as loud as you can is close to pure nirvana.

Find it: Fear of the Dark (1992)…or any other live album since then!

14. The Clansman

The mid-late 90’s were troubling times for Maiden. Fronted by new singer Blaze Bayley, album sales dropped, tour venues got smaller and the songs didn’t have the same class as previously (the less said about ‘The Angel and the Gambler’ the better…). Despite this, there were a couple of diamonds in the rough, one of which was this nine-minute beauty about medieval Scotland and one of Blaze’s finest vocal performances to date.

Find it: Virtual XI (1998)

15. The Wicker Man

Although Maiden have never had a true ‘comeback’ single, this is the closest they’ve got to one. Released ahead of the first album in eight years to feature Bruce Dickinson and twelve to star Adrian Smith, it heralded the start of Maiden’s second coming that would see them shoot straight back to the top of the heavy metal tree in style.

Find it: Brave New World (2000)

16. Paschendale

Although not my own personal favourite song from the album – that will always be the tear-jerking ‘Journeyman’ – Paschendale is probably the standout track from a musical perspective. From the delicate intro between Adrian and Nicko through the soaring choruses and heavy mid-sections and Bruce’s pitch-perfect vocals, it’s a true classic in the making. If only they’d play it more live…

Find it: Dance of Death (2003)

17. These Colours Don’t Run

“We are Iron Maiden, and these colours don’t run!” shouted Bruce in San Bernadino, CA on the last night of their Ozzfest tour, which had seen the band pelted with eggs and Sharon Osbourne turn their PA off at various points during the set. Although the song of the same name is a belter concerning, as mentioned above, war, the lyrics certainly have a leaning towards the events of that day.

Find it: A Matter of Life and Death (2006)

18. Coming Home

Since the turn of the millennium Maiden have got more and more progressive in style and, if possible, even heavier than before. Coming Home is a great example of this. A song about touring, flying above the planet and the beauty of being on the last leg and on the way back to your own country, it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring in every single way.

Find it: The Final Frontier (2010)

19. If Eternity Should Fail

One thing Maiden have always done well is opening tracks to albums, save for ‘Invaders’ from The Number of the Beast. In If Eternity Should Fail, however, they’ve probably produced the greatest opening track since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and ‘Moonchild’. Crushing, dark and truly special, when this opens the new tour this year all hell will break loose, guaranteed.

Find it: The Book of Souls (2015)

20. Empire of the Clouds

Well, where to start with this one? The longest Maiden song of all time: Check. A story about a historical event: Check. Bombastic, outlandish and altogether superb: Check. It’s potentially the most un-Maiden song the band have ever written, but the emotions it pulls on are unrivalled. Nowadays, the question will always be asked as to whether Maiden will do another album, especially given Bruce’s recent health issues, but if they don’t then Empire of the Clouds couldn’t be a more fitting swansong.

Find it: The Book of Souls (2015)

Iron Maiden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elliot Leaver
PlanetMosh's resident Iron Maiden fanboy and Mr. Babymetal. Also appreciates the music of Pink Floyd, Rammstein, Nightwish, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot and many others. Writing to continue to enjoy life away from the stresses of full-time employment.