Why have a Top Ten when you can have one more? We rank the best Iron Maiden songs ever
There’s an argument that unkillable mascot Eddie is Iron Maiden. Where time, trends, satanic panics and departing fan-favourites might have done for lesser bands, Maiden persevered, finally displaying metal’s true magnetic power in drawing back frontman Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith for their current all-star line-up.
This version of Maiden hasn’t just survived, it’s thrived. They’re Eddie incarnate, bursting from the grave over and over, chewing through cables, ruthlessly besting their enemies. It’s almost unimaginable that a band written off in the 90s have re-animated themselves so convincingly in this millennium, even earning rave reviews across the board for 2021’s Senjutsu.
The downside to this legacy is having to pick 11 songs across 40 years of some of the best metal imaginable. But, we’re all about heavy challenges, so here’s our pick of Iron Maiden’s 11 best songs.
11. ‘The Phantom Of The Opera (Live)’
Daley Thompson. Lucozade. If you’re of a certain age, that powerful riff hits you like a blast of fizzy medicinal energy. With its cod-reggae breakdown, punk energy and theatrics, the recorded version is the sound of a band figuring themselves out, but the Live After Death version, recorded in 1984 with Dickinson on vocals is more direct and visceral, assimilating the song into what had become the band’s signature sound.
10. ‘Bring Your Daughter… To The Slaughter’
An Iron Maiden UK No.1 is still hard to get your head around, especially at the tail end of 1990, when all the old rockers were getting booted into touch. Bruce Dickinson wrote the song for the soundtrack of one of the endless string of Nightmare On Elm Street sequels and won a Golden Raspberry in the process, but Steve Harris saw its potential and convinced Bruce to re-record it with the band. The result is much harder-hitting, and every bit as camp, silly and brilliant as its Hammer-inspired video.
Any band of Maiden’s standing and legacy would be perfectly entitled to spend their later years touring the world and trotting out the old classics. It’s to their eternal credit that not only have they kept writing and recording but they’ve somehow rediscovered the kind of quality and creativity that seemed to be abandoning them towards the end of Dickinson’s first stint with the band. Senjutsu is probably their best album since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son and its opener and title track is an absolute behemoth, alternately majestic and pummeling in equal measure.
8. ‘The Number Of The Beast’
The song that placed Maiden right at the centre of the satanic panic of the 80s, ‘The Number Of The Beast’ was inspired by a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching Damien: Omen II and is more in keeping with the band’s love of classic horror than any affiliation to dark masters. Vincent Price wanted £25,000 to voice the opening, so the band hired actor Barry Clayton (later the narrator of Count Duckula) instead. As a sample of what new vocalist Bruce Dickinson brought to the band, you can’t do better than this slice of operatic thrash.
7. ‘Run To The Hills’
On The Number Of The Beast, Maiden jump right from the phenomenal title track into another track that would become a cornerstone of their live sets for decades to come. Harris’s diatribe on the genocide of American First Natives isn’t exactly subtle but it’s certainly effective and gives Dickinson license to explore the upper reaches of his impressive range.
6. ‘The Trooper’
Harris’s song about the Charge of the Light Brigade is one of his best about the horrors of war (followed closely by ‘Paschendale’), helped along by some stunning guitar work from Adrian Smith and Dave Murray. The song’s militaristic iconography has unfortunately been adopted by nationalist/loyalist factions, but the band have repeatedly distanced the song from any such interpretations. McBrain and Harris’s galloping rhythm puts you right in the heart of the madness, thundering towards death against all the narrator’s best instincts.
5. ‘Can I Play With Madness?’
One of many highlights on Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, this is surprisingly direct compared to its proggier brethren, although it does continue the theme of prophets, soothsayers and clairvoyants, adding some chiming synths on the chorus. Nobody could ever argue for Maiden being pop, but this is right there with their catchiest, most accessible songs. Dickinson sells that chorus like his life depends on it.
4. ‘2 Minutes To Midnight’
Dickinson and Adrian Smith’s anti-war song takes its name from the day in 1958 when the doomsday clock got closest to the point of worldwide annihilation. Lyrically, it’s Maiden at their most vivid and impressionistic, with memorable lines including: “The golden goose is on the loose and never out of season” and the nihilistic “Go to war again, blood is freedom’s stain”. It sums up the beautiful dichotomy at the heart of Maiden, capable of campy theatrics one minute and piercing commentary the next.
3. ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’
Steve Harris’s masterpiece finds pathos within horror, as existential terror rips through a condemned man, pulling his mind apart with questions of God and eternity. His belief in life everlasting is dependent on the existence of God, but what God would leave him to this fate? Not the kind of crisis of faith you want when walking to your death. Musically, it’s one of the band’s best compositions, from Clive Burr’s frenetically precise drumming to the intertwining solos from Adrian Smith and Dave Murray. That hell-for-leather finale feels like the last desperate kicks of a dying man. Utterly brilliant.
2. ‘Fear Of The Dark (Live)’
Fear Of The Dark found Maiden off the boil for the first time in their existence. They’d just had a UK No.1 but reviews hadn’t been kind and even Bruce Dickinson was starting to believe their race was run. Still, even amidst this turmoil, they were capable of vertiginous high points, such as this epic title track, which shifts brilliantly from shredded intro to ominous quiet to hell-for-leather, balls-to-the-wall metal with a capital M. The album version is great but the real treat is this version from A Real Live One, recorded in Helsinki in 1992. Bruce: “Fear of the dark… YOU”; Finnish metalheads: “FEAR OF THE DARK”; Bruce: “Yeeessssss”.
1. ‘The Evil That Men Do’
If there’s a point in Iron Maiden history where everything hit its apex at the same time, it’s this full-throttle piece of genius from Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. It manages to tap into the band’s prog roots, operatic thrash metal highs and remarkable ability to make heavy metal sound ridiculously catchy. The melodic guitar lines that run through the intro and the bridge are maybe the greatest things Adrian Smith and Dave Murray ever wrote, Bruce’s vocals are positively transcendent, and Nicko McBrain and Steve Harris sound like their instruments are galloping them straight off a cliff. One of the greatest metal songs ever.
Iron Maiden play 3Arena, Dublin on 24 June 2023. Tickets are on sale here from 09:00 on Friday 14 October 2022