Iron Maiden

TrackAlbum
Phantom Of The OperaIron Maiden
Hallowed Be Thy NameThe Number Of The Beast
Rime Of The Ancient MarinerPowerslave
Wasted YearsSomewhere In Time
MoonchildSeventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Holy SmokeNo Prayer For The Dying
The ClansmanVirtual XI
Dream Of MirrorsBrave New World
These Colours Don'’t RunA Matter Of Life And Death
Mother Of MercyFinal Frontier

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Contributor: Dom Walsh

I first listened to Iron Maiden around 1994. My cousin had a copy of A Real Dead One which was half of a live album set from the band’s previous tour in support of the chart topping Fear Of The Dark album. A Real Dead One only contained Maiden tracks from between 1980-1984. Its counterpart, A Real Live One contained tracks from between 1986-1992. For the uninitiated, Maiden’s 1980-84 era is absolute gold. All of it. Every single track. Hearing A Real Dead One meant I heard such classics as Run To The Hills, The Trooper, 2 Minutes To Midnight and The Number Of The Beast for the very first time. I made a copy onto a cassette and it lived in my stereo and walkman. Ever since, Iron Maiden is a band that I have followed devoutly. Countless tours, albums, live albums and singles have all found themselves my way. To pick just ten, as every writer for Toppermost says, is pretty much impossible. You could do several lists for the many eras that Maiden has been in existence. Anyway, here goes…

The first track that I have picked is Phantom Of The Opera. This track is pretty much what Iron Maiden is all about. There are time changes aplenty, soaring solos, stunning melodies and galloping bass. Paul Di’Anno’s vocal on the original album track is impassioned and punky; a characteristic of many early Maiden tracks. Iron Maiden grew out of the punk scene in London’s East End in the late 1970s, so it’s no surprise that there is plenty of snarling attitude and bombast included in a stunning 7 minutes of music. This is definitely not punk though. The band were lumped into a group of bands that became known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal; or NWOBHM for short. Other bands included Diamond Head, Saxon, Def Leppard and Angel Witch.

In 1982, Iron Maiden employed a new singer. He went by the name Bruce Dickinson, but had earned himself the nickname ‘The Air Raid Siren’ due to his unique scream and vocal delivery with his previous band, Samson. Lauded by many as one of the the, if not the, greatest metal singers of all time. He is certainly a shoo-in for being mentioned in the same circles as Ozzy Osbourme, Rob Halford and the almighty Ronnie James Dio. 1982 saw the release of The Number Of The Beast; Iron Maiden’s first number one album. Of the tracks on the album, I have included Hallowed Be Thy Name in my list. It is just one of many incredible tracks that I could have included. Hallowed Be Thy Name is, to me, Iron Maiden’s signature tune. The slow tempo and chiming bell introduction build into a behemoth of a track that is pretty much one of my favourite songs of all time bar none. The solos towards the end of the track are still as spritely and punchy as they were 32 years ago. The lyrics about a character on the way to the gallows are a morbid subject matter, but the way that they’re brought alive in the music is something that only Iron Maiden excel at, time and again. The Number Of The Beast was also the last album that featured drummer Clive Burr, who sadly lost his battle with multiple sclerosis recently. He was replaced in the band at the time by Nicko McBrain, who is still with the band today.

McBrain’s first album was 1983’s Piece Of Mind. This one spawned, amongst others, The Trooper. However, my next selection comes from 1984’s epic Powerslave. Rime Of The Ancient Mariner was the centrepiece of the album, clocking in at a mighty thirteen minutes. Based on the poem of the same name by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the track was one of the first whiffs of the band flexing their now progressive muscles. The opening, chugging riff and very wordy lyric work perfectly together. The twin guitar melodies help propel it at a great pace. The middle of the track breaks into spoken word from the poem before returning for some blistering guitar work from messrs Murray and Smith; one of rocks finest guitar duos. When I saw the band perform this song at Twickenham in the summer of 2008 alongside the album’s title track, this is twenty of the finest moments of my life. Me and my very good friend didn’t speak, or look at each other, for the duration as we soaked up a musical dream come true.

Personal gushing aside, my next track comes from Maiden’s 1986 release, Somewhere In Time, if only so I can mention the stunning album artwork! The intergalactic Eddie that adorned the cover is one of my favourites of many superb representations of Iron Maiden’s undead mascot. The track I have chosen is the rather radio friendly Wasted Years. It was one of two singles penned by guitarist Adrian Smith. It’s a live favourite of the band and boasts a superb singalong chorus that never gets dull. Somewhere In Time saw the band experimenting with more synthesized sounds, and this album was more an experiment before getting the formula right.

The formula was right on 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son; a superb concept album, and another foray into more progressive territory. Again, each track here could have been picked but I am choosing Moonchild. The track starts the album and opens with Bruce Dickinson setting the scene over an acoustic introduction before a rising note of feedback and keyboard synth emerge. From here on in, the crashing drums build and build before exploding into one of Iron Maiden’s heaviest ever tracks. It is break eck for the most part; a real neck wrecker. The soloing from Murray and Smith is again sublime, but Steve Harris’ signature bass sound is simply majestic throughout the piece. Dickinson’s vocals have a sinister edge that had been missing on previous albums. This showed a darker side to the band, but also how much of a master storyteller Dickinson had become, fronting and writing for the band along with Smith and Harris.

Following Seventh Son, the band encountered a rather lean productive period, although they had never been more commercially successful. No Prayer For The Dying stripped away all synth and over production in favour of a live sounding album. The band also saw their first change in members for a long while; Adrian Smith (a real creative force) was replaced by former Gillan axe man; Janick Gers. One of the highlights is Holy Smoke. A short, sharp track that was slightly reminiscent of the band’s early 80s period. It is by no means a Maiden classic but it is a song I always enjoy, so for that reason it has made my list. For the tour that the band embarked on, they also did away with lavish production in favour of the jeans and t-shirt approach, along with stacks of Marshall amps instead of frozen tundras or Egyptian pyramid interiors.

1992 saw Fear Of The Dark released to more commercial success. It’s safe to say that only the title track has stood the real test of time. In the context of time, it’s understandable why the record sounded the way it did; Metallica had just released their self titled monster of an album and heavy metal had certainly reached a low ebb. Sadly, Bruce Dickinson left at the end of the tour and plunged the band into uncertain territory.

Wolfsbane front man Blaze Bayley stepped into the huge pair of vacant boots and for the most part he was much maligned. Some of the criticism levelled at Bayley was unfair. The records were definitely not as consistent but the band created some great tracks in the 4/5 years together with Blaze. My choice is a track from 1998’s Virtual XI; The Clansman is a song based on Scottish freedom fighter, William Wallace. It is the undoubted highlight of Maiden’s creative low point. The anthemic chorus and cries of freedom are joyous. The Dickinson fronted live version from 2002’s Rock In Rio is also worth checking out.

As just mentioned, Bruce Dickinson rejoined along with Adrian Smith in 1999 and the band immediately went on tour. They returned to the studio to write and record Brave New World in 2000. One of my favourite tracks from this album, and my next selection, is Dream Of Mirrors. It contains one of Steve Harris’ best choruses and again showed the band not fearing lengthier territory in their numbers. The guitars zip along at a great pace, and it showcases the bands new three pronged guitar attack in all its glory. Smith, Murray and Gers all share responsibility in creating another glorious prog-metal opus. This is another near ten minute epic on my list, but I feel that this is where Maiden is incredibly fruitful. The expanse within songs that the band creates is something to behold. After a rather moribund 90s period, Brave New World saw a new, all conquering, era in the bands history begin to unfold. The album had a stunning cover and the tour saw the band wiping the floor with many of the younger bands. The Maiden that everyone loved was back and in full swing.

Dance Of Death was released in 2003, narrowly missing out on the No.1 spot in the album charts but it again showed the band’s creative juices flowing freely. Notable mentions here for the excellent World War I themed epic, Paschendale, and the acoustic led Journeyman. However, it was 2006’s A Matter Of Life And Death that was Maiden’s high point of their current line-up. When the band toured the album they played it in full, such was their confidence in it. They were right to do so as it is magnificent. I have picked These Colours Don’t Run. The track is rooted in Maiden’s touring exploits with Ozzy Osbourne where they played their asses off against the odds and stole the show every night alongside Sabbath’s front man. Ozzy’s wife took exception at one ill-fated concert where Maiden were pelted with eggs and the power was cut to try and foil the Maiden onslaught. An onstage rant from a vitriolic and patriotic Dickinson saw him spout the words, “these colours don’t run”, as he waved his egg-strewn Union Jack during The Trooper. The whole album reeks of energy that had been coming together over the past two albums to create a real old school style Maiden album in its sound. Kevin Shirley’s production also helped.

To finish my list I’m going with Mother Of Mercy from the band’s latest album chart topper, The Final Frontier. At just over five minutes, it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album. However, it takes so many elements of Iron Maiden’s clandestine formula and rolls them into a grand piece of music. Dickinson’s vocal is as good as any he has ever produced, and the guitar tone harks back to the band’s Seventh Son era in parts. For a band nearing their twilight, the whole album sounds remarkably fresh, again with Kevin Shirley at the helm.

So, there is my ten. I’ve intentionally missed out many obvious choices as many of them speak for themselves. I have also missed out live cuts of tracks because that could be a completely separate Toppermost on its own! I know that no Maiden fan would ever agree completely with my choices, but that is a matter of opinion. These tracks represent some of my favourites, as well as trying to represent a band that has evolved and kept themselves completely and utterly relevant for so many years. Iron Maiden are arguably more popular now than they have ever been. They have never rested on their laurels and continue to flourish by making music that is still utterly magnificent.

Up The Irons!

 

Iron Maiden Official Website

Iron Maiden Collector

Iron Maiden biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #195

5 Comments

  1. David lewis
    Feb 12, 2014

    Maiden is where, along with the rest of the NWOBHM, metal really begins. They removed all elements of the blues and their martial approach gave a sense of power and control. I was very pleased to see Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

    Bruce Dickinson went to Eton, and fenced for Britain. Incidentally, he flies the tour plane.

    Excellent list. A great week of favourites for me too.

  2. Peter Viney
    Feb 12, 2014

    I followed the link to the Somewhere in Time artwork. Iron Maiden are a band of interest to a group of collectors who might never play their records, but seek out Derek Riggs spectacular artwork series featuring “Eddie the Head” on the LPs and 45s (to a much lesser extent on CDs). Though many bands have done collectible sleeves, and The Smiths photographic series is also widely collected for images, Iron Maiden is furthest along the line of equating a band with an image, also used on stage. I have to say I’m a “nay-sayer” on Iron Maiden’s music myself, but always find myself flicking through the sleeves in secondhand vinyl stores, though nowadays if they’re in good nick, many vinyl stores display them on the wall. And they sell fast too.

    Wider interest started with Sanctuary where Eddie is standing over a slain Margaret Thatcher. The “uncensored” 45 without a black box censoring her face is much sought after, though pretty much everyone now admits that the “censored” box was merely a publicity stunt.

  3. Dom Walsh
    Feb 12, 2014

    Rob, Remember Tomorrow nearly made the list, but Phantom just shaded it. I also nearly included Flight of Icarus. Could have done a separate post for the different eras of Maiden.

  4. Dom Walsh
    Feb 12, 2014

    Thanks for the comments Peter and David. The artwork is always a great part of Iron Maiden. Some have been very cheesy and a little bit cheap looking, but some of it is unreal; especially in vinyl form. If you get the Somewhere in Time album and open it out, the back print of the album makes one large piece with the band in cartoon form on the back. Powerslave is one of my favourite covers, along with Brave New World and the Can I Play With Madness single artwork.

  5. Rob Millis
    Feb 12, 2014

    Blimey. Haven’t listened to any of that for about 25 or 30 years. Are they still going? Have they found a suitable replacement for Paul Di’Anno yet?

    I think Powerslave was the current album when I mellowed out and got into bluesier stuff. Can’t really speak with any authority as it was all a long time ago but would agree with Phantom of the Opera and Rime OTAM, and from memory would add Prowler and Remember Tomorrow from the first LP along with Wrathchild and Murders in the Rue Morgue (Killers), Run to the Hills (Number OTB), The Trooper and Flight of Icarus (Piece of Mind) and Aces High (Powerslave).

    Will now get some dinner ready while Peter Viney soils himself in disbelief .

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