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Best Iron Maiden Songs: 20 Classics From Heavy Metal’s Super Troopers
Photo: Alamy Stock Photo
List & Guides

Best Iron Maiden Songs: 20 Classics From Heavy Metal’s Super Troopers

Missives from the most resilient metal band of all, the best Iron Maiden songs took the group from NWOWBHM wannabes to global superstars.

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Black Sabbath or Metallica might say otherwise, but it’s hard to envisage a band more synonymous with the heavy metal genre than Iron Maiden. Survivors to the core, the group first cut their teeth on London’s small-venue circuit during the late 70s before gaining a national foothold as one of the leading lights of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Establishing themselves on the global stage with 1982’s phenomenal The Number Of The Beast album, they’ve gone on to sell over 200 million records and collated an awesome catalogue full of epic moments – which means there’s a wealth of metal magic to consider as we choose the 20 best Iron Maiden songs of all time.

Listen to the best of Iron Maiden here, and check out our 20 best Iron Maiden songs, below.

20: The Book Of Souls (from ‘The Book Of Souls’, 2015)

Long-term Iron Maiden fans worried about their heroes’ future during the early 2010s, as the band laboured over the follow-up to The Final Frontier and then held their breath as Bruce Dickinson overcame a cancer scare. However, the group turned adversity to triumph in no uncertain terms with 2015’s The Book Of Souls: an impressive, UK chart-topping double-album which ran to 90 minutes and proved Maiden had lost none of their ambition or drive. Other epic tracks, such as Empire Of The Clouds and The Red And The Black, could also have been contenders among the best Iron Maiden songs but, ultimately, the album’s title track – a poignant, ten-minute power play inspired by the Mayans – truly sealed the deal.

19: Alexander The Great (356-323 BC) (from ‘Somewhere In Time’, 1986)

Arriving on the back of the behemoth that was 1984’s Powerslave, Maiden’s sixth album, Somewhere In Time, was recorded while the band suffered from burnout following their massive World Slavery tour of 1984-85. The album is still long on inspiration, however – nowhere more so than on this grandiose, eight-minute tribute to the all-conquering King Of Macedonia. Penned by band mainstay Steve Harris, Alexander The Great’s second half features some of Maiden’s most dramatic instrumental pyrotechnics.

18: Blood Brothers (from ‘Brave New World’, 2000)

Iron Maiden’s fanbase were left reeling when vocalist Bruce Dickinson departed in 1993, leaving ex-Wolfsbane frontman Blaze Bayley to fill his shoes for two albums. Needless to say, the faithful ran up the flags when the talismanic Dickinson (and former guitarist Adrian Smith) returned to the fold, and the band greeted the new millennium with 2000’s Blood Brothers. Now regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in heavy metal (Kerrang! almost ran out of adjectives, describing it as “Towering, majestic, titanic!”), the album featured its fair share of bombast, but its poignant title track offered bassist Steve Harris the opportunity to pay tribute to his late father with heartfelt intimacy.

17: Flight Of Icarus (from ‘Piece Of Mind’, 1983)

Though it reached No.11 in the UK (at the time, Maiden’s second-highest domestic hit), Flight Of Icarus was eclipsed by the group’s subsequent single, The Trooper. Nonetheless, the song still has plenty going for it. Reputedly using the Greek legend of Daedalus’ son Icarus as a metaphor for the hubris of teenage rebellion (Icarus met his death after soaring too close to the sun with a pair of wax wings), it carried bags of panache and lifted off with a suitably soaring chorus. The storming version which later provided one of the highlights of 1985’s Live After Death cements Flight Of Icarus’ reputation as one of the very best Iron Maiden songs.

16: Can I Play With Madness? (from ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, 1988)

In theory, the late 80s was a bad time to be in an established metal band. Nascent genres such as hip-hop and acid house were in vogue, and the few metal bands the UK press covered were rising thrash-metal stars such as Metallica and Megadeth. Clearly, no one told Steve Harris and co. 1988’s Can I Play With Madness? steamed up the UK charts, and its impressive No.3 peak was a testament to both Iron Maiden’s longevity and their music’s anthemic, across-the-board appeal.

15. The Evil That Men Do (from ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, 1988)

Another absolute belter from the band’s seventh studio album, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, The Evil That Men Do swiftly followed Can I Play With Madness? into the UK Top 5. Inspired by the oft-repeated quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (“The evil that men do lives after them/The good is often interred with their bones”), the song featured a storming vocal from Bruce Dickenson, an expressive guitar solo from Adrian Smith and a truly lung-busting denouement. For anyone into hard rock at its most dynamic, what’s not to love?

14: Running Free (from ‘Iron Maiden’, 1980)

Iron Maiden sprang from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene which also launched Def Leppard on the cusp of the 80s. However, while Maiden were most definitely a rock band, in their initial incarnation with vocalist Paul Di’Anno, they had a rougher, streetwise edge which also appealed to the punks. The obvious single from the band’s self-titled debut album, Running Free was a memorably angsty ode to teenage escape. It also featured enough crossover appeal to yield the band’s first Top Of The Pops slot, for which they memorably draped their West Ham FC scarves all over the mic stands. Di’Anno was replaced by Bruce Dickenson after the band’s second album, Killers, but Running Free remained in Maiden’s live set and has long since earned its stripes as one of the best Iron Maiden songs.

13: Wasted Years (from ‘Somewhere In Time’, 1986)

As the lead single from Somewhere In Time, Wasted Years signalled something of a departure for the group. Written by guitarist Adrian Smith, its melodic riffs and radio-friendly chorus carried a carpe diem message (“Face up… make your stand/And realise you’re living in the golden years”) whose universal appeal helped the song enter the UK Top 20. Though an atypical example of what constitutes the best Iron Maiden songs, Wasted Years remains a quality anthem which stands tall among the band’s wider body of work.

12: Wrathchild (from ‘Killers’, 1981)

Invariably paired with the scene-setting instrumental The Ides Of March, Wrathchild was arguably the high point of Iron Maiden’s second album, Killers – their last to feature original vocalist Paul Di’Anno. Full of gritty social realism, the song’s lyrics relate the tale of an angry young man intent on finding his absent father (“My mother was a queen/My Dad I’ve never seen/I was never meant to be”) and quite possibly exacting some revenge for this lack of parental care. A nigh-on perfect blend of fiery street-punk and hard-boiled rock, Wrathchild quickly established itself as a live favourite – and it still buzzes with adrenaline.

11: Paschendale (from ‘Dance Of Death’, 2003)

Tales of epic derring-do and fallen heroes are rife among the best Iron Maiden songs, but few have the same emotional heft as Paschendale. Unquestionably the high point of 2003’s Dance Of Death album, this eight-minute, suite-like workout was almost symphonic in its execution, with its three distinct movements taking the listener through the hell suffered by the thousands of young soldiers who signed up for World War I’s apocalyptic Battle Of Passchendaele. The figures have long since been disputed, but it’s believed that up to half a million people died during the catastrophic campaign. Maiden’s song reflects the young soldiers’ initial youthful idealism, the artillery-battered chaos of the battlefield and, finally, the resignation of a generation of young men lost in the trenches. It’s quite an achievement, and fans and non-fans alike can’t help but find the song an intensely emotional experience.

10: Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (from ‘Powerslave’, 1984)

Iron Maiden had been flirting with lengthy, complex songs ever since Phantom Of The Opera, from their self-titled debut, but it took until their fifth album, Powerslave, for the group to build up the confidence to unleash a true prog-metal epic. They didn’t do it by halves, either: the 14-minute Rime Of The Ancient Mariner effectively retold Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 18th-century poem of the same name (itself an opium-addled masterpiece), with Bruce Dickinson and co taking a remarkable sonic voyage involving a lost ship, the curse of the albatross and a visitation from death himself. The song evokes the feeling of being lost at sea, and, to the band’s credit, the tension rarely sags despite the length and complexity of the composition. A benchmark moment for heavy metal, Rime Of The Ancient Mariner still makes waves as one of the best Iron Maiden songs.

9: Run To The Hills (from ‘The Number Of The Beast’, 1982)

Boosted by their NWOBHM status and an unyielding work ethic, Iron Maiden took off quickly, but their transition to rock’s big league was cemented when Bruce Dickinson replaced Paul Di’Anno, and the group’s third album, The Number Of The Beast, proved to be their best yet.

The wider public’s introduction to Maiden’s charismatic new vocalist, the album’s lead single, Run To The Hills, was actually a protest song written from the perspective of Native Americans and the European settlers who usurped their lands (“White men came across the sea/They brought us pain and misery/Killed our tribes, killed our creed/Took our game for his own needs”). In retrospect, releasing it as a single took a lot of balls, but the dramatic number was brilliantly executed: while it was undeniably heavy metal, the song’s radio-friendly sensibility also ensured it rocketed into the UK Top 10, comfortably taking its place among the best Iron Maiden songs in the process.

8: Aces High (from ‘Powerslave’, 1984)

Redeploying Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech from 1940 proved to be the ideal introduction to one of the band’s most dynamic Top 20 hits. Aces High examined World War II’s Battle Of Britain from the perspective of an RAF pilot at the controls of a Spitfire during that lengthy and pivotal skirmish. Superbly executed by the whole band, the song’s guitars and drums evoked rat-a-tat machine-gun fire, while the chorus line (“Run, live to fly/Fly to live – do or die!”) seems even more fitting since Bruce Dickinson became a fully qualified airline pilot.

7: Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (from ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’, 1988)

Surely a contender for Iron Maiden’s best studio album, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son caught the band on a creative roll. The album yielded two Top 5 smash hits, Can I Play With Madness? and The Evil That Men Do, but it also featured several complex workouts such as Infinite Dreams and the Steve Harris-penned title track. Inspired by Orson Scott Card’s novel Seventh Son, the track was a prog-metal epic in the best sense of the term, with its breathlessly visceral opening section morphing into some truly cosmic instrumental interplay during the final, five-minute denouement.

6: The Number Of The Beast (from ‘The Number Of The Beast’, 1982)

Its inspiration drawn directly from the Old Testament’s Book Of Revelation, the title track from Iron Maiden’s landmark third album has long been accepted as one of heavy metal’s most iconic songs. With a depressing predictability, its vivid Satanic verses (“In the night, the fires are burning bright/The ritual has begun, Satan’s work is done”) invoked the anger of religious groups in both the UK and US, but there was never any occult intent – Steve Harris had worked the track up after recalling a dream he’d had after watching the horror film Damien: Omen II. Still, a little controversy rarely does any harm, and The Number Of The Beast followed Run To The Hills into the UK Top 20 – a richly deserved success for such a dynamic anthem which simply demands inclusion among the best Iron Maiden songs.

5: Phantom Of The Opera (from ‘Iron Maiden’, 1980)

As the likes of Prowler, Running Free and Charlotte The Harlot reveal, Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut album did a pretty good job of melding the power of classic hard rock with the energy and attitude of punk. However, the album’s centrepiece, the seven-minute Phantom Of The Opera, hinted that the group’s primary songwriter, bassist Steve Harris, had already set his sights on grander designs. With its finely tuned dynamic and spiralling, Thin Lizzy-esque lead guitars, Phantom of The Opera was something special, demonstrating that Maiden were sharpening the extra steel they needed to outlast their fellow NWOBHM contenders.

4: Fear Of The Dark (from ‘Fear Of The Dark’, 1992)

Iron Maiden’s third UK chart-topping album (after The Number Of The Beast and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son), Fear Of The Dark was undoubtedly a triumph, though its success proved bittersweet: Bruce Dickinson departed following its release, and the band’s long-term producer, Martin Birch – onboard since 1981’s Killers – also announced his retirement after completing work on the album. Nonetheless, Fear Of The Dark boasted plenty to cherish. Another potential contender for any list of the best Iron Maiden songs, the record’s lead single, Be Quick Or Be Dead, blasted its way to No.2 in the UK Top 40, though the album’s barnstorming title track (reflecting Steve Harris’ real-life fear of the dark) remains the album’s standout cut.

3: The Trooper (from ‘Piece Of Mind’, 1983)

In the same way that Paschendale tapped into the horrors of the First World War, The Trooper revisited the 19th-century’s Crimean War. This time around, Steve Harris was directly influenced by Lord Tennyson’s poem The Charge Of The Light Brigade, based upon the events at 1854’s Battle Of Balaclava: his song’s visceral lyric (“You’ll take my life, but I’ll take yours, too/You’ll fire your musket, but I’ll run you through”) was written from the perspective of a doomed cavalryman. Performed with gusto, with harmonised guitars and drummer Nicko McBrain excelling behind the kit, the song doesn’t mention the titular trooper, or even have a chorus, yet it went Top 20 and remains synonymous with the band. Still a regular in-concert fixture, it’s since put its name to the group’s own craft beer, and its place among the best Iron Maiden songs is mandatory.

2: Powerslave (from ‘Powerslave’, 1984)

Though the same album’s Rime Of The Ancient Mariner arguably outdoes it in the “epic” stakes, the Bruce Dickinson-penned Powerslave is nonetheless an absolute tour de force. Written from the point of view of an arrogant Egyptian pharaoh in his final hours on Earth – as he realises that, while he may have seen himself as a deity, he’s still a “slave to the power of death” – the song inspired one of Dickinson’s most dynamic vocal performances, and even features a neo-psychedelic detour. The Egyptian theme also inspired illustrator Derek Riggs to devise Powerslave’s memorable album cover, while the stage show for the ensuing tour featured sarcophagi, extensive pyrotechnics and even a 30-foot mummified version of Iron Maiden’s famous mascot, Eddie.

 

1: Hallowed Be Thy Name (from ‘The Number Of The Beast’, 1982)

It takes something truly special to head a list of the best Iron Maiden songs, but Hallowed Be Thy Name really is just that. The final track from The Number Of The Beast – the multi-platinum album which announced the band’s presence on the global stage – this Steve Harris-penned song opens with the sound of a bell tolling and goes on to tell the story of a prisoner about to be hanged. Vivid and philosophical, Harris’ lyric vacillates between the prisoner’s acceptance of his lot and a brief (yet ultimately doomed) hope that he may yet be reprieved (“Can it be that there’s some sort of error?/Hard to stop the surmounting terror”). The band’s faultless performance is a master class in dynamics and, while it’s a hell of a claim for anyone to make, it’s ultimately difficult to fault Kerrang!’s verdict that Hallowed Be Thy Name is “arguably the greatest song in all of heavy metal”.

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