My Top-20 Iron Maiden songs
Following up my Top-15 Iron Maiden songs with the One-Song-Per-Album rule, I wanted to follow it up with a Top-10 or Top-15 of my favourite Iron Maiden songs ever. However, making such a list proved, yet again, infuriatingly difficult. What I instead wound up with was a Top-20 which was already hellishly long but as if that wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t even to manage give representation for all of my favourite Iron Maiden albums. That, combined with another reason, is why I’m making this a different type of Countdown and instead of a entry-by-entry run-down, I’ll simply present the list and comment on the general outcome of it.
The second reason was actually a more mundane one and really a problem even when the list was just 15 entries long. And that’s fact that the Top-5 was exactly the same as with the Top-15 One Song Per Album list. Because I honestly don’t want to repeat my earlier list, I decided it was just better to present the list as is and discuss the other entries that had shifted places.
While I tried making the list simply based on my preference of songs, I did want the list to reflect my love of all eras of Iron Maiden. Sadly, the list is quite light on more recent Iron Maiden entries from their 2000s albums, but I wanted to at least give each of Iron Maiden’s vocalists a shout-out. Bruce Dickinson was obviously going to cover most of the entries with 10 songs. I granted 5 to Blaze Bayley, 4 to Paul DiAnno and 1 for a very rarely heard vocal performer from the band.
So enough with the suspense. Let’s have the list…
- The Trooper
- Wasted Years
- The Evil That Men Do
- Blood on the World’s Hands
- Strange World
- Stranger in a Strange Land
- Sign of the Cross
- Can I Play With Madness
- Alexander the Great
- Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- Como Estais Amigos
- Look of the Truth
- Out of the Silent Planet
- For the Greater Good of God
- Reach Out
- Burning Ambition
- The Number of the Beast
- The Clansman
As you can see, certain albums were also favoured above others and this is logical considering that there’s a reason why some of them stand greatly above the rest. Let’s approach the entries somewhat systematically though…
Iron Maiden’s late 80s efforts have always stood out for me best and not least of which because Somewhere in Time is my favourite Iron Maiden album. The extremely moving Wasted Years deserved its high position in the Top-5, but I’ve always really loved the epic and sad Stranger in a Strange Land which also made the Top-10. This epic tale of a lost arctic explorer really has that strong narrative feel and I think Dickinson gives a brilliant performance. Alexander the Great also made the Top-10. The awesome song which chronicles the life of the Macedonian conqueror has always been one of my favourites for its musical greatness and, surprising, historical accuracy. There was really no question about its inclusion and, honestly, I do perhaps prefer it slightly more than Rime of the Ancient Mariner (although Rime is a far more ambitious piece).
Seventh Son did well over-all with two entries in the Top-10. The straight to the point and energetic The Evil That Men Do really does stand out the best for me, but I really wanted to also include the equally energetic and far more positive Can I Play With Madness. With Holy Smoke getting bumped off, I wanted to include a few songs with a healthy and energetic main melody and this is where Can I Play With Madness excels at. It’s strangely a feel-good song with quirky lyrics and Dickinson hamming it up on vocals.
Together these albums make up one half of the Top-10 which should say something about my general appreciation for Iron Maiden. But even that only scratches the surface of how many good songs there are on these albums.
With Blaze’s entries, I ended up favouring his songs from The X-Factor, but I obviously wanted to include songs from both of his full albums. Again, the solo and Best of the Beast novelty, Virus, escaped the list but it is a song I highly recommend from this very under-rated period in Maiden’s career.
Blood on the World’s Hands is deservedly in the Top-5 but it was a tough call between this song and The Sign of the Cross. However, Sign perhaps feels a little dragged out but it’s easily one of the songs that best demonstrates the sheer power and gravitas of Bayley’s vocal performance. The rather dark and simple Look for the Truth also got a tip of the hat from me in the 12th position. It’s a very powerful song and just barely beat out the far more energetic Man on the Edge. However, I think these songs best demonstrate the sort of dark vibe that was present in Bayley’s first album.
The Virtual-XI entries were admittedly a little predictable. Como Estais Amigos dropped down from the Top-15 list down to 11th on this Top-20, but I do consider it one of Maiden’s finest ballads (others worth checking out are Wasting Love and The Journeyman). I really wanted to include a blast of epic energy from the album and so, the only song that seemed to fit the bill was The Clansman. It’s a little cheesy (not least of which for its obvious reference to Braveheart), but it really is an awe-inspiring song. Mayhaps a little on the long side which is why I dropped down to the bottom end of the list – but I think these both songs show that there is some gold in the often maligned second Bayley album.
Two entries on this list may actually appear slightly strange as they don’t appear on the main-albums from Iron Maiden. Indeed, these two songs Burning Ambition and Reach Out are B-sides from Iron Maiden’s singles. While Maiden usually reserves the B-sides for song covers from other bands, they also feature some great and sadly forgotten original material. And these two really stand out in their own special way.
Firstly, there’s Burning Ambition which was a B-side from Iron Maiden’s first ever single, Running Free. It features Paul DiAnno on vocals and is also the only official Maiden recording to feature drummer Doug Samson before he bowed out in favour of the late Clive Burr (Samson was too ill to go on tour when Maiden signed for their debut album). This song is most notably the very first composition that Steve Harris created for Iron Maiden and it’s a really uplifting little ditty. It starts off almost like a pop-song but once DiAnno’s gruff voice takes over, you know it’s 100% pure Maiden.
The second number is the special vocalist appearance from the B-side of Wasted Years. The song Reach Out was written by Adrian Smith but never wound up on the actual album. However, possibly an early experiment to prepare for his temporary exit from the band and his failed bid at a solo career, Reach Out featured Adrian on vocals (with Dickinson backing him up) and I’ll be damned if Smith doesn’t sound absolutely awesome. It’s really a shame that we don’t hear him singing more often.
These two delightful oddities stand out the best for me from Maiden’s “forgotten” catalogue, but both are very straight-forward as songs which is why neither made it too high on the list.
And of course I have to show some love for DiAnno who appeared on both one of Maiden’s best and one of their worst albums. Well, Killers isn’t really terrible but a majority of the songs were only mediocre or okay. The title track, which I also talked about in the Top-15, is the only truly stand out song from Killers though the instrumentals, Wrathchild and Murders in the Rue Morgue are also notably awesome songs.
Iron Maiden, the band’s debut album, is perhaps most criminally under-represented in my Top-20. As I’ve stated before, it’s my second favourite album and I don’t think it has a single bad song on it. Strange World stays firmly in the Top-5 where it belongs, but I also decided to give Prowler its much belated shout-out. This is still one of my absolute favourite Iron Maiden songs and a brilliant album opener. Every great Maiden album opener since owes a great deal to the energy of Prowler, whether we’re talking about Aces High (sorry again for not including it) or Futureal (from Virtual-XI).
DiAnno’s tenure maybe deserves a bit more prominence and praise and Maiden showed a great deal of inventiveness even back then (as demonstrated by Strange World, but also by Phantom of the Opera and even, the slightly dodgy, Prodigal Son).
Once again, I have to really apologise about Powerslave being so massively under-represented on the list. However, it’s easily the band’s most iconic album which is why I don’t think I really need to sing praises to it. Still, I reiterate that it’s an absolute must-have. I similarly feel a bit guilty about The Number of the Beast which has so many iconic songs (22 Acacia Avenue, Children of the Damned, Hallowed be thy Name etc.) but keeping with my honest streak, I wanted to only include the song which currently is my favourite off the album, the title track. Never the less, another album I highly recommend.
And as stated before, Iron Maiden’s 2000s efforts are sadly under-represented. Dance of Death has no entries at all even though it’s actually one of my favourite albums. That’s another one worth recommending. Brave New World gets one song in (Out of the Silent Planet) because I feel so strongly about said song. But again, the album is best enjoyed as a whole.
I would hope people don’t draw too many conclusions about my entry of For the Greater Good of God. As mentioned in the Top-15, I love this song far more than the actual album in question. I simply wanted to bring it up to show that Maiden can still write a mean song about social injustice and turn it into a musical behemoth. At any rate, numbers are arbitrary – so don’t take any of this too seriously.