Ever felt overwhelmed by an artist’s extensive back catalog? Been meaning to check out a band, but you just don’t know where to begin? In 10 Songs is here to help, offering a crash course and entry point into the daunting discographies of iconic artists of all genres. This is your first step toward fandom. Take it.
I didn’t realize the significance of Iron Maiden’s massive following until I watched Flight 666: The Film, a tour documentary that followed the band throughout South America and various other exotic locales during their 2008 tour. Thousands upon thousands attended each show, many older fans having waited their whole life for the band to come to their city or country, all donning shirts with Eddie’s visage, all in a state of euphoria. Iron Maiden is a part of who they are.
Today, the band releases its 16th studio album, The Book of Souls, and it feels like a heavy metal holiday. If Black Sabbath created the sound, then Iron Maiden patented the image, popularized it, and turned metal into an institution. They had the dark lyrics, the sinister mascot, the riffs, the hair. They freaked out uptight parents. Over four decades, Iron Maiden have come to define the genre and the obsessive culture surrounding it. And they’re not done yet. The following 10 tracks represent Iron Maiden’s most iconic work, from the pre-Bruce Dickinson early days through their classic string of albums in the 1980s. They are some of the finest heavy metal songs ever written, worthy of a storied legacy.
THE EARLY YEARS
“Remember Tomorrow” from Iron Maiden (1980)
A forgotten gem, the second track from Iron Maiden’s 1980 self-titled debut is the best song from the Paul Di’Anno era. Its prog structures — opening with eerie arpeggios before the big chords kick in — foreshadow the band’s future epics. Di’Anno isn’t in the same league as Bruce Dickinson, but he turns in a fine performance on this track. The Judas Priest influence is evident.
“The Number of the Beast” from The Number of the Beast (1982)
This is the song and album that changed everything for Iron Maiden. It’s a defining moment for both the band and heavy metal, evoking the sound and imagery forever associated with the genre and, more specifically, the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” style. It also established Bruce Dickinson as the premiere metal frontman: His scream after the first verse remains unrivaled. Relative to the other heavy bands of the time, Iron Maiden was tapping into pure evil. “Six, six, six/ The number of the beast” … the chorus that haunted a generation of parents.
CRASHING THE CHARTS
“Run to the Hills” from The Number of the Beast (1982)
For many, “Run to the Hills” was their first Iron Maiden song. It received lots of airplay, breaking the UK Top 10 (its quick-hitting three-minute duration made it conducive to FM), and its iconic music video showing settlers fighting Native Americans was aired repeatedly on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. The first single from The Number of the Beast, the song is a fan favorite and a staple of the band’s live sets.
AN UNDISPUTED CLASSIC
“Hallowed Be Thy Name” from The Number of the Beast (1982)
The best Iron Maiden song. It’s Steve Harris’ masterpiece composition, containing his heaviest riffs and headiest lyrics: the tale of a prisoner’s final hours before being hanged. It closes The Number of the Beast perfectly. The band members themselves consider it a favorite, with Dickinson saying that performing it live is like “narrating a movie to the audience.”
“The Trooper” from Piece of Mind (1983)
This instantly memorable cut from Piece of Mind was one of the band’s most successful hits in the US and can still be heard on most classic rock radio blocks. That lead riff is enough to make any kid want to learn guitar. If mainstream culture is to remember Iron Maiden for one song, it would be this one, as it’s been consistently licensed for soundtracks, video games, and film.
AN EPIC TALE
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” from Powerslave (1984)
While the band dabbled in lengthy seven-minute song structures with “Hallowed Be Thy Name” and “To Tame a Land”, this Powerslave closer nearly doubled that, clocking in at 13 minutes and 45 seconds. Based on the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is an obvious example of Harris and Dickinson’s penchant for combining literature and song.
“Wasted Years” from Somewhere in Time (1986)
Exhaustion set in after Maiden returned from their World Slavery Tour in 1985, and the resulting album, Somewhere in Time, marks a tonal shift for the band as they began to dabble in synthesizers and electronics. Guitarist Adrian Smith contributed three songs, which was unusual for him, including album highlight “Wasted Years”, which became a successful single in the UK. Themes of space and time run through this song and others from the album, though Harris has stated that it is not a concept album.
A DECADE OF DECADENCE
“The Evil That Men Do” from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)
Iron Maiden rode a wave of momentum throughout the ’80s. They were an invincible touring force, but their records never suffered from their seemingly exhausting schedule. 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was their best album since The Number of the Beast, highlighted by blazing riff-fest “The Evil That Men Do”. Smith’s solo is notably inspired, and Dickinson’s vocals synchronize with Harris’ rhythmic acrobatics. It was the last great single from the band’s greatest era.
BRUCE BIDS FAREWELL
“Fear of the Dark” from Fear of the Dark (1992)
By 1992, Iron Maiden was no longer the same band. Adrian Smith departed after Seventh Son, and Dickinson was headed that way, weary after a highly productive decade. The closing title track off Fear of the Dark marked the end of Dickinson’s first stint with the band. It’s still played at nearly every live show, with the audience singing along during softer sections (often louder than Dickinson himself).
UP TO SPEED
“Speed of Light” from The Book of Souls (2015)
The Book of Souls is the album Iron Maiden has been working toward since Dickinson rejoined the band in 2000. It proves to be a career-spanning work, and lead single “Speed of Light” is a fast, catchy reminder of this band’s powers, even as they age. They epitomize heavy metal — the speed, the image, the technicality — and they’re still going strong.