The Top 10 IRON MAIDEN Album-Openers
May 29, 2023, 7 months ago
Across Iron Maiden’s 17 albums, where has this Lynyrd Skynyrd guitar army put their best foot forward? Wily as Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson and manager Rod Smallwood are, they know a thing or two about grabbing our attention with that first impression, so that first needle-drop is usually a cause for clinking a few pints with your headbanger buddies. At least in the old days! In recent times, they’ve gone a little deeper than the shortest and fastest thing, or the advance single, so it gets interesting. In any event, here we go: seven will drop off, leaving the top ten, which we’ll go the extra mile to rank, arriving at the end with the biggest barnstormer of a side one/track one that Maiden ever managed. Strap in for take-off (fortunately Di’Anno’s not flying the plane).
10. “Different World”
We begin our journey with the tough and well-regarded A Matter of Life and Death album from 2006. “Different World” is the shortest track on the record, a no-nonsense rocker straight-lining it at a brisk tempo, with Nicko doing his signature ride cymbal accents to pleasing effect. It’s apparently some sort of homage to Phil Lynott, giving the vocal at the chorus, where Bruce goes down a register and supposedly evokes Phil’s sense of phrasing. Personally I don’t hear it, but the twin lead is definitely more of a Lizzy thing than Maiden, who, one supposes, bullied their way over to ownership of the idea of twin leads through sheer quantity.
9. “The Wicker Man”
Fans lost their mind over this song and continue to do so, but I’ve never been that crazy about it. “The Wicker Man” opens the band’s reunion album with Bruce, and was out as a single three weeks before the album proper. Soon as I heard those opening chords, I thought of the Doobie Brothers’ “China Grove” and haven’t been able to shake it since. Still, it’s a direct enough rocker, brief, punky, collapsing into a cool half-time chorus with a burbly twin lead and anthemic sing-along lyrics. Weirdly, Bruce has got a solo career track called “Wicker Man,” which is aligned more closely with the classic, creepy movie from 1973 for which it’s named. It’s a good introductory live number though, in the rudimentary orbit of Cheap Trick’s “Hello There” and Thin Lizzy’s “Are You Ready.”
8. “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier”
To appreciate this one, folks gotta get past the bizarre, completely out-of-character opening sound collage, which lasts nearly five minutes. But once we’ve dispensed with that, Maiden introduce us to their 15th album with a disarmingly casual number built of cozy power chords from Adrian, set to a groovy, mid-paced rhythm. Steve’s lyric tells the chilling tale of an astronaut stranded in space and about to die, made all too clear by Bruce’s passionate, thespian portrayal. It’s blues, it’s ‘70s rock, it’s even a little hair metal, but most intriguingly it’s not your typical Maiden opener.
The opening track to Maiden’s legendary The Number of the Beast album from 1982 tacks onto the front its own little “The Ides of March,” with Clive Burr whacking out some rapid-fire military snare, responded to by Steve with a bass lick. Ten seconds later, Clive counts the song in on high-hat and we’re off to the races with something we used to call speed metal, one supposes. Fact is though, “Invaders” is sort of frowned upon by the fans, along with “Gangland,” when discussing The Number of the Beast (a complaint usually followed by “’Total Eclipse’ should have made the record instead.”). Still, freed from comparisons with the rest of this killer album, it’s a feisty meat-and-potatoes NWOBHM number, perfectly appropriate to announce the proceedings, silly and sing-songy roller-coaster chorus notwithstanding.
6. “Caught Somewhere in Time”
It’s cool how this one starts with a twin lead (or triple when you include Steve), and then the drums kick in and then all of a sudden we’re into a double-time gallop, with Nicko playing double-bass. I also like how it’s one of these approximate title tracks. Anyway, “Caught Somewhere in Time” is anthemic and aggressive and full up with Maiden tropes, unsurprising, given that Steve gets sole credit for its power metal penning. Never mind the seven-and-a-half minute duration, because it doesn’t feel like a slog at all. Plus it sets the tone as a microcosm for a record that is traditional Maiden, albeit with a wee bit of rehash.
5. “The Ides of March”
Putting aside the controversy about “The Ides of March” essentially being the same as “Thunderburst” from Samson (long story, they shared a drummer), what we have is a short instrumental that packs a punch despite its 1:48 duration. I was ambivalent about including it, but then I figured it’s pretty action-packed. Plus talking about it allows me to mention that it’s essentially the build-up to the legitimate opening track, “Wrathchild,” which arguably deserves to win this whole corndog contest. Plus it’s better than “The Hellion” from Priest, and beating it to the punch by a year-and-a-half. Finally, read into this what you will, but I’ve stuck a short instrumental ahead of fully a dozen more “finished” Maiden songs.
Hey, I’m surprised to see this so high up the list too. But yes, the baby “Aces High” is a winner of a song, despite being stuck onto the front of a dog album. Love the infectious melodic music that serves as an intro, with the guys accompanied by Nicko playing what is basically a cymbal solo. Once it kicks in, we’ve got a signature invigorating, speedy number, with “Tailgunner” sending the message that the brief this time was to get back to the roots, closest to Powerslave, I would say. Not crazy about the Sesame Street “These are the people in your neighbourhood” occupational chorus, but they mean well.
Who would have thought wah-wah would be the first statement made by the incomparable Iron Maiden? Well, that’s the hook (line and sinker) of “Prowler,” first track on an album so good they hadda name it twice. Behind that, there’s chugging, no-nonsense ‘70s guitar, driving a brisk rocker that is unsettlingly doomy and mournful of disposition. There’s also an unexpected frenzied jam section, but then, smartly, the guys collapse back into another round of the richly foreboding verse sequence. Of note as well, it's the only song on this list with Paul Di’Anno singing, and he’s devastating at the task, creating an atmosphere that wills this album to its deserved legendary status despite it being a baby band’s first record and also an offering from the very first year of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.
2. “Aces High”
There’s kind of an “Invaders” vibe to this one as it unfolds (think changing of one’s mind!), but the quality is a pronounced step up. “Aces High” opens the fine Powerslave album of 1984 in energetic, world-beating fashion. There’s a signature twin lead, and another one, and then once we’re into the verse, Bruce sings unison with the riff to great effect. Also utilized deftly is all manner of key modulation, the guys switching gears over a beat that finds Nicko banging away simply, resolutely. Of course “Aces High” has become one of the band’s top ten most celebrated songs ever, so it’s got no problem vaulting this high on our sub-set list of album openers.
1. “Where Eagles Dare”
What I’ve always loved about this one is that the guys welcome Nicko McBrain into the band with open arms. Not only does he announce his presence with an iconic solo fill, but once the song gets going, lo and behold, we’re blessed with one of the trickiest, most geometric he’s ever going to perform, across another forty years of being buried behind the kit. But somehow the guys smooth “Where Eagles Dare” out enough to make it an authoritative anthem, large credit in that task going to the Air Raid Siren, who also performs at aa peak possibly never asked of him again. In fact everybody is bent into pretzels, with the band filling the long middle of this six-minute thrill-ride with some of Maiden’s most progressive metal playing. Hey, it’s kinda not up for debate—“Where Eagles Dare” is everything you’d want from a Maiden opener, while also taking pole position on the album most fans cite as the band’s masterwork. Incidentally, Piece of Mind also contains the band’s undisputed side two-opener. But that’s a tale for another time.