The 50 best Iron Maiden songs of all time

(Image credit: Annamaria DiSanto/WireImage)

Four-plus decades - and 16 studio albums - since Iron Maiden first emerged from East London, the band has come to epitomize the New Wave of British Heavy Metal sound and its expansive possibilities. At this point the British crew has written so many iconic songs it’s hard to keep track. In the Eighties alone, they unleashed seven genre-defining records, from 1980’s Killers to 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

Central to their success is the inimitable classic guitar duo of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, whose soaring tandem leads and galloping riffs are seared into the very fabric of heavy-metal history. Generations of guitarists worldwide have studied their approaches (as well as the work of songwriter and bass maniac Steve Harris) and genres of heavy music have been born out of their melodic, aggressive, adventurous playing.

Considering the impact of these game changers, choosing the single greatest Iron Maiden song is no easy task. Some fans swear by the band’s early, rawer expressions with original singer Paul Di’Anno like Iron Maiden and Wrathchild. While others hail the operatic grandeur of long-running frontman Bruce Dickinson as heard on behemoths like The Number of the Beast and Hallowed Be Thy Name.

We asked you to vote on what you thought were the best songs from the band's expansive catalogue spanning over four decades. Here's your list of the 50 greatest Iron Maiden songs of all time!


1. The Number of the Beast

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

“Woe to you, oh earth and sea.”

To a true Iron Maiden fan, the very mention of those seven words elicits a tremendously visceral response within us. The biblical-sounding phrase takes us back to our teenage bedrooms, where we would spend hours surrounded by nightmare-inducing album covers, crumpled piles of denim and leather, sharp objects, stereo gear from Emerson, Sanyo and Technics and more than likely a faint haze of smoke. 

Those words continually transport us to the cavernous halls of Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Spectrum or the Hollywood Sportatorium, where we would thrust our collective fists toward the rafters as soon as "Woe” - uttered in that distinct baritone voice - came blaring over the P.A. 

Those seven words mean everything to us, because they not only signify that something spectacular is about to happen every time we hear them, but because we identify them as being synonymous with Iron Maiden. We identify them as being synonymous with metal.

Those seven words, and the rest of the spoken intro that follows - which is a combination of passages from Revelation 12:12 and Revelation 13:18 - were provided by British actor Barry Clayton (who died in 2011) after famous horror movie legend Vincent Price turned down the band’s offer to handle the speaking role. 

And while it’s undeniably one of the most powerful song intros in rock history, it’s the track itself that stands tall as the quintessential Iron Maiden song - the one that has every right to be deemed the best of the best; or, in this case, the best of the beast.

Written by bassist Steve Harris, The Number of the Beast is the title track from Iron Maiden’s third album and first with vocalist Bruce Dickinson, who replaced original singer Paul Di’Anno in 1981. Harris claims to have been inspired to write the lyrics after watching the movie Damien: Omen II, which is certainly believable when you consider the song’s dark imagery and the repeated proclamation in the chorus that three sixes in a row are the mark of the devil. “666” will forever be linked to heavy metal thanks, in large part, to this song.

The Number of the Beast, which opens side two and was the second single from the album after Run to the Hills, is barely five minutes in length, but it’s everything contained within those five minutes - including one of the all-time great blood-curdling screams and a blistering solo section in the middle featuring the massive talents of guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith - that make this song our top choice.

2. Hallowed Be Thy Name

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

While The Number of the Beast may have achieved greater notoriety thanks in part to its Satanic panic-baiting subject matter, Hallowed Be Thy Name, the fourth song on The Number of the Beast, is arguably the greatest summation of Iron Maiden’s mission statement.

Clocking in at seven-plus minutes, this behemoth is a master class in catchy NWOBHM riffs, ambitious song craft, compelling storytelling and iconic dual-guitar interplay.

Dickinson’s operatic vocals are the perfect instrument to give life to bassist/songwriter Steve Harris’ tale of a death-row prisoner reflecting on his life in the final hours. Fittingly, Hallowed Be Thy Name is ominous and vibey as hell from the jump: It begins with a foreboding tolling bell and a few clean guitar chord progressions, which erupt into a quintessential Iron Maiden gallop around the one-minute mark.

[from left] Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Steve Harris perform at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago September 30, 1983

[from left] Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Steve Harris perform at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago September 30, 1983 (Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Guitarists Adrian Smith and Dave Murray lay down one of their most memorable tandem riffs, as Harris and his Fender P-bass keep pushing the infectious groove forward.

Dickinson leads us along the character’s increasingly frantic existential crisis while the band continues to evolve and build on the song’s main themes until the track’s mid-point - when they shift gears and kick Hallowed into maximum overdrive. Murray and Smith trade off on a series of fleet-fingered solos, which eventually coalesce into a harmonized restatement of the original melody. 

There’s a reason why Hallowed Be Thy Name has appeared in nearly every live show that Maiden have played since 1982. It’s not only a perennial favorite - it’s a bona fide epic that simultaneously epitomized Maiden’s evolution at the time while setting the stage for the ambitious, progressive heights they would reach in the albums to follow.

3. The Trooper

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

The Trooper is an absolutely ripping call-to-arms - and another pitch-perfect example of Iron Maiden’s ability to brilliantly marry historical subject material and captivating musical expression.

Inspired by the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War of 1854 (during which the British cavalry boldly squared off against overwhelming Russian artillery), the second single from their 1983 album Piece of Mind starts like a gun-shot with what might be Smith and Murray’s most recognizable harmonized guitar riff. 

Songwriter Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain lock in with a vigorous galloping rhythm that keeps this whirlwind rushing forward. The band pauses only briefly for Dickinson to belt out the opening lyrics - “You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too/You’ll fire a musket but I’ll run you through” - which set the tone for the rampaging battle to follow. 

Murray and Smith deliver a blistering performance, which includes a devastating explosive mid-song solo break. Throughout the carnage the return to the main harmonized riff acts as a beacon - centering the song and focusing the troops. The Trooper’s official video gives literal form to the subject matter by including footage from the 1936 film The Charge of the Light Brigade featuring soldiers on horseback heroically charging into battle. 

Even today, more than 35 years later, Iron Maiden’s live performances of The Trooper are a total spectacle. Dickinson dons a British military uniform and passionately waves the Union Jack flag between verses as Smith, Murray and Janick Gers melt faces and Harris deploys his rapid-fire bass attack. The Trooper will never not get a rise from the crowd - in fact the song is so iconic and celebrated that Maiden even released a signature beer bearing its name. Up the Irons…and bottoms up!

4. Wrathchild

Album: Killers (1981)

Iron Maiden’s second album, Killers, was released a mere 10 months after their debut, but in terms of sonics and sheer performance power it was light years ahead of that self-titled effort. And it’s evident from the get-go. 

After a short instrumental, The Ides of March, the album goes straight for the throat with Wrathchild, a song that dates back to 1979 but here takes the blueprint laid out on Iron Maiden and crystalizes it into a leaner, fiercer and overall more potent concoction. 

Steve Harris’ throttling, propulsive bass, Paul Di’Anno’s tough-as-nails street-rasp (My mother was a queen, my dad I’ve never seen, I was never meant to be) a scrambling, instantly catchy riff, alternately howling and moaning lead guitars and a quasi-proggy instrumental interlude are all jammed into a tight, sub-three-minute arrangement.

Dave Murray performs at London’s O2 Arena August 3, 2013

Dave Murray performs at London’s O2 Arena August 3, 2013 (Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock Magazine)

And it’s presented with a heretofore unachieved sonic clarity, courtesy of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath producer Martin Birch, who would go on to helm Maiden’s next seven studio albums.

Birch, of course, wasn’t the only new addition to the Maiden team to make a big impact on Killers. The album also saw the debut of guitarist Adrian Smith, who remains an indelible part of the Maiden sound to this day. As does Wrathchild, which, 38 years after its release, is still an almost-constant, and very welcome, presence in Maiden’s live sets, including on the world tour for their most recent studio album, 2015’s The Book of Souls.

5. 2 Minutes to Midnight

Album: Powerslave (1984)

In looking at the top 10 songs in our Iron Maiden best-of list, there isn’t much in the way of clean, chorus-driven, radio-friendly anthems - which is exactly what makes 2 Minutes to Midnight so special and so deserving of a top-10 spot: because it is all of those things and still among the band’s most classic and essential tracks.

Written by Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith, 2 Minutes to Midnight is a six-minute nod to the ever-present threat of nuclear war. The title is a specific reference to the Doomsday Clock, which has been maintained by the members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists since 1947 and represents how close we are to global catastrophe via either war or climate change, with midnight being Doomsday. 

Two minutes to midnight, in this context, means we are close, but not quite there yet. Lyrically, the song is chockful of colorful, violent imagery and contains more than a few legendary lines, chief among them: “As the reasons for the carnage cut their meat and lick the gravy/We oil the jaws of the war machine and feed it with our babies.”

Released as a Powerslave single in the summer of 1984, 2 Minutes to Midnight qualifies as a bona fide anthem thanks primarily to its fist-pumping chorus. Who among us doesn’t want to punch the clouds every time we hear, “Two! Minutes! To Miiiidniiiiiight!!”? 

In addition to that legendary hook, the song is fueled by an uplifting, some might even say happy, main riff and Dickinson alternating in his vocals between a high register and a more guttural snarl. 

The trade-off solos that enter at around the 2:45 mark each have their own distinct flavor, with Murray coming out of the gate blazing and Smith taking a more deliberate, melodic approach in the second passage. 

With so many unique and identifiable attributes, 2 Minutes to Midnight is a staple of the band’s live shows and absolutely belongs near the top of any Maiden mix tape (yes, we said mix tape: we’re talking classic Maiden here, so we’re kicking it old-school). Oh, and according to the 2019 Doomsday Clock, it is once again two minutes to midnight. “The hands that threaten doom…”

6. Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Album: Powerslave (1984)

Iron Maiden’s epic 13-plus minute Rime of the Ancient Mariner was inspired by an 18th-century poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that tells the fantastic tale of a mariner’s long sea voyage that goes terribly wrong after he shoots an albatross. (Or, as Dickinson proclaimed during the song’s intro on Maiden’s 1985 Live After Death album: “This is what not to do when a bird shits on you.”) 

To support the lofty lyrical aspirations, Maiden construct a truly adventurous song - full of boisterous rhythms, headbanging riffs, theatrical interludes and stunning melodic lead work - that mirrors the swashbuckling subject matter. “That’s one to really sink your teeth into,” Murray told Guitar World in 2008. 

“For me, it kind of sums up what Maiden is all about. It’s a real heavy track, but there are a lot of tempo changes, and also a quiet moody part in the middle. It’s got a bit of everything - as it should, seeing as it clocks in at about 15 minutes! And as a guitarist it really keeps me on my toes, because there’s a lot of technical stuff going on. So it’s a real rewarding one to play.”

7. Murders in the Rue Morgue

Album: Killers (1981)

One of two songs composed by Harris specifically for the Killers album (the other being Prodigal Son), Murders in the Rue Morgue comes on with grand intentions - a title and theme lifted from the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name, a gentle intro replete with melodic bass and ringing, clean-toned guitars that builds to a pomp crescendo and some soaring, twin-guitar instrumental passages. 

But what truly makes the song great is none of these things - rather, it’s the breakneck pace of the verses, which race with a breathlessness and majesty that lives somewhere between melodic arena rock, frenzied boogie metal and street-urchin British punk. Songs about double murder should never be this fun. Someone call the Gendarmes.

8. Flight of Icarus

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

It’s no secret that Bruce Dickinson loves to fly. He’s a licensed commercial pilot who’s logged hundreds of hours in the cockpit (including famously pulling double-duty singing onstage and piloting the band’s Ed Force One 757 airliner during Iron Maiden’s 2006 Somewhere Back in Time World Tour). 

References to aviation appear all throughout Maiden’s catalog, including the allegorical Flight of Icarus, from 1983’s Piece of Mind. Exemplifying Maiden’s singular ability to mix literature and transcendent metal, the song is an interpretation of the Greek myth of Icarus - the boy who disobeyed his father, Daedalus, during their attempted airborne escape from island captivity via wings made out of feathers and wax. 

Warned against flying too close to the sun, the boy’s hubris got the best of him and as he ascended his wax wings melted and he plunged to his death. But, unlike Icarus, Iron Maiden never flame out during this soaring number: The band keeps a measured pace throughout the mid-tempo heavy hitter, steadily gaining altitude through its massive chorus until Murray and Smith’s sky-high leads send the song flying into the horizon. 

While Piece of Mind cuts like The Trooper might be more high-impact, Flight of Icarus was ultimately selected as the album’s first U.S. single. It spent 12 weeks on the Billboard charts, peaking at Number 8, and became an undying fan-favorite among a generation of American heshers in the process.

9. Iron Maiden

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

Even as a young metal band, Iron Maiden understood the importance of beginning and ending each side of an album with the strongest song possible - and that is certainly true of Iron Maiden, the number that closes out side two of their 1980 debut album. 

The song actually made its first appearance - in a slightly slower, more restrained version than what’s heard on the album - alongside Prowler and Invasion on the group’s 1979 limited-run Soundhouse Tapes EP, which featured the three demo recordings and gained notoriety in England when a DJ began playing it regularly at a heavy metal club in North West London.

Dave Murray [left] and Adrian Smith perform in Chicago June 16, 1985

Dave Murray [left] and Adrian Smith perform in Chicago June 16, 1985 (Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Iron Maiden is Iron Maiden at their punk-rock finest. It’s not a particularly sophisticated or complex song, but there’s firepower in its simplicity. The lyrics - which really only comprise one verse and a chorus, each repeated three times - are especially violent and stand right in line with other early Maiden songs in which predatory, murderous behavior is the norm (although in this case, the protagonist may very well be a woman seductively luring men into her lair to kill them). 

The harmony licks between Dave Murray and guitarist Dennis Stratton are raw and abrasive, and there’s nary a noteworthy guitar solo (save for maybe the outro histrionics) across the song’s three and a half minutes. It’s as simple as it gets and as rousing and effective an album-closer as all get-out. No wonder it’s the song the band has played live more than any other.

10. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

By the time 1988 came around, many longtime, hardcore Maiden fans were beginning to discover the harder music of the day: Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, to name just a few, and their enthusiasm for the British rockers was waning. 

Making matters worse was the fact that Iron Maiden had veered off into a more prog-rock direction with 1986’s Somewhere in Time and even introduced guitar synthesizers on that album and keyboard synths - sacrilege! - on its successor, 1988’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. 

But despite the band’s shift into more progressive territory during this period, they were still able to occasionally recapture the glorious metallic mayhem of their earlier days - and one instance is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

A behemoth just shy of 10 minutes long, Seventh Son stands in good company with such other Maiden epics as Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Empire of the Clouds and Alexander the Great, and is also one of the last great moments to feature guitarist Adrian Smith prior to his departure in 1990. 

The song starts out innocently enough, chugging along at an unhurried pace for about the first four minutes… and then things begin to change. A few minutes of hollow bass rumblings, some spoken word, some speedy hi-hat, some guitar scrapes - all setting up the listener for the devastation that begins at 6:52. 

From there until the end of the song nearly three minutes later, Seventh Son explodes in a relentless cacophony of hostile solos, harmony leads and driving bass and drums, and is quite possibly the three finest Iron Maiden minutes during the second half of the Eighties.


11. Children of the Damned

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

The second song from The Number of the Beast starts off like a ballad and transforms into a total face-melter. Murray and Smith lure in the listener with clean-picked lines before ratcheting up the intensity with groove-heavy Sabbath-esque riffs. 

Dickinson soon gets whipped into a frenzy and the guitarists pull out the stops at the three-minute mark for a wild shred session full of classic harmonized action and Adrian Smith’s top-notch tapping solo.

12. Run to the Hills

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

One of Iron Maiden’s most beloved songs, 1983’s Run to the Hills explores the violence that surrounded the European settling of North America, from both the perspectives of the settlers and the Native Americans.

After laying the groundwork with a beginning upper-register bending lick and Thin Lizzy–style harmonies the guys transition into the song’s signature galloping rhythms, tireless bass lines, an exquisite operatic chorus and one whopper of a Dave Murray solo (with some choice whammy-bar action at the end).

13. Killers

Album: Killers (1981)

The title track to Maiden’s sophomore effort is the only song on the record to boast a co-writer alongside Steve Harris - specifically, Paul Di’Anno. The words, as the singer explained, are pretty dark - “It was about a psychotic killer, what he’s thinking about while he’s doing it,” he told the website Song Facts. 

The music, however, is multifaceted and gloriously all over the place - prowling bass lines, start-stop galloping rhythms, cascading harmonics and dual-guitar harmonies in the verses, and plenty of six-string trade-offs in the solo section. And then there’s Di’Anno’s positively Dickinson-esque yelps in the intro and outro, which, however coincidental, foreshadow the changing of the vocal guard that was soon to come.

14. Powerslave

Album: Powerslave (1984)

“Over-the-top, dramatic, bombastic,” is how Adrian Smith described the title track to Maiden’s 1984 album to Guitar World in 2008. And who are we to disagree?! Powerslave begins with a horror-movie-worthy groaning laugh and Dickinson continues the sinister vibes with his performance: snarling through the verses as the band lays down the main chugging riff. 

At seven minutes, it’s the album’s second-longest track, and the boys make good use of the running time: establishing the pace with a measured, galloping cadence before introducing the lyrical middle section out of which they solo like mad before bringing it all back home with the original rhythm line and refrain: “Slave to the power of death!”

15. Aces High

Album: Powerslave (1984)

Aces High is Maiden at their fastest and most ferocious. Guitars dart and scramble, the rhythm is set at a jet-like tempo and the arrangement continually twists and turns before soaring straight into the stratosphere with the title refrain. 

It is a song about military warfare aircraft racing through the sky, and literally sounds like it. Perhaps most impressively, Aces High manages to be at once nimble and impossibly heavy. 

It remains one of the band’s most beloved compositions and also, not surprisingly, a live favorite, where it’s often employed as the show opener (as on the 2019 Legacy of the Beast run), and preceded by Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech.

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon/Classic Rock Magazine)

16. The Wicker Man

Album: Brave New World (2000)

In 1999, Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson both returned to Iron Maiden after years away - the guitarist had left in 1990 and the singer in ’93. Expectations were high for the reunited band, and the first music that fans heard - The Wicker Man, which preceded the release of 2000’s Brave New World by several weeks - did not disappoint. 

Heralded by one of Maiden’s most straightforward, hard-rocking riffs and bolstered by a stadium-sized chorus, the song seemed tailor-made for riling up arenas full of fans. Which, in fact, it did, serving as the go-to opener on each night of the band’s massive Brave New World tour.

17. The Prisoner

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

Adrian Smith doesn’t have a lot of songwriting credits to his name, but the ones he does have are among Iron Maiden’s elite works, including 2 Minutes to Midnight, Flight of Icarus, and this masterful slab of headbangery, The Prisoner. 

There isn’t a rivethead alive today who doesn’t get chills just thinking about being a teenager in the mid Eighties, dropping the needle onto track three and hearing the song’s eerie spoken-word intro - taken from the British sci-fi show of the same name - and then, following the infamous line, "I am not a number, I am a free man!” and subsequent maniacal laugh, listening as Clive Burr’s powerhouse drums come thundering in. 

And while The Prisoner has absolute depth as a Maiden tune with all the key elements in place - deadly riffing, nasty vocals, battling guitar solos - the song belongs to Burr, as it’s a shining example of his genius, his creativity and his often-overlooked uniqueness behind the kit.

18. Remember Tomorrow

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

As the second song on their debut album, Remember Tomorrow gave early warning that Iron Maiden were about more than just galloping rhythms and twin-guitar harmonies. With its watery guitars, dark atmosphere, recurring instrumental themes and surprisingly smooth vocals, the song comes off as something like Black Sabbath in their lighter moments, but filtered through a distinctly Seventies prog-rock lens.

It’s a largely overlooked classic that is nonetheless heralded by hardcore fans - among them Metallica, who once called Remember Tomorrow the blueprint for tracks like Welcome Home (Sanitarium) and Fade to Black, and covered the song for 2008’s Maiden Heaven tribute CD.

19. Where Eagles Dare

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

If you’re going to introduce fans to a new drummer after three spectacular albums, this is the way to do it. With Where Eagles Dare, the opening track on the group’s fourth album, 1983’s Piece of Mind, Iron Maiden put new drummer Nicko McBrain front and center, letting him lead the charge via the song’s pummeling drum-only intro and thunderous skin-pounding across all six-plus minutes. 

Aside from being a McBrain showpiece, Where Eagles Dare is quintessential Maiden and a headbanger’s dream as it boasts a driving, militaristic vibe - complete with machine-gun-sounds tucked underneath multiple guitar solos - lots of repetitive riffing and Dickinson’s ear-piercing wail. 

If anyone back then was questioning whether Iron Maiden could keep the momentum going after The Number of the Beast and following the departure of drummer Clive Burr, Where Eagles Dare shut them down hard and fast.

20. Running Free

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

The lead single from their 1980 self-titled debut introduced the world to the power of Iron Maiden. Penned by then-singer Paul Di’Anno and bassist Steve Harris, from the moment the opening drum beat and bass line kick in, the band’s strutting, youthful energy is undeniable. 

Di’Anno’s raw, punk-influenced delivery of the street-tough lyrics are perfectly matched with Murray and then-guitarist Dennis Stratton’s dirty riffs and stabbing harmonized solo lines.


21. Fear of the Dark

Album: Fear of the Dark (1992)

Fear of the Dark was Maiden’s last hurrah before Bruce Dickinson’s extended leave of absence from the band, and by any account it’s not their finest work, save for, that is, the closing title track, which has since become a bona fide classic and fan favorite, as welcomed during a set list as any of their Eighties fare. 

And how could it not be? You could call the whoaohh section an example of audience participation, except for the fact that the Maiden faithful routinely sing so overwhelmingly loud, it’s as if they’ve replaced the band themselves. A truly special Maiden moment.

22. Invaders

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

In the hands of a lesser band, a tale of invading Norsemen could sound contrived and stale. But with Maiden, you can practically see the Viking hordes smashing Saxon skulls. 

Harris’ active bass lines are bouncing all over the place before joining Smith and Harris for the brilliant ascending and descending runs around Dickinson’s choruses: “Invaders… Fighting!” The track is an evocative burner - with aptly fiery solos - and a perfect kickoff to The Number of the Beast.

23. Stranger in a Strange Land

Album: Somewhere in Time (1986)

Maiden tried something different on this Adrian Smith–penned tune (as did Eddie, who appeared as a Clint Eastwood–type character on the cover art for the single), with the mid-tempo gait, guitar synths and washy chords combining for an unusually moody atmosphere. 

Of course, this being Maiden, it’s all also somehow fist-pumping-ly anthemic as well. While it was a fairly popular tune at the time, Stranger has sadly been absent from setlists for a good two decades now, making it something of a lost classic.

24. Revelations

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

After the onslaught of Piece of Mind’s pummeling opening track Where Eagles Dare, Maiden play with open space and dynamics in Revelations. 

They leave room for the instruments to breathe in the opening verse before moving through legitimately touching melodic acoustic sections (with Dickinson’s heartfelt lines: “Just a babe in the black abyss/No reason for a place like this/The walls are cold and souls cry out in pain”), signature harmonized guitar work and resplendent Murray/Smith solo excursions.

25. To Tame a Land

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

Songwriter Steve Harris draws from Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi masterpiece Dune for this stunner, which tells the story of the Kwisatz Haderach who rules the “sandworms and the Fremen” on the desert planet Arrakis.

Appropriately, this dramatic song begins with an evocative, exotic guitar line and cymbal swells upon which Maiden build an extravagant number - full of staccato riffs, stirring interludes, guitar-bass riff-offs and extended dual-guitar harmonies - that concludes stunningly where it began with a restatement of the original, cinematic riff.

26. Can I Play With Madness

Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

This bright, bouncy pop-rocker (check those opening vocal harmonies and the jaunty, D-string pedal tone rhythm, juxtaposed by big open chord shapes, in the verses) exploded out of the gate as the first single on the otherwise proggy Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. 

On its surface it’s a straightforward singalong anthem, but there’s plenty of prog hidden within its deceptively simple framework, including the slight shift in tempo as the song heads into the chorus and a plunge into darker territory in the instrumental middle section.

27. Sanctuary

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

Yet another legendary Iron Maiden song about running from the law (a common theme on the first two albums). Sanctuary made its first appearance (in a cleaner, less gritty version) on a 1979 compilation album called Metal for Muthas, and later became the second single used to promote the band’s debut album. 

But in typical Maiden fashion, the song was left off the U.K. version of the album and later added to the U.S. release. Not all reissues of the debut album over the years have included Sanctuary, which is a shame seeing as it’s such an explosive track with a high-energy punk rock feel, and a staple of the band’s live show.

28. Caught Somewhere in Time

Album: Somewhere in time (1986)

If the future-shock cover art of Somewhere in Time wasn’t unusual enough, Caught Somewhere in Time kicks off the album with something that was wholly new in the world of Iron Maiden in 1986 - the sound of (gasp!) guitar synthesizers. 

But traditionalist fans needn’t have worried. The song itself is as classic Maiden as they come, replete with a harmonized guitar intro, a go-for-the-throat galloping rhythm that seems to pick up speed as the song progresses, a singer in full air-raid siren mode in the chorus and plenty of instrumental acrobatics in the middle section. And in retrospect, even those synths - forceful, ominous and heartily distorted - are pretty cool, too.

29. Wasted Years

Album: Somewhere in Time (1986)

The opening lick to Wasted Years, featuring Adrian Smith (also the song’s sole writer) performing a single-note pull-off pattern against a high E-string pedal tone, is among the most well-known guitar parts in any Iron Maiden song - if not heavy metal itself. 

On its own it would be enough to earn the track a high ranking on this or any Iron Maiden best of list. Add in the fact that it’s attached to one of the band’s most melodic and, yes, sentimental tunes, and you have a standout cut from Maiden’s golden years.

30. Be Quick or Be Dead

Album: Fear of the Dark (1992)

It’s safe to say that things went downhill quickly for Iron Maiden after 1992’s Fear of the Dark album and the departure of Bruce Dickinson the following year - so let’s acknowledge Be Quick or Be Dead and the album’s title track as the last of the great moments from the original Dickinson era. 

Be Quick or Be Dead, written by Dickinson and guitarist Janick Gers, opens the album in ferocious, snarling fashion, chugging along at a furious pace for all of its three minutes and 21 seconds, and reaching magnificent headbanging heights as Murray and Gers trade blazing solos at 2:29.


31. Charlotte the Harlot

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

1980’s Charlotte the Harlot marks the first appearance of fabled sex worker Charlotte (a character the band would revisit on 22 Acacia Avenue from The Number of the Beast). 

Murray and then-guitarist Dennis Stratton’s biting guitar lines pair perfectly with Di’Anno’s gravelly verses. The crew then takes a mid-song detour into hoist-your-lighter-into-the-sky ballad territory, but before things get too sentimental the band returns heavier than ever to bash you over the head with thrashing rhythms and white-lightning soloing.

32. 22 Acacia Avenue

Album: The Number of the Beast (1982)

A somewhat schizophrenic tale, 22 Acacia Avenue both extols, exploits and attempts to reform the sex worker Charlotte (who fans were first introduced to on Charlotte the Harlot from 1980’s Iron Maiden). 

Dickinson’s vivid descriptions of the red light district in London’s East End are delivered in earnest as the band deploys the driving tandem guitar riffs and emotive melodic solos that elevate this stirring down-and-dirty song.

33. Innocent Exile

Album: Killers (1981)

Let’s face it, no one walks around singing Innocent Exile, the band never plays it live and it rarely gets mentioned when discussing the cream of the Maiden crop - but this often-overlooked gem that closes out side A of Killers is an absolute monster and deserves to be hailed among the great moments in the band’s deep catalog. 

In less than four minutes, Innocent Exile captures Iron Maiden at its most confident - this song struts, it’s sexy as hell and the dueling Murray/Smith solos that begin at 2:25 are positively gargantuan.

34. Phantom of the Opera

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

By the time you get through these seven glorious minutes that close out side one of the first Iron Maiden album, you’ll feel as though you’ve just listened to seven different songs. 

Consider Phantom of the Opera a precursor to such Maiden epics as Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son; it’s chockful of riffs, time changes, mood shifts and majestic “guitarmonies”, and often teeters on the brink of being out of control without ever losing focus.

35. Die with Your Boots On

Album: Piece of Mind (1983)

On the surface the Dickinson-Harris-Smith cut from Piece of Mind may seem like another entry in their battle-themed oeuvre (along with that album’s The Trooper and Where Eagles Dare). But it might as well be a metaphor for the crew’s tireless work ethic, which is on full display here. 

From the opening fluid dual-guitar riff and the call-and-response pre-chorus to Dickinson’s increasingly impassioned refrain, “If you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die!”, this fist-pumper is ready-made to psyche you up for whatever obstacle lays in your path: be it a military invasion or a shitty work shift.

36. Prowler

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

Unless you lived in England and were privy to the slower and more primitive demo version of this track that appeared on the Soundhouse Tapes EP in 1979, this version of Prowler which opened the group’s self-titled debut album in 1980 was your introduction to Iron Maiden - and more than likely, after these four minutes were up and you donned your denim jacket and studded wristband, your life was never the same. 

With its scraping guitar intro, secondary wah-wah lick that practically talks to you, Di’Anno’s gruff vocal delivery, predatory lyrics and barn-burning middle section featuring some soaring twin-guitar hysteria from Dave Murray and Dennis Stratton, Prowler will forever be known as one of the all-time great album kickoffs.

37. Tailgunner

Album: No Prayer for the Dying (1990)

The early nineties weren’t a particularly happy time for Iron Maiden. Kids who grew up listening to the band were now moving on to new forms of music - alt and grunge, in particular - and the group itself was having to contend with changes all around, including a shifting musical climate that frequently proclaimed heavy metal as “dead” and the departure of longtime guitarist Adrian Smith. 

But despite it being a tumultuous time for the band, you have to give them credit for entering 1990 with pure firepower thanks to Tailgunner, the first track from No Prayer for the Dying. The perfect sequel to Aces High, Tailgunner has everything you could want in a classic Maiden tune: a sense of thrash-metal mean-spiritedness, stripped-down production, militaristic lyrics and raspy Dickinson vocals reminiscent of his predecessor, Paul Di’Anno.

38. Flash of the Blade

Album: Powerslave (1984)

Smith and Murray take center stage on Dickinson’s rousing ode to swordplay (the singer is also an avid fencer), and from the moment you hear the pull-offs of the inciting opening riff you know you’re in for a treat. 

After Dickinson sets up the narrative, (“You die as you lived in the flash of the blade!”) around the two-minute mark, the guitarists start dueling and ignite some of their most exciting harmonized guitar solos - a truly impressive display of fretboard fireworks.

39. Twilight Zone

Album: Killers (1981)

Something of a bastard child in the Iron Maiden catalog, Twilight Zone was first issued as a single (on the same disc as Wrathchild) in early 1981, even though it was not included on the U.K. version of Killers. 

It was, however, featured on the U.S. version of the album, released in June of that year - and yet so many of the subsequent reissues of Killers throughout the years have not included the song. It might not be among Killers’ essential tracks, but its happy little riff, galloping rhythm and Di’Anno’s somewhat unintelligible punk-rock vocals make it feel right at home on the album in our estimation.

40. The Evil That Men Do

Album: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

Though Seventh Son of a Seventh Son was an overly proggy album, it still left room for a few short, snappy rockers - see Number 26 on this list for one example. The Evil That Men Do can be filed neatly into this category as well. 

With its breakneck pace, galloping rhythm, history-laced lyrics, wailing vocals and, most importantly, top-notch riffs and lead guitar work, it’s more than just a killer track - it’s about as Maiden-y as Maiden gets.


41. The Ides of March

Album: Killers (1981)

The Ides of March is Maiden’s shortest song, features no vocals and was only played onstage by the band once, in 1979. But with its opening chord crashes, militaristic drum salvo and moaning harmony guitars, it’s also a truly majestic composition, not to mention a, um, killer way to open Killers. 

The tune actually dates to the early Maiden days, and also resembles the song Thunderburst from fellow NWOBHM act Samson - whose drummer, Thunderstick, was a member of Maiden for a brief period in 1977, when Ides was written. Not long after Ides was released, another Samson member, singer Bruce Bruce, aka Bruce Dickinson, would join up with Maiden for a considerably longer tenure.

42. Heaven Can Wait

Album: Somewhere in Time (1986)

The synths come out in full force on this one, swirling around and through the chorus like some sort of bizarro-world Eighties new wave track. Not very Maiden-like, admittedly, but undeniably infectious. 

And then there’s the awesome mid-section gang-chant whoa-oh-oh’s, a crowd participation highlight that, intentionally or not, has been borrowed and used to equally great live effect by Coheed and Cambria in their own In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.

It’s a moment that undoubtedly is the reason why, next to Wasted Years, Heaven Can Wait remains the most performed track off of Somewhere in Time.

43. Strange World

Album: Iron Maiden (1980)

The softer side of Iron Maiden - and it makes you wish they had dabbled more in this arena, as Strange World is about as good as it gets on the first Maiden album despite its lack of fury. 

At nearly six minutes long and awash in gorgeous, echoey guitar work, Strange World showcases Di’Anno’s versatility as not just a master screamer but a soulful singer, and Harris’ deliberate and restrained bass lines are a marvel. Everyone in the band does his job beautifully on this serene masterpiece.

44. Drifter

Album: Killers (1981)

Drifter is somewhat all over the place - punky one minute, Wishbone Ash-y in another - but it’s also tons of fun. The lyrics are some of the most earthy, feel-good and, um, goofy (“I’m gonna cuddle up with you tonight”) in all of Maiden’s catalog, and there’s a rare major-key wah solo to boot. 

Throw in a truly bonkers middle section and Di’Anno’s requests at the end to have the listener sing it along, and you’ve got a rare gem indeed.

45. Back in the Village

Album: Powerslave (1984)

Consider this one a bookend to the superior Number of the Beast track The Prisoner - given its multiple references to the weirdo Sixties British television programme of the same name - and even though at times it borders on filler, it’s still five minutes of furious fun with a frantic pace, a wickedly nimble main riff, some legendary Harris bass work and Dickinson’s hysterical vocal delivery. 

Not among the more important Powerslave tracks, but still explosive enough to warrant repeat listenings.

46. If Eternity Should Fail

Album: The Book of Souls (2015)

The opener from The Book of Souls is one of two tracks on the album written solely by Dickinson. And like the other one, the 18-minute closer Empire of the Clouds, it’s an intensely dramatic and epic cut - so much so that Dickinson, who originally planned to use a version of the song as the title track to an eventual solo album, has said that he still might do just that one day. For added cool factor, Eternity is also the first instance of Maiden playing a song in drop D tuning.

47. The Duellists

Album: Powerslave (1984)

The Crown Jewel of this six-minute-plus track is the massive mid-song guitar battle led by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. Press play, sit back and take note on how to construct a dynamic, lyrical, tandem-guitar extravaganza.

48. Another Life

Album: Killers (1981)

Sure, the verse sounds perhaps a bit too much like Iron Maiden, but that song rocks, so who can blame ’em? What’s more, an argument can be made that the leads and harmony parts are sharper this time around, and the middle section is a total thrasher to boot. 

Unlike Iron Maiden, Another Life was more or less retired from live-action post- 1982, though it did reappear for a bit on 2005’s Eddie Rips Up the World tour. Here’s hoping Maiden resurrect it for, um, another life, again in the future.

49. Ghost of the Navigator

Album: Brave New World (2000)

The second song on 2000’s Brave New World, which saw the return of Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith after their near-decade hiatuses, is a prime example of the group’s staying power. 

Dickinson’s voice sounds better than ever as he spins a tale of a traveler sailing west for his final journey. The dynamic number updates the classic Eighties Maiden lineup for the new millennium with the added heft of third guitarist Janick Gers (who replaced Smith in 1990), and the Murray/Smith/Gers six-string triumvirate lead the clearly reinvigorated band through this progressive towering workout.

50. Invasion

Album: The Soundhouse Tapes (1978)

Invasion was part of the first batch of songs ever written and recorded by Iron Maiden, and ultimately released on the three-song Soundhouse Tapes EP in November 1979. 

The track, which was also the B-side of the Women in Uniform single in October 1980, has that quick-paced, short-blast, punk-rock feel that permeates much of Maiden’s debut album, and features an abundance of searing lead work by Dave Murray and an uncredited/unconfirmed/mythical guitar ace named Paul Cairns, who by all reports was out of the band before the EP was issued.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.