Bonjour, and welcome to the first of (hopefully) many editions of Ryan Ranks. Spool yourself up a chair (though I do imagine you’re already sitting down when reading this unless you couldn’t get a seat on the bus) and enjoy your stay.
For these columns, I’ll be taking albums and ranking the tracks from worst to best. I’ll start with all the Iron Maiden albums, because, well, Iron Maiden, and we’ll figure out who and what I’ll do next afterward.
Now we come to the part everyone loves about hard rock and heavy metal: the rules. I’ll only be doing studio albums, so live albums or Greatest Hits-style compilations need not apply. I’m also going to do the more “standard” releases of each album, so I won’t be doing any of those super-deluxe editions that come with a bunch of bonus live tracks, demos, or B-sides.
Alright, enough of this housekeeping crap. Let’s get to the very first Iron Maiden album, creatively titled Iron Maiden, and…good lord, I gave myself one hell of a tough assignment right out of the gate. There’s nothing here that I’d consider to be remotely a bad track, so assigning the tops and bottoms was no small feat. It’s a quintessential album, solid front-to-back with a lot of classic songs. The placements may ruffle some heavy-metal feathers, but that’s fine. Not everyone’s list of favorite tracks from a lot of these albums is going to look the same.
Well, here we go!
Ah, classic Eddie. Definitely presenting more of a punk front, mostly because of the hair. He looks the way I do when I try to grow my hair out for more than about a week and a half.
Oh, here’s the 1998 remastered version:
This had to be one of the least necessary things in history. Remaster the album? Sure, but digitally recreate the classic artwork and make Eddie look like Iggy Pop with a bad hair day? Hell no!
9. “Strange World”
As I said earlier, there’s no such thing as a bad song on this album, but I can’t do a 9-way tie for first place. Something’s gotta occupy the basement, and it just so happens to be “Strange World”. This is probably the song that I tend to remember the least from this album over the years. I can’t be the only one that feels this way as I don’t believe we ever got any kind of live version or re-recording with Bruce Dickinson. Even with the placement of this track, I’ve come to appreciate it a bit more after giving it an extra listen or two when writing this review. The song is a bit slower and softer than the rest of the tracks here, but it feels appropriately ethereal given the song’s dream-like lyrics.
8. “Charlotte the Harlot”
The first in a trio of songs about fictional, but likely based on a real, sex worker Charlotte (well, quartet if you count 1990’s “Hooks in You” as part of the Charlotte canon), “Charlotte the Harlot” is…perfectly fine, but it just never fully connected with me for some reason. The chorus is catchy and I enjoy the vocals, and the instrumentation is decent, but it’s easily surpassed by nearly everything else on offer here.
The first, and far and away the best, instrumental Maiden has done. “Transylvania” has a terrific rhythm, addictive hooks, and excellent musicianship, particularly from Clive Burr on the kit. The song cuts a quick pace, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is always a worthwhile listen. But, really, it’s a Maiden instrumental, so it’s going to be ranked so high.
The opening track of the very first Iron Maiden album, this little ditty about a flasher assaults the listener with the kind of raw power and punk-like snarl that seemed to define a lot of early Maiden’s output. Steve Harris may stop kicking his soccer ball around to yell obscenities at me as he’s not a big fan of the punk comparisons, but you can’t deny the influence on the early Maiden sound and the genesis of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in general. This lets you know what you’re in for, and you’re in for one hell of a listen.
At spot #5 is another concert favorite, and one that was not on the original UK release. It was on the US release, though! We lucky North Americans got to experience a super-catchy tune, the riffs of which stay with the listener long after the track is done. Is it a bit simple? Sure, but not everything needs to be a sprawling epic. It’s punchy and filled with great guitar work, and sometimes that’s all you need for a good time.
The 7” single inspired some controversy due to the depiction of Eddie crouching over the corpse of a freshly-stabbed then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
4. “Iron Maiden”
Honestly, I had this pre-encore concert staple a few spots lower on the list when I first outlined this article. I was initially oblivious to its charms, but upon further reflection and listening, I just had to bump it up. It gets the head banging, the opening guitars absolutely rip, the drumming is on point, and it’s again catchy as hell. It’s a live setlist fixture for a reason. I also love that it’s the song “Iron Maiden” by the band Iron Maiden, from the album Iron Maiden. I’m a sucker for self-titled songs from eponymous albums, like Motorhead, Black Sabbath, and the hardest of hard rockers, Living in a Box.
3. “Remember Tomorrow”
“Remember Tomorrow” is one that I’ve come to greatly enjoy over the last few years. The soft, melodic guitar is one of those things that gives me what is referred to scientifically as “the brain tinglies”. It’s a fairly relaxing, atmospheric listen until those guitar riffs really kick in. The solo goes hard and fast and creates an amazing juxtaposition with the softer parts. Drawing inspiration from his grandfather, it’s one of Paul Di’Anno’s finest contributions, not only from a vocal standpoint but from the lyrical content.
2. “Running Free”
Coming in hot at number two is another live staple and a personal favorite of mine. Some may dispute this placement as it is definitely a simpler song than most of the Maiden catalog, but that works in the song’s favor. It’s highly infectious with a great bass and drum opening, sweet riffs, and Paul Di’Anno snarling his way through lyrics inspired by his youth.
Interesting to note that the single cover art features the first official appearance of Eddie.
Of course, his face is obscured as they wanted to reveal that lovely visage on the actual album release, but still, history!
1. “Phantom of the Opera”
And now we come to the best track on an incredibly strong debut album (in my humble, probably-soon-to-be-disputed opinion), and my pick for the best song from the Paul Di’Anno years. The longest song on the album, this is one that took me a hell of a long time to really get into. The more I listened to this one over the years, though, the more it captured my imagination, much like Erik captured Christine (yeah, book reference!). I’m able to appreciate its complexity, the various moods struck, and masterful instrumentation. “Phantom” is the first real ‘epic’ Maiden song and feels a bit more ‘prog rock’ than anything else, a direction Iron Maiden would lean into more in the future. I’d say it’s the most forward-looking track in terms of what one could expect from Maiden’s con.
Fun aside: Ghost recently covered this song, and it’s actually pretty good! The only thing missing is the “you torture me back at your lair” stinger that the original catches you off-guard with at the end.
More of Ryan Ranks coming soon to CGCM Rock Radio/Website: Ryan Ranks