Ranked – Iron Maiden Classic B-Sides

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Like many bands, Iron Maiden have often used the B-sides of their singles to play around a bit. Experiment. Try out songs that they wouldn’t normally consider as ‘Maiden Tracks’, or put on an album. It means the fans get to hear a different side of the band and get a better idea of their wider musical tastes. Their influences. What makes them tick outside of what we normally hear from them.

But which of Maiden’s B-sides are the best? The Hawk has put together his own ranking for this blog post.

Before we get into it, here are the rules The Hawk has set for himself to rank those Iron Maiden B-sides:

  • The Hawk is only considering songs that didn’t appear on any Maiden album or EP. We’re looking at the experimenting that they did. So, for example, no ‘Charlotte the Harlot’, which was the B-side for ‘The Evil That Men Do’ in 1988, but also appeared on ‘The Number of the Beast’ album. Even ‘Prowler’ gets kicked out, as it was on the ‘Soundhouse Tapes’ EP. Tough call, I know. But we must be strict here.
  • No live tracks
  • Only B-sides that were released prior to 2000. This is a Classic Heavy Metal blog, after all. So, it’s more or less the era covered by the ‘Best of the B-Sides‘ compilation album that was released in 2002, but with the above additional restrictions in place. Remember that album? It’s the one with Eddie mooning and giving the middle finger salute on the cover. And with ‘Maiden Rule’ written on his ass. Sentiments we’d all agree with, obviously. See below for that classic pic in the ‘Doctor Doctor’ video.

(Whilst we’re reminiscing, who also remembers the ‘First 10 years’ box set? As a bit of a latecomer to Heavy Metal in the later 80s, that box set was where Classic Metal Hawk heard a lot of these B-sides for the first time.)

Anyway, that’s enough rules, let’s get into it. Here are Classic Metal Hawk’s top 20 Iron Maiden B-sides.

#20 – ‘Black Bart Blues’

B-side to ‘Can I Play With Madness’, Released in 1988

Black Bart was the name given to a suit of armour purchased by Bruce Dickinson from a gas station in Florida and installed in Maiden’s tour bus as a sort of mascot. Also, the nickname of Charles Boles, an American 19th century outlaw who presumably inspired the suit of armour naming. Here the armour gets an amusing / irritating (helium fuelled??) voiceover. The track doesn’t sound very bluesy but starts off well all the same. The novelty wears off in the second half though with some random (and for the Hawk, pointless) Nicko McBrain voiceovers.

#19 – ‘My generation’

B-side to ‘Lord of The Flies’, Released in 1996

Iron Maiden famously rejected punk as a style of play when they first formed in punk’s heyday. Here they ‘sort of’ dip their toe in the water with a cover of The Who’s ‘My generation’, not itself a punk single but certainly a forerunner to the genre. Maiden’s bass and drums have fun with this one, but Blaze Bayley doesn’t quite recapture the attitude on display from Roger Daltrey, and overall, it’s hard to say the cover is an improvement on the original

#18 – ‘Reach Out’

B-side to ‘Wasted Years’, Released in 1986

Maiden had already allowed guitarist Adrian Smith to run with some of his more mainstream influences on the ‘Somewhere in Time’ album with songs like ‘Wasted Years’, the A-side for this track. Here, we go even further in the same direction, with Smith performing lead vocals as well as guitar (Bruce Dickinson providing only backing vocals). The result certainly departs from Maiden’s normal sound, drifting much further into soft rock territory, but it’s still a quality song that rewards a listen. Smith even got a video to go with it.

#17 – ‘King of Twilight’

B-side to ‘Aces High’, Released in 1984

A substantial change in musical direction with this cover from the English 70s progressive rock band Nektar. The bass and drums in particular zoom off in that progressive direction, there are some nice interspersed guitar / vocal melodies and some interesting time signatures sprinkled throughout.

#16 – ‘Space Station #5’

B-side to ‘Be Quick Or Be Dead’, Released in 1992

Another cover, this time from American hard rockers Montrose – one of 2 of their songs that appeared as Maiden B-sides. As you might expect, the style suits Maiden quite well, but towards the end we get into some more interesting compositional territory with a gradual acceleration into blistering speed territory. Listeners holding on right to the end are rewarded with some gratuitous swearing.

#15 – ‘I’m a Mover’

B-side to ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’, Released in 1990

Maiden really turn the clock back here, with a cover from English rockers Free, who first got together in 1968. The song gets the full Maiden treatment with heavy distortion on the guitars, and plenty of bass in the mix. And although it’s difficult to compare across eras, for Classic Metal Hawk’s money, they deliver an improvement on the original.

#14 – ‘I Can’t See My Feelings’

B-side to ‘From Here To Eternity’, Released in 1992

Moving swiftly from 60s England to 70s Wales, here we have a cover from Budgie – a heavy metal band, according to Wikipedia. That might be overdoing it a bit, although the original version of this song gives off something of a Black Sabbath–y vibe, though maybe a little more upbeat – it’s very listenable. Maiden bring it up to date and get in some nice interpretation, especially with the guitar solos and bass.

#13 – ‘Rainbow’s Gold’

B-side to ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’, Released in 1984

On the B-side of ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’, Maiden covered Rainbow’s Gold, originally by Beckett, a 70s English hard rock band who were an early influence for Maiden, especially Steve Harris who saw them perform live. Interestingly, in 2017, Beckett member Brian Ingham accused Maiden of lifting sections of their classic ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ from his song ‘Life’s Shadow’, though the matter was settled out of court. This B-side came out many years before that and shows Maiden at their best paying tribute to their NWOBHM forerunners.

#12 – ‘Kill Me Ce Soir’

B-side to ‘Holy Smoke’, Released in 1990

Dutch rockers Golden Earring first released this in 1975. The song has some interesting mood changes and tells the story of a rock star who ends up getting killed because of his radical political ideas. This is one of the covers that Maiden are able to improve on thanks to their top-quality musicianship, which they bring to the party without losing any of the story’s vibe.

#11 – ‘Nodding Donkey Blues’

B-side to Be Quick or Be Dead (double B-side), Released in 1992

Probably the most ‘un-Maiden’ song on the list, this one sounds like a proper blues number from the start – it even features a piano solo in the middle in place of the usual guitar offering. We do get a guitar solo as part of the outro, but in the same style. Wacky.

#10 – ‘Mission From ‘Arry’

B-side to ‘2 Minutes to Midnight’, Released in 1984

Straight into the top 10 for ‘Mission From ‘Arry’ thanks to its sheer comedy value. Bruce Dickinson surreptitiously recorded an argument backstage between Steve Harris and Nicko McBrain after McBrain (allegedly) screwed up his drum solo when a road crew member sent by Harris tried to get a message through to him. See Classic Metal Hawk’s Powerslave blog for more on that story.

#9 – ‘All in Your Mind’

B-side to ‘Holy Smoke’, Released in 1990

Back to the 70s again for a cover by another English rock band, this time Stray. Although they never really had any breakout successes commercially, the band had plenty of longevity, going from 1966 until well into the 2000s. They had an alternative claim to fame in having once been managed by Charlie Kray, brother of London Gangsters Ronnie and Reggie. Maiden bring a good deal more focus to this song than was in the original, cutting its length to great effect.

#8 – ‘That Girl’

B-side to ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, Released in 1986

One of the few times Maiden covered a contemporary band, ‘That Girl’ was written and performed by FM, and featured on their first album, ‘Indiscrete’. In fact, ‘Indiscrete was released in 1986, the same year as Maiden put this out as their B-side for ‘Wasted Years’. But Maiden had the inside track, as Adrian Smith was friends with sometime FM guitarist Andy Barnett. The Maiden version benefits from better production, and especially from the always-tight guitar playing of Smith, The FM version is less heavy, and could easily appear in the soundtrack of any 80s heartbreak movie. The Hawk knows which he prefers.

#7 – ‘I’ve got the Fire’

B-side to ‘Flight of Icarus’, Released in 1983

The second of the Montrose covers. Maiden certainly had the fire when they released this, having just completed their classic 80s line-up which would open up so many new possibilities for them. Maiden’s take on this is to both tighten it up AND speed it up. The Montrose version does represent a send-off for singer Sammy Hagar though, who would move on to bigger and better things as a solo artist and with Van Halen.

#6 – ‘Sherriff of Huddersfield’

B-side to ‘Wasted Years’, Released in 1986

Maiden roll out the comedy act again here, with a piss-take on long-time manager Rod Smallwood. Like most people hailing from Yorkshire, in Northern England, Smallwood is notoriously tight with money. He also is not above cheating at cards to win more, hence the thinly veiled reference to Robin Hood’s villainous Sheriff of Nottingham character. Smallwood moved to LA and struggled to settle in, due to (among other reasons) the lack of cricket or rugby on the TV. After his frequent complaints, the band wrote this song behind his back, and managed to keep it a secret up to release. (Not being a Yorkshire native himself, the Hawk remains a little confused by the reference to ‘Lifting 5 navvies on the end of a shovel,’ so stands to be educated on that…)

#5 – ‘Communication Breakdown’

B-side to ‘Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter’, Released in 1990

Iron Maiden covering Led Zeppelin here in a coming together of two generational titans. Fans of both bands may be torn as to which version they prefer – after all neither of these bands is exactly in the shadow of the other. I guess it boils down to which type of sound you like best.

#4 – ‘Doctor Doctor’

B-side to ‘Lord of the Flies’, Released in 1996

UFO were a massive influence for early heavy metal bands, especially those that rose to prominence as part of the NWOBHM, where UFO were such an important forerunner. Plus of course, Michael Schenker on guitar was and is a massive influence on guitarists who came through later thanks to his style of play. So, it’s no surprise to find a UFO cover high up on the list of Maiden’s best covers. Regular fans at Maiden live shows will also recognize it as the number that often precedes the bands entrance onto the stage. Another Blaze Bayley single too!

#3 – ‘Burning Ambition’

B-side to ‘Running Free’, Released in 1980

Iron Maiden – a band formed with burning ambition. So much so, that they wrote a song about it. That’s it.

(See also The Hawk’s blog about those early days).

#2 – ‘Juanita’

B-side to ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’, Released in 1986

First written by the little known 80s heavy metal Marshall Fury, a band whose guitarist Andy Barnett also played in FM, and had had a major hand in Maiden’s previous single, ‘That Girl.’ As far as Classic Metal Hawk is concerned, Juanita is the stronger song of the two, and could easily be imagined on a Maiden album, especially one like ‘Somewhere in Time’ whose single ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ this is supporting.

#1 – ‘Cross Eyed Mary’

B-side to ‘The Trooper’, Released in 1983

We know by now that Iron Maiden have, throughout their careers, loved to cover songs by earlier generation rock bands. Which feels like it has all been leading up to the #1 slot, and a cover by none other than Jethro Tull. Tull had plenty of success in the early prog rock genre, but also have had serious influence over later giants of Classic Heavy Metal – not only Iron Maiden, but also W.A.S.P., Rush, Pearl Jam, even Dream Theater. Tull singer Ian Anderson was generous about this cover by Maiden, calling it ‘A spirited rendition by a young Bruce testing out his vocal range in a key not really suited to him!’.

And it’s true, those choruses sure sound difficult, the outro vocal even more so. The Tull version uses a flute for the intro with a piano in the background, but other than that, the 2 versions compare very well side by side. Basically, it’s a great B-side choice by Maiden, and the Hawk’s favourite. You can just imagine a young Steve Harris listening to songs like this and dreaming how to take the whole genre up a notch or ten – which he then proceeded to do, and some. It’s what first lights that blue touchpaper that matters.

So, there you have it – Classic Metal Hawk’s top 20 Iron Maiden B-sides. Hope you’ve enjoyed them. Do you have a favourite Maiden B-side that The Hawk missed? How would you have ranked them differently?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.

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