Greetings, friends. Welcome back to Iron Maiden Week! Before we get to the tunes, we must hop in our imaginary time machine for a little lesson on Ye Olden Times Ov Yore…
Back when the world was young, bands used to release singles. They would send promotional singles to radios to put focus on particular songs they feel worthy of being featured from new albums, and singles would also be sold in stores either for fans that only wanted the hit or the real fans that wanted the extra bonus included on the flip side. The flip side of course being the opposite side of a tape or 7-inch record from that containing the hit; the B-side. Still with us? Good.
A good B-side can come in many forms. Maybe it’s a great tune that simply didn’t fit into the context of the album, maybe it’s a cover, or maybe it’s something different that the band felt like trying but knew wouldn’t fly on a full length. Regardless, something interesting is always better than just lesser songs that didn’t make the cut even as filler or sloppy live cuts.
For most of their career, Iron Maiden was an exemplary band at providing great content on their B-sides, which should come as no surprise, seeing as how they excel at just about everything else. They’ve done an absolute slew of killer covers, occasionally used a live cut for great purposes (to get Bruce’s vocals on a Blaze-era song, for example), and sometimes just decided to get downright silly. Not every backside tune has been perfect, but the vast majority of the time they’ve been interesting, making tracking them down essential for fans. It also made the Best of the ‘B’ Sides disc a great reason for nabbing the Eddie’s Archive set when it came out nearly 20 years ago.
With all this goodness in mind, several of us decided to highlight our favorite Iron Maiden B-sides. Some are killer covers, some extra tunes, and some pure stupidity, but all are infectious and irresistible Iron Maiden heavy metal, of course. [ZACH DUVALL]
BURNING AMBITION[Running Free, 1980]
If you were to see my ranking of Iron Maiden’s discography – and you just might soon enough, hint hint – you would see that I am a big fan of their 1980 self-titled debut. So, it is no surprise that one of my favorite B-sides is “Burning Ambition.”
About two months before the release of their debut, Iron Maiden’s first single, “Running Free,” was released to the world. It featured cover art that included Eddie in the background with his face obscured so that his unveiling on the full-length would be more exciting. The lead single offers all the classic tropes of a young man’s rock song with driving drums, a memorable chorus, fiery lead work and lyrics about rebellion. The B-side, however, has a bit more 70s rock levity to it. The lyrical content alone smacks of early Led Zeppelin more than it does any other metal at the time:
“There’s things in life now, baby, that I know I’ve got to do
And I need your love now, baby, to help me see it through
So you think you can own me, well you’d better just think again”
This joyous romp has glimmers of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” throughout its brief runtime as well. While “Running Free” sounds like it should be blasting from a motorcycle cruising down a highway, “Burning Ambition” sounds like it should be played at an old bar with wooden floors where it’s left competing with the sounds of dancing feet and peanut shells being crushed beneath them. It’s certainly a bit different from anything else on Iron Maiden, but if you’re a fan of that album and 70’s rock, there’s no reason this fun little ditty shouldn’t be in your collection. [SPENCER HOTZ]
CROSS-EYED MARY[The Trooper, 1983]
Iron Maiden’s take on the Jethro Tull classic “Cross-Eyed Mary” is one of the many times the band paid homage to a major influence for a B-side, and on the surface, the appeal is as simple as “great band does great job covering great song by great band.” And it certainly is all of that, but Maiden really excels in this case by getting a mite wild.
Whereas the original’s intro starts with Ian Anderson’s eerie flute melody and features layered guitar and organ riffs, Maiden decided to make this tune about as heavy as anything in their catalog. The verse riffs are thick as hell, punctuating the open spaces where Bruce sings, and the backing of the chorus is downright chunky, giving the tune less of the medieval feel Jethro Tull often carried and instead sounding like the heaviest bar band you weren’t expecting to find in that roadside biker haunt. And then there’s Nicko filling the track with tons of high-in-the-mix snare flams, which is the icing on top of the punchiness cake of this one..
Oh, and Bruce’s performance? Hot DAMN. His wailing in “Cross-Eyed Mary” is one of those “to be a fly on the wall in the studio that day” moments. From the moment he comes in during the first verse he is absolutely unleashed, belting out with all the power of his formidable lungs. Where Anderson gave the song a fantastical feel, Bruce is at different times dominant, threatening, sarcastic, and desperate, all while keeping that bar band swagger going.
“Great band does great job covering great song by great band” actually only begins to describe this one. [ZACH DUVALL]
TOTAL ECLIPSE[Run to the Hills, 1982]
Cheating a bit with this one I am, I’ll concede. Even the band admits that “Total Eclipse” should’ve been an album track, replacing the oft-maligned “Gangland,” which in turn would’ve become the b-side that it should’ve been. Still, any chance to talk about a great semi-lost Iron Maiden song is a good thing, so here we are, spinning “Total Eclipse” again…
Written by Steve Harris, Dave Murray, and drummer Clive Burr, “Total Eclipse” is a bruiser of a track about the end of the world through environmental collapse. “Sunrise is goooooone,” Bruce intones atop a chugging midtempo riff, the band kicking into a brief but spirited uptempo sprint as the earth’s survivors must weather the literal storm before bouncing back down into the introductory staccato chords to wrap the whole thing up. This is street-level gritty NWOBHM from one of the scene’s leading lights. It’s classic Maiden doing what classic Maiden could do, and did, and sometimes still does, which is simple hard-rocking glory with a twist, relatively short and entirely sweet, straight to the point, regardless, with that up-and-back tempo change the only flash of the progressive flourishes that the band has always embraced (and that would come to characterize almost the entirety of their later output). Sandwiched as it should’ve been between the title track and the mega-smash “Run To The Hills” at the front and the prog-tinted epic-ness of “Hallowed Be Thy Name” behind, “Total Eclipse” would’ve been a killer balancer, but it was consigned to the back-side of a single.
But we have it now, and we know where it should live, pushing the greatness of The Number Of The Beast even that much higher. And hey, better late than never, right? [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE[Man on the Edge digipak, 1995]
As someone having gone on-record multiple times as having an unreasonable fondness for The X Factor, maybe I’m in a poor position to recommend “Justice of the Peace” as one of Maiden’s hidden gems of their many B-sides. Nevertheless, for as much as I love The X Factor, there’s no denying the truth of many of its detractors who argue that it’s too long, too plodding, and just incredibly dark. (In this respect, it may well be the spiritual twin of A Matter of Life and Death.) Another reason to think twice about “Justice of the Peace” is that, frankly, the lyrics are a cringeworthy embarrassment that come across like a reactionary old dude lamenting how “soft” the criminal justice system has become.
If you can stick it out past that, though, you’ll find an almost miraculously spry (at least for this era and singer of Maiden’s) song that’s just one hell of a lot of fun. “Justice of the Peace” was a B-side for the “Man on the Edge” single, and in an extremely tidy three and a half minutes shows that Maiden hadn’t lost their ability to pen a compact rocker with sweet licks and an earworm chorus.
Kicking off with a ride-heavy clang and thump that sounds not particularly far away from “The Wicker Man,” “Justice of the Peace” is easily the most energetic thing to come out of The X Factor sessions, and carries a bit of the punky grit of No Prayer for the Dying over into the Bayley era. And while the tune certainly doesn’t hold a candle to anything from, say, the top 70% of Maiden’s overall catalog, it’s got enough sneaky-fun detail (the curious harmonizing on the chorus, the sassy little guitar lick in the chorus, and even a cheeky little hint of wah on the guitar solo) to make it a more than worthwhile archive piece to dust off for a Saturday evening playlist. The fact of the matter is that if you can write a song as loose and fun as this during the most maligned era of your long-running band’s history and then not even put it on your damn album, then… well, then basically you’re Iron Maiden. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
THE SHERIFF OF HUDDERSFIELD[Wasted Years, 1986]
You read that thing in the intro about B-sides needing to be interesting? Well, “The Sheriff of Huddersfield” is definitely interesting. It’s also different. And most notably, it’s downright silly, like a Monty Python sketch turned into an infectious Iron Maiden song, which makes it particularly noteworthy as one of the cassette b-sides to “Wasted Years,” itself one of Iron Maiden’s most heartfelt and serious tracks.
The song was written to rib manager Rod Smallwood (who was born in Huddersfield) after his then recent move to Hollywood and subsequent constant complaints to the band about the Los Angeleeeeez lifestyle. It’s a fairly catchy rock song that is propelled greatly in its comedic quality by Bruce doing an impression of Rod throughout, thick accent and all. The part known as “Rodney’s Rap” is especially idiotic/great, wherein Rod claims to be “immensely strong” and “immensely fearsome” and “phenomenally strong” and that “everybody knows the centre of the universe is Huddersfield,” but Rodney doesn’t live there anymore. He lives in LA. It’s great. He thinks.
It’s fun seeing a band indulge their goofy side this much, and especially to another member of their band family (Rod has been their manager since the late 70s and remains so to this day). The fact that Rod wasn’t even aware of the joke until it showed up on the cassette single shows how confident the band was that he’d appreciate it. That or he really likes the paychecks. Who knows; I’m not about to question him. Dude is so powerful he never needed to take martial arts. He’d probably kill everyone he came into contact with, after all. [ZACH DUVALL]
THAT GIRL[Stranger in a Strange Land, 1986]
A near endless procession of incredible B-sides to choose from and this chump picks a cover of a hard rock / dad rock / arena rock love ballad that would’ve fit perfectly amidst the closing credits for Lethal Weapon. Here’s the thing, though: I’m a corny, overly sentimental guy who essentially came out of the womb ready for every single album to end with some sort of ballad. Tack puberty and a flourishing interest in girls to the tournament and you’ve got a metal-obsessed kid who might’ve pretended to be upset about Heart’s “These Dreams” getting played over and over and over, but he actually loved it. But holy Hell, the very last band I ever expected to offer up a soundtrack to anguished love was Iron Maiden—they were my unfailing advocates of armored confidence, as well as being occasional unofficial educators (that still makes me laugh.) For me, from the very first day, vulnerability and Iron Maiden simply did not compute.
Where I first heard Maiden’s interpretation of FM’s lovelorn hit remains a mystery (Z Rock perhaps?), but I very much recall how it struck like a bolt because no one was accustomed to experiencing lyrics such as “Hold her in your arms / don’t let go” attached to that immediately familiar Maiden melodicism. Furthermore, I’m fairly certain I had no idea “That Girl” was even a cover at the time, but it still managed to work in a sneaky “Yeah, did you hear that song? Man is it ever wimpy! *puts it on a mix tape for some poor girl*” sort of way. Is it the best B-side Iron Maiden’s ever done? Of course not. But it very much deepened my love for the band by making me realize that even heroes get felled by the ruthless arrow of romance now and again. [CAPTAIN]