And Iron Maiden’s Best Live album is…..

The Horror! It’s Thatcher!

Which is Iron Maiden’s best live album?

(After all – with the release of En Vivo – they have released no less than ten…!)

Back in December 1985 Kerrang! had given me two new ways to discover new music: their end of year critics poll (best album: Bryan Adams’ Reckless) and a 20 track K! compilation album.

Both compilation and poll featured spandex-clad Iron Maiden, who I had never really listened to properly before, only knowing them through the Lucozade adverts which featured decathlete Daley Thompson drinking fizzy pop to the soundtrack of “Phantom of the Opera”.

The trouble was, their album covers remained pretty challenging for anyone with even mildly zealous parents. Trying to explain to my parents how a picture of a gruesome skeletal figure holding a marionette of Lucifer under the title “Number of the Beast” was not anti-Christian but merely a healthy and harmless expression of passive rebellion was going to be a more difficult negotiation than….well, you might as well wish for peace in Northern Ireland, the end of the Cold War and for the Berlin Wall to come down.

Hmm. Perhaps I should at least have given it a go…

Take the example of “Sanctuary”. On the cover is a grotesque and hideous figure about to lay waste to the country and snatch milk from the hands of babies: you guessed it – Maggie Thatcher was an early cover star, whom Eddie had knifed for apparently tearing down an Iron Maiden poster! Maiden would take a similar line with bootleg T-Shirt manufacturers outside their gigs in later years…

“Women in Uniform” also featured Thatcher, and also featured a couple of attractive nurses looking perfectly happy at being chatted up by an ugly gargoyle with bad skin. I can’t think why these covers appealed to teenage boys so much…

Don’t fancy yours much…Thatcher seeks her revenge on Eddie…

The covers were superb at antagonising parents who might have been worried about their children getting into Satanism. The things people worried about in the eighties! Nowadays parents would happily allow their kids to worship Satan – just as long as it meant they got into the right school…

The irony was that Iron Maiden couldn’t have been less interested in all that psychobabble. They just liked the hideous grinning slightly-murderous “Eddie” illustrations. I think he reminded them of their fans…

Named after, and to some, sounding like a medieval instrument of torture, Maiden had been influenced by UFO and Deep Purple, but not to the extent of wanting to play interminably long keyboard solos. Instead they played interminably long songs, usually based upon the books that bassist Steve Harris had read, and films he had watched on BBC 2 on Sunday afternoons. The books tended towards sci-fi and occasionally classic literature. The films were often rom coms. Just kidding. They were war films. Die With Your Boots On, Aces High, Where Eagles Dare, When Harry Met Sally – all classic Iron Maiden tunes…

There’s no doubt that my ability to quote passages of The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner has little to do with my studying the poem in English classes aged 13 and everything to do with the chugging riffage of the 13 minute Iron Maiden version on the Powerslave album. Critics might scoff at the long-winded concept, but it was a lot shorter than the actual poem itself. For that we can all be grateful, even if you don’t like their music.

Perhaps this might be a more effective way of teaching?

Dire Straits already did Romeo and Juliet…what next? Def Leppard teaching vetinary medicine? Noel Gallagher’s Learning Guide to “My Family and Other Animals”?

Iron Maiden’s “Aces High” on that Kerrang! Kompilation album was the gateway to all this. It was fast and it was heavy. Perfect. It was even better when preceded by Churchill’s “Fight them on the Beaches” speech on double live album “Live After Death”, an album I initially half-taped off a friend.

(I only had one side of a C90 spare, so not knowing which tracks were best, I recorded every other song and bought it a month later- when I had saved up the money).

At their worst, Maiden were – well, let’s not dwell on that. No-one judges Bowie by Tin Machine 2 or The Laughing Gnome.

But at their best – and they were at their best for quite some time – Maiden were a joy. “Two Minutes to Midnight“, “Murder in the Rue Morgue” (more classic literature), “22 Acacia Avenue” all metal classics…and in the unlikely event that you are new to them you could do a lot worse than listen to “Live After Death” – an album that captures them at their peak. Just don’t let your mum see the album cover…

Record #28 – Iron Maiden – Live After Death

Iron Maiden’s live album and DVD En Vivo! is out now…



Categories: Hard Rock, Heavy Metal

Tags: , , , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Nice story. You have quite a talent for writing.

    I saw Maiden here in the States many years ago.
    They were opening for Judas Priest. I believe it was the ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ tour for Priest. There probably was a third band opening as well. It may have been Autograph or Rose Tattoo (remember them?)

    When Maiden was finishing up their set, a giant Eddie came out walking on the stage, jamming. Quite a sight for a 13 year old boy high as a kite.

    Those were the days….

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    • Thanks for reading & the kind words. I remember Autograph’s “Loud and Clear” album. Might even have seen them support Great White at the Marquee (although my memory might be playing tricks). Rose Tattoo were a band I was aware of, but never saw.
      There is a “somewhere in time” era Eddie at the British Music Exhibition at the 02 keeping guard. He’s pretty cool…

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  2. Excellent write-up. Informative, humorous and well-written. I completely agree that “Live After Death” is their best live album. I haven’t gotten the last few live albums they’ve released (it seems like a new one comes out every couple of years), but if I had to pick a runner up from the ones I’ve heard, it would be 1993’s “Live At Donington,” which is so much better than “A Real Live One” and “A Real Dead One” from that same year.

    Ironically, I didn’t get into Maiden until the late-90s, when I was already in my early 30s. They didn’t appeal to me in high school or college, but when I finally gave them a shot (with $1 vinyl copies of “Killers,” “Number Of The Beast,” “Piece Of Mind” and, yep, “Live After Death”) I was hooked. Within a year I owned the whole catalog, quickly making up for lost time.

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    • $1 vinyl? That’s the way forward…
      I found a copy of live after death in my local used record store for £5 last week and was sorely tempted…

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      • Back in the ’90s and early in the new millennium, old vinyl records could be found dirt cheap at tag sales, record stores (when they still existed) and thrift shops. In the last several years, vinyl has become the hipsters’ format of choice, which reduced inventory and raised prices. Even “dollar bins” at the occasional record fair here in the states have been replaced by “2-3 dollar bins.” I was very fortunate to find those Maiden LP’s so cheap back then.

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  3. Well done. Especially for the insights into the Maggie-Thatcher connection. Have you seen my piece about Iron Maiden? http://garystormsongs.com/2012/02/29/iron-maiden/

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  4. My mother not only saw the album cover, she bought me Live After Death for Christmas in 1985. Great memories

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  5. Live albums: The fan choice would probably be Live After Death – classic was a word made up just for that album. – love it

    My second has to be Rock in Rio when Bruce had just re-joined the band.

    I fell in love with Ghost of the Navigator on that one.

    I too found them later in life – in my thirties. For some reason I never caught on with them in the eighties when I was much, much, younger.

    Great article and great post. Up The Irons!

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  6. I played Rime of the Ancient Mariner for my high school students a couple weeks ago. They loved it! I remember walking into a record store as a kid and being scared of their Piece of Mind poster. I thought Eddie was going to break those chains, swoop down out of the poster, and throttle me. But I’m pretty sure that’s what I was supposed to think.

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  7. Very interesting. For someone who didn’t catch the times when Maiden were beginning due to age it’s always fascinating to read such memories.
    Seeing them last year was one of the most memorable live experiences of my gig-going life. That’s the energy everyone can envy!

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  8. What is the best studio album by Iron Maiden? Eddie had kept me from taking them seriously; only recently have I discovered that they have some quite good music. The lyrics are also better than typical heavy-metal fare. Maybe Eddie exists so that people don’t think of them as intellectuals?

    I ran across this on the weekend:

    Although I almost always prefer the original version of a song to a cover version (there are very few good cover versions), cover versions which are quite different often indicate whether the music has any substance or not. For example, take a typical death-metal song and arrange it for a recorder ensemble or lute and soprano: it won’t be any good. But arrange Iron Maiden’s Rainmaker for classical guitar and you get this:

    What about The Trooper on harp?

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