Stage Dive: Best “Odd Favorite Song” on an Album?

Generally speaking, it’s easy to pick out and gravitate toward an album’s strongest songs. Take Metallica’s “Creeping Death,” for example–while it may not be everyone’s favorite song on Ride the Lightning, it’s not unreasonable to assume most people would at least have it in their top two or three from the album, right?

But for today’s Stage Dive post, we’re going to delve into cases where one’s personal tastes run counter to popular opinion–where one’s favorite song on an album turns just about every head it comes across in discussion. Like someone saying their favorite song on Master of Reality is “Orchid” (not guilty!) or, in a non metal example, picking “Quiet” from Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream (guilty!). We’ve all got cases like that, so for this week’s edition of Stage Dive, I ask you this:

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE “ODD FAVORITE SONG” ON A METAL ALBUM?

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For those of you that couldn’t put two and two together based on the picture above, my pick is Iron Maiden’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” off 1986’s Somewhere in Time.

I don’t know that anyone doesn’t at least like this song, but given the top-to-bottom strength of the material at play here, it often gets left behind in conversation. I mean, think about it: from “Caught Somewhere in Time” straight through to “Alexander the Great,” there really isn’t anything less than “really good” here. You’ve got live mainstays like “Wasted Years” and “Heaven Can Wait,” deep-cut classics like “Sea of Madness” and “Déjà Vu”–pretty much everything you could ask for in an ’80s heavy metal album.

And then…you have “Stranger in a Strange Land,” the album’s Adrian Smith-penned second single. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a weird one–particularly from a compositional standpoint. The intro riff is, admittedly, kind of bizarre. The song doesn’t have the kind of conventional structure–“verse” or “chorus” sections, or progression between said sections–that we’ve grown to love from Maiden over the years. It is, to sum up, not a leading contender in the “best song” game for most people. But it’s always been my favorite–not just on Somewhere in Time, but maybe even from Maiden, period. I love Smith’s terrific slow-paced-then-overdriven guitar solo. I love Steve Harris’s dun–da-da-dun–da-da bass groove at the beginning. Possibly my favorite part, though, is the…I guess you’d call it a “B-section,” if anything? Maybe a pre-chorus? Whatever–the part where Bruce Dickinson sings “What became of the man that started? / All are gone and their souls departed.” It’s just epic as all hell.

I realize it’s a weird favorite here, but that’s the point–and it’s always been mine. So there you have it. Now share out yours! Leave your responses in the comments and keep this conversation going!

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.

The Horns Up Top 10: Iron Maiden

Morning, everyone! Dan here. You may have noticed a lack of Subgenre of the Week entries lately. Well there’s a reason for that–those segments were kind of a drag to put together and never really took off. So after a bit of time retooling, we want to welcome you to a new Monday segment here on the Horns Up blog, where we’ll be doing weekly Top 10 playlists for bands we love. Bear in mind that these will be our personal Top 10’s–not necessarily “essentials” or Greatist Hits-type lists, but rather the songs that we appreciate most from these bands. We’ll cover both popular artists and lesser knowns, featuring both setlist staples and, in many cases, deeper cuts.

And what better way to kick off this new segment than with a top 10 from some true legends of the metal genre? For this first edition of the Horns Up Top 10, we’re going to take a look at the mighty Iron Maiden.

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This isn’t a band that needs any introduction, but I’m going to try and give you one anyway. To call Maiden anything less than gods of the heavy metal genre borders on blasphemy. And they’re one of the biggest reasons why I became a metal fan. (Maiden and Priest were the first to sway me over to the genre…thanks, V-Rock station in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City!) In their almost 40 (!!) years of existence, the band’s churned out classic after classic, from “Hallowed Be Thy Name” to “Powerslave” to “Fear of the Dark”–shit, “El Dorado,” the lead single from The Final Frontier, earned the band its first Grammy Award…in 2011!

But to whittle the band’s extensive catalogue down to just 10 songs? That’s never an easy proposition. I’ve done my best here, and written up little blurbs for each of my picks in an attempt to justify their inclusion. I haven’t ranked these, as it was hard enough just picking them, but in any case, the playlist is as follows:

“Aces High” (from Powerslave, 1984)

Is there a better album-opener in all of Maiden’s catalogue? No, there is not. That pace? Those guitar solos? That inimitable Bruce Dickinson song-closing scream? This is four minutes and 30 seconds of pure heavy metal gold, and no Maiden Top 10 list should EVER omit it.

“Murders in the Rue Morgue” (from Killers, 1981)

My single favorite track off the Killers album (apologies to the title track and “Wrathchild”). For the first minute, you think you’re getting a slower, moodier number, and then without warning it turns into one of Maiden’s punkiest–and catchiest–songs to date. Mock the Paul Di’Anno era at your peril.

“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (from Powerslave, 1984)

It wouldn’t be fair to call this Maiden’s first epic, but it’s certainly their most significant. At 13 and a half minutes, it’s the longest song in their catalogue–and yet Steve Harris managed to construct the song so as to never really lose the listener. (The source material–an adaptation of Coleridge’s poem of the same name–helps there, too.)

“Stranger in a Strange Land” (from Somewhere in Time, 1986)

This has always been my favorite from Somewhere in Time. The–I don’t know if you’d call it a pre-chorus? This thing’s a bit strange, structurally–but, the “what became of the man that started / all are gone and their souls departed” section might just be my favorite moment in any Maiden song. That’s enough to earn this thing a spot on my list.

“Revelations” (from Piece of Mind, 1983)

Bruce Dickinson’s first solo songwriting credit in Maiden, and what a debut. The terrific, melodic verses and a tremendous vocal performance from Dickinson already earn this one its stripes among Maiden’s best, but the terrific solo section (those harmonies!) really takes it the extra mile. A classic by any definition.

“Blood Brothers” (from Brave New World, 2000)

The best track on Maiden’s very-strong Dickinson-and-Smith reunion album, “Blood Brothers” is memorable for several things: its anthemic chorus, its heart-wrenching lyrics, and most notably, a Janick Gers guitar solo WITHOUT senseless noodling. It’s the true standout track on a pretty tremendous album.

“Infinite Dreams” (from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, 1988)

“Infinite Dreams” represents the final hurrah from Maiden’s first “classic lineup” and stands up as one of the best tracks on the Seventh Son record–if not the best. It’s proggy and complex without being unappealingly so, and the instrumental sections in the middle and bridge are executed to perfection. Dickinson’s incredible banshee howl in the middle doesn’t hurt this one’s cause, either.

“Paschendale” (from Dance of Death, 2003)

An absolutely stunning, war-themed piece from Adrian Smith and Steve Harris, “Paschendale” succeeds in evoking the chaos of battle. The solo section is positively drool-worthy, and Dickinson’s belting of “blood is falling like rain” might just be his finest hour as a vocalist. This is Maiden at the peak of their post-reunion powers, without any question.

“Phantom of the Opera” (from Iron Maiden, 1980)

It would be fair to call this one Maiden’s first epic. On a debut album that’s never afraid to hide its punk leanings, “Phantom” stands out as a completely and unabashedly heavy metal song. More intricate and frenetic than anything else the Di’Anno era gave us, it stands out as Harris’s first opportunity to really show his mettle as a songwriter. He did so, and Maiden was all the better for it.

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” (from The Number of the Beast, 1982)

If you actually need an explanation as to why “Hallowed Be Thy Name” is included on an Iron Maiden Top 10 list…shame on you. Listen to the goddamn song and figure it out for yourself.

The Horns Up Top 10 on Spotify

That’ll wrap things up for this week’s Top 10. Check back next week for more, and feel free to leave a comment with suggestions for future Top 10 bands!

-Dan

Live. Love. Plow. Horns Up.