In the world of metal, there are few bands that are arguably as important as Iron Maiden. They spearheaded the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (along with Judas Priest), and influenced pretty much every subsequent form of heavy metal. I've always thought there is a symphonic and operatic quality to Iron Maiden's music, particularly after Bruce Dickinson became the lead singer. His voice is so powerful, and the themes of the songs are often drawn from literature, history, or folklore.
In late 1981, Iron Maiden parted ways with its original lead singer, Paul Di'Anno, and chose Dickinson (formerly of NWOMBH band Samson and no relation to the fictional record producer from the SNL "more cowbell" sketch) to replace Di'Anno. The first album with Dickinson was 1982's The Number of The Beast, and it is rightly considered one of the greatest metal albums of all-time. It was the band's first #1 album in the UK, and their first album to chart in the US, making it to #33 on the Billboard album charts. It has since gone platinum in both countries.
From beginning to end, it's an exhibition of everything that is great about metal: powerful vocals, twin lead guitars, thundering drums, ridiculous bass lines, and songs full of macabre imagery. Seriously, though, listen to the bass lines. Steve Harris is unbelievable.
Of course, given the title of the album, it received a certain amount of backlash from idiots who assumed that meant the band was Satanic. In reality, the title track was inspired by a nightmare Harris had. Chill, Christians.
FYI, the version I have is a remastered version with an extra song ("Total Eclipse"). Unfortunately, only three of the songs are on Playlist.com, which is nothing short of a travesty.
"Invaders" is a fast-paced song with a great guitar and bass riff and a machine gun intro. Right off the bat, Dickinson shows off his pipes.
2. Children of the Damned
Based on the Village of the Damned and Children of the Damned movies and books, this song is dark and plodding for the first two thirds, and then it breaks into a frenzied twin guitar solo. That the song came out mere months after Jenna and Barbara Bush were born appears in large part to be a coincidence.
3. The Prisoner
This might be my favorite song on the album. It starts off with an audio clip from the British TV show of the same name, then goes into kind of a plodding intro. After that, the tempo changes to a breakneck pace and Dickinson kicks in. The song is about breaking free, which is always a nice theme. It's a great song to blare on the last day of a job you hate. The version of this that is on Playlist.com is for some reason 59 minutes long. Feel free to skip to the next song after the first song ends.
4. 22 Acacia Avenue
This is the second song in the Charlotte the Harlot series (the first being "Charlotte the Harlot" off the band's self-titled debut, the third being "Hooks in You" from 1990's No Prayer for the Dying, and the fourth being "From Here to Eternity" from 1992's Fear of the Dark). Apparently, Charlotte is trying to give up prostitution in this one, which I think would be hard to do, since her name is Charlotte the Harlot.
5. The Number of The Beast
This song is, quite simply, awesome. It's almost always in the top ten of any "greatest metal songs" countdown. It starts with a Vincent Price-esque voice reading a passage from Revelation. Then there is a muted guitar with Dickinson kind of whispering eerily about seeing some crazy ass shit, and the listener is just waiting for the song to explode. When Dickinson lets out his primal scream at about the 1:17 mark, it's go time. The song then tears into itself, with a quick, repeating riff that drives the song. Of course, there's the chorus: "Six six six / The number of the beast." I can't understand why parents and the Chilean government were so up in arms about the song.
6. Run to the Hills
This was the band's first Top 10 song in the UK, reaching #7, and it may be the band's most recognizable song (certainly to the younger generation of Rock Band gamers). Interestingly (given that Iron Maiden is British), it's about the persecution of Native Americans by the U.S. government in the 19th Century. Musically, the song starts out with a heavy drum beat and a nice twin guitar riff while Dickinson explains why white people are assholes. Then it bursts into a galloping (to steal a word from the song) verse and a soaring chorus that showcases Dickinson's vocal range. This is a tough one to sing on Rock Band -- well, for some people anyway.
"Gangland" has a great driving drum beat, guitars, and bass line that make you tap your feet when you're listening to the song. The song is about murder.
8. Total Eclipse
This was originally the B-side to the "Run to the Hills" single, and it wasn't on the original album. The band added it to the album as part of the 1998 remastering, apparently regretting not including it on the original album. I can't blame them. It's a gritty, heavy rock song about astronomy. You can't go wrong with that combination.
9. Hallowed Be Thy Name
This is definitely one of those songs that I would consider operatic. It starts out with a slower, dark intro about heading to the gallows, with what sound like church bells in the background. Then it picks up, with Dickenson sustaining a note as a bridge between the intro and the next part of the song. After that, the song kicks into the plodding verses, eventually building up into a frenzy with guitar solos and Dickinson wailing the song title. It's a great end to a great album.