Let us take a closer look at a very exiting moment during any Iron Maiden concert: the show opener. Here is our verdict on the best and worst Maiden openers over the past 40 years.
Today we launch or new category, Best & Worst, by looking at which opening live numbers cause us goosebumps and wide grins, and which ones make us either shake our heads or just stare blankly.
In the Best & Worst category we will collect all our essays that deal with the “top this” or “bottom that”, everything from favorite guitar solos to crappiest drum fills, from best ever songs to ugliest spandex trousers worn in Maiden history. Over the years, from here to eternity, we will keep coming up with new things to nerd out about.
We kick it off by looking at Maiden’s show openers through the decades. First you will find Torgrim‘s choices and comments, and later in the feature you will find Christer‘s ditto.
Feel free to share your best and worst in the comments below!
Let’s get on with it!
TORGRIM’s Top 3 Show Openers:
1. WHERE EAGLES DARE (from the Piece of Mind album, 1983). This song was the opening number on the World Piece Tour 1983. It re-emerged on parts of the Somewhere On Tour 1986-87 and A Real Live Tour 1993, and was a setlist regular on the Eddie Rips Up The World Tour 2005.
It was never again performed as show opener, but came close as the second track in the set for the Legacy Of The Beast World Tour 2018-19. To appreciate its power as show opener, we give you this clip from Montreal in 1983:
Torgrim’s comments: There is something about the combination of the immensely epic Ron Goodwin-penned Where Eagles Dare theme for the 1968 Alistair Maclean movie by the same name, and the thundering sound of Nicko McBrain’s most prominent drum fill to date, that hits you in the face like a blizzard in the stormy Alps. The intro has all the dynamics and a huge crescendo that sets the tone in perfect fashion for a spectacular entrance.
At this point in their career, Maiden had just started to headline their own arena and stadium shows around the globe. And Where Eagles Dare in particular showcased what state of mind the band were in at that point. They hit the stage with all guns blazing and an unashamed attitude, telling their audience that here we are: the best heavy metal band on the planet. Sound engineer Doug Hall almost shakes his head when recounting the power and complexity of this opener, stating “they used to OPEN the show with it. FIRST song!” (Early Days DVD).
There is an urgency in the performance here that kind of vanished at a later stage in Maiden’s career when everything got more settled and professionalized. Here is a band on a rocket ride to stardom and they are just going for it 110% with nothing to spare. There is so much energy in the performance that the band is on the verge of losing control, something that constantly keeps you on your toes. Totally incredible!
2. ACES HIGH (from the Powerslave album, 1984). This song was the opening number on the following tours: The World Slavery Tour 1984-85, the Ed Hunter Tour 1999, the Somewhere Back In Time World Tour 2008-09, and ultimately the Legacy Of The Beast World Tour 2018-19. It was also performed as the first encore on the Maiden England World Tour in 2012-14. Here’s Maiden performing the song in Paris in 2008:
Torgrim’s comments: I think Christer nails this one in his comments below. It’s the classic Maiden opener immortalized by the Live After Death album. You’ve got the thundering sound of the Rolls Royce engines, the Churchill speech and the eerie sound of the opening riffs, before the band erupts on stage in typical fashion – bombs flash and off we go! Aces High has an anthemic feel to it, with a great singalong chorus.
The dueling solos between Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are spot on and leaves room for Bruce Dickinson to work the crowd, running around like a madman from stage right to stage left. Aces High is short, fast-paced and instantly memorable.
3. CAUGHT SOMEWHERE IN TIME (from the Somewhere in Time album, 1986). This song was the opening number for Somewhere On Tour 1986-87. It has never been performed live since then. Not sure where this is filmed, but we believe it’s somewhere in North America:
Torgrim’s comments: Now, this is pretty much Iron Maiden at their peak when it comes to visual and theatrical drama. When the house lights fade out, you can hear the build-up with the heroic Blade Runner Theme by Vangelis. The intro lasts for almost three minutes, building up expectations with flashing lights and small glimpses of the stage decor. It all culminates with the ticking of the clock and a massive bomb shell.
The opening riff of Caught Somewhere In Time hits the speakers and the huge stage set depicting a futuristic city is revealed with glimmering neon lights and inflatable space crafts, hovering over the audience. Bruce enters from behind the stage left riser with a jacket covered in led lights and a pumping red heart. Smoke is spewing out from behind him. Cool!
The song has its flaws. In particular the chorus doesn’t sound all too good live, but the instrumental work is top notch. Especially the midsection and Nicko’s drum work is brilliant. Sometimes I wish that Maiden would put the same effort into their stage show as they did in those days. Back in the 80s this was cutting edge stage productions. Today it’s merely about recreating old ideas without hurting your wallet too much, at least up until the admittedly more impressive The Book Of Souls and Legacy Of The Beast productions since 2016.
Torgrim’s least favorite:
WILDEST DREAMS (from the Dance of Death album, 2003). This song was the opening number on the Dance Of Death World Tour 2003-04. It appeared for the first time, mid-set, during the Gimme Ed ´Til I’m Dead Tour in the summer of 2003, leading up to the release of the album. The song was also performed mid-set during the first leg of the The Final Frontier Tour in 2010. Here as seen on the Death on the Road DVD (2006):
Torgrim’s comments: It´s not a terrible song, although a tad lackluster if you compare it with the first single from the predecessor Brave New World, The Wicker Man. The biggest problem is that the element of surprise was ruined as it was performed during the previous tour. It also lacks the drama and the bombast of a typical Maiden opener. It sort of plodders away. The actual scenery for the song was nice enough with beautiful lighting and drapes.
On to the next list!
CHRISTER’s Top 3 Show Openers:
1. ACES HIGH (from the Powerslave album, 1984). This song was the opening number on the following tours: The World Slavery Tour 1984-85, the Ed Hunter Tour 1999, the Somewhere Back In Time World Tour 2008-09, and ultimately the Legacy Of The Beast World Tour 2018-19. It was also performed as the first encore on the Maiden England World Tour in 2012-14. Here’s Maiden performing the song at Long Beach Arena in California in 1985, as seen on the Live After Death DVD (2008):
Christer’s comments: It’s hard to argue that any band, on any planet, has a better opening song at their disposal than Aces High. The drama and intensity of the music and lyrics, the pyro flash as the band runs onstage, the soaring chorus, not to mention the perfect build-up courtesy of the Churchill’s Speech intro tape… Granted, in this video Bruce is struggling more than a little with the song’s ludicrously high register, but it’s still a breathtaking opening to a classic concert video – Live After Death. This was the first Maiden concert video I saw, and the vibe of the whole thing was so awesome. Opening with Aces High immediately sets the tone and draws the viewer into Maiden World.
It was a thrill to witness the Maiden resurrection in 1999. Not only were Bruce and Adrian back, but Aces High returned to open the shows. When the band hit the stage in Stockholm’s Globen Arena in September that year, I swear I could hear the air crackle with electricity. When the band later started its History touring routine, Aces High was sure to be in the opening spot once again when the Powerslave show was recreated. It’s obviously a favorite with the band, for it also very surprisingly returned in an encore position for the Maiden England tour in 2012.
2. MOONCHILD (from the Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son album, 1988). This song was the opening number on the Seventh Tour Of A Seventh Tour in 1988, and the Maiden England World Tour in 2012-14. It was also performed as the first encore on the Somewhere Back In Time tour in 2008. Here’s Maiden performing the song at Birmingham’s NEC in 1988, a higher-quality version of which is available on the Maiden England (2013) DVD:
Christer’s comments: A different type of opening song from Aces High. The haunting nursery rhyme of “Seven deadly sins, seven ways to win…” sets a sinister tone, far removed from Churchill’s war speech. The song then has a lengthy intro before the first verse kicks in and the band hits the stage. But there is drama here, no doubt! In the finest Maiden tradition, Moonchild transports the listener and viewer to a different time and place, opens a door into Maiden World, and thus sets the tone brilliantly for one of the most elaborate and theatrical stage shows the band would ever put together.
In 2008, Maiden thought they would be capping their 1980s retro adventures with the Powerslave-centered Somewhere Back In Time World Tour. It was a nice surprise when they decided to call out Moonchild as the first encore! But obviously these 80s packages were so popular that a Maiden England recreation would follow, returning Moonchild to the opening spot for the first time in almost 25 years.
3. THE IDES OF MARCH / MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (both from the Killers album, 1981). This particular combination, with The Ides Of March played as an intro tape leading into Murders In The Rue Morgue (sans original album intro), was only done on the Early Days tour in 2005. Murders was also the opening number on the Beast On The Road tour in 1982, where it had its own album intro played before the band launched into it. Here’s Maiden performing the song at Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium in 2005:
Christer’s comments: Murders In The Rue Morgue was certainly a great opener on the Beast On The Road tour in 1982, but it was only when it was paired with the instrumental Killers intro The Ides Of March in 2005 that things became perfect. Seeing this concert opening in a dark arena induced goose bumps. Old school, somewhat obscure, but still a rip-roaring thrill ride.
Christer’s least favorite:
SANCTUARY (featured on some versions of the Iron Maiden album, 1980). This song was the opening number on Maiden’s very first international tour in 1980, and has been returned to that position on subsequent one-off occasions like the final show of the World Piece Tour in 1983. Here’s Maiden performing the song in Dortmund in 1983:
Christer’s comments: Opening a show with one of your very worst numbers doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. It might have been one thing back in the early club days, when the band had more of a punkish aesthetic to them than in later years. But starting off a Piece Of Mind show with it, in place of regular opener Where Eagles Dare, is just incredibly disappointing. The song lacks the drama and majesty of the best Maiden openers, and is a waste of space in any spot in any setlist.
NOW, BONUS MATERIAL!
Also in the upper range:
THE WICKER MAN (featured on the Brave New World album, 2000). This song was the opening number on the Brave New World Tour in 2000-02 and the 2010 leg of the The Final Frontier tour. It was also performed mid-set on the 2003 Give Me ‘Ed tour, the 2011 leg for The Final Frontier, and the Legacy Of The Beast tour in 2018-19. This is from the very popular Rock In Rio (2002) DVD release:
Torgrim’s comments: The Wicker Man is the strongest one of the post-reformation openers, only nearly matched by If Eternity Should Fail from The Book Of Souls World Tour in 2016-17. It has a very memorable riff, a good singalong and the epic football oah-oah-bit to round it off. And need I mention the blistering guitar solo from Adrian Smith?
The odd one out:
THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST (featured on the The Number of the Beast album, 1982). This song has been played on every Maiden tour since 1982 bar the A Matter of Life and Death Tour in 2006. However, it has only served as the opening song once, during the Gimme Ed ‘Til I’m Dead Tour in 2003. Here it is from Rock Am Ring on that tour:
Torgrim’s comments: Strange choice for an opener in many ways. For starters, it has a slow build-up and is essentially a mid-tempo song you would expect as an encore or somewhere mid-set. It’s one of the most recognizable Maiden tunes, though, so it generally gets the audience on their toes. Maiden were playing a lot of festivals on this tour, so maybe they wanted a casual and direct entrance. It left me bemused, not knowing what to think of it really.
Christer’s comments: I actually thought it worked well. Beast had been positioned really early in the set once before, following directly from opener Be Quick Or Be Dead on the Fear Of The Dark tour in 1992. That was very cool! However, it sure is a strange opening song, and could lead to comical situations: Waiting for the band to come on stage in 2003, a friend of mine decided he had time for one last trip to the toilet before the compulsory intro tape. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he came running back with his zipper half-unzipped! Apparently, being surprised in the bathroom by a booming “Woe to you oh Earth and Sea…” is quite a shock to the system…
Well, what do you think? Sound off in comments!