I can still remember the first time I heard The Number of the Beast, landmark record from IRON MAIDEN and this week’s Classic Album. I was nine years old and hanging out at my cool older neighbor Anthony’s. It absolutely drew me in from the cover art to the sonic twin guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith to the insane pipes of brand new vocalist Bruce Dickinson. However, being nine and having very old fashioned parents there was no way in hell I’d be able to persuade them to get it for me. Fast forward a few years later to me being twelve and I bought it with my own money from my paper route. No one was gonna stop me, dammit! Still, I biked home and made damn sure to hide the sleeve in amongst the other albums before Mom got home (hey I was King of the Castle, but only when no one was home!!). One thing I was afraid of more than the Devil himself was pissing off Rita, my Irish-immigrant mother!
So the record starts and the late Clive Burr (R.I.P.) comes in with machine-gun drumming to get us going on “Invaders”, right? Then Bruce starts singing his rapid fire lines as Murray, Smith and bassist extraordinaire Steve Harris just fire volley after volley of British metal at you. Being able to sit and fully drink this in with my oversized 70’s headphones was THE best, lemme tell you. “Children of the Damned” gives us a much-needed breather for the first half before it too, takes off running for the latter portion. The IRON MAIDEN boys were writing the fastest songs of their career up to that point and the results were magnificent. By now everyone is familiar with the Patrick McGoohan dialogue from the 60’s TV series that opens “The Prisoner”. After this is a lengthy instrumental section that sets up the rest of the song and vocals that are a bit more aggressive and gruff from Bruce, sounding every bit the runaway fugitive. He makes it believable, for sure, and the single and dual solos further cement Murray/Smith as one of if not THE best guitar duos to walk this earth.
Side one ends with the next chapter in the Charlotte the Harlot saga, “22 Acacia Avenue”. This has long been one of my favorite MAIDEN songs, and not just because pervy me knew what the band was talking about. The vocals run the gamut conveying sadness, anger, pain, and desperation, and the music features some fantastic time changes while also working in tandem with the singing. Side two needs no introduction. The one from English actor Barry Clayton who quotes Revelations 13:18 is enough, wouldn’t you say? “The Number of the Beast” is not only one of the greatest IRON MAIDEN songs ever, it is one of greatest heavy metal songs, period. End of story. So is its partner-in-crime track “Run to the Hills”. I can remember watching this video over and over before I had the album and just being in complete awe that bands like this and JUDAS PRIEST even existed! The entire riff and groove sounds quite literally like galloping horses ridden by men looking to destroy everything in their path. If you’ve never seen MAIDEN live and caught these two tracks, you haven’t lived. You’re sorely deprived.
Burr starts off “Gangland” drumming with authority setting the tone for a hot Adrian Smith solo later on. But the real gem comes at the end of this amazing album, and that is “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, MAIDEN Classic and perennial live set closer. I still get those shivers of anticipation when those bells toll over the P.A. in whatever venue I’m seeing them in. The story of a condemned man on Death Row waiting to be summoned to his fate is made even more real by Bruce’s delivery coupled with Harris’ lyrics and the band’s inspired playing, delivering big melodic riff upon riff. I damn near died of heart failure when this song washed over my 12-year old ears and brain in those big-ass headphones. No pun intended, it was a religious experience for me and when it was all over I had no words.
IRON MAIDEN is one of those bands, much like JUDAS PRIEST and KISS that changed the way I listened to music. The Number of the Beast is one of the first albums that made me realize just how important those hills and valleys are when sequencing a record. Every little nook and cranny has to be spot-on, and this is a perfect example of how to do it right. An absolute masterpiece by a band capable of wiping the floor with any TEN groups half their age, and you can take that to the bank! ~dc