Iron Maiden: Rock music’s biggest literature geeks?
On International Literacy Day, it seems only right for a music platform to shine a light on those songs that have been inspired by great works of literature. With everything from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights to Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet, the written word has been hugely influential for many artists.
Iron Maiden performing in Croatia, 2016 / Photo credit: Borna Filic/Pixsell/PA Images
However, one band in particular is very well known for being inspired by famous stories. Here are 11 Iron Maiden tracks which have been influenced in some way by classical poetry and prose.
1. Flight of Icarus
As one can probably guess, this 1983 from their Piece of Mind album is loosely based on the Greek myth of Icarus, with the title actually being taken from the 15th century Jacob Peter Gowy painting. For anyone who didn’t know, the myth is about the ambitious Icarus who is given wings made of wax and feathers by Daedalus to help him escape Crete, only for him to defy the latter’s warnings by flying too close to the sun, melting his wings and falling into the sea.
2. The Number of the Beast
While the content of this song from their 1982 album of the same name is largely based on Revelation, it was also apparently partly inspired by the poem Tam o’ Shanter by Robert Burns, which is all about a drunk who finds himself pursued by witches and creatures of the Devil. That and a nightmare Steve Harris had after watching Damien: Omen II.
3. The Trooper
This song from 1983’s Piece of Mind, was directly influenced by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s 1854 poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, based on the Battle of Balaclava which took place during the Crimean War.
4. The Evil That Men Do
While the subject matter of this song has little to do with the story from which the quote in the title is taken, it is a reference to Marcus Antonius’ speech following Caesar’s murder in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
5. Out of the Silent Planet
C.S. Lewis may best be known for The Chronicles of Narnia, but he did write a rather great philosophical science fiction novel in 1938, after which this track is named. It features on the 2000 album Brave New World (more on that shortly), though it is actually more thematically based on the sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet.
6. Brave New World
The titular track from their 2000 album needs no explanation, but we’ll give you one anyway. Brave New World is, of course, a novel written by Aldous Huxley in 1932 and is up there as one of the greatest works of dystopian fiction of all time alongside George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s all about social hierarchy and eugenics, and the song follows the themes of artificiality and emptiness that comes with the “brave new world”.
7. Phantom of the Opera
From their self-titled debut album, this song poses a rather unsympathetic view of the Phantom in Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (famously adapted to the stage by Andrew Lloyd Webber).
8. Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a very long 18th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and thus Iron Maiden’s re-telling of it on their 1984 album Powerslave is a lengthy 13 minutes. Anyone studying this text ought to hear this masterful song.
9. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
The eponymous track from their seventh studio album is, naturally, inspired by the fantasy novel Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card. It’s the first from his The Tales of Alvin Maker series about a seventh son of a seventh son who is being hunted down because of the powers granted to him by his hereditary position.
10. Lord of the Flies
Based on the 1954 novel of the same name by the Nobel Prize winning William Golding, Lord of the Flies featured on Iron Maiden’s tenth album The X Factor and, like the novel, tells the story of the divided attitudes between a group of boys left stranded on an island; those with the rationality that comes with mature ideas, and those for whom the safety of maturity is a long way off.
11. The Man Who Would Be King
The Man Who Would Be King from 2010’s The Final Frontier is named after the 1888 Rudyard Kipling novella, however it’s not entirely clear as to whether or not Iron Maiden intended them to share thematic similarities. The story follows a man who, alongside his friend, becomes a king in the eyes of the Kafirs after traversing treacherous mountains to find their isolated community. Only, his friend ends up being executed and the man is set free after surviving a crucifixion only to sink into madness as he wanders the roads with nothing but regret and the severed head of his partner.