The Number of the Beast was Iron Maiden’s breakthrough album. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s guitar harmonies were in place and Adrian had started contributing really strong songs. The band had also poached singer Bruce Dickinson from Samson with his extraordinary stage presence and incredible voice. The next piece of the puzzle for this album was that Steve was about to write some of his greatest songs.
Listening to the opening track, Invaders, it’s not as bad as I remember it, but the chorus is terrible. Children of the Damned follows and the songwriting goes to another level. An epic sounding track, albeit only 4:36 long, that starts slowly, building to a powerful chorus, and then to the time change as it races to the finish, with a final piercing scream from Bruce Dickinson. The Prisoner is one of my favourites, with its spoken opening, included with Patrick McGoohan’s permission. The song has one of Maiden’s greatest, most uplifting choruses, and a brilliant middle section where Adrian and Dave trade brilliant guitar solos. 22 Acacia Avenue continues the story of Charlotte the Harlot. Despite the lyrics by Steve, which haven’t aged well, this is another great Adrian track with cool time changes, awesome riffs and a lovely soulful guitar solo in the slower section. The title track begins with its famous spoken intro by Barry Clayton. This is obviously one of Maiden’s greatest songs and has featured in their live set ever since. For many years during Adrian’s guitar solo Bruce would lift Dave up on his shoulders and run around the stage with him, which was a great surprise to Dave the first time it happened. Run to the Hills follows, another of the band’s greatest songs with a brilliant chorus and the famous galloping rhythm which was to also feature in some of the band’s future songs. Bruce’s final scream is also extraordinary. Gangland features some great drumming by Clive Burr and has a nice instrumental section with the twin guitars playing some lovely harmonies, but the track suffers from being surrounded by some of Maiden’s greatest ever songs. Total Eclipse did not feature on the original album as it was the b-side of the Run to the Hills single, but it was included on the 1998 re-issue. It’s not bad, despite the section near the end where the vocals go wierdly high, but it ends up feeling like an unnecessary obstacle in getting to one of Maiden’s greatest songs of all. Hallowed be thy Name is the band’s first genuine epic, clocking in at 7:15. This is another track the band has to play in every live set. Steve Harris has long regarded it as one of the very best songs he’s written. The music is full of drama, brilliant time changes and blistering guitar solos.
Looking at the tracklisting, it’s easy to see why TNOTB is regarded as one of Maiden’s very best albums. With the title track, Run to the Hills, Children of the Damned, The Prisoner and Hallowed be thy Name being some of the band’s very best songs, and with Bruce Dickinson in place as the new singer, this was the album which broke band worldwide. Next, we meet Sooty’s best mate.