Iron Maiden: 10 songs by Steve Harris that were inspired by movies
As the driving force behind Iron Maiden, bassist Steve Harris is responsible for many of the classics in their huge back catalogue. There are recurring themes of death, war and running to the hills throughout the band’s 16 studio albums. Some of these cheerful topics were influenced by trips to the cinema, so here we take a look at 10 Steve Harris classics that were inspired by movies…
Where Eagles Dare (Piece Of Mind, 1983)
Where Eagles Dare was an 1968 action film directed by Brian G. Hutton and starred Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood and Mary Ure. When U.S. soldier George Carnaby (played by Robert Beatty) is captured the the German army and held captive in a mountain fortress in the Alps, British Major John Smith (Burton) and U.S. Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood) lead a group of soldiers on a daring parachute raid to rescue him.
The compelling story caught the attention of Steve, who composed the first track for Iron Maiden’s 1983 album Piece Of Mind. Opening with some tasty stick work courtesy of Nicko McBrain – his first appearance on a Maiden album, following the departure of drummer Clive Burr – vocalist Bruce Dickinson recounts the Allies’ derring-do over a barrelling riff: ‘Bavarian alps that lay all around they seem to stare from below, the enemy lines a long time passed are lying deep in the snow.’ Paying no mind to fans who may not have seen the film, Bruce delivers a spoiler at the song’s climax. Which is nice. That’s said, an album highlight.
Aces High (Powerslave, 1984)
Released in 1976, Aces High was a war film partly based on R. C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, starring Malcolm McDowell, Peter Firth, Christopher Plummer and Simon Ward. The film tells the story of the Royal Flying Corps efforts during the First World War and perfect fodder for Steve Harris’ recurrent themes of conflict and bravery, although the lyrics suggest that the song was set in WWII. The 10 ME-109 aircraft – or Messerschmitt Bf 109 – that led the German offensive first came into action during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and were still in use by 1945. Aces High opens the band’s 1984 Powerslave album – it was also the second single, released in October that year – and remains a thrilling staple of Maiden’s live set today: ‘Run, live to fly, fly to live, do or die.’
The Number Of The Beast (The Number Of The Beast, 1982)
One of Iron Maiden’s most enduring songs, The Number Of The Beast was to some extent inspired by a nightmare Steve had after watching the classic horror 1978 Omen II: Damien (a poem by Robert Burns called Tam O’ Shanter also played a part in the bassist’s unsettled night’s sleep). In Richard Donner’s 1976 film The Omen, Damien Thorn’s father attempts to slay his son after discovering he has a birthmark in the shape of three sixes, but is shot dead by a police officer. Before the credits, a passage from the Bible’s Book Of Revelations appears: ‘Here is wisdom, let him that hath understanding, count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man and his number is 666.’ The film’s sequel is just as haunting. Damien returns as a wicked teenager and leaves a trail of destruction. Check out Steve’s menacing lyrics at the song’s climax: ‘I have the fire I have the force, I have the power to make my evil take its course.’ Teenagers can be so moody sometimes…
Children Of The Damned (The Number Of The Beast, 1982)
The second song on the band’s third full-length release is based on the 1963 black and white science fiction classic and sequel to Village Of The Damned, directed by Anton M. Leader. Here’s the plot boiled down: six kids with impossibly high levels of intellect hide in an English church after the army attempt to conduct experiments on them. It leads to a showdown and the church is eventually destroyed. The song itself is, in youth parlance, a fucking banger!
The Clansman (Virtual XI, 1998)
A highlight of Maiden’s 11th studio album – their second and final with former Wolfsbane vocalist Blaze Bayley – was inspired by the tale of Scottish rebel William Wallace, a tale reprised by a hirsute Mel Gibson in his 1995 film Braveheart. Galloping along with an appropriate Celtic feel, Steve told Maiden biographer Mick Wall that The Clansman was “about what it’s like to belong to a community that you try and build up and then you have to fight to stop having it taken away from you”. The song remained in the band’s setlist until 2003, some four years after Bruce Dickinson returned to the fold. Side note: Mel Gibson’s iconic blue and white facial warpaint was used by Eddie on a tour T‑shirt, who stands defiantly in the Scottish Highlands complete with kilt and menacing broadsword.
Phantom Of The Opera (Iron Maiden, 1980)
The story of a disfigured man hiding in the sewers underneath a Parisian opera house, The Phantom Of The Opera is a popular story which has been retold in cinemas many times: a silent 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, a 1943 remake featuring Claude Rains and a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber… but it’s most likely that it was the 1962 Hammer Horror starring Herbert Lom that inspired this Steve Harris-penned classic. The fourth track on Iron Maiden’s debut album is an ambitious outing for the then new outfit: it’s fast, aggressive and full of time changes. It’s also one of the bassist’s favourites as it was “the first song [he’d] written that was a bit more proggy”. It has remained a fixture of the band’s set and was last played at their headline appearance at 2014’s Sonisphere at Knebworth. Fun fact: When this writer first heard the album version in 1988, Paul Di’Anno’s unexpected, snarled closing line, ‘You torture me back at your lair!’ – which comes moments after you think the song has finished – gave him such a shock that he panicked and ran downstairs like a massive baby.
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner (Somewhere In Time, 1986)
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner is based on the 1962 film written by Alan Sillitoe and directed by Tony Richardson. Starring Tom Courtenay, it’s about about a young man called Colin who is sent to borstal for burglary. Inside, he’s given preferential treatment due to his athletic skills. Running gives the troubled youth a way of coping and is invited to take part in a five-mile competition; at the film’s climax, he gives away his comfortable lead and allows a rival to win, just to spite the Governor of his borstal. ‘You reach the final stretch, ideals are just a trace, you feel like throwing the race, it’s all so futile,’ sings Bruce on this aggressive deep cut.
The Duellists (Powerslave, 1984)
Despite Bruce Dickinson’s love of fencing, this particular song is a Steve Harris composition. The fifth track from the band’s Powerslave album, The Duellists is inspired by the 1977 film and directorial debut by the South Shields-born filmmaker Sir Ridley Scott. Starring Keith Carradine, Harvey Keitel, Albert Finney and Tom Conti, it tells the tale of a feud between two French officers – Feraud and d’Hubert – who fought in series of duels over two decades. It’s your usual Maiden fare: galloping bass lines, Bruce’s soaring vocals and Adrian Smith and Dave Murray’s complex noodling. To our knowledge, this track has never been performed live.
When The Wild Wind Blows (The Final Frontier, 2010)
Clocking in at over 11 minutes long, this is one of the longest Iron Maiden songs committed to tape and one of their most complex arrangements. Based on Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel – which was later made into an animated film – When The Wild Wind Blows tells the story of a retired couple Jim and Hilda Bloggs and their attempts to survive in the aftermath of a nuclear attack: ‘They make a tea and sit there waiting, they’re in the shelter feeling snug… not long to wait for absolution, don’t make a fuss; just sit and wait…’ No, you’re crying mate.
Quest For Fire (Piece Of Mind, 1983)
Jean-Jacques Annaud’s 1981 French film Quest For Fire starred Ron Perlman and is set in Paleolithic Europe – some 80,000 years ago – and tells the story of the Ulam, a Cro-Magnon tribe, and their attempts to start a fire after their initial flame is snuffed out: ‘[They] didnt’ know the sparks that made the fire were made by rubbing stick and stone.’ The grunting idiots.
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