After a couple tours with questionable openers, Iron Maiden finally gives us a reason to show up early for their latest North American trek–with support from shock-rocker extraordinaire Alice Cooper. In some regards, it’s a little odd having Alice open the show as his commercial peak came a decade before the headliner’s, but, much like Judas Priest bringing a reconstituted Thin Lizzy on tour last winter, I suppose this is a case of honouring your elders, or something like that. After all, I’m not sure that Alice Cooper sells out stadiums on his lonesome anymore…
Today, we take a look at each artist’s breakthrough release, the chart-toppers (in Canada) School’s Out and (in the UK) The Number of the Beast. This isn’t as close a contest as you might think…
School’s Out vs. The Number of the Beast
Alice’s breakout album School’s Out topped the charts in Canada for four weeks while reaching as high as Number Two in the States and Number Four in the UK. Of course, everybody knows the title track—which went all the way to Number One in Britain while ending up at Number Three up here (and Number Seven stateside)—but quick, how many other songs can you name offa this record without looking?
After the opening anthem, we’re treated to “Luney Tune,” a mellower “No More Mr. Nice Guy” of sorts with some added orchestral flourishes; “Gutter Cat vs. the Jets,” a slightly psychedelic organ-driven rocker with lyrical content akin to “Stray Cat Strut,” which then turns into a tune from West Side Story; a 55-second “Street Fight”—broken glass, sirens and fisticuffs over a surf-rock bassline—and finally “Blue Turk,” which closes out the A Side, a jazzy swing number with a rather morbid chorus.
Side B opens with “My Stars,” its verse built around a bizarre call-and-response between Alice and a rollicking piano. Almost six minutes long, this one doesn’t do much for me. “Public Animal #9” is a groovy little number with group backing vocals, a little like Foghat or Bad Company with an unruly schoolboy theme. “Alma Matter” is a garage-rock ballad complete with rainfall sounds, though Alice hardly sounds like a crooner here, channelling The Who on some of their conceptual work. “Grand Finale” is a pretty funky soundtrack-style tune with a straight-from-the-mothership horn section—but man, it’s hard to believe this sold so many copies on the strength of the leadoff single alone. The rest of the record ranges from out-there experimentation to forgettable filler—and I doubt Alice has even played any of these other songs since the 70’s.
Number of the Beast
Maiden’s breakout album went straight to Number One in the UK, with a respectable Top 15 showing in most other countries—aside from the US, where it peaked at 33. (The band would not have a Top 10 record stateside until 2006’s A Matter of Life and Death—perhaps that’s why they’ve always focused on international touring…) Leadoff single “Run to the Hills,” which announced the presence of Bruce Dickinson in a big way, was a Top 10 hit in England, while the demonic title track and artwork caused a bit of a stir in the States. That said, this record, the first written for Dickinson’s extended range, packs quite a punch, and has been named an all-time classic by critics across the globe. You really can’t go wrong here.
“The Invaders” storms out of the gate with an aggressive speed metal attack built overtop of Steve Harris’ galloping basslines, Dickinson showing on the chorus that he can scream with the best of them (ie Rob Halford). “Children of the Damned” then slows things down considerably, though Dickinson’s plaintive wails and that massive chorus riff ensure that this is one of the few power ballads that don’t suck. “The Prisoner” offers up the best of both worlds, the punch and drive of “Children” (listen to that massive rhythm section!) with the upbeat chug of “Invaders”—and a great chorus, to boot!
Of course, it doesn’t get much better than the one-two-three punch of “22 Acacia Avenue,” “The Number of the Beast” and “Run to the Hills.” If you’ve ever wondered why Maiden is so beloved amongst head-bangers, you likely haven’t heard any of these three rollicking numbers, the title track being my personal favourite with its spoken-word intro and shout-a-long chorus. Though not quite as memorable as its predecessors, “Gangland” is a pretty decent tune that gets the job done in less than four minutes with a bit more of a 70’s rock vibe and a pretty decent chorus of its own—which brings us to the epic closing number.
This album would be pretty awesome in its own right even without “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” but its inclusion certainly takes it up to the next level. A live staple that announces its presence with the opening bells, it starts off slow before Dickinson kicks it into high-gear with the most elongated enunciation of the word “low” you’re likely ever to hear. The guitars and drums act as a counterpunch to his bellowed pleas, then it all comes together in progressive metal harmony, setting things up for an epic outro. Now this is how you end an album, kids!
THE VERDICT: Though School’s Out gave us one of the great rock ‘n roll anthems of all time, there are a whack of classic tracks on The Number of the Beast that make this a clear decision. Maiden takes this round on all three judges’ scorecards!