Ever since Jim Morrison driveled on and on about Rimbaud and "the Dionysian Spirit of the
Musician," every yuppie jerk, unwashed hippy and would-be academic has gone tripping over themselves in a desperate attempt to discover and then champion rock'n'roll's most literary artist.
Bob Dylan has been nominated for the Nobel Prize god-only-knows how many times by Dr. Gordon Ball and a whole cadre of ghoulish pop-culture appropriators. Patti Smith made it cool to bum around subways dressed in rags and reading shitty French poetry and penning overwritten pap like Just Kids, and Bruce Springsteen got some weird notion in his head about being some kinda poet of the streets.
Before you knew it bands like Rush were thinking it was cool to write long-winded prog-rock rants about Ayn Rand novels. The Cure started making it cool for oh-so-alienated highschool boys to like Camus again and somewhere, somehow, somebody tricked a whole mess of people into calling STING a poet, just because he made allusions to Scylla and Charybdis and wrote a really, really shitty song ("Desert Rose," for those of you with some culture left in your souls).
So it's time to get the record straight, by offering you a definitive list of the top 10 most literary songs of all time...and yes, they are all by the one and only Iron Maiden.
10. Iron Maiden - "Stranger in a Strange Land"
What, you think a band can't be literary just because they're referencing an obscure piece of pop-culture ephemera? OK, so this song's got nothing to do with the Heinlein novel it takes its name from, but you know what? Heinlein was a hack. Thank God for Adrian Smith's appropriating that little piece of pop-poetry and applying it to a song that dips and rolls and resounds with the kind of vast guitar solos that lend this one a real air of lonely wandering.
9. Iron Maiden - "To Tame a Land"
Remember Dune, that novel you always wanted to read but didn't because the appendix in the back was longer than the actual book? Yeah, well, unlike you, Iron Maiden not only finished that book, they wrote a song that recapitulates the whole damn story in just 7-and-a-half minutes, which is approximately one bajillionth the time it takes David Lynch's abysmal adaptation to run its course. This arid scorcher of a ballad makes every other Dune-inspired piece of pop culture look about as overstuffed and ghastly as Vladimir Harkonnen himself.
8. Iron Maiden - "Out of the Silent Planet"
It was always considered cool, for some bizarre reason, to pay tribute to Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings, but how many songs can you name based on the works of C.S. Lewis? Nobody's exactly tripping over themselves to write about Narnia, are they? Except Iron Maiden made this little ditty in tribute to the first novel in C.S. Lewis' "Space Trilogy." OK, so maybe the lyrics kind of suck -- it's basically just the phrase "Out of the Silent Planet" repeated a thousand times over -- but ya know, I'll take that over Rush's "Rivendell" or Zeppelin's "Ramble On."
7. Iron Maiden - "The Man Who Would Be King"
Rudyard Kipling might get a bad rap these days for being a bit of an Imperialist twit, but if you're gonna hold that against him then, well, I'm gonna guess you're probably not a big fan of any literature at all. Lucky for us, the members of Iron Maiden are more concerned with rocking than passing obnoxious moral judgments on the long dead. Otherwise, we'd never have gotten this perfect homage to Kipling's minor-epic about rampant colonialism, messianic complexes, distorted history and, most importantly, the baffling nature of friendship and that's a heaping helping more useful than another half-formed rant about "dead white males."
6. Iron Maiden - "Brave New World
It was like some kind of contractual obligation: after Bowie crooned "beware the savage jaws/of 1984," every band with even the teeniest tilt left'o'center in their politics seemed obligated to pen their ode to Orwell's opus. Except Maiden, who eschewed paying homage to Orwell's simplistic, one-sided tract in favor of giving thunderous voice to Huxley's much-more critical, nuanced, and quite frankly much more accurate prophecy with a song as passionate and savage as its namesake's hero.
5. Iron Maiden - "Flight of Icarus"
While it's a pretty straight re-telling of the Icarus myth, lyrically, what Iron Maiden gets here, that other would-be classicists never seemed to get, is that rock is mythology and to that end you need to keep it short, sweet and muscular, just like all good myths. Form and content synching up perfectly? Yeah, that's basically what Aristotle was going on about in his Poetics, so that makes this one a clench.
4. Iron Maiden - "Revelations"
Are there any other bands who'd kick off an homage to Alleister Crowley with a direct quote from G.K. Chesterton's "O God of Earth and Altar?" Fuck, are there any other bands who even know who Chesterton is? No? Alright, then, that settles that: Dickinson is better read than any other musician you can throw up here.
3. Iron Maiden - "The Trooper"
If you go and tackle the fucking Western canon like Maiden did with this classic homage to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigadge," then, well, you'd better have nerves of steel, because suddenly every associate professor with an axe to grind and a chip on his slumped, blazer-covered shoulders is gonna come crawling out of the woodwork to denounce you as the decline of Western civilization incarnate. Which is why Maiden made this number such a galloping display that anyone with the guts to question their right to this adaptation went scampering back into their book-stacked hell of an office.
2. Iron Maiden - "Lord of Light"
And they did it twice! Outdoing the old Victorian master wasn't enough Steve Harris and company decided, "Fuck it, let's one-up Milton!" Which brings us to this haunting piece, tackling the story of Lucifer and his fall from Heaven with none of the maudlin, romanticized, navel-gazing, "Lucifer weren't such a bad feller, honest!" that characterizes just about every other song or poem ever tried to give short-shrift to the god-damned Devil. No, sir, this is all seething fury and explosive but stately shreds, this piece, making clear what Milton was trying to say all those centuries ago: Lucifer was about the baddest dude whatever started a rebellion in history.
1. Iron Maiden - "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
Are you starting to get the picture? Or do you still doubt that Iron Maiden's the most well-read group of rock and rollers ever born of the Muses' frothing loins? Alright, then wrap your stretched out little noodles around this one: when Steve Harris put mental pedal down to the metaphorical metal and penned "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," possibly the most perfect 13 minutes in metal history, he found himself ripped off by no less a literary eminence than Samuel Taylor fucking Coleridge. That's right: the bad-boy schizo-freako of the Romantic poets was so impressed by the reverberations he heard echoing down through the years that he travelled through time and space (no doubt using the magical power of drugs) to steal this piece. While Bob Dylan and Lou Reed and Jim Morrison struggled on a daily basis to sling out schlock like, "there's a killer on the road/his brain is squirming like a toad," Steve Harris and his cohorts upped the irons so hard that the best of the literary world were cribbing directly from them.
So, that about settles it. The tally is in, the list has been made, and everything has been set to right. Iron Maiden has been reinstated as the rightful heir to the legacy left by the oldest balladeers, the pretenders have been casually disposed of and now the history of rock and roll is back on track. No need to thank me; just doing what I was put on this Earth to do.