Few bands in the history of heavy metal are as patriotic and focused on war as British icons Iron Maiden, and as far as we know there are no other bands whose frontman holds an Airline Transport Pilot’s license like Bruce Dickinson does. Here at Warbirds News we sometimes like to talk about warbirds from different perspective, and Iron Maiden’s single, “Aces High” gives us the opportunity to talk about a very unique song.
“Aces High” was written by bassist Steve Harris. It’s Iron Maiden’s eleventh single and the second from the 1984 studio album Powerslave. The song tells the story of a British RAF pilot fighting against the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain, the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and looms quite large in the collective psyche of the British people, as it was a hard-won victory against incredible odds, and if Britain had not prevailed, it’s not hyperbole to say that the war would have been lost.
This song describes an air battle from the viewpoint of a flying ace. The lyrics and fast-paced style have made the song commonly associated with war, and has been covered many times by other artists an has been featured in movies. The first line is “There goes the siren that warns of the air raid.” Lead singer Bruce Dickinson had earned the nickname “The Air Raid Siren” for his powerful, never-tiring vocals. He is also a licensed pilot, and after leaving the band in 1993, piloted many commercial flights, later returning to fronting Iron Maiden in 1999.
The cover for the single was a close-up of “Eddie,” Iron Maiden’s mascot who features prominently in nearly all of the band’s album artwork, this time in the cockpit of a Spitfire. The back cover featured a side view of a plane with the confirmed kills underneath the pilot’s cockpit portrayed by other iconic versions of “Eddie” that had appeared on some of the band’s previous album covers.
The back cover featured a side view of a plane with the confirmed kills underneath the pilot’s cockpit portrayed by other versions of “Eddie” that had appeared on some of the band’s previous album covers.
Iron Maiden has always displayed a penchant for songs about war, which fitted quite comfortably with the tempo and tone of their music, and had already released two songs about a war from the perspective of the participants. One was “Invaders,” which was set during a Viking sea battle. The other was “Trooper,” set during the Crimean War in which the British fought the Russians, which was also immortalized by the famous Alfred Lord Tennyson poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. After this, Iron Maiden wrote and performed another song about aerial combat in World War II, “Tailgunner,” considered by many to be something of a sequel to “Aces High.” “Tailgunner” is in essence a song about bombing enemy cities, it’s first line “Trace your way back 50 years To the glow of Dresden – blood and tears,” and featured cover art with the ubiquitous “Eddie” in the tail gunner’s position of what appears to be a Lancaster.
Here is the official video of Aces High: