I‘ve always joked that if you really want to know how weird I am, just look to the fact that I’m probably the only guy in the universe who prefers Blaze Bayley era Iron Maiden to any time featuring legendary front man Bruce Dickinson.
Not so coincidentally, today’s entry in the 52 Songs That Changed My Life – a track from that period called The Angel & The Gambler- finds itself on this list precisely because it reminds me of my weirdness, and of my friend’s gradual acceptance of it.
Before we go any further, a disclaimer:
Everything I’ve said above is in no way meant to suggest that I have something against the classic ‘Maiden line-up.
Like any self respecting metalhead, I enjoy headbanging to classics like 2 Minutes to midnight, and Hallowed Be Thy Name as much as the next man.
But here’s the thing.
Those were not my introduction to the world of Iron Maiden.
Most of their biggest hits were either released before I was born, or at the very least at a time when I was too young to even count to six, let alone 666.
No, by the time I was old enough to start really appreciating music and discovering my own favourites, Iron Maiden had parted ways with Bruce Dickinson, and were ushering in the short-lived, and mostly reviled Blaze Bayley era.
So it was neither of those songs, nor any of the band’s countless other classics that gave me my first taste of the band’s music, but rather a nigh on ten minute epic called The Angel & The Gambler.
The Angel on One Side, The Gambler The Other…
Just listening to this track, I can’t understand why this period is met with such disdain by long-term fans, or why the album which birthed it, Virtual XI, was so poorly received.
A joyous coming together of euphoric keyboards, crashing guitars and Steve Harris’ trademark galloping basslines, The Angel & The Gambler is just a wonderfully enjoyable song, made all the more memorable by its repeated refrain.
Don’t you think I’m a savior?
Don’t you think I could save you?
Don’t you think I could save your life?
These three lines serve as the entire lynchpin of the song, with Blaze, Harris et al taking the song in all kinds of weird and wonderful directions, but always returning to what proves to be the one constant in a song which spirals off into numerous solos and vocal breakdowns.
Even today, it remains by far my favourite Iron Maiden song. I’m even convinced that the Virtual XI album it came from deserves more praise than it got.
The first five tracks of the album alone (Futureal, The Angel & The Gambler, Lightning Strikes Twice, The Clansman) are as good as you’ll find from any metal band around that time, whilst penultimate track Don’t Look To The Eyes of A Stranger is bold, dramatic, and, in short, awesome.
Yet as good as it is, the real reason that I’m including this on my 52 Songs That Changed My Life list is actually how the track came into my life.
How Iron Maiden Taught Me To Embrace Individuality
The story goes thus:
Somebody my friend knew gave it to him as a birthday present. One day, I went to see my friend, and he said to me something along the lines of:
“I don’t know why the hell he got me this. What gave him the idea I’d be into Iron Maiden? Here, you like that metal stuff, you can have it.”
It doesn’t sound that big of a deal, does it? One friend offloads a crappy present on to somebody who’ll appreciate it. Happens all the time right? One man’s junk is another man’s heavy metal CD and all that?
Yes, but that’s not what made an impression on me.
You see, up to this point, I had always been wary of being different, always trying to keep a lid on my weirdness, on the very fact that my tastes were different from others. I wast still young enough to believe that there was something I needed to “fit in” to, instead of just openly embracing what makes me, me.
I was still trying to go along, still not confident in saying “yes, I like different things to most people,” lest I be rejected and somehow lose all my friends.
So, when my buddy gave me this CD, he was more than just giving me his crappy birthday present, he was giving me the reassurance that I needed that I could still be an individual and have friends.
It was only with this one seemingly insignificant gesture that I began to see that my friends were not my friends because of superficial reasons like the type of music I listened to, but rather because of who I am, that I could have friends because of my unique qualities and not despite them.
It was from that point on that I really started to open up, to embrace my own individuality and, in doing so, eventually becoming the person I am today.
The Angel & The Gambler by Iron Maiden is the fifthteenth song in my list of 52 songs that changed my life. Other entries in this list are below:
- Michael Jackson – Bad
- Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
- Queen – The Hitman
- R.E.M – Drive
- Pink Floyd – The Wall
- The Eagles – Take it Easy
- Beautiful South – Old Red Eyes is Back
- Coal Chamber – Loco
- Type O Negative – Everything Dies
- Monster Magnet – Space Lord
- Live – The Dolphin’s Cry
- Metallica – The Memory Remains
- The Prodigy – Poison
- Nirvana – Territorial Pissings