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Running Free was the first single released by Iron Maiden and it really sets the tone for what people could expect to come from the NWOBHM movement. While the Soundhouse Tapes had been out for a year at this point, that release only exhibits a fraction of the energy presented on this one. The Soundhouse Tapes show Maiden taking their baby steps in the metal direction, but Running Free shows Iron Maiden finding their niche in the metal scene and fully embracing a new type of sound and attitude that would be emulated and praised by so many bands after them.
It is also of note that this is the first appearance (partially obscured for the release of the eponymous LP) of Eddie. Even from the very beginning, Derek Riggs knew how to make a damn great album/single cover. In addition to the ominous Eddie image, I always thought the band graffiti on the wall was really cool too. Looking closely I see AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest, and the most obscure one, Vambo (For those of you who don't know, Vambo is the fictional superhero created by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band).
The song, Running Free, is the same version that would appear on the album. I'd say the two focuses are on the dual lead guitar harmonies and Paul Di'anno's vocals, although it is undoubtedly Steve Harris that is controlling the song as with most of Maiden's repertoire. Paul's voice has really matured since the Soundhouse Tapes and really drives the song along with Steve. Dave and Dennis really shine just after the second chorus with the dual cascading guitar solo and the heavy breakdowns before the third verse. Steve's bass is always prominent in the mix as with any other Maiden song, as it should be. The only thing that annoys me about the song is Clive Burr's drumming. Clive Burr, in my humble opinion, has so much more potential in his playing than what is showcased on Running Free. Instead of doing the over-used "Gary Glitter Rock n Roll Part 2 bass snare beat," I had expected so much more from such a talented drummer. Never fear, Clive redeems himself on all of his future Maiden releases behind the kit. Although Running Free is not the most technical or fantastic Maiden song from the early days, it's a crowd staple and just a fun, metal classic.
Burning Ambition, however, beats Running Free a million times over. As far as I know, Maiden have never played this song live and that is a crying shame. Dave Murray begins with a clean, spacey chorus intro then bursts into the song's trademark celestial melody. This lick just soars over everything else in the mix and is just so damn catchy, so damn IRON MAIDEN. This beautiful melody by Dave, alone, blows Running Free out of the water. The verses have Dave riffing fast D-A-C power chords and Paul singing in the higher register of his range. This song is total Iron Maiden attitude and is performed flawlessly. After two verses, Dave erupts into his signature, searing solos and rounds it off with a double tracked dual lead ending. It's fast, it's melodic, it's pentatonic Dave Murray legato shred. After that the song repeats from where it started. I can only guess they chose not to play this song live because there are only two verses and only two riffs, but Christ, the single is worth buying just for this song. If you hadn't guessed, Dave Murray completely steals the show on Burning Ambition.
The Running Free single showed Iron Maiden had more than enough potential to be at the forefront of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. It was a affirmation of the band's will and desire to become destined for greatness and achieve the utmost respect in metal circles. This single shows off Harris' songwriting and how the band had become a cohesive force of true heavy metal. I only docked off 5 points for Clive's drumming on Running Free (believe me the man is a tour de force in all other Maiden releases ex. on Genghis Khan, Phantom of the Opera, and Killers he is quite exceptional) and the fact that Burning Ambition has never been played live on any Maiden tour (but that's just me being nitpicky). I highly recommend this single and buying it in conjunction with the Sanctuary single. Fantastic.