With our Top 10 Saxon Songs List we are looking at a band who are synonymous with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They had much success in the 1980s with several high-charting singles and albums but the fact that they never reached the superstar heights of the peers in Iron Maiden and Def Leppard has unfairly led to them often being seen as being “also rans” of the movement.
The band formed in Barnsley in 1977. Despite never being fashionable or hip, they have been consistent throughout their entire career, frequently putting out albums and never being affected by any musical trends that have come and gone throughout the years.
In many ways, Saxon’s career has been more solid than the likes of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Judas Priest. Whereas those bands’ consistency has dwindled over the years, with them only putting out new albums every so often, Saxon has never gone any longer than three years in between an album. This was even the case during the 1990s when traditional heavy metal was considered outdated and irrelevant in the eyes of the mainstream music press. So without further ado here are the ten best songs from these uncompromising metal warriors…
# 10 – Stallions of the Highway
First on the list is a track from their self-titled debut released in 1979. It was one of the songs from the album that was released as a single. Frontman Biff Byford has described the song as being about “the band finding their sound and style.” This is definitely the standout track on the album which does sound very much like a band who just starting out. In addition to Byford, it features Graham Oliver and Paul Quinn on guitars, Steve Dawson on bass and Pete Gill on drums.
# 9 – Valley of the Kings
Up next is a song from the band’s eighteenth album Into the Labyrinth released in 2009. The lyrics are about when Tutankhamun’s tomb was discovered in the 1940s. Byford recalled that when he wrote it, he had to make sure he got the facts accounted in the lyrics correct or else someone with a strong knowledge of ancient Egypt would potentially point out that he had made a mistake, which would make him look foolish.
# 8 – Heavy Metal Thunder
This track is from 1981’s Denim and Leather. This album was their fourth and reached number 9 on the UK album charts. It was also the last to feature what is regarded as the classic line-up, as Gill would leave the band soon afterward and sometime later join Motorhead. Along with Wheels of Steel and Strong Arm of the Law, it is considered to be the final part of their trilogy of classic albums. This track is a highlight, written about the fans of the band and the heavy metal genre as a whole.
# 7 – Lionheart
This is the title track of the band’s sixteenth album released in 2004. This was the only album to feature Jorg Micheal (not that one!) on drums. This song is about the 12th-century King Richard the Lionheart. Like many of Saxon’s songs, it is inspired by British history and there is a clear sense of patriotism found within the lyrics. Aside from Micheal and Byford on vocals, it also features Quinn and Doug Scarret on guitar, Nibbs Carter on bass and this particular track features a guest keyboard appearance from Chris Stubley.
# 6 – Crusader
Up next is another title track, this time from the group’s sixth album from 1984 which sold over 2 million copies. The title was inspired by the British newspaper The Daily Express’s logo which features a picture of a crusader, as well as a car called the Cortina Crusader. The band liked the name and so from there, the lyrical content was born. Another historically inspired song, this one tells the rather grisly tale of the Medieval crusades. As well as reaching number 18 in the UK charts, it also topped the rock charts in several other European countries.
# 5 – Power and The Glory
Yet another title track, this time from the fifth album released in 1983. The album continued the band’s success selling 1.5 million copies and it saw drummer Nigel Glockler join the ranks. It also managed to chart high, reaching number 15 in the UK as well as several European countries and was also their first to enter the US Billboard at number 155. This title track was released as a single which reached number 32. The track is rather reminiscent of Iron Maiden and is considered to be a proto-power metal song.
# 4 – Denim and Leather
Now is the title from the aforementioned fourth album. The track is another tribute to the bands, fans, and culture of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, with the title referring to the typical attire that followers of the movement were known to wear. Everything about the song is “old school” to a tee, not just with the lyrics but also with the musical ideas. It may sound a little dated now as it presents something of a stereotype of metal fans that is very 1981. However, as a document of the time, it remains a classic.
# 3 – Princess of the Night
“Princess of the Night” is the opening track from Denim and Leather that was released as a single, and reached number 57 on the charts. The song was collectively written by all five members of the band. It is about a steam train made by the London Midland and Scottish Railways otherwise known as Princess Royal Class. A rather bizarre thing for the lyrical subject of a metal song perhaps, but it nevertheless works as this song is a rocking number.
# 2 – State of Grace
At the number two spot is the opening track from the band’s sixteenth album The Inner Sanctum released in 2007. For this album, Glocker returned to the drum stool, his previous recording with the band being Unleash the Beast in 1997. Despite Byford saying that he was outvoted about it not being his first choice for album opener, the song is a great example of how Saxon adapted their sound for modern times.
# 1 – Wheels of Steel
At the top of the list is the band’s signature song from the 1980 album of the same name. It is known in recent times for its appearance in several video games and lyrically, as the title would suggest is about bikers. The song, as well as the album, is considered to an all-time classic of early 80’s metal. It was their first to enter the UK charts, peaking at number 5. It features one of the all-time great guitar riffs and there is truly no other song deserving of a number-one spot on this list.
Top 10 Saxon Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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