Here we are yet again for another edition of S-Tier songs. The list of prior entries and the criteria can be found here.
I’m at an odd place with this series – I’ve been looking to get a variety of artists on here before I start repeating acts. But also this has been running for almost a year and at some point in time I just have to say the hell with it and just go with the songs I want to put on. For the time being I will stick to covering artists not yet on this list, though today’s pick changes that shape a bit.
I had been working on a two-parter for this series that would see songs brought in from two different bands, though having the same singer. The songs have the same theme and fit together and are both worthy inclusions on this list, so I thought it would be a cool thing.
But then I thought about something – if I’m going to have my first two-time singer appearance on this list, who do I really want that to be? I pushed off the other picks for a bit and made my choice for the first guy to actually appear on the S-Tier list twice, though in different artistic entities.
Bruce Dickinson – Tears Of The Dragon
Today’s song is from Bruce’s second solo album Balls To Picasso. It was also Bruce’s first album after his infamous exit from Iron Maiden in 1993. Bruce had made a few attempts to start the record with other bands and producers, but he scrapped those efforts and hooked up with Roy Z and Tribe Of Gypsies. That band would back Bruce on this effort and the partnership with Roy Z would yield great results over the ensuing years.
Tears Of The Dragon is generally viewed as the best song from Balls To Picasso. The song has over 40 million streams on Spotify, which basically obliterates the totals from any other Dickinson solo tune. While none of the solo catalog did massive numbers sales-wise and The Chemical Wedding is widely hailed as a masterpiece, it is Tears Of The Dragon that is the first song recalled when talking about Bruce’s solo career.
Our song today is not a blazing metal scorcher. It would fit quasi-ballad territory – the song opens with soft, somber verses that build to a powerful chorus suiting The Human Air Raid Siren’s voice. It is replete with the standard fare you’ll find in any good hard rock/metal song, including a fast-paced solo and also a jazzy sort of interlude that, well, I guess you don’t find in every hard rock or metal song. And yeah, the very first time I heard the song I was really thrown off, but I’ve gotten used to the bit and now I can’t imagine the song without it.
Lyrically the song deals with the idea of overcoming one’s fears to “throw myself into the sea” and see what happens. The song revolves around Bruce’s decision to leave Iron Maiden and throw himself into the sea, to experience what else might be out there that he was missing. I can’t readily access the source material for this, but Bruce gave the info in an interview with Rolling Stone when he was promoting his biography in 2017. It was a huge gamble to cast off from Iron Maiden and go at it alone. And while it might not have been a lucrative prospect, in the end Bruce does have an acclaimed solo catalog from his endeavors.
And the song’s greatest strength is that it wasn’t specifically couched in the terms of him leaving Maiden – it was a song for anyone who was unsure about a course in life, who needed that push to go ahead and jump into the sea of doubt. I think music in general will grab people at places and times, be the right song in the right place for someone. That much doesn’t consider genre or form – people have benefited from a song bringing the right message at the right time.
But I think we know rock and metal have long been the refuge of the loner, the doubter, the unsure of foot. And Tears Of The Dragon is a call to anyone feeling those kind of emotions – metal is often at its best when it appeals to the outcasts, and this is a song for those on the margins that need a push for that motivation to succeed and overcome when the odds aren’t good or even known.
It’s the overriding reason why many of us chose this kind of music as our own. We didn’t fit, we didn’t like the same things as those around us, or whatever it was, we faced life with doubt and trepidation. It was shit like this that got many of us over the hump, just as this song did when I was just before the age of 17 in 1994.
While life wasn’t exactly great for Iron Maiden-Bruce Dickinson-hard rock and heavy metal fans in 1994, we still found our own way. And a fair bit of that had to do with the mainstays like Bruce offering viable product, updating with the times yet still staying the course. It would only come to pass years later that staying the course was the true line to walk, even in the turmoil of the early 90’s, and the greater turmoil of the years beyond.
Why is this an S-Tier song?
Tears Of The Dragon is a magnificent ballad of conquering self-doubt that offered its artist an early signature hit in a period of great uncertainty. While charts and sales figures weren’t entirely kind to Bruce’s solo efforts, the talk of the time and also the retrospective analysis paints his work away from Maiden in a fantastic light, and Tears is one of the main calling cards for his time in the 1990’s wilderness. It’s a song about conquering fears and embracing the unknown, which Bruce did by word and deed in a period where many thought rock and metal as we knew it was lost forever. Yet, by simply executing what he knew, we would be led back to a new legacy we couldn’t even begin to imagine.