Saxon / 20 greatest songs – ranked!

With Saxon and Diamond Head to tour the UK in November 2022, MetalTalk’s Mark Rotherham tries to work out his Top 20 songs from the Barnsley Heavy Metal Icons.

Saxon! The underdog, underrated, and ultimately undefeated kings of the NWOBHM era. Biff Byford’s barnstorming battalion of barraging Barnsley Heavy Metal, and I love ’em! They were one of the first Metal bands I ever got into, way back in the blurry ’80s, back when I still had homework to do, still had spots, and yes, I still had hair as well, dammit.

Do Saxon sing songs about splitting the atom? No. Do Saxon indulge in six-minute iddly-widdly shred-solos? No. But do they entertain you? Oh yes!

So here are my Top 20 Saxon songs, and it was so much harder narrowing this down than I ever thought it would be. And yes, they’re known for being a basic, warts-and-all Metal band, but every one of their songs sucks you in with a world-class riff and then holds your attention with a much greater variety of story-telling than you’d realise.

  1. If I Was You – The Inner Sanctum.

This was the album’s single and a haunting track, warning against the temptation to engage in crime. Inspired by Biff’s early years and a path that he said he once nearly followed himself.

  1. Can’t Stop Rockin’ – Forever Free.

If ever there was a song that perfectly described Saxon, then this is it. And that super-catchy riff is just all over you the moment you hear it. They can’t stop rockin’? You can’t stop rockin’ when you hear this.

  1. Set Me Free – Crusader.

This is a warp speed Metal track and a slight departure in sound for Saxon, maybe because it’s a cover of an old Sweet song. It came along just when you thought the Saxon formula was all predictable and pedestrian. The riff is super-fast and seriously addictive, and it leads to an amazingly explosive finale.

  1. Red Alert – Destiny.

This is a song about the Chernobyl disaster. It’s got a great riff and tells a great story. It’s another example of Saxon’s versatility and ability to throw us curve balls.

  1. Walking Through Tokyo – Dogs Of War.

And if you’re talking curve balls, they don’t get more curvier than this one. This song actually does have a kind of Japanese feel to it, which really isn’t something you get much of in Metal. Once again, though, Saxon prove themselves to be the masters of the riff, as their song weaves in and out of more power chords than you could swing a samurai sword at.

  1. Hungry Years – Strong Arm Of The Law.

This song echoes memories of the Jarrow March. It’s got a rolling, churning riff that just slams into you, and then the thundering vocals tell the story, and you’re hooked.

  1. Ride Like The Wind – Destiny.

A cover of the Christopher Cross song, telling the story of a bad guy on the run. It’s a lot heavier than the original. It was released as a single, and it’s also made its way onto many live sets.

  1. Broken Heroes – Innocence Is No Excuse.

Saxon’s seventh album is a bit of a fave with me. I was just getting into Metal when this came out, and it marks a departure from their signature tone/sound. This song is a haunting song about the war dead and asking the question, where are they now?

  1. The Great White Buffalo – Dogs Of War.

You want different? Here you are, but with a monster riff that could only come from Saxon. Combine that with super-slick production and controversial subject matter, and we’ve got all the ingredients of an absolute Metal classic. I love this song. I just wish it was played live a bit more often.

  1. Solid Ball Of Rock – Solid Ball Of Rock.

Title track from the 1991 album, written by Bram Tchaikovsky and Micki Broadbent, who, if you’re really old, will remember from the ’70s band, The Motors. Once more, a super-catchy riff and amazing lyrics which absolutely celebrate our collective love of Metal.

  1. Power And The Glory – Power And The Glory.

Title tracks keep on coming, and this song is an absolute ripper, telling the bittersweet story of a mercenary who has no choice but to do or die.

  1. Strong Arm Of The Law – Strong Arm Of The Law.

The title track in a row, and this one tells the iconic tale of the band being pulled over by motorway police. Super-cool rumbling bass line announces this song before the awesome riff kicks in.

  1. The Thin Red Line – Unleash The Beast.

This is my absolute favourite song from this album, although there were many contenders. Again, as with many Saxon songs, it’s driven by the riff, it tells of the British military of the musket age, and the solo is just to absolutely die for.

  1. Crusader – Crusader.

Who’d have thought that Saxon would go medieval on our asses, but that’s exactly what they did in 1984 with this, the title track of their sixth album. Again, more varied style than they’re known for delivering, but it’s a song that hits all the right spots and pushes all the right buttons. Atmospheric and catchy, all at the same time.

  1. Rockin’ Again – Innocence Is No Excuse.

First track on this album, and it really announces itself. A slow start that suddenly and without warning kicks in with awesome heaviness. We’ll be rockin’ together, rockin’ again. And who can argue with that sentiment?

  1. Devil Rides Out – Innocence Is No Excuse.

A drumbeat intro, a banshee scream from Biff Byford and an absolute killer of an opening riff. It doesn’t get much better than this. A thoroughly evil song about a thoroughly evil woman. Never mind the eagle. The Metal has landed.

  1. Never Surrender – Denim And Leather.

If ever there was one song that perfectly personified the spirit, the message and belief, and the sheer force of Heavy Metal, then this has surely got to be it. Never mind the lyrics, the title tells you exactly what this song is all about, and God damn, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

  1. Watching The Sky – Power And The Glory.

This song is a real unsung hero within the Saxon songlist, but why? It kicks off with an amazing, super-tight riff before the drumming kicks in, and then a churning riff that takes you all the way to Metal heaven. Power And The Glory is, for me, Nigel Glockler’s finest moment. And that’s no more evident with this song, which tells the story of UFOs.

  1. Princess Of The Night – Denim And Leather.

This song almost single-handedly confirms Saxon as the absolute riff masters. It is beyond impossible to hear this and be unaffected. The emotion as Biff tells the story of the steam-powered mail trains of old is infectious, and more than forty years on, just like the Princess herself, the song remains an undisputed live favourite.

  1. 747 (Strangers In The Night) – Wheels Of Steel.

Well, you knew it. What is possibly the greatest-ever intro in Metal announces this classic anthem’s arrival. With a solid, chugging riff and brief but electrifying solo, this is the Saxon song to end all Saxon songs. Just make sure they switch the ground lights on! The first time I listened to the Wheels Of Steel album, I thought it was good, but nothing special, and then this little beauty ripped up my record player and drilled me right between the eyes. And it still does.

And there you have it, my Top 20 Saxon songs, and like all of these lists, it was a real heartache deciding which ones to leave out because this band has got great songs by the truckload. Saxon live by the words ‘never surrender’, and are motivated by the title of their latest album, seize the day. Damn right!

Saxon and Diamond Head Tour tickets are available from https://www.saxon747.com/tour

november

11nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, IpswichRegent

12nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, SouthamptonGuildhall

13nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, BexhillDe La Warr Pavilion

14nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, CardiffSt Davids Hall

15nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, BathForum

16nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, CambridgeCorn Exchange

18nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, NewcastleCity Hall

19nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, BlackburnKing George's Hall

20nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, AberdeenMusic Hall

21nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, GlasgowBarrowlands

22nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, HullCity Hall

23nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, YorkBarbican

25nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, LeicesterDe Montfort Hall

26nov7:30 pmSaxon / Diamond Head, LondonRoundhouse

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