Contents INTRODUCTION................................................ 3 Chapter One
CASTING CALLS................................................... 5 Chapter Two
THE DRESS REHEARSAL.......................... 7 Chapter Three
THE SHOW MUST GO ON................ 13 Chapter Four
THE MUSIC................................................................. 17
orld renowned as one of the most innovative British rock bands of all time, Queen are still influencing the biggest and best of pop and rock to this day. Drawing inspiration from some of the most eclectic musical genres one could possibly imagine – including glam-rock, opera, flamenco and rockabilly to name but a few – the Freddie Mercury-led superstars are also famed for their eccentricities and larger-than-life appeal, surrounding them with an air of theatrics and excitement. The second biggest selling recording band in British history, Queen come in at an admirable seventh place in the all time record sales of either band or solo artist, only lagging behind the likes of Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. As of 2006, their Greatest Hits I album climbed to the top of the UK charts as the biggest selling album of all time and, across the world, has sold over twenty-nine million copies to date. In spite of their recording career as a full band coming to an unscripted end over twenty-five years ago, the sales show little sign of slowing down, and the band are as influential today as when Bohemian Rhapsody first hit the charts all those moons ago. Queen’s career falls into quite distinct stages thanks, in part, to the release dates of their three greatest hits albums, Freddie Mercury’s eventual passing in the autumn of 1991, and the very distinct styles the band employed during the three decades of their output. This account, therefore, also falls into convenient chronological sections. From the early, pre-Queen days, the likes of Smile, Wreckage and Reaction are explored, as Queen’s sound begins to take shape. In the early 1970s, their eponymous first album was released, followed in relatively quick succession by both Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack. From here, Queen really took off, and since that time the band never looked back as the group took both sides of the Atlantic by storm. With the 1970s claiming most of the band’s most critically acclaimed work, studio albums A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, News of the World, Jazz, The Game and Flash Gordon are also explored, as well as various major tours with the likes of Thin Lizzy and Mott the Hoople, before Greatest Hits I heralds in the 1980s.
The 1980s sees the band veering away from the glam rock and operatic styles of their 1970s releases, instead experimenting more with disco, funk and pop, garnering more of a mainstream audience, but losing some of their critical acclaim. During this time, we also see the band perform at Live Aid in 1985, as well as collaborating with the likes of David Bowie and playing sell-out gigs all over the world. A second greatest hits album was also released, featuring the bands biggest and best from the decade. In 1991, Queen released their last album – Innuendo – before the tragic death of exuberant front man Freddie Mercury would finally bring an end to the band as a complete unit. They would release one more album in the 1990s, Made in Heaven, a collection of songs constructed from Mercury’s final recording session in 1991, as well as material left over from Queen’s previous studio albums, and some of the group’s solo projects throughout the years. This review also details tours by the band in the post-Mercury era, various solo projects, re-releases and the like, as the Queen legend continues to live on and on and on. This retrospective also includes segments of interviews conducted with all four members of the band throughout the years. It’s a grandiose story, and almost impossible to fit into a mere 20,000 words.
n 5 September 1946, Jer Bulsara gave birth to a handsome baby boy in Zanzibar, an African Island situated just off the coast of mainland Tanzania. Farrokh Bulsara was the first of two children born to Jer and her husband Bomi, who was a civil servant working for the British government. Living a fairly restricted childhood, Farrokh stated years later, ‘I was a very insecure young boy, probably because I was a bit sheltered.’ Raised a Zoroastrian, a devotee of a philosophical religion based upon the idea of one true Creator, Farrokh (also known as Freddie) grew up alongside sister Kashmira, and the two of them, along with their parents, moved to India when he was just seven years old. They were later educated at an English boarding school near Bombay, and finally moved to England when Freddie was seventeen, as a result of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution. Nearly 5,000 miles away in England – long before Freddie had even set foot on its green and hallowed land – three other boys were born between the years 1947 and 1951. Brian Harold May was born at Gloucester House Nursing Home to Ruth and Harold May, and would soon become fascinated in the industry that would, only twenty years later, include the career in which he would make his trade. ‘When I was a boy, we used to play a lot in the lunch hour in the cycle sheds. We weren’t allowed to play in the school ’cos rock music was unacceptable, not cultural, so it was kind of underground. We’d go and see bands around Richmond and Twickenham, and I saw people like the Yardbirds, the Stones and Clapton at the local club – they were really hot news!’ Roger Taylor was born in 1948, and also recalled an early fascination with music, reminiscing, ‘I remember when I was a really young kid, I was inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, all the really early rockers. I didn’t even have a record player at the time! My cousin had one though. Later on my big all-time heroes became Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. Archetypal influences I suppose, but why not?’
Three years later, on 19 August 1951, John Deacon was born in Leicestershire, completing the foursome that would become one of the biggest British rock bands of all time. The seeds of Queen had been sown. This is their story… An early band featuring a young Roger Taylor would be the first to make a name for themselves. Taking on the rather spurious name Johnny Quale and the Reaction, the future Queen drummer would travel the length and breadth of the country with the band, competing in various talent contests and battle of the bands. Eventually downsizing their name to Reaction, they would be a constant on the music scene throughout the mid 1960s. At the same time, Brian May had taken inspiration from author George Orwell, playing in a band named after one of Orwell’s most famed novels – 1984. Even more successful than Taylor’s Reaction, 1984 played sold out gigs left, right and centre, and even picked up a support slot with Jimi Hendrix in 1967. Conflicts within the band meant they split soon after, however. As for Queen’s soon-to-be bassist John Deacon, he was also in a mildly successful band at the time. With Deacon’s group getting booked most weekends in The New Opposition, it was clear that all three were on the rise. In 1966, Brian May was busy studying for a degree in astronomy at Imperial College in London. As well as performing with 1984, May was also playing in a band called Smile with singer and bassist Tim Staffell. Answering an ad on the Imperial College noticeboard for a drummer, Taylor soon joined the band. Freddie Bulsara was Staffell’s roommate at 5
the time, and followed Smile closely – turning up to rehearsals as well as most of the band’s gigs. Freddie, of course, was also big on the scene at the time, singing with the likes of Ibex and Wreckage. With Freddie becoming closer and closer with the Smile boys – as Staffell drifted further and further apart from them – it wouldn’t be long before Staffell decided that Smile was not for him, and Freddie replaced him as lead singer. The band also began the long search for a new bass player, initially settling on Barry Mitchell. Freddie quickly stamped his authority on the band, changing the band’s name from Smile to Queen, stating, ‘Years ago I thought up the name Queen… It’s just a name, but it’s very regal, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.’ Also deciding his own name needed a makeover, Freddie Bulsara found inspiration for a new one when writing the song My Fairy King, which contains a verse with the lyrics ‘Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me.’ Bulsara was quick to latch on to Mercury, and subsequently took the stage name Freddie Mercury – arguably an attempt to detach his stage persona (‘extroverted monster’) from his personal persona. It would be another few years before the band would finally become complete, when in 1972 bassist John Deacon joined the group. Queen began to rehearse for their first full-length release – the eponymously titled Queen – but struggled to find a label to market the finished product, as Roger Taylor recalled, ‘We had quite a difficult genesis. It was very difficult for us to get a contract, to be accepted in any way. But many groups went through that, and it does engineer a kind of “backs to the wall” feeling in a band. So we felt very strong together.’ When they were eventually picked up by EMI, it had been eight months since the band had completed the album, by which point the group themselves had almost grown out of it. Years later, Brian May would talk about the lengthy process, stating, ‘The album took ages and ages – two years in total, in the preparation, making and then trying to get the thing released.’ The press barely paid any attention to the group at first, yet the album did succeed in giving the band their first radio hit through Keep Yourself Alive, which, as Mercury himself commented, ‘… was a very good way of telling people what Queen was about in those days.’ A mixture of mostly Led Zeppelin inspired rocking numbers, as well as a hint of glam rock, Queen slowly bubbled under the radar, and this album has been passed over by the critics and the band alike to this day. Roger Taylor, for example, recently stated, ‘There were lots of things on the first album I don’t like, for example the drum sound. There are parts of it which may sound contrived but it is very varied and it has lots of energy.’ Touring the album in support of Mott the Hoople, Brian May would quickly become infatuated with the glam-rockers from Hertfordshire, England, showing signs of the band’s influence throughout his own writing career. 6
THE DRESS REHEARSAL
n 1974, Queen quickly followed up the small success that their first studio outing had had with two new releases, the first of which was Queen II, featuring hit single Seven Seas of Rhye. Garnering the band a plethora of new fans, and in spite of the album as a whole being highly experimental and gaining little critical acclaim, Seven Seas of Rhye went to No. 5 in the charts, and the band were more than pleased with the results. Roger Taylor would pronounce, ‘We took so much trouble over that album, possibly too much, but when we finished we felt really proud. Immediately it got really bad reviews, so I took it home to listen to and thought, “Christ, are they right?” But after hearing it a few weeks later, I still like it. I think it’s great. We’ll stick by it. Considering the abuse we’ve had lately, I’m surprised that the new LP has done so well. I suppose it’s basically because people like the band.’ He added a few years later that, ‘It’s very difficult to choose one album I prefer out of all of them. But I do like a lot of the work on the second album, second side. It all runs into one, very epic. Musically it’s quite daring because we did lots of counter seven part harmonies and things.’ Later that same year, the third studio album Sheer Heart Attack was released. Killer Queen – the album’s premier single – would prove to be the album’s standout track, and a major jumping-off point for the band. Shooting into the Top 10 of the UK Single Charts, as well as peaking at No. 11 in the US Billboard Single Charts, the track combined the Led Zeppelin-esque sound of their first two albums, along with Mercury’s grandiose music hall stylings. Brian May would quickly pick up on the track’s importance: ‘Killer Queen in 1974 was the turning point. It was the song that best summed up our kind of music, and a big hit, and we desperately needed it as a mark of something successful happening to us. We were penniless, you know. Just like another struggling rock ’n’ roll band. All sitting around in London bedsits, just like the rest.’ As a whole, the album was a big success all over Europe, and even managed to go gold in the United States – a sure sign that this
was a band to be watched. Speaking about the album, John Deacon would say, ‘I have the feeling that the whole thing is getting a bit more professional all round. We are, after all, on our third album. I’ve got more confidence in the group now than ever before. I was possibly the one person who could look at it from the outside because I was the fourth person to join the band. I knew there was something there but I wasn’t so convinced of it. Till possibly this album.’ Mercury would expand on this after harsher critics would describe the album as nothing more than a collection of singles, in spite of it generally being seen as a cohesive long-player with a wide variety of musical genres, including ballads, ragtime and heavy metal. ‘Not a collection of singles, dear – although we might draw another one off later for a single. I’m not absolutely sure about that, though. No, not all the numbers last for ages. There were just so many songs we wanted to do. And it makes a change to have short numbers. It’s so varied that we were able to go to extremes. I only had about two weeks to write my songs so we’ve been working fucking hard.’ The band would also start making a name for themselves thanks to their onstage theatrics, especially front man Freddie Mercury, who had fast become quite the entertainer – dressing in satin, sequins and gesticulating all over the place. Sheer Heart Attack’s follow-up a year later, A Night at the Opera, would see the band under new management following the dismissal of Norman Sheffield in the same year. The album’s opening track, Death On Two Legs, would prove to be a reference to the whole sordid affair, with Mercury later stating, ‘As far as Queen are concerned our 7
old management is deceased. They cease to exist in any capacity with us whatsoever. One leaves them behind like one leaves excreta. We feel so relieved!’ Queen’s new management would be John Reid, who also handled Elton John’s career at the time – an artist with whom the band would collaborate later in their own career. Considered by many to be the band’s strongest ever outing, A Night at the Opera featured what is also widely considered to be the group’s strongest ever track in the massive worldwide hit, Bohemian Rhapsody. No. 1 all over Europe, and even hitting the Top Ten in the United States, Bohemian Rhapsody earned Mercury an Ivor Novello award, was promoted by a revolutionary music video, and is the second most played song on British radio. Mercury would, years later, try to explain the appeal of the track: ‘It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them,’ going on to add, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?’ The album also featured another major hit in John Deacon’s, You’re My Best Friend. Peaking at No. 14 in America, it was unlike anything Queen had done up to this point, and proved to be a forerunner for the myriad hits that the band would become famous for. Deacon later talked about how Mercury originally hated the track, especially the Wurlitzer organ that the bassist had composed it on, stating, ‘Well, Freddie didn’t like the electric piano, so I took it home and I started to learn on the electric piano and basically that’s the song that came out you know when I was learning to play piano. It was written on that instrument and it sounds best on that. You know, often on the instrument that you wrote the song on.’ Throughout this period, the band would spend much of their time promoting and gigging the album, including a huge free gig at Hyde Park in front of over 150,000 people. Brian May would talk about the concert’s importance to the band a few years later: ‘I think that Hyde Park was one of the most significant gigs in our career. There was a great affection because we’d kind of made it in a lot of countries by that time, but England was still, you know, we weren’t really sure if we were really acceptable here. So it was a wonderful feeling to come back and see that crowd and get that response.’ A commercial and critical smash hit, the album went three times platinum in the United States, and this success, as well as playing sold out venues all over the world, proved that Queen had finally made it big on the popular music scene. A Night at the Opera’s successor, A Day at the Races, was essentially the second half of what could be deemed a split double album. With both albums taking their names from famed Marx brother’s movies, and featuring similar album covers, A Day at the Races was unable to eclipse its predecessor, yet still proved a huge success in musical exploration. Staying true to their guitar-driven style, and continuing in the vein of complex multi 8
tracking, Queen’s fifth studio album featured a number of chart hits that helped the album break into the UK Top Ten Album Charts. The band’s 1977 American tour of the album saw Thin Lizzy as their support act, with May announcing the importance of having a challenging support act: ‘Thin Lizzy as a support band is a real challenge. They’ll want to blow us off stage, and that can be a very healthy thing. You feed off the energy of others and I know that if they go down a real storm then we’re gonna go on feeling that much higher. It makes for good concerts. We’ve had it the other way around. I think that we gave Mott the Hoople a hard time on our first tours of Britain and America.’ Queen would also go on to play two nights at Earls Court this time around for Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebrations. Unveiling their famed ‘crown’ lighting rig at the show – which reputedly cost £50,000 – the group would go on to lose £75,000 over the two nights, showcasing their love of pomp and glamour ahead of fiscal success. Mercury himself affirmed, ‘The Jubilee’s quite fun isn’t it? I love the Queen. I’m very patriotic. I love all this pomp, of course I do. I love it. She does outrageous things!’ During the same year, Mercury and his long-term girlfriend, Mary, would agree to a looser relationship, citing too much time apart for their split, fuelling the rumours that Mercury was, in fact, homosexual. Mercury would go on to pronounce the importance of his relationship with Mary, asserting, ‘Our love affair ended in tears, but a deep bond grew out of it, and that’s something nobody can take away from us. It’s unreachable. All my lovers ask me why they can’t replace her, but it’s simply impossible.’ He added, ‘I don’t feel jealous of her lovers because, of course, she has a life to lead, and so do I. Basically, I try to make sure she’s happy with whoever she’s with, and she tries to do the same for me. We look after each other, and that’s a wonderful kind of love. I might have all the problems in the world, but I have Mary and that gets me through.’ During recording of the band’s next studio album, News of the World, Queen would be in a studio next door to the Sex Pistols, who were busy recording their breakthrough album, Never Mind the Bollocks. In an hilarious encounter, Johnny Rotten had been so eager to meet Mercury that he crawled on all fours through his own studio, into Queen’s, sidled up the side of the piano where Mercury was playing, and drawled, ‘Hello Freddie!’ before crawling out again. During the same sessions, Mercury also had a chance encounter with the Pistols’ tragic bassist, Sid Vicious. Their brief conversation is rumoured to have gone something like this: Sid: ‘Aren’t you that Freddie Platinum, who’s bringing ballet to the masses?’ Freddie: ‘Ahh Mr. Ferocious, we’re doing our best.’ 1977 saw the release of the album taken from these sessions – an album that was actually critically panned at the time, but has since proved to have more commercial and critical appeal. News of the World was to prove to be something of a ‘concert album’, featuring
tracks suited for gigging, and as close to stadium rock as Queen would get throughout their career. Double A-side We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions were the perfect examples of this ‘new sound’, together combining to give the band their first No. 1 single in America. Mercury would state the importance of the tracks – We Are the Champions in particular – declaring, ‘I have to win people over, otherwise it’s not a successful gig. It’s my job to make sure people have a good time. That’s part of my duty. It’s all to do with feeling in control. That song We Are the Champions has been taken up by football fans because it’s a winners’ song. I can’t believe that somebody hasn’t written a new song to overtake it.’ He went on to add, ‘I was thinking about football when I wrote it. I wanted a participation song, something that the fans could latch on to. It was aimed at the masses; I thought we’d see how they took it. It worked a treat.’ Speaking about the album as a whole, Brian May would relate, ‘It’s a spontaneous album. I think we’ve managed to cut through to the spontaneity lacking in our other albums. I have no apologies to make for any of our previous albums. We’re proud of them and wouldn’t have let them out if we weren’t.’ Going through yet another managerial change, the band parted company with John Reid in 1978, as they felt they were becoming far too successful for him to be able to cope with both them and Elton John. Taking over the responsibility of their own affairs, the band would go on to rule the roost over Queen Productions, appointing themselves as directors of the company, and earning £690,000 each during the fiscal year of 1978/9 – making them the highest paid directors in British industry. Brian May announced, ‘We didn’t particularly want the job of managing ourselves, but we decided it was the best way of getting precisely what we wanted and controlling our own destiny.’ Following a sell-out tour of Europe, the band would release seventh studio outing, Jazz, in the winter of 1978 to a rather lukewarm response. Featuring a multitude of different musical influences, including Arabic, rock, pop, funk, soul and just about everything apart from jazz itself, the album saw the band frustrated for the first time in their career, with Mercury, in particular, noting his disappointment in the final product. However, the album did include yet another hit, a double A-side single in Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race, which featured a rather racy inlay and music video, replete with sixty-five naked ladies riding bikes. Not that that decision didn’t lose Queen their fair share of fans as well though, as Brian May recalled, ‘We lost some of our audience with that. “How could you do it? It doesn’t go with your spiritual side.” But my answer is that the physical side is as much a part of a person as the spiritual or intellectual side. It’s fun. I’ll make no apologies. All music skirts around sex, sometimes very directly. Ours doesn’t. In our music, sex is either implied or referred to semi-jokingly, but it’s always there.’
As a result of the album’s relative failure, the group decided that a little more work needed to be done on their next release, so they took a break from their schedule of one or more albums a year to focus a good eighteen months on The Game, which didn’t come out until 1980. Before The Game was released, however, the band were on the road again, as another European tour followed. As well as this, in response to the amount of money that live Queen bootleg tapes were fetching, the band decided to release their first-ever live album in Live Killers. Featuring tracks taken from the band’s Jazz World Tour, the album went platinum all over the world. Despite this, the band sparked controversy when they stated on record that they didn’t actually like the album – something which has been repeated this very year by heavy rockers Deep Purple, when the release of one of their live concerts was actually pulled by their record company after the band urged fans not to buy it. One particular criticism of the album was its inclusion of Bohemian Rhapsody, a track which never held up as a live number, as Brian May himself explained, ‘Rhapsody is not a stage number. A lot of people don’t like us leaving the stage. But to be honest, I’d rather leave than have us play to a backing tape. If you are there and you have got backing tapes, it’s a totally false situation. So we’d rather be up front and say, “Look, this is not something you can play onstage.” It was multi-layered in the studio. We’ll play it because we think that you want to hear it.’ Towards the end of 1979, the band also released Crazy Little Thing Called Love, a single which brought the band chart success once again, hitting the Top 10 in most countries around the world, and providing the band with their second No. 1 single in America. Freddie said of the piece, ‘I wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Love in the bath. I actually grabbed an upright piano to my bedside table once. I’ve been known to scribble lyrics in the middle of the night without putting the lights on.’ Brian May argued against the band’s reputation for being a singles band, saying, ‘We’re not a singles group. We don’t stake our reputation on singles and we never have done, but I think that it’s brought a lot of younger people to our concerts.’ Around this time, Mercury was also performing with the Royal Ballet – literally, as Sid Vicious had put it two years previously, ‘bringing ballet to the masses’ – dancing and singing to both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Bohemian Rhapsody. He also supposedly found love, albeit briefly, with the wardrobe man, as his homosexuality had now become public knowledge. Right at the end of 1979, the band embarked on the Crazy Tour, so-called because the band were playing in such tiny venues, and had so much equipment that the whole idea of the tour was both ‘crazy unthinkable’ and ‘crazy illogical’, as John Deacon would so aptly put it. Roger Taylor would also recall the problems on tour, stating, ‘I remember at the Lyceum gig in 1979 – the roof was too small to fit in all our lights – so we cut two holes in it. We got a call from Paul 9
McCartney saying Wings were playing there next week and they’d need a hole in the roof, so could he pay for one of them? Just think – we became the first group to sell Paul McCartney a hole!’ As well as working on The Game during this sustained period of touring, the band were also busy writing the soundtrack for Flash Gordon. Both albums saw the band experimenting with synths for the first real time in their career, after their strict ‘no synths’ rule of the 1970s. John Deacon would go on to explain, ‘We wanted to experiment with all that new studio equipment. We had always been keen to try out anything new or different whilst recording. The synthesisers then were so good, they were very advanced compared to the early Moogs, which did little more than make a series of weird noises. The ones we were using could duplicate all sorts of sounds and instruments – you could get an entire orchestra out of them at the touch of a button. Amazing.’ When finally released in 1980, The Game proved to be a huge commercial and fiscal success, turning out to be the group’s highest selling album to date. It featured hit single Crazy Little Thing Called Love, as well as Another One Bites the Dust. Interestingly enough, the band only released Another One Bites the Dust as a single after Michael Jackson told the band he thought it would be a hit. Inspired by the likes of Chic and the Sugar Hill Gang, the track would stay at No. 1 for four weeks in America, spawning a multitude of new fans. John Deacon, once again, explained the composition of the track, ‘I listened to a lot of soul music when I was in school and I’ve always been interested in that sort of music. I’d been wanting to do a track like Another One Bites the Dust for a while, but originally all I had was the line and the bass riff. Gradually I filled it in and the band added ideas. I could hear it as a song for dancing but had no idea it would become as big a hit as it did.’ The album itself went four times platinum in America, and was quickly followed up by the soundtrack album of cult sci-fi classic Flash Gordon. Performing badly as far as sales were concerned, the album, nevertheless, was innovative, and showed the band in a whole new light, as Brian May showed when talking about the composition of the critically acclaimed soundtrack: ‘We saw twenty minutes of the finished film and thought it was very good and over the top. We wanted to do something that was a real soundtrack. It’s a first in many ways, because a rock group hasn’t done this type of thing before, or else it’s been toned down and they’ve been asked to write pretty mushy background music, whereas we were given the license to do what we liked, as long as it complemented the picture.’ By the end of 1980, with nearly a decade of hits under their belts, Queen had sold over 25,000,000 singles, and over 45,000,000 albums worldwide, amplifying the fact that they were easily one of the biggest bands of all time, and they still had a long long way to go… 1981 kicked off with a massive stadium tour of South America, cementing a relationship with the band’s South American fans that 11
would last forever. This was the first time any major western band had ever done such a huge tour in South America and Argentine fans, in particular, showed their appreciation by buying enough Queen records to ensure that every release of the band to date was in the Top 10 Album Charts during the tour. Brian May remembered the time fondly: ‘It’s a long time since we’ve experienced such warmth from a new audience. We feel really good about it now, as our ambitions have been partly realized,’ with Roger Taylor going on to add, ‘I was surprised we didn’t get more criticism for playing South America. I didn’t think we were being used as tools by political regimes, although obviously you have to co-operate with them. We were playing for the people. We weren’t playing for the government.’ The remainder of 1981 saw the band in the studio recording discotinged tenth studio album, Hot Space. Once again sharing the studio with another famed artist, this time instead of being a comedic affair it was a productive one, as the band collaborated with David Bowie for hit single Under Pressure. Also finding its way on to the album, Under Pressure netted the Queen/Bowie combo a No. 1 in the UK, as well as providing the memorable riff for Vanilla Ice’s 1991 hit Ice Ice Baby, prompting a lawsuit over the unrequested use of the sample. The band also released their first Greatest Hits album in 1981, featuring all of their biggest hits from the 1970s. 1982 finally saw the release of Hot Space. Disappointing to most for its lack of rock tracks and overuse of synths, it must widely be regarded as the group’s worst outing. American fans left in their droves. European fans were less fickle, however, and stayed true to the band, making sure their tour of the same year was, once again, sold out. The tour included a scheduled date at Manchester that actually had to be cancelled due to the lack of public toilets, as the Pope was also touring north England at the same time! The final gig of the tour was more successful, however, as in front of 37,000 fans at the Milton Keynes Bowl. Channel 4 recorded the concert to be played back in front of millions of viewers. The band, however, were yet again not particularly pleased with their performance, with Brian May recalling, ‘None of us thought that it was a particularly good gig at the time, we were wishing that they had filmed Leeds. I particularly found that it was hard to get the sound right, and couldn’t hear the monitors very well. But Tyne Tees filmed it, and mixed it themselves, with no help from us; and we now think that it’s one of the better videos of our live shows.’ Following this, the band appeared on Top of the Pops for the third time in their career, performing a version of new single, Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love), dedicated to their South American contingency. This, of course, was also at the same time that England was in major conflict with Argentina over the state of the Falklands, and the release of the track in England was seen as ‘inappropriate’. In Argentina, as well, the band’s songs were banned from public radio after their popularity was seen to ‘annoy the government’. 12
Roger Taylor would speak out against the decision, pronouncing, ‘In Argentina we were No. 1 when that stupid war was going on and we had a fantastic time there, and that can be only for the good. Music is totally international.’ Not wanting to stay out of the limelight for too long, ever-excitable front man Mercury spent some time recording with Michael Jackson, explaining, ‘Michael has been a friend of ours (Queen) for a long time. He’s been to our shows and enjoyed them. We make a great team.’ He added, ‘I’d like to release something with Michael because he is really marvellous to work with. It’s all a question of time because we never seem to be together at the same time. Just think, I could have been on Thriller. Think of the royalties I’ve missed out on!’ Several tracks were put down, but, unfortunately, none have ever surfaced, meaning Freddie never did get his hands on those royalties! The year ended with a massive tour of America and Japan, which, in spite of the album’s frosty reception, was a huge success. Worn out, and in need of a well-earned rest, the awesome foursome took 1983 as a rest of sorts, as Roger Taylor explained, ‘After touring America, Europe and Japan we were totally knackered, so we thought we deserved a bit of a rest… It also had a lot to do with the last album (Hot Space) not doing as well as previous LPs. We realised that it hadn’t been what a lot of fans wanted or expected from us, so we thought a break would give us the opportunity to think things through a bit.’
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
uring this time the band worked on various solo projects, with Freddie working on a solo album in Germany, Roger learning the art of skiing, and John surf boarding. A mildly amusing tale also came out of 1983, as Roger was arrested and imprisoned at the Monaco Grand Prix after getting drunk with Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt, as Parfittt himself recounted, ‘Yeah, I went to Monaco with Roger and we finished up in prison. It was quite a funny night, we were accused of something we didn’t do, but we sat in prison all night and it rained all the next day so we didn’t see the race. We had a thoroughly bad time, but we came home laughing.’
After the failure of Hot Space, work progressed in earnest on the band’s new album towards the end of the year and through the early part of 1984. Eventually released in February 1984, The Works would bridge the gap between pop and rock with the likes of pop-tinged rock anthem Radio Ga Ga, written by drummer Roger Taylor, who said regarding this, ‘I wrote it after watching a lot of MTV in the States, and it seemed to me there was far too much emphasis on a band’s visual image. I got the name Radio Ga Ga from my son, Felix – he was watching TV with me and started going around saying “radio poo poo” which changed to “radio ka ka” and then eventually to “Radio Ga Ga”.’ Another massive number off the album, I Want to Break Free, caused incredible controversy for the band thanks, once again, to its controversial music video. Featuring the band dressed in drag, in parody of a famous British soap opera, neither the band’s fans nor the press got the joke, as Roger Taylor explained, ‘We had done some really serious, epic videos in the past, and we just thought we’d have some fun. We wanted people to know that we didn’t take ourselves too seriously, that we could still laugh at ourselves. I think we proved that.’ As with the disco-funk of Hot Space before it, Brian May was adamant that the I Want to Break Free video harmed the band’s sales in the United States in subsequent years. It didn’t much help that, at the same time, Freddie was to appear in Vogue magazine, modelling a diamond stud earring, enhancing the backlash against Mercury’s at times extravagant nature.
As with Hot Space, the poor sales of The Works prompted the band into delving deep into their solo projects once more, as both the critical and commercial acclaim that had come so easily in the 1970s seemed to be on a steady decline. A successful European tour towards the end of the year brightened things up a little, before the band released a special edited version of Live Killers, donating all of the proceeds to the Kultawamong School for deaf and blind children. After dates in South Africa, however, Queen were met with hostility on their return to England, with both the press and the Musicians Union on their back, as Brian May explained, ‘We’re totally against apartheid and all it stands for, but I feel we did a lot of bridge building. We met musicians of both colours. They all welcomed us with open arms. The only criticism we got was from outside South Africa.’ He also added, ‘We’ve thought about the morals of it a lot, and it is something we’ve decided to do. The band is not political, we play to anybody who wants to come and listen. The show will be in Botswana in front of a mixed crowd.’ John Deacon was also quick to stick up for the group’s decision to play there, stating, ‘Throughout our career we’ve been a very nonpolitical group. We enjoy going to new places. We’ve toured America and Europe so many times that its nice to go somewhere different. Everybody’s been to South Africa, it’s not as though we are setting a precedent. Elton John’s been there, Rod Stewart, Cliff Richard. I know there can be a bit of fuss, but apparently we’re very popular down there… Basically we want to play wherever fans want to see us.’ The band would return to their beloved South America soon thereafter, performing at the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, in front 13
of a record 250,000 people. Taking to the stage to near-deafening applause, the response of the crowd was incredible, and all was going well until the band’s performance of I Want to Break Free. A democratic anthem across the whole of the continent, the crowd began to boo and throw things at the band when Mercury entered the stage wearing stockings and suspenders just as in the video, seen to be degrading the piece. He was soon to whip these off after the response, but this just seemed to be another example of Queen not quite getting it right of late, as they seemed to be losing touch with their audience. More sold out concert dates were quick to follow in Australia and New Zealand, however, as well as a number of gigs in Japan, which was fast becoming like a second home to the band. Queen were invited to perform at the benefit concert Live Aid in 1985, and proceeded to steal the show in front of a worldwide audience of millions, wowing all with their showmanship and energy. Deacon talked about the success of the concert after the event pronouncing, ‘We didn’t know Bob Geldoff at all. When Do They Know It’s Christmas was out, that was a lot of the newer acts. For the gig, he wanted to get a lot of the established acts. Our first reaction was, we didn’t know – twenty minutes, no sound check…!’ He continued, ‘When it became apparent that it was going to happen we’d actually just finished touring Japan, and ended up having a meal in the hotel discussing whether we should do it, because obviously they wanted our answer, and we said yes. We didn’t get involved in the running order thing, but strangely enough we did well coming on when we did… It was the one day that I was proud to be in the music business – a lot of days you certainly don’t feel like that! But the day was fabulous, people there forgot the element of competitivenes… It was a good morale booster for us too, because it showed the strength of support we had in England, and it showed us what we had to offer as a band.’ So boosted was their morale, in fact, that Queen were quick to respond to increased record sales by quickly going into the studio to record One Vision, an up-tempo guitar-based song, which was subsequently released as a single to great success. More controversy abounded, however, when the press release for the single stated that the band were encouraged to go in and record the track after the success of Live Aid, which was then taken by the press to mean that the song was written about the event, and, therefore, the royalties should have gone to charity – which they didn’t. The band were aghast, as Roger Taylor would disclose, ‘I was absolutely devastated when I saw that in the press. It was a terrible mistake and I was really annoyed about it. Some public relations person got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I went absolutely bananas when I saw that.’ 1986 would see the band going in the studio to record new album A Kind of Magic. Inspired by the hit movie Highlander, and featuring the aforementioned single, the album was a fiscal success, spawning a string on hits including Friends Will Be Friends and A Kind of Magic.
Later that year the band would be on the road once more, touring Europe in support of the album, and playing venues in France, Italy and Germany to name but three. One particular date in Hungary proved to be especially successful, as Roger Taylor explains, ‘We had a wonderful time in Hungary. I think everybody who came to the Nepstadion enjoyed themselves. Especially the support! It was about sixty middle aged ladies singing a Hungarian Folklore version of Jumping Jack Flash and, believe me, it was different.’ Another highlight of the tour was a date at Wembley Stadium, which was subsequently released as both a live record and video. Somewhat prophetically, Freddie Mercury teased the capacity crowd that Queen might be breaking up, only to tell them it was nothing but silly rumour, and that Queen would be together until ‘we fucking die, I’m sure!’ Hmm… It was on this tour that the band would perform together for the last ever time. Selling out Knebworth Park in under two hours, the band would wow their sea of fans one last time, going out with a bang. Proving to be another year of rest for the band, the highlight of 1987 saw Freddy Mercury meeting opera diva Montserrat Caballe, and forming an alliance together, promising to make an album together. The hit single Barcelona would be the first we saw of the unlikely alliance, selling 10,000 copies in under three hours in Spain. Also adopted by the Spanish Olympic Committee as the theme for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the single also proved a successful Top 10 hit for the band in the UK. Also in the same year, the band would receive an Ivor Novello award for their outstanding contribution to British Music. As the 1990s fast approached, the band would have to endure a few personal problems before their thirteenth studio outing, The Miracle, was released. Brian’s father died just days before the Prince’s Trust Gala Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, and then soon after May left his wife for British actress Anita Dobson, promptly having his name bandied around the British tabloid’s front pages. The Miracle was released in 1989, and finally brought the band together in a way that no previous album had, as, for once, all songs were credited as being written by Queen, rather than its individual members, as past albums had held it. Having shied away from being interviewed as an entire band for some time, they were finally persuaded to do so in the spring of 1989, when Freddie revealed his reluctance to perform live again, stating he was tired of the ‘album– tour, album–tour’ cycle, adding he had ‘been there and done that’ and citing exhaustion as a major factor, prompting rumours that he was ill. Before the band’s final album as a complete unit came about in 1991, they would go on to receive a special BPI award for their outstanding contribution to British music in 1990, as well as ending their association with Capitol Records in the United states, instead signing a deal worth in excess of $10,000,000 with Disney-owned Hollywood Records. 15
In the early part of 1991, rumours began escalating that Mercury’s unwillingness to tour again, and his apparent fatigue, were due to the fact that we was suffering from AIDS. Flatly denying the claims, despite the fact that they were actually true, Mercury and the band decided to carry on and record their fourteenth studio outing regardless. Fighting through the pain, Mercury put in a courageous performance for his contributions towards Innuendo, and the album was mostly well-received by the press. Mercury, however, was declining fast. On 23 November 1991, Freddie Mercury would confirm the worst by issuing a statement confirming that he did have AIDS. By 7pm the next day, Freddie Mercury was dead. ‘I was numb the first night after it happened,’ said a grief-stricken May. ‘We all met and talked and I couldn’t even cry. Then the next day I fell to pieces completely, couldn’t do anything; crying.’ May would go on further still, adding, ‘It’s a big thing. It’s like all your adult life is over. It’s irrational, but it feels that way, losing your best mate. It’s just a major, major hurt.’ Crediting the fight in Mercury – a metaphorical God to millions all over the world – May would divulge that, ‘He sang, literally, as long as he could stand. He sang till he dropped, like he said he would. He worked on the last two albums, at least, under great difficulty.’ The band themselves issued the following press release: ‘We have lost the greatest and most beloved member of our family. We feel overwhelming grief that he has gone, sadness that he should be cut down at the height of his creativity, but above all great pride in the courageous way he lived and died. It has been a privilege for us to have shared such magical times. As soon as we are able we would like to celebrate his life in the style to which he was accustomed.’ Freddie’s cremation was held on 27 November 1991, and was a private Zoroastrian ceremony attended by Mercury’s closest friends and family. On 20 April 1992, a more public mourning took place, through The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, held at Wembley Stadium. Featuring the likes of Elton John, David Bowie, Metallica, Seal, Roger Plant, George Michaels and Guns N’ Roses, the concert sold out in less than six hours, and was a massive success. In fact, in 1993, an EP was released on the anniversary of the concert, featuring tracks taken from the event. With the band coming back together as an incomplete threesome in 1994, work began on their fifteenth, and final, studio album. Made in Heaven would prove to be the band’s swansong, in spite of them never officially disbanding. Released four years after Mercury’s death, the album was constructed from Freddie’s final recording sessions in 1991, as well as material left over from the band’s previous albums. For the next ten years or so, the band were rarely seen together as a complete unit. Appearing from time to time – minus bassist John Deacon – the group took part in numerous small projects, featuring 16
various guest musicians, but it wasn’t until 2005 that the band would begin touring properly again. Replete with Paul Rodgers of Free, Bad Company and The Firm as lead singer, Queen’s tour of Europe in 2005 was a massive success, and sold out all over the likes of Spain, Holland, Austria and Sweden. Taking us up to the present day, the band undertook a major American tour in the autumn of 2005 and the spring of 2006. As well as this, in June 2005, in the list of the Queen’s list of birthday honorees, Brian May was awarded the title of Commander of the British Empire. In the autumn of 2006, Brian May confirmed through his website that Queen and Paul Rodgers would begin producing a new studio album beginning in October, to be recorded at a secret location, with an unscheduled release date. And as for the future? Well, on top of a prospective exciting new album, currently Lebanese-American, British-based pop singer Mika is riding high in the UK charts with his Mercury-esque vocals, and Queen-like lyrical stylings, showing, once and for all, that great bands never fall out of fashion. Has any British band ever had as much impact on the face of innovative rock music in the twentieth century as Queen have? Well, it’s certainly arguable – one can look at the likes of Led Zeppelin and Blur, to name but two – but surely there has never been a band as exuberant, excitable and flamboyant as the Mercury-led quartet, whose humble beginnings took in cold, dank pubs across the length and breadth of England, and who ended up playing glamorous venues all over the world. Queen are as much an inspiration for up-andcoming bands today as they were in their late 1970s heyday.
his track-by-track analysis of Queen’s vast recorded back catalogue aims to provide a clear, concise and unbiased evaluation of each of the band’s studio albums. Each song and album has been given a rating out of five, as follows:
����� Essential ���� Great ��� Good �� Average � Poor hard rocking side. A thundering piece, the lyrics, however, tend to leave a little to be desired – ‘Where will I be tomorrow? Will I beg or will I borrow? I don’t care I don’t care anyway, Come on come on the time is right.’
(13 July 1973) Keep Yourself Alive ��� ‘But if I crossed a million rivers, And I rode a million miles, Then I’d still be where I started,’ a good, fast-paced introduction to both Queen the band, and Queen the album, Keep Yourself Alive features plenty of Brian May’s guitar riffery, strong drumming from Roger Taylor, and a solid introduction to Freddie Mercury’s famed vocal work. Doing All Right �� Originally a number by the first incarnation of Queen, Smile, Doing All Right changes throughout, from acoustic led guitar pop to near metal sections. One of the few tracks in Queen’s back catalogue to feature May on melancholic piano. Could be best described as a ballad. Great King Rat �� A Freddie Mercury penned track, Great King Rat showcases Queen’s
My Fairy King ��� The mythical My Fairy King deals, lyrically, with Freddy Mercury’s childhood fantasy world of Rhye – a place the band revisit throughout their career. Borrowing liberally from Robert Browning’s poem, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, musically the track features high pitched harmonies, and top notch musicianship overall. Liar ��� Written by Mercury back in 1970, Liar sounds not unlike a forerunner to Bohemian Rhapsody. One of the standout tracks from this eponymously titled first album, Liar is a hard rocking number, and, albeit a little repetitive, really thunders along admirably. The Night Comes Down �� ‘Holding the world inside, Now all the world is grey to me, Nobody can see you gotta believe it.’ Featuring time-honoured Brian May lyrical themes such as nostalgia over the loss of childhood and the difficulties in becoming an adult, The Night Comes Down seems to reference The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and changes the pace and feel of the album, with its ballad based stylings. Not the strongest track from this album. 17
Modern Times Rock ’n’ Roll ��� Written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor, Modern Times Rock ’n’ Roll is a fast paced, snappy rock song, coming in at under two minutes. Well paced. ‘With the temperature down, And the juke box blowin’ no fuse, And my musical life’s feelin’, Like a long sunday school cruise.’ Son and Daughter ��� Influenced by heavy guitar sounds and blues rock, Son and Daughter is typical of Queen’s early sound. With a riff that the likes of Metallica would be proud of, it is easily the heaviest number on the album, and works well. Jesus � ‘It all began with the three wise men, Followed a star took them to Bethelehem, And made it heard throughout the land, Born was the leader of man.’ An über-religious number, Jesus is – obviously – a tale of Jesus Christ. Featuring a nice Brian May guitar riff, this track, unfortunately, is a little too psychedelic and offers very little of note. Seven Seas of Rhye � A short instrumental version of Queen II’s full-length hit single, Seven Seas of Rhye feels nothing more than ‘thrown in for good measure’, in spite of its distinctive arpeggiated piano intro. Conclusion Queen’s eponymous first studio album peaked at No. 24 in the UK album charts, where it stayed for eighteen weeks. Strong in parts, weak in others, the album doesn’t particularly benefit from poor recording quality. Influenced by both heavy metal and prog rock, Queen is one of the least Queen albums in their back catalogue, but is well worth a look nonetheless. Overall rating: ���
QUEEN II (8 March 1974)
Procession �� A short and sweet instrumental, Procession is a passable start to the album, and marks good, and primary, use of May’s guitar as string section technique. Sounds vaguely similar to the last part of Bohemian Rhapsody. Father to Son ��� ‘A word in your ear from father to son, Funny you don’t hear a single word I say, But my letter to you, will stay by your side, Through the years till the loneliness is gone.’ A lengthy piece at over six minutes long, Father to Son is a cracking rock epic featuring both piano parts and heavy metal sections. Sounds a little like The Who. White Queen (As It Began) ��� A love song, of sorts, this Brian May written piece features strong Mercury vocals, including some multi-tracked harmonies used to evoke the sound of a huge choir. A good use of the quiet verse, loud chorus formula, White Queen also features some rousing lyrics, ‘My goddess hear my darkest fear, I speak too late, It’s for evermore that I wait.’ Some Day One Day �� Featuring May on lead vocals, Some Day One Day contains a complex, harmonious guitar arrangement. Sounding somewhat like an old English folk song, it’s the softest track on the album, and adds variety to an otherwise Led Zeppelin influenced album. Still, nothing special. Loser in the End �� Roger Taylor penned and sung, Loser in the End is one of the lesser tracks on the album. In spite of some good drums and an interesting guitar sound, the track really does feature some pretty poor lyrics – ‘So listen mothers everywhere, To just one mother’s son, You’ll get forgotten on the way, If you don’t let them have their fun.’ Ogre Battle ��� The heaviest track on the album (if not Queen’s career as a whole) Ogre Battle includes some very prog rock ideas, including reversed
snare rolls, a heavily reverbed gong and wild screaming. Very thrash; pretty good. The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke ��� Inspired by Richard Dadd’s painting of the same name, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke is an intricate piece with plenty of piano and harpsichord. Labelled Queen’s ‘biggest stereo experiment’ by Roger Taylor, the track is claustrophobic, and a somewhat bizarre, jaunty little number. Harmonies aplenty. Stays with you. Nevermore ��� ‘Can’t you see, Why did you have to leave me, Why did you deceive me?’ More multi-tracked Mercury vocals here, in a ballad tinged with piano ‘ring’ effects. Styled in the same vein as the likes of later Queen track Love of My Life. The March of the Black Queen �� More prog rock on show here, in The March of the Black Queen. Fantastical, and clocking in at over six minutes, it is an ambitious piece that is wonderfully over the top and has some great moments, but is very disjointed at times. Funny How Love Is �� Mercury penned and pianoed, Funny How Love Is is a simple number – all chorus, and no verse. Catchy, yet a little tiresome – ‘If you gotta make love do it everywhere, That’s what love is, that’s what love is.’ Seven Seas of Rhye ���� An enhancement of the instrumental piece of the same name from their debut album, Queen II’s closing track, Seven Seas of Rhye, features more distinctive arpeggiated pianos, as well as a cross fade outro, with instrumentation blending into a sing-a-long rendition of I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside. Queen’s breakthrough track. Conclusion In spite of not actually being a concept album, nearly all of the songs are connected either lyrically or musically. Very much influenced by Led Zeppelin, Queen II is an admirable affair, split into a ‘White’ and a ‘Black’ side. The ‘Black’ side (side two on original vinyls) is entirely Freddie composed, whereas the ‘White’ side contains tracks composed by both May and Taylor. The album took only one month to record, yet is better produced than their debut. Its no surprise that it fast became Queen’s first UK Top 5 album. Performed badly in the US, however. Overall rating: ���
SHEER HEART ATTACK (8 November 1974)
Brighton Rock ��� A Brian May tour-de-force, hard rocking piece, Brighton Rock is replete with May’s trademark multi-tracked guitar solo. Starting with the whistling of I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside, Sheer Heart Attack picks up from where Queen II left off – literally. Well produced. Killer Queen ���� The band’s first major international hit, Killer Queen is pure Mercury pomp and show, in a track built on a taut piano chord. Very Mott the Hoople, Killer Queen features some of Brian May’s most interesting, and incisive, guitar solo work. The recording of the track is pure Queen excess, containing, as it does, elaborate four part vocal harmonies. Great stuff. Tenement Funster �� ‘I got a way with girls on my block, Try my best to be a real individual, And when we go down to smokies and rock, They line up like its some kinda ritual.’ Taylor penned, and sung, Tenement Funster is a typical Led Zeppelin-esque rocking number. Echo effects on May’s guitar and Taylor’s impressive vocals drag this one out of the dirge. Flick of the Wrist ��� Taylor’s drums are particularly prominent here on this brisk and urgent number. Pure rock. ‘Flick of the wrist – he’ll eat your heart out, A dig in the ribs and then a kick in the head.’ Lily of the Valley ��� One of two short, but sweet, piano ballads on Sheer Heart Attack, Lily of the Valley is one of May’s favourite Mercury penned tracks. ‘Messenger from Seven Seas has flown, To tell the King of Rhye he’s lost his throne, Wars will never cease, Is there time enough for peace, But the lily of the valley doesn’t know.’ Now I’m Here ��� One of the best tracks on the album, Brian May’s Now I’m Here is a heavy rocker featuring more multi-tracked guitars, as well as stereo panning vocal effects. Possibly a little too over-produced, the subtle 19
use of organ is a nice touch. Mercury’s high notes are something special. In the Lap of the Gods ��� The direct prelude to Bohemian Rhapsody? So says Freddie Mercury. In the Laps of the Gods is all fast piano arpeggios and operatic screams. ‘Think all my thoughts with you and only you, Anything you ask I do for you, I touch your lips with mine, But in the end I leave it to the Lords, Leave it in the lap of the Gods, What more can I do?’ Stone Cold Crazy ���� An underrated gem, Stone Cold Crazy predates thrash metal by ten years. Credited to all four members of the band, this is a two minute crackerjack and features some impressive lyrical work from Mercury. A huge influence on metal, this is almost a five-starrer, but not quite. Dear Friends ��� ‘So dear friends, Your love has gone, Only tears to dwell upon.’ A short piano ballad, Dear Friends really demonstrates May’s songwriting versatility. Mercury’s vocals are pretty solid too. Misfire �� The first ever John Deacon composition to appear in the Queen repertoire, Misfire is a jaunty pop song hinting at the hits that Deacon was to write as the years went on. ‘Your gun is loaded, and pointing my way, There’s only one bullet, so don’t delay, Got to time it right, fire me through the night.’ Bring Back That Leroy Brown ��� Both written and sung by Freddie Mercury, Bring Back That Leroy Brown features May playing a banjo, and Deacon playing a double bass in this nice 1920s pastiche complete with treated vocal effects. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos) �� With Deacon on acoustic guitar, She Makes Me is a Brian May number with an outro consisting of real night-life recordings from New York, such as police sirens and the like. Abstract, possibly even a little too abstract. In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited ��� A forerunner, of sorts, to We Are the Champions, In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited is all powerful chorus and stadium rock stylings. Also has a touch of Hey Jude about it to boot. Conclusion Sheer Heart Attack is a rocking album, full of hits that ran throughout their career. Their first real commercial success, the record coincided with Queen’s first tour of Japan, and peaked at No. 12 in the 20
American Billboard Album Chart. An underrated gem, replete with all the Queen staples – multi-tracked guitars, multi-tracked vocal harmonies, dynamic production, and Mercury’s stunning vocals. Overall rating: ���
A NIGHT AT THE OPER A (21 November 1975)
Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to…) ��� A hate song aimed at Queen’s ex-manager, Death On Two Legs is a snarling rocker, opening this classic album up with an admirable bang – ‘You’re just a sewer rat decaying in a cess-pool of pride.’ Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon ��� Mercury penned Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon is the polar episode to Death On Two Legs, switching mood to one of over-the-top silliness. Ridiculously jolly, Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon shows Mercury’s penchant for songs about high society to good effect. I’m In Love with My Car ���� A Roger Taylor stalwart, I’m In Love with My Car also features Taylor on lead vocals. Filling in the gaps with squealing race-car impersonations on his guitar, May’s work is also admirable here. It should come as no surprise that this was a live favourite for many, many years. You’re My Best Friend ���� John Deacon’s first single contribution, You’re My Best Friend is a song written for his wife, with piano and overdubbed bass lines. A simple, yet beautiful, song of love and devotion, some great electric piano features here. ’39 ���� An acoustic number, ’39 features Brian May on lead vocals, and really showcases his talents to great effect. ‘Sci-fi skittle’ in nature, the track also features some pretty good double bass from Deacon. Great stuff. ‘In the land that our grandchildren knew…’ 22
Sweet Lady �� ‘You call me up and feed me all the lines, You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese, Waiting on the shelf, You eat me up, You hold me down, I’m just a fool to make you a home.’ A Brain May penned heavy metal track, Sweet Lady is loud and riff-heavy. Nothing spectacular, this is probably the album’s worst. Seaside Rendezvous ��� With their voices alone, Taylor and Mercury imitate piccolos, flutes, trumpets and tubas on this one. They also imitate tap dancing sounds with their fingers. Ridiculously innovative, Seaside Rendezvous is another Mercury high society track – ‘I feel so romantic can we do it again? Can we do it again sometime I’d like that, Fantastic c’est la vie mesdames et messsieurs.’ The Prophet’s Song ���� A Brian May epic, The Prophet’s Song features some stunning guitar work, and complicated production. Multi-layered and multi-tracked all over the place, this track still doesn’t feel too over-produced. Well thought through. Love of My Life ��� One of Mercury’s most covered songs, Love of My Life is a tender piano and harpsichord number, influenced by Chopin and Beethoven. A passable ballad. Good Company ����� With vocals and ukelele by May, Good Company is another Brian May classic to rival The Prophet’s Song. The jazz break at the end involved the complex recording of May’s guitar in every possible way imaginable. The lyrics, too, are particularly poignant here. Bohemian Rhapsody ����� The crown jewel track of (arguably) Queen’s crown jewel album, Bohemian Rhapsody couldn’t get anything other than five stars. In the style of a rock opera, and with the most unusual structure for a piece of popular music, the track’s six different sections feature both a cappella and heavy metal arrangements. Nothing short of incredible. ‘Shall we do the fandango?’ God Save the Queen �� A possible homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of The Star-Spangled Banner. Overt, and over-the-top. Pure Queen excess. Conclusion One of the greatest rock albums of all time, A Night at the Opera peaked at No. 4 in the US Album chart, and has been certified triple platinum. Ranked thirteenth in Channel 4’s Greatest Album of All
Time poll, this fourth studio outing also features in a myriad of other surveys and polls. May stated that had the album not been a success, Queen would have more than definitely disbanded. Thank goodness it was then… Overall rating: ����
Somebody to Love ���� Mercury, Taylor and May multi-track their voices here to emulate the sound of that of a hundred-voice gospel choir. Staying true to Queen’s musical stylings, it is also replete with a Brian May solo, and thundering drums to create a thrilling sound. White Man �� ‘I’m a simple man with a simple name, From this soil my people came, In this soil remain, oh yeah, oh yeah.’ With lyrics eluding to the suffering of the Native Americans at the hands of European immigrants, White Man is musically similar to The Prophet’s Song, but fails to stand up as strongly as the original.
A DAY AT THE R ACES
Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy ���� Featuring co-producer Mike Stone singing lead vocals on one line – ‘Hey, boy, where’d you get it from? Hey, boy, where did you go?’ – Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’s multi-track vocals enhance the song, which continues in Freddie’s obsession with vaudeville mock-musical hall music. Good stuff.
Tie Your Mother Down ��� Preceded by a one minute instrumental that also features as the outro to the album’s final track, Tie Your Mother Down is a blast of pure energy, featuring one of rock music’s most recognisable guitar riffs.
Drowse �� ‘It’s the fantastic drowse, Of the afternoon Sundays, That bored you to rages of tears.’ Nothing special here, in this Roger Taylor penned number. Drowse has some nice guitar work, but it is mostly forgettable.
(10 December 1976)
You Take My Breath Away �� Showcasing Freddie Mercury’s multiple songwriting personalities to good effect, You Take My Breath Away is a romantic ballad, but possibly a little too long for good standard’s taste. Long Away �� ‘You might believe in heaven, I would not care to say, For every star in heaven, There’s a sad soul here today.’ Utterly forgettable, in all honesty. The Millionaire Waltz ��� A multi-key and multi-metre song in the same vein as Bohemian Rhapsody, The Millionaire Waltz uses abrupt arrangement changes and multi-tracked guitars from Brian May. Okay. ‘Once we were mad, we were happy, We spent all our days holding hands together, Do you remember, my love, How we danced and played.’ You and I ��� A John Deacon penned track, You and I features Mercury playing Elton John-esque piano parts, and continues Deacon’s growing skills in the songwriting department. ‘You know I never could foresee the future years, You know I never could see, Where life was leading me, But will we be together forever?’
Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together) �� May’s tribute to Queen’s Japanese fans, Teo Torriate is a balladic affair and a nice way to end the album. Interestingly, two verses are actually sung in Japanese, but this song is nothing more than a conversation piece. Conclusion Queen’s first self-produced album, A Day at the Races peaked at No. 1 in the UK, in Japan and in the Netherlands. Also peaking at No. 5 on the US Billboard Album Chart, the album is, nonetheless, not quite as proficient as the previous outing, yet stands up pretty well regardless. Overall rating: ���
trademark snarls that accentuate the refrain. Predates Another One Bites the Dust as the band’s first foray onto funk.
NEWS OF THE WORLD (28 October 1977)
We Will Rock You ���� ‘Buddy you’re a young man hard man, Shoutin’ in the street gonna take on the world some day, You got blood on yo’ face, You big disgrace, Wavin’ your banner all over the place.’ Simple and anthemic, We Will Rock You has one of the most recognisable power choruses in rock history. The classic stamping effects were created by the band in an old church, using the wooden floorboards to produce the sound. We Are the Champions ��� Another power ballad, We Are the Champions is based around Mercury’s piano, with Deacon and Taylor providing percussion backing. One of the more classically Queen-sounding numbers, We Are the Champions can get a little tiresome. ‘And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few, I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face – But I’ve come through.’ Sheer Heart Attack ��� Half-finished at the time of its eponymous album, Sheer Heart Attack is fast, energetic and intense. A staple encore in Queen’s live set for a few years subsequently, the track is very much punk rock. Not bad. All Dead, All Dead ��� Brian May’s tender and melancholy All Dead, All Dead switches the mood of the album, and contains more of his complex multi-tracked guitar work. Mercury features on backing vocals here. Spread Your Wings ��� Spread Your Wings is a John Deacon number, whose sparse production values actually add an extra dimension to the track, and are rare in a Queen song. Features some nice acoustic guitar work, but (surprisingly enough) no vocal harmonies. Fight from the Inside ��� Built around an infectious jangly guitar riff, Fight from the Inside focuses more on the percussion section than anything else – another first in Queen’s back catalogue. Also noteworthy are Taylor’s
Get Down, Make Love �� A Freddie Mercury number, Get Down, Make Love is amongst Queen’s most sexually-orientated songs. Stark production rules again here, bringing Taylor’s drums to the fore alongside Mercury’s lusty vocal gymnastics. May’s guitar sounds are very other-worldly. Sleeping On the Sidewalk ��� Assembled mostly from the original studio take, Sleeping On the Sidewalk doesn’t feature Mercury in any way. Almost blues in nature, it is a good-natured number and sees Queen at their most loose and relaxed. Who Needs You �� ‘Oh I believed you, Went on my knees to you, How I trusted you, But you turned me down.’ Written by Deacon, Who Needs You features May’s Spanish guitar, as well as maracas, and Mercury’s cowbell. Simply produced and arranged. It’s Late ��� Big, powerful stadium rock, It’s Late makes good use of guitar tapping, and was released as a single in the US, only peaking at No. 72. A muddy, dirty sound, it is overblown, but not necessarily overproduced. My Melancholy Blues �� Featuring no backing vocals or guitars, My Melancholy Blues is more related to jazz than blues, and is a subdued comment on the downfall of living a glamorous lifestyle. Okay, yet nothing overtly spectacular. Conclusion Queen’s joint best-selling US album, News of the World successfully bridges the gap between the operatics of A Day at the Races, and the poppier sound of Jazz, which came a year later. The album also represents Queen’s acknowledgment of the public’s shift towards a dirtier, stripped down sound. A refreshing move forward, and, generally, a pretty good outing. Overall rating: ���
Dead On Time �� ‘Leave on time leave on time, Gonna get your ticket but you leave on time, Put it in your pocket but you never can tell.’ A rock and roll number, Dead On Time includes a sound of thunder, which is credited to ‘God’ on the album sleeve. Okay, but nothing spectacular.
(10 November 1978) Mustapha ��� A bizarre opening track if ever there was one, Mustapha’s lyrics consist mostly of Arabic-sounding nonsense. A solid fusion of rock and Middle Eastern inspired music, Mustapha closes with some nice vocal harmonies. Fat Bottomed Girls ��� A country-flavoured stomp, Fat Bottomed Girls isn’t one of the best cuts from the album, in spite of its popularity. May and Mercury share lead vocals here, in one of the few Queen songs to use drop D tuning in the guitars. Jealousy ��� Featuring some of Mercury’s most understated vocals, Jealousy is sad, soothing and optimistic all at the same time. May’s acoustic guitar is synched up in such a way that it is a little reminiscent of a sitar. All parts were recorded simultaneously in this spontaneous take of the track. Bicycle Race ���� More complex than most people give it credit for, Bicycle Race features unusual chord functions, several modulations, and a race of guitars emulating the bicycle race in question. Also famed for its bicycle bell solo, the track certainly stands the test of time, and sounds great to this day. If You Can’t Beat Them �� ‘If you cant beat ’em, join ’em, You’d better do it, ’Cause it makes you feel good, If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, You’re never gonna help yourself.’ Composed by John Deacon, If You Can’t Beat Them was a live favourite of the band in the late 1970s, and features a myriad of odd chord processions. A little too weird for once maybe. Let Me Entertain You ��� Aimed at the audience, and written by Mercury, Let Me Entertain You has its own subtle complexity, and is easy to appreciate. ‘We’ll give you crazy performance, We’ll give you grounds for divorce, We’ll give you piece de resistance, And a tour de force of course.’ 26
In Only Seven Days �� In some way resembling Spread Your Wings, Deacon’s In Only Seven Days takes some time to grow on you, but grow on you it does. Still, nothing spectacular if truth be told. ‘I wish Friday could last forever, I held her close to me, I couldn’t bear to leave her there.’ Dreamer’s Ball ��� Brain May’s tribute to Elvis Presley, Dreamer’s Ball is pure music hall swing. Light and different, this ballroom dance number really shows off the group’s ability to pull almost any sound and style off. Fun It �� A disco-funk track from Taylor, Fun It features shared vocals from both Mercury and Taylor. The contrast between the vocals works well, yet the track itself is a little droll. Leaving Home Ain’t Easy �� ‘I’m all through with ties, I’m all tired of tears, I’m a happy man, Don’t it look that way?’ A Brian May ballad, Leaving Home Ain’t Easy features May’s vocals sped up in the bridge. A little repetitive, however. Don’t Stop Me Now ���� Here, May’s only input is a short guitar solo, in one of Queen’s most famous songs. Don’t Stop Me Now is based around Mercury’s piano playing, with Taylor and Deacon providing great backing percussion. The lyrics, as well as having cosmic imagery, are also blatantly sexual in nature – ‘I’m gonna go, go, go, There’s no stopping me, I’m burning through the sky, yeah, 200 degrees, that’s why they call me Mr. Fahrenheit.’ Its introduction is like a coiled spring that really takes off by the twentieth bar. More of that Jazz � Not a particularly strong ending to the album, More of that Jazz is Fun It, but without Mercury’s impressive vocal stylings. Also includes a clip of all other songs towards its close, which is a little pointless, and not a particularly clever social commentary, in spite of the fact that it’s supposedly meant to be. One of their worst. Conclusion The band’s seventh studio outing, Jazz comprises a number of different styles of music, which has been both praised and criticised in spades. The album peaked at No. 6 in the American Billboard Album
Chart, and temporarily reunited Queen with former producer Roy Thomas Baker. However, it was to be the last album Baker produced with the band. Overall rating: ���
THE GAME (30 June 1980)
Play the Game ���� Written by Mercury after splitting from his lover at the time, Play the Game sees Mercury perform piano and lead vocals on this number. Having just taken up smoking, the effects are noticeable on Mercury’s vocals here. Commencing with a series of overlapping rushing noises, the track heralds the band’s acceptance of synths to their sound. Dragon Attack ��� Featuring a funky bass solo, Dragon Attack is a great groove based song that captures the band playing off each other well. The melody line is somewhat similar to We Will Rock You – ‘Take me to the room where the red’s all red.’ Originally conceived out of a jam session. Another One Bites the Dust ��� The enormously bass driven Another One Bites the Dust was originally written by Deacon with cowboys in mind, but then changed to make it more suitable to the band. No synths here, the main feature is, of course, one of the most recognisable bass grooves in pop music history. A gritty, down-to-earth rocker. Need Your Loving Tonight ��� Influenced to the nth degree by the Beatles’ Eight Days a Week, Need Your Loving Tonight is a John Deacon number that benefits more in the live versions thanks to May’s backing vocals and Mercury’s piano work. Crazy Little Thing Called Love ���� Laid-back, neo-rockabilly obsessed Crazy Little Thing Called Love
utilises more Beatles-esque work in its Lady Madonna like hook. Written by Mercury, and recorded with Taylor and Deacon after a few drinks, May only just managed to add backing vocals and a guitar part before the single’s release. Mercury’s voice is more than a little reminiscent to Elvis Presley’s. Rock It (Prime Jive) � Lyrically juvenile – ‘You really think they like to rock in space – well I don’t know’ – Rock It (Prime Jive) was composed by Roger Taylor, and caused much controversy within the band’s ranks after Brian May suggested Mercury would sound better on vocals. Taylor, eventually, got his own way, and also provides rhythm guitar and bass here. Pretty basic. Don’t Try Suicide �� ‘Don’t try suicide, Nobody’s worth it, Don’t try suicide, Nobody cares, Don’t try suicide, You’re just gonna hate it, Don’t try suicide, Nobody gives a damn.’ A Mercury track featuring some slap-bass from Deacon, and piano parts by the exuberant front man. Most noteworthy for it’s opening riff, which is more than a little similar to The Police’s Walking On the Moon. Sail Away Sweet Sister ��� May takes on both verses and choruses here, although Mercury does take over vocals for the middle eight. Soulful and bassy, this is an admirable composition. ‘Sail Away Sweet Sister, Sail across the sea, Maybe you’ll find somebody, Who loves you half as much as me.’ Coming Soon �� ‘The same old babies with the same old toys, The neighbours screaming when the noise annoys, Somebody naggin’ you when you’re out with the boys.’ Another Taylor number, this time sung as a duet with Mercury. Taylor also features on the pounding, rocking rhythm guitar. Save Me ��� Written by May about a friend whose relationship had ended, he takes on piano, synths and guitar duties here in the rocking, bombastic Save Me. Soulful and powerful. ‘The slate will soon be clean, I’ll erase the memories, To start again with somebody new, Was it all wasted, All that love?’ Conclusion The only Queen album to reach No. 1 in both the United Kingdom and the United States, The Game is tied with News of the World in US sales. Launching the band into global megastars, it is the first Queen album to include synthesisers, as well as a new producer, and a more basic approach to songwriting. In many respects, however, it is a little 27
too stripped-down, and almost a step down musically. Still, very good in parts. Overall rating: ���
•• HOT SPACE (21 May 1982)
FLASH GORDON (8 December 1980)
Tracklisting: Flash’s Theme, In the Space Capsule (The Love Theme), Ming’s Theme (In the Court of Ming the Merciless), The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction of Dale), Football Fight, In the Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise), Execution of Flash, The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash), Arboria (Planet of the Tree Men), Escape from the Swamp, Flash to the Rescue, Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men), Battle Theme, The Wedding March, Marriage of Dale and Ming (and Flash Approaching), Crash Dive on Mingo City, Flash’s Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations), The Hero Conclusion The soundtrack album to the cult sci-fi classic movie Flash Gordon, Flash Gordon makes extensive use of synths, and is stuffed full of great instrumental music, ranging from the moody Execution of Flash to the full-on rock of Football Fight and Battle Theme. Inclusion of dialogue and repetition of ideas don’t necessarily lessen this album, if anything they enhance this über fun, über kitschy affair. Overall rating: ���
Staying Power �� After the success of über-bassy Another One Bites the Dust, the first five tracks of Hot Space all try to benefit from the single’s success, all being based heavily around massive bass riffs. Interestingly, however, this track actually contains no bass, just an extra guitar line. Dancer �� Influenced by heavy metal, as well as dance, Dancer is almost a followup to Dragon Attack. The bass line is synth-based and is, alongside some passable lyrics, the most prominent thing on show here. Back Chat � Written by bassist Deacon, Back Chat is highly influenced by soul, rather than rock and roll. Funky, yet not especially Queen-like, and not particularly good either. Body Language � No guitars at all here, Mercury’s own Body Language is all synth bass, and has little in common with 1970’s bombastic Queen. Possibly the worst single in the band’s back catalogue. Action This Day �� One of the two Roger Taylor tracks on the album, Action This Day was influenced by the New Wave movement of the time, and is driven by a pounding electronic drum machine, and – surprise, surprise – bass synth. Still, its actually not too bad. Put Out the Fire ��� An anti-firearm song penned by Brian May, Put Out the Fire is the most traditional Queen song on the album, being replete with a May guitar solo for once. Life is Real (Song for Lennon) ��� A tribute to John Lennon, Life is Real features a sparse piano-based arrangement and is one of Queen’s more melancholic numbers. It also stands up as being one of the few Queen songs whose lyrics were written before the music.
Calling All Girls � Another Roger Taylor track – and a single to boot – Calling All Girls was compose by Taylor entirely on guitar, and is more than a little forgettable. Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love) ��� ‘Sleeping is my leisure, Waking up in a minefield, Dream is just a pleasure dome, Love is a roulette wheel – life is real.’ Inspired by Queen’s relationship with their South American fans, Las Palabras de Amor features May on piano, synths and lead vocals here. Pretty good. Cool Cat �� Co-written by Deacon and Mercury, Cool Cat originally featured David Bowie on backing vocals, but he was unhappy with the results and had them removed. Mercury sings the track in an impressive falsetto. Under Pressure ����� Undoubtedly the best track on the album and first a single, Under Pressure was the result of an impromptu jam session. Part of the chord progression is based on a rough demo of Roger Taylor’s unreleased Feel Like. ‘Pressure pushing down on me, Pressing down on you, no man ask for, Under pressure, That burns a building down, Splits a family in two, Puts people on streets.’ Conclusion A notable – yet questionable – shift in direction towards disco and dance, Hot Space was, for the most part, influenced by the success of their 1980 smash hit Another One Bites the Dust. A little cynical maybe, but pretty much true in this case. A major blow to the band’s otherwise good media and commercial reputation, the album can only be described as a flop by the band’s otherwise high standards. Overall rating: ��
THE WORKS (27 February 1984)
Radio Ga Ga ��� Taylor sings all backing vocals here, in his self-penned pièce de résistance. A classic eighties commercial pop-rock number, Radio Ga Ga is all stadium rock with hand claps and the rest. Tear It Up ��� ‘Give me your mind baby give me your body, Give me some time baby let’s have a party, It ain’t no time for sleepin’ baby.’ An impressive hard rocking number from guitar virtuoso Brian May, Tear It Up revives Queen’s old hard-hitting sound. It’s a Hard Life ���� With an operatic intro, this could only be a Freddie Mercury song. It’s a Hard Life features Mercury on both piano and vocals, and is very Bohemian Rhapsody-esque. It has also been criticised for sounding too similar to Play the Game. Still, its a fine slice of operatic brilliance. Man On the Prowl �� A three chord rockabilly number, Man On the Prowl features Mercury on rhythm guitar, while May plays the passable guitar solo. This 1950s number is nothing better than a rehashed Crazy Little Thing Called Love, however. Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’) �� A Taylor and May collaboration, Machines is a fairly passable cocktail of synths, computerised vocals and a slightly over-produced guitar from May. A hard rocking guitar anthem, this one isn’t particularly spectacular. I Want to Break Free ���� ‘I want to break free, I want to break free, I want to break free from your lies, You’re so self satisfied I don’t need you.’ Shorter than the single mix, the album version of I Want to Break Free is an incredible synth-based pop song. Keep Passing the Open Windows ��� Written for the film version of John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire,
Keep Passing the Open Windows is a rocking ballad, penned by Mercury, with a strong feel good factor to it. Pretty good. Hammer to Fall ��� Another rocking Brian May number, Hammer to Fall seems to refer to the Cold War – ‘For we who grew up tall and proud, In the shadow of the mushroom cloud’ – but also references death and inevitability – ‘Rich or poor or famous, For your truth it’s all the same’. High powered, Hammer to Fall is a real explosion of sound. Is This the World We Created…? �� ‘Is this the world we created? What did we do it for? Is this the world we invaded, Against the law?’ Acoustic ballad Is This the World We Created…? is a little too reminiscent of the band’s live version of Love of My Life to be anything that special. Conclusion The band’s eleventh studio album, The Works marked a return (of sorts) to Queen’s rocking roots, albeit with a much lighter, poppier approach. The album’s title – mildly interestingly enough – comes from a comment skins man Roger Taylor was said to have made as recording began – ‘Let’s give them the works!’ Overall rating: ���
One Year of Love �� A Deacon piece, One Year of Love sees the band going for a more soulful, slow ballad track with passable effect. Pain Is So Close to Pleasure ��� Released as a single, but only making it to No. 26 in the Dutch charts, Pain Is So Close to Pleasure finds Mercury in pure camp mode, as he sings falsetto in this mimicking of 1960s girl-group pop. Friends Will Be Friends ��� ‘It’s not easy love but you’ve got friends you can trust, Friends will be friends, When you’re in need of love they give you care and attention.’ A Mercury-led piano ballad, Friends Will Be Friends owes a lot to former Queen crackers We Are the Champions and Play the Game. Written with cynicism, perhaps. Who Wants to Live Forever ���� A Brian May composition, Who Wants to Live Forever is a duet between himself and Mercury. A great, symphonic moody number, it is one of the best compositions the band had recorded since their 1970s heyday. Gimme the Prize �� ‘I have something to say – It’s better to burn out than to fade away.’ With lyrics straight out of Highlander, Gimme the Prize is a hardhitting rocker but, unfortunately, a little too rock-by-numbers for good nature’s taste. Don’t Lose Your Head �� ‘No don’t lose you head, Don’t lose you head, Hear what I say, Don’t lose your way – yeah.’ A Taylor number, Don’t Lose Your Head is a pounding number, replete with a massive keyboard riff.
A KIND OF MAGIC (2 June 1986)
One Vision ���� ‘One man one goal one mission, One heart one soul just one solution, One flash of light yeah one God one vision.’ One Vision leans toward big dumb stadium rock, but its more admirable than We Are the Champions. A Kind of Magic ���� A classic pop song, A Kind of Magic is technically astounding, and timeless in its composition. ‘The waiting seems eternity, The day will dawn of sanity, Is this a kind of magic, It’s a kind of magic.’
Princes of the Universe ���� Highlander’s theme song, Princes of the Universe is a complex heavy piece of work, with sections of choral singing. A much more interesting hard hitter than most of Queen’s work since the 1970s. Conclusion Queen’s twelfth studio outing is based on the hit movie Highlander, and although it only managed to make it to No. 46 in America, A Kind of Magic topped the charts in the UK, remaining there for sixtythree weeks, and spawned three hit singles. Arguably Queen’s best album of the 1980s. Overall rating: ���
My Baby Does Me �� Another Deacon/Mercury collaboration, My Baby Does Me is restrained and laid back, but sounds a little dated, if truth be told.
THE MIR ACLE (22 May 1989)
Party � One of the most lyrically banal Queen tracks in their back catalogue. A weak opening track. Khashoggi’s Ship � Mercury’s Khashoggi’s Ship is led directly into by Party, and is a short, but far from sweet, track which would have been better left on the cutting room floor.
Was It All Worth It �� ‘What is there left for me to do in this life, Did I achieve what I had set in my sights, Am I a happy man or is this sinking sand, Was it all worth it, was it all worth it?’ The only sign that this could be a farewell album came with this track. Was It All Worth It is a hard rocking piece. Conclusion The Miracle was recorded as the band recovered from Brian May’s marital problems, Freddie Mercury’s AIDS diagnosis and the group getting dangerously close to splitting. Maybe that’s why it was such a mixed bag. Still, it managed to peak at No. 1 in the UK, but is one of the band’s worst efforts. Overall rating: ��
The Miracle �� One of Mercury’s most complex songs from his last years, The Miracle is ambitious, but not quite convincing. Somewhat cheesy, but better than the previous two numbers.
I Want It All ��� A hard rocking number, I Want It All utilises synths, classical and electric guitars, and Taylor’s double-kick bass drum to good effect. The Invisible Man �� Taylor’s first song on the album, The Invisible Man is fast and funky, with an infectious bass hook. The names of all four band members are ‘hidden’ in the lyrics. Get it? The Invisible Man… Breakthru �� Another infectious bass hook here, on Roger Taylor’s Breakthru. Good harmonies, and a radio-friendly feel, but it doesn’t quite sound right when done by Queen. Reminiscent of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. Rain Must Fall � A Deacon/Mercury collaboration, Rain Must Fall features another strong bass line, but is nothing more than a horrible, calypso tinged piece of synth-pop. Worst Queen song ever anyone? Scandal �� ‘Scandal – now you’ve left me there’s no healing the wounds, Hey scandal – and all the world can make us out to be fools, Here comes the bad news, open the flood gates.’ A hard rocking number.
INNUENDO (4 February 1991)
Innuendo ���� Full of flamenco influences, and a guitar solo from Yes man Steve Howe, Innuendo is a six and a half minute epic, and a mirror to Queen’s past. With a Roger Taylor drum roll intro it is musically, and lyrically, a return to form. I’m Going Slightly Mad �� Part Noel Coward frippery, part Freddie Mercury tragedy, I’m Going Slightly Mad appears light-headed, but is given a whole new meaning considering Mercury’s AIDS induced ‘madness’. Taken as a standalone piece, however, it’s nothing spectacular. Headlong ��� ‘And you’re rushing headlong you’ve got a new goal, And you’re 33
rushing headlong out of control, And you think you’re so strong, But there ain’t no stopping no there’s nothin’ you can do, About it.’ A pretty solid rocker, with a great upbeat tempo. I Can’t Live with You �� Originally written for May’s solo album, I Can’t Live With You features low-key synthesised percussion. Not bad. ‘I can’t live with you, But I can’t live without you, I can’t let you stay, Ooh, but I can’t live if you go away.’ Don’t Try So Hard ��� Mercury penned, Don’t Try So Hard features a strong falsetto performance from the exuberant front man. ‘When your problems seem like mountains, You feel the need to find some answers, You can leave them for another day, Don’t try so hard.’
Most Go On is, in hindsight, heart-breaking. With a stirring melody, and lyrics fitting to the life of both Mercury and Queen as a whole, it encompasses all of the things that Queen did best – multi-tracked vocals, May’s distinctive guitar work, and massive widescreen sound. ‘I can fly, my friends.’ Conclusion Innuendo turned out to be Queen’s final studio album composed entirely of new material. Strong in some parts, weaker in others, the album as a whole is a mixed bag, yet spawned some of the best songs of the band’s career in the likes of Innuendo, These Are the Days of Our Lives, and The Show Most Go On. Topping charts all around the world, Innuendo is one of the band’s most eclectic albums. Overall rating: ���
Ride the Wild Wind �� ‘Ride the wild wind, Gonna ride the whirlwind – It ain’t dangerous – enough for me, Tie your hair back baby – We’re gonna ride tonight.’ A Roger Taylor composition, Ride the Wild Wind features so-so duelling vocals between Taylor and Mercury.
All God’s People �� A gospel-inspired number, All God’s People is another one of those tracks that tends to be a little too religious for good nature’s taste. Passable. These Are the Days of Our Lives ���� A reflective Roger Taylor track, These Are the Days of Our Lives is one of the most simple songs in the band’s history. With sentimental, almost heart-breaking lyrics and vocal delivery, this is a love song of sorts that stands the test of time well.
MADE IN HEAVEN (6 November 1995)
Delilah �� A rather tired sounding vocal on this one, dedicated by Mercury to his favourite cat – Delilah.
It’s a Beautiful Day �� Recorded by Mercury back in 1980, It’s a Beautiful Day features Deacon’s oboe, but is more of a sampling of what could have been rather than a great piece of finished music, heralding the overall sound of the album to come.
The Hitman �� Another Mercury piece, The Hitman features backing vocals from May, and is almost heavy metal in nature. Lyrically, this track leaves a lot to be desired.
Made in Heaven �� Another Freddie Mercury solo number, Made in Heaven is more rocked up in this number, but it all feels a bit tacked on, if truth be told.
Bijou �� Rushed out in a hour without any input from either of the percussionists, Bijou feels more like an experiment in songwriting than anything more tangible. Nothing special.
Let Me Live ��� ‘Why don’t you take another little piece of my heart, Why don’t you take it and break it, And tear it all apart, All I do is give, All you do is take.’ With lead vocals shared by Mercury, May and Taylor, gospel tinged Let Me Live features good harmonies, and is one of the better tracks on an otherwise average album.
The Show Must Go On ����� Co-written by the entire band, Freddie’s swansong (of sorts), The Show 34
Mother Love ��� The last song Mercury ever penned alongside Brian May, Mother Love is a moody, bleak, yet moving, track. Mercury died before the final verse could be recorded, but the piece still feels complete. My Life Has Been Saved �� Previously released (albeit in a different format) as a B-side, My Life Has Been Saved features Mercury on lead vocals. Pretty forgettable.
Conclusion Peaking at only No. 58 in the US Billboard Album Charts, but topping the charts in the UK, final studio outing Made in Heaven is a little all over the place in its composition, which comes as no surprise considering the story of its foundation. Overall rating: ��
I Was Born to Love You �� Another Mercury solo effort, I Was Born to Love You is reworked, reimagined, redone if you will, but, yet again, it feels like the new arrangements have been tacked on, and aren’t meant to be there. Heaven for Everyone ��� ‘This could be heaven for everyone, This world could be fed, this world could be fun, This could be heaven for everyone, This world could be free, this world could be one.’ Too Much Love Will Kill You ��� A love ballad – one of the best of its kind, in fact. Possibly a little too saccharine for some, Too Much Love Will Kill You was previously a Brian May solo hit. Somehow fits May’s voice better than Mercury’s. You Don’t Fool Me � ‘You don’t fool me – those pretty eyes, That sexy smile – you don’t fool me, You don’t rule me – you’re no surprise, You’re telling lies – you don’t fool me.’ A track from the Hot Space era. Probably would’ve been better off left there. Repetitive disco-funk. A Winter’s Tale �� Somewhat emotive, sometime pleasant, A Winter’s Tale features a good Brain May solo. Christmassy. ‘So quiet and peaceful, Tranquil and blissful, There’s a kind of magic in the air, What a truly magnificent view.’ It’s a Beautiful Day (Reprise) �� Contains samples of Seven Seas of Rhye. Rocking, for the most part. ‘Its a beautiful day, I feel good, I feel right, And no-one, no-one’s gonna stop me now, Mama.’ Yeah � Four seconds long. Untitled �� A twenty minute, experimental piece, Untitled is purely ambient. Works quite nicely, but isn’t very ‘Queen’.
World renowned as one of the most innovative British rock bands of all time, Queen are still influencing the biggest and best of pop and rock to this day. The Freddie Mercury-led superstars were famed for their eccentricities and larger-than-life appeal, which surrounded them with an air of theatrical excitement. Here, we explore what made them so exceptional in the ultimate companion guide to the lives and work of Queen. Featuring exclusive interviews, and the recollections of industry insiders who worked alongside the band during their halcyon years. Also included are track-by-track reviews of Queen’s recording catalogue.
World renowned as one of the most innovative British rock bands of all time, Queen are still influencing the biggest and best of pop and roc...
Published on Feb 27, 2019
World renowned as one of the most innovative British rock bands of all time, Queen are still influencing the biggest and best of pop and roc...