A friend of mine mentioned that he liked Queen the other day, so I jumped on the chance to recommend some tracks for him. Here's what I did him.
My Dad was a huge fan and so I can safely say that I’ve been listening to Queen pretty much my whole life. Everyone knows the biggest hits, so they aren’t included here (though some of these were singles), but instead I’ve compiled a bunch of tracks that are not only some of my favourites, but I think show off exactly why Queen were such a fantastic band. Forget about where the name Queen has gone in recent years – this is how they should be remembered. Hope you like…
1. Play The Game (The Game, 1980)
We’ll kick off with the first track from my favourite Queen album. It’s classic Queen, in the sense that it embodies a lot of what the band were about – harmonies, big choruses, crashing riffs, and of course, drama. If you don’t own any studio albums, may I suggest kicking off with The Game?
2. The Loser In The End (Queen II, 1974)
Freddie didn’t always do the singing, and Roger especially took lead vocals on some terrific tracks, which normally had more of a rock edge. Tenement Funster from Sheer Heart Attack is another great Roger Taylor track, but this song, with its low, brawny beat and background organ is a sound that wouldn’t be recognisable to people who only know the band through the hits.
3. Fight From The Inside (News Of The World, 1977)
Sticking with Roger Taylor vocals (and what did I tell you about the rock edge of these tracks?), this is an awesome track with a massive, dirty bass line from John Deacon, the unsung star of Queen. It’s super-70s, with its disco backing “ooohs” but still has that slightly camp, muscular rock side that Queen did so well.
4. Dragon Attack (The Game, 1980)
Back to The Game for what if push came to shove, I’d have to say is my all time favourite Queen track. It’s so damn funky, and has that Another One Bites The Dust DNA without being known by everyone on the planet. It clearly came out of some of the band’s drug intake of the 70s, but like the best bands, they used that abuse well. Again, Deacon carries this song, and his bass solo at 1m43s is monumentally cool.
5. Stone Cold Crazy (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
A total blast of a song – and one that Metallica covered, which gives you a clue as to the tempo. It’s a really unusual track, punchy and urgent, and doesn’t really have a lot of Queen about it, but shows another side to them that you don’t hear on the greatest hits.
6. Death On Two Legs (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
A real two-fingers of a track to their former manager (which was only a rumour until he decided to sue the band, which rather gave the game away), and one which for that reason alone stands out in the Queen canon for its acerbity. It’s got some terrific put downs in it (“you’re a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride”) and was a great opener to the album that also contained Bohemian Rhapsody.
7. Mustapha (Jazz, 1978)
If proof were needed that Queen didn’t stick to the normal songwriting rule book, this could surely be it. It’s the first track from Jazz and Freddie’s singing in Persian, though to be honest I’ve never found out why as he couldn’t speak it. The volume changes in this track really give it a proper punch.
8. You And I (A Day At The Races, 1976)
Not much to say about this John Deacon-penned song, other than it’s got a great melody to it and to me sounds like it could easily have been a single, if they didn’t already have Somebody To Love and Tie Your Mother Down from this album.
9. Spread Your Wings (News Of The World, 1977)
Another Deacon track, and this is a really sweet ballad about going out and getting on in the world. The whole of the …World album has a more stripped-down feel to it (especially of course on album opener We Will Rock You), with a bit more blues and rock thrown in. Listening to it now, it’s got a very American radio feel to it, which is no bad thing in late-70s rock.
10. Seaside Rendezvous (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
There were several of these little ditty tracks dotted over the first few Queen albums, but this is my favourite. It’s high-camp of course, but with Freddie to carry it off, the band just take it in their stride. Oscar Wilde would surely have approved.
11. Brighton Rock (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
Staying with the seaside theme, this is Brian May’s track. I never understand why he’s not more lauded as a guitarist, because his touch and tone are up there with the best for my money. I never saw Queen live but the version of this that’s on the Live Killers album is proof enough that this would have been a stunning song live. Freddie and Roger trade vocals at first (Taylor often sung the high lines) and then about a couple of minutes in, Brian shows us all his tricks. If you can appreciate good guitar work, this is captivating.
12. Liar (Queen, 1973)
The six and a half minutes of Liar take us through a few different parts and when I was younger and just really getting to know Queen for myself, I couldn’t believe how brilliant this sounded. It’s a monster of a track and the band have never sounded so on it, and Freddie’s vocals (about sinning and forgiveness) are typical of his early subject matter.
13. In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
If Queen didn’t have We Are The Champions then this would have done for their anthem. The singalong chorus is prime stadium fodder, and it would be easy to see the whole of Wembley swaying to this.
14. Don’t Try Suicide (The Game, 1980)
Another unusual track that’s really stripped bare, and has that beefy John Deacon bass all over it, like much of The Game album. There’s something of the post-punk about this, in a Boomtown Rats kind of a way (but a million times better, natch), but it’s the subject matter that sticks out – I just can’t see a song like this getting written these days, at least not without some tabloid-fulled moral outrage accompanying it.
15. Cool Cat (Hot Space, 1982)
From what is probably Queen’s least popular album, their stab at early 80s white guy funk didn’t work for everyone, and without Under Pressure present, Hot Space would probably be a very obscure album by now. But it has its moments, including this track, which I always liked for its tropical island vibe. Now, pass me another pina colada.
16. These Are The Days Of Our Lives (Innuendo, 1991)
And so we draw to a close with a poignant track from Queen’s last album proper, Innuendo. Everyone has their emotional soft spot, and cool or not, this track’s one of those for me. It was released as a single (actually getting to #1 in the UK) less than a year before Freddie’s death, and the video was shot in black and white to hide how frail he looked. Although it was written by Roger Taylor, the rueful message of the lyrics can only bring Mr. Mercury to mind, as he looked back on what I for one hope he thought was a life well lived. RIP Freddie and RIP Queen.