The idea was simple. One band. Thirteen studio albums. Pick one song off of each to keep; taking into account personal taste, popularity of the chosen track and how it represented the band.
The band I had in mind was Queen, and this was always going to be tough. I don’t quite know why this idea popped into my brain, but ever since, I needed to pick my ‘Queen: The Essentials’ list. What songs would I go for? Why would I choose them? How in God’s name would I pick just one track off of ‘A Night At The Opera’?
The rules were simple, too. I was allowed to pick one track to keep from each of the band’s thirteen studio albums. Now, for Queen megafans, it is true they technically did fifteen. But I didn’t see the point in bothering to include the ‘Flash’ soundtrack or the band’s posthumous release after Mercury passed away, ‘Made In Heaven’. These tracks were meant to either represent the band and their musical milestones, or just my favourites from each. Preferably both. Well, without further ado, here are my picks…
Queen – 1973 – ‘Keep Yourself Alive’. This track was one of the easier ones to pick. The only track of notable worth from this record, it opens with a rocking beat and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It represents the band, it sounds great. It could belong on any Queen record to be fair, and it lets you know just how the band is gonna sound. The band’s debut, as a whole, is however rather underrated. Honorable mentions go to ‘My Fairy King’ and ‘Liar’, as well as the amazing Tim Staffell/May-penned, ‘Doing All Right’, which is just sublime.
Queen II – 1974 – ‘March of the Black Queen’. Ah, Queen II, an album I think is, again, criminally underlooked. It’s probably the band’s heaviest stuff to date, with ‘Ogre Battle’ stomping into you on all fours. ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ nearly took the spot, both for sound and the fact it was the band’s first real ‘hit’. But ‘March of the Black Queen’ came out a full year before the band’s synonymous ‘…Rhapsody’ on A Night At The Opera. It’s got all the same experimentation, fantastical lyrics, only it sounds… better. It builds on the mystical world that Queen built in their early years, and Mercury proves quite a fearsome ‘Black Queen’. It just rocks. Though I will admit ‘Father To Son’ was a strong contender, too.
Sheer Heart Attack – 1974 – ‘Now I’m Here’. This track is just perfect. It features delayed vocals, a grandiose live performance, references to another rock group that helped make them (Mott the Hoople, by the way) and flawless guitar work from May. It also was one of the band’s biggest early hits, featured in their live sets for decades to come. Of course, it stands in the shadow of this record’s biggest single, ‘Killer Queen’. But while that sounds elegant and great (Queen in a nutshell), ‘Now I’m Here’ just has that oomph I so desperately craved more. This album threw up a lot of competition though. May’s ‘She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)’ is underrated, and the albums opener – ‘Brighton Rock’ – is an awesome track in itself.
A Night At The Opera – 1975 – ‘’39’. The band’s magnum opus in the eyes of many, this one was very, very tough. But, perhaps a choice loved by some and hated by many, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ makes no appearance here. I like the song, but I feel most of the rest of the album beats it, in all honesty. Plus, it’s overplayed, and very rarely am I in the mood to listen all the way through. Still, it’s massively significant in the band’s history and the history of music in general, so I will give credit where due. But, to me, the record’s hidden gem lies in May’s folky tune, ‘’39’. A tragic tale of science-fiction and heartbreak, it sounds like a sea shanty on the Starship Enterprise. It was the song that probably made me get into Queen, and realise that – while Mercury is superb and all – May is a brilliant musician, too. But then, weren’t they all? One of May’s other contributions to the record, ‘The Prophet’s Song’ is basically joint-first place, too. It’s as experimental as ‘Rhapsody’ (probably more so) and just sounds… epic. ‘Good Company’ and Mercury’s fantastically ferocious ‘Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)’ get honorable mentions.
A Day At The Races – 1976 – ‘Somebody To Love’. The album’s big single, and boy is there reason behind that. Seen by many as the second part to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and featured on a record already slated for sounding similar to its predecessor, ‘Somebody To Love’ is Mercury’s way of striking back at the world, of losing faith and calling out the Lord above. It sounds amazing, the vocals are just groundbreaking, and it’s impossible not to jam to. It also was a huge hit for the band. May’s ‘Long Away’ is also superb, as are ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, ‘The Millionaire Waltz’ and ‘You And I’. ‘Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy’ is another pleasure and, all in all, this just shows how great a record it is. I never got the turn-off for sounding like ‘A Night…’, I think it’s a perfected formula that keeps on giving.
News of the World – 1977 – ‘We Will Rock You’. One of my personal favourites of the band, ‘News of the World’ is just pure stadium rock. It was made to be performed on stage. And nothing embodies that more than Brian May’s ‘We Will Rock You’. It was a huge hit (coupled with ‘We Are The Champions’ on a double A-side) and it’s just perfect. Two and a half minutes of non-stop stomp and pomp rock. ‘Spread Your Wings’ was a close second, as was ‘It’s Late’ – Another personal favourite for its guitar riff that electrifies you to your soul. ‘Get Down, Make Love’ deserves a mention just for its spectacular live performances as well.
And that’s all for now. Soon I’ll have another six more tracks to go, and more choices to let people down with (I should imagine).