Welcome to part two of the oddest challenge I’ve ever given myself. To pick one song from each of Queen’s thirteen studio albums (leaving out the ‘Flash’ soundtrack and posthumous ‘Made In Heaven’ release) that either best represents the band, or that I just think sounds pretty great. Six down, seven to go…
Jazz – 1978 – ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – To this day, one of Brian May’s most aggressive and oddly-suggestive tracks, up there with ‘Tie Your Mother Down’. ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ remains one of ‘Jazz’s best tunes, opening with a brilliant melody from all three vocalists of the band and shattering into a raucous rocker. It was a big hit for the band, along with ‘Bicycle Race’ and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, but to me, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ just had to win. It’s made for a Queen album. ‘Dead On Time’ was tempting me too, but as one of the many album tracks of the record, I felt it just didn’t cut it. The same went for May’s more typical soft ballad, ‘Leaving Home Ain’t Easy’.
The Game – 1980 – ‘Save Me’. My goodness, this was a tough one. As one of my favourite Queen albums of all time, ‘The Game’ is just perfect in every way. Even the filler is brilliant. ‘Rock It (prime jive)’ and ‘Sail Away Sweet Sister’ were both tough to beat, showing the inner 80s rockstar of drummer Taylor, and the gentle, emotional crescendos of guitarist May respectively. ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ also called out to me, but ‘Save Me’ is just this battering ram of a song. It mounts up from nothing, a musical phoenix from the ashes. I’d need it in my Essentials playlist.
Hot Space – 1982 – ‘Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)’. I feel this one may not be a surprise to most. ‘Hot Space is, for better or worse, slated massively by the Queen community. It was the combined efforts of Deacon and Mercury wanting a funkier, more disco album, while Taylor and May wanted something more… Queen. I personally don’t hate the album, but I’m not a huge fan of it, either. To me, it just exists. I have no problem with a band diversifying their sound – quite the opposite – but I understand the fallout from fans. ‘Under Pressure’ is also a track I’m not hugely keen on, so the only option left was May’s part-Spanish ode to their Ibero-American fans. And, to be fair, it’s the most Queen song on the record. Beginning with soft acoustic guitar, it quickly stomps into a rock ballad synonymous with the band. If the album was more like this, it wouldn’t be quite as divisive. But then, some say the best kind of music usually is…
The Works – 1984 – ‘Hammer To Fall’. A pattern emerges, and that pattern is that fast-paced rock is what I love most in the world. As a result, a lot of the slower songs fall by the wayside. But, the weak must make way for the strong, and there is no space for filler and ‘mm… uhhh’ tracks in this list. Only the strong will survive. ‘The Works’ is another great Queen album, featuring the massive hit, ‘I Want To Break Free’, as well as ‘Radio Ga Ga’. But for me, ‘Hammer To Fall’ wins everytime. Another testament to guitarist Brian May’s aggression and love for heavy metal, the track is pure rock on two legs. Doubling as a social commentary for the state of politics and the world in general at the time, it’s lyrics border on chilling, haunting. ‘To we who grew up tall and proud… in the shadow of a mushroom cloud. Convinced our voices can’t be heard, we just wanna scream it louder and louder and louder…’ are brilliant. A masterpiece. You can’t not chant to it. It’s a highlight of the band as a whole for me. Though ‘Tear It Up’, another rocker, and ‘Machines (Back to Humans’ – the most 80’s song the band ever did – were strong seconds.
A Kind of Magic – 1986 – ‘One Vision’. The unofficial soundtrack to Highlander, ‘A Kind of Magic’ delves into some classic Queen rock here, mixed with a bit of pop and even funk. ‘One Vision’ came about after Mercury was keen to create a group-penned track following their massively successful Live Aid appearance the year before. The result, ‘One Vision’. A bunch of random lyrics thrown together to sound vaguely noble and uniting. But, to be honest, it sounds great, so that doesn’t really matter. May’s poignant ‘Who Wants To Live Forever…’ is a close second.
The Miracle – 1989 – ‘I Want It All’. Almost the swan song for this mighty band, ‘The Miracle’ has some real gems and hidden treasures. But for me, the heavy ‘I Want It All’ had to win. It rocked, and serves as one of the earliest Queen songs I remember knowing. That opening guitar is just a work of art, and the decisive chorus makes you scream along. It’s a shame it was never performed alive. ‘Breakthru’ is definitely a close second – coupled with ’’39’ marking the beginning of my descent into Queen madness – and ‘Scandal’ is underrated for sure.
Innuendo – 1991 – ‘The Show Must Go On’. As far as I’m concerned, the last song Queen have ever done. Not that ‘Made In Heaven’ doesn’t have its good tracks. But ‘The Show Must Go On’ sounds like the definitive closer of the band. Everyone knows by now that singer Freddie Mercury is not okay, and the band’s musical chapter is nearly over. So Brian wrote this, a triumphant – even courageous – shout in the face of certain death. ‘Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on’ illustrates the strength Mercury had all this time. To suffer such a terrible, debilitating disease, and act as if nothing was up. That man was a hero. And, as the story goes, when Brian presented Mercury with the song – uncertain if he’d have the strength to sing such powerful vocals – his friend downed a measure of vodka and said, ‘I’ll fucking do it, darling’. He aced it first time. His vocals are just… perfect. This is the definitive display of showmanship. No ever song could take its place.
And those thirteen tracks make up my ‘Queen: The Essentials’ playlist. It may not be perfect – after all, thirteen tracks is not nearly enough to show the range and power of this band – but it’s the best I could do.