by Jacob Wingate-Bishop
From Queen’s experimental 1973 debut to 1995’s Made in Heaven – released after frontman Freddie Mercury’s death – Queen have put out a plethora of studio albums and hundreds of songs, the majority of which stand up all these decades later. Few rock bands can boast the enduring back catalogue of Queen, and they’re a band who continue to gain new followers to this day. Everyone knows ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. We’ve all got down to ‘Another One Bites the Dust’. We’ve stomp, stomp, clapped to ‘We Will Rock You’.
But what about the band’s lesser-known gems? The underrated, overlooked deep cuts that make up second halves of albums, and which never saw the light of day as singles? Today, we’re focusing on the ten most underrated compositions by Queen, proving that they’re more than just ‘Galileo’s and Greatest Hits.
‘Las Palabras De Amor (The Words of Love)’, Hot Space, 1982 – It’s become cool to like Hot Space, following years of backlash and unanimous dismissal. Regardless, I still think it ranks as the worst album Queen ever put out; the band’s foray into the club scene doesn’t culminate in much material worth scouring. ‘Under Pressure’ – one of the band’s biggest hits – is decent, but about the only saving grace comes in ‘Las Palabras De Amor…’, a Brian May-penned ode to the group’s Spanish fans. It’s a beautiful ballad, and one which would fit in on any other release. Despite Hot Space’s quasi-resurgence in recent years, this one doesn’t get a look in. Criminal.
‘In The Lap of the Gods’, Sheer Heart Attack, 1974 – 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack ends on a high, with oft-performed (at least in the early days) ‘In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited’. But about halfway through the record, we get to experience the initial movement of the track, and it features some strange vocals on the part of Mercury and the sound mixer. This one is a bizarre, piano-driven piece on fate and divine intervention. It’s ethereal, and a classic example of how ambitious Queen were. No wonder they couldn’t play half their early stuff live.
‘Liar’, Queen, 1973 – ‘Liar’ is one of the group’s heaviest songs, taken from their self-titled debut. Queen is home to a surprising number of solid compositions, but this track – both in the studio and on the stage – is a powerhouse. It’s half a minute longer than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and, if we’re being honest, possibly even better. We have early Queen’s fantastical imagery, killer guitar and an explosive chorus that sounds like the choirs of Hell sounding all at once.
‘The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke’, Queen II, 1974 – Queen II may take the crown as my favourite album the band ever released. Across both white and black sides, it has everything which sets Queen apart from their contemporaries. I adore the experimental ‘March of the Black Queen’, but ‘The Fairy-Feller’s Master-Stroke’ – named after painter Richard Dadd’s magnum opus – is exceptional. Early Queen screams, fairytale imagery; the whole thing feels straight out of a troubled child’s fever dream.
‘Rock It (Prime Jive)’, The Game, 1980 – Roger Taylor’s efforts remain the most hit-and-miss for the band. Though notorious for his lascivious contribution to A Night at the Opera (‘I’m In Love With My Car’), he wrote several tracks throughout the group’s history. ‘Rock It (Prime Jive)’ finds its place on 1980’s The Game. It’s a punchy hit of pop rock bliss, showing off Taylor’s best rock chops. The track is lovably ‘80s, without losing that trademark, regal Queen edge.
‘Long Away’, A Day at the Races, 1976 – You can count on May for a melancholic, jangly ballad, and A Day at the Races’ ‘Long Away’ is as mystical as it is eerie. It might not rival the likes of ‘’39’, but it remains a hauntingly well-written ode to a loved one. It helps prop up the album as one of Queen’s best and proves another overlooked jewel.
‘Funny How Love Is’, Queen II, 1974 – It takes a particular sort of band to segue from the bafflingly brilliant ‘March of the Black Queen’ into a track just as strong. ‘Funny How Love Is’ was never performed live – largely due to Mercury’s incredibly demanding, high-register vocals throughout – but it’s a great deep cut left to the filing cabinet. It’s sweet, short (especially for a Queen song), playful and sets the listener up perfectly for the record’s closer, ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’.
‘Sail Away Sweet Sister’, The Game, 1980 – Once again, we rely on May for a bit of dreamlike reverie. ‘Sail Away Sweet Sister’ hails from The Game and pays tribute to a former flame. It’s sublime. Piano weaves throughout the track, a la ‘Killer Queen’, but it’s Taylor’s thunderous fills that turn this one into a certified Queen classic. If this is an album track, you’ve got a hell of a lot of talent in the studio.
‘It’s Late’, News of the World, 1977 – Regarded in recent years as one of Queen’s overlooked best, ‘It’s Late’ spent much of its life relegated to the backbenches. We’ve seen the good doctor (of astrophysics) show his gentler side, but right out the gate, the Red Special comes out storming here. Conceived by the songwriter as a sort of three-act play, it’s heartbreaking and raw. It’s also further testament to the group’s mastery of longer tracks – It blends in perfectly with News of the World’s powerful, stripped-back sound.
‘The Prophet’s Song’, A Night at the Opera, 1975 – If ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ went on ‘forever’, at six minutes long, then May’s biblical ‘Prophet’s Song’ is in a league of its own. At eight minutes, it’s the longest track with vocals to appear on a Queen album, and it’s nothing short of epic. It packs sprawling, biblical imagery, an experimental canon section midway, realistic ambience (May mimicking the wind on a toy koto) and some of the group’s best ever harmonies. What’s more, it largely came to Sir May in a dream – like some vision from a heavenly host itself. Despite A Night at the Opera’s enduring success, ‘The Prophet’s Song’ remains, for the most part, in the dark.
Thank you! Yes, ‘Dead On Time’ is a brilliant, face-paced song, and it’s an excellent deep cut.
What an excellent deep cut Queen playlist! There’s nothing there I’d remove, but I would like to add ‘Dead on Time’ from the ‘Jazz’ album. I love when Queen do fast, heavy numbers like this, the band sound amped up, and Freddie’s vocals are a blast.