Queen. Love em? Hate em?
To me Queen are a band that defined my youth. I listened to them because my elder brother listened to them. He loved them. I loved them. Brother went to college. I stole his records.
I remember growing up and listening to nothing else but Queen. As I got older I started collecting everything they released. I had every album on CD, Cassette, Vinyl, and, if available, Picture Disc. Hell if they released something with a slightly different cover I bought that as well. The joke amongst my friends was that I would definitely buy the new album in each record shop (HMV, Our Price, Virgin and so on) because each store put different stickers on the front. I didn’t do that…but that isn’t to say I didn’t think it was a good idea…
To some my love of Queen seems strange. They will tell me that Queen are such an odd band and will point out the silly blonde drummer with shades, the lanky curly-haired guitarist, the fuzzy haired bass player with an odd leaning towards wearing ridiculously small shorts and not forgetting the bloke with goofy teeth and a dodgy moustache singing vocals whilst moving around with half a microphone stand. I would tell them they were wrong.
Often people who criticise and say they don’t like Queen usually only know the singles. That is understandable I guess as Queen’s Greatest Hits I is still THE biggest selling album in the UK with nearly 6 million album sales (10% of the population)…Greatest Hits II is in the top ten with approaching 4 million sales and well ok we won’t mention Greatest Hits III. There is more to Queen than those songs though…there is more than those ‘hands in the air’ singles, much more.
Queen could rock and Queen could do ballads…and they did both very, very well.
Let’s start with the rock
1. March Of The Black Queen
The first of the ‘epic’ Queen songs. The stand out track on their second album (favourite of Dave Grohl’s don’t you know) this was very much laying the way for a certain ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ a year later.
2. Stone Cold Crazy
Covered later by Metallica in the early ‘90’s this is a pure rock song sandwiched between two completely different sounding tracks on the eclectic Sheer Heart Attack album. This was the LP best known for ‘Killer Queen’ but for me it is the sheer raw energy of ‘…Crazy’ that stands out.
3. Sheer Heart Attack
Not on the album of the same name, instead it graced one of Queens’s dirtiest sounding long players, News Of The World. That was an album which itself was a reaction to the punk scene at the time. Turn it up loud and annoy the fuck out of the neighbours.
4. Tear It Up
Four of the nine tracks on 1984’s The Works album were released as singles. All penned by a different individual of the band and all big successes. This track is one of the other 5 songs and for me represents the best of the Brian May side of Queen. Heavy, heavy, heavy.
5. Princes Of The Universe
Taken from A Kind Of Magic this track is sheer Queen. Think anthems, harmonies, guitars, drums and THE voice. Also, my mate won the Flying V guitar used in the video for this song on the raffle at the Queen convention in 1999. Bastard.
6. Was It All Worth It
Last song on 1989’s underrated The Miracle album, this has everything…including the kitchen sink… thrown in. Queen at their bombastic best.
Bringing it down…
1. Spread Your Wings
Spread Your Wings Sammy and fly away… Peaking at 34 this was released during a time when Punk was the big thing and Queen were not fashionable in the slightest. Any other year and this would have been huge.
2. Winter’s Tale
A beautiful song, recorded a few weeks before the untimely death of one of music’s greatest front men. Lyrically it is Freddie looking out of his window and watching the world go by.
Brian’s spaceman song. The catchiest non-single Queen song there is. A live favourite, lyrically off the wall but with stunning harmonies, this is May at his strangest and yet most sublime.
4. Don’t Try So Hard
A very moving ballad. Actually ‘ballad’ doesn’t do it justice. Vocally we hear areas different from any direction Freddie had gone before. Quite beautiful.
5. Who Wants To Live Forever
Ok you may know this one. In recent years it has been sung numerous times on certain reality talent shows but in 1986 this was largely ignored. Released as a fourth single from A Kind Of Magic it, like ‘Princes Of The Universe’, was one of the main songs on the Highlander film soundtrack. Queen at their harmonious best.
6. Sail Away Sweet Sister
My favourite Queen ballad. Sung By Axl Rose in the build-up to ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ at Gun’s shows back in the early ‘90s this is a song loved by the fans. Taken from their biggest U.S. album, The Game this was overshadowed at the time by ‘Crazy Little Thing’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. Take it from me though this is a true gem.
Dado is a guest writer for Musicscramble and also writes his own blog: Stories from the Pit.