Queen's Best Deep Cuts, Album by Album
Adam Lambert (left) and Brian May at opening night of Queen's 2014 tour in Chicago
Photos by Neil Preston/Courtesy of Live Nation
Just about this time last year, I wound up reading the article "10 Classic Albums We Happen To Hate" right here on Rocks Off. Being a classic-rock enthusiast and having seen various lists like this before, I looked forward to what my now-colleagues would have to say about some legendary albums. I was rather impressed to see some artists that I despise on there, as most critics I've read would have never put U2 or Springsteen on a list of anything overrated.
Also appearing were albums by KISS, The Who and Queen -- three artists that I'm very fond of but am accustomed to seeing on lists such as this one due to many past criticisms; some true, some false. What I didn't expect was a comment in regards to Queen as a band that I've never forgotten: that they were the most overrated classic-rock act and that nobody gave a shit about any of their albums other than their greatest hits.
Well, not only could I form a posse of my friends to disagree with that statement, but also a posse of highly regarded artists such as Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Elton John, Foo Fighters and David Bowie, among many others.
The 2014 version of Queen (Brian May, Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert) is currently on tour in the States, stopping at Toyota Center tomorrow night. They've promised some deeper cuts on the set list, but after taking a look and being rather disappointed as to what the band considers "deep," I thought it best to take this opportunity to highlight some cuts from each studio album that prove that Queen was not "just a singles band," but also had a catalog of albums worthy enough to compare with some of the greatest around.
If you are unfamiliar with how enjoyable those albums from the '80s on up are, I don't fault you. The blame for that lies on Elektra (Hot Space) and Capitol (The Works through The Miracle), for its low promotion and poor choice of singles. At least Hollywood (Innuendo and Made In Heaven) tried, but couldn't undo the bad foundation laid by Queen former record companies.
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Queen (1973) If this were a prizefight, "My Fairy King" would just edge out fan favorite "Liar" on a TKO. The former foreshadows what Queen were capable of, and appears to be the song they most latched onto as to what direction to take following the debut album. With lyrics providing a Narnia-like land of kings, fairies, dragons, lions and thieves, and dramatic musical accompaniment of up-tempo rock with melodic piano/vocal interludes, this song stands out best among the tracks not entitled "Keep Yourself Alive," the one hit (albeit a couple of years later) from the album.
Queen II (1974) Would it be fair to choose the second side as one long, unbroken song? If not, "March of the Black Queen" edges out its beginning side-mate "Ogre Battle." This is another track with strong imagery in the lyrics: water-babies singing on lily pads and powder-blue monkeys playing in the dead of night, among other creatures.
Meanwhile, the music is more progressive and the harmonies more advanced than anything from the first album. Queen had so exhausted themselves with the progressive rock style after recording this album that they abandoned the sound entirely for the next one.
Sheer Heart Attack (1974) I want to choose "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" (Dixieland jazz done by a British rock band, and done very well), but I have to lean towards "Tenement Funster." This Roger Taylor-penned composition also features the drummer on lead vocals (don't confuse him with Rod Stewart!), and is one of the best rockers in Queen's catalog.
It includes the line, "Just give me a good guitar...", which is exactly what it does. Backing me up on this one would be Foo Fighter founder and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who claims it as his favorite Queen song.
A Night at the Opera (1975) This one is tough. All the songs, while very good, are drastically different, so selecting just one is a matter of taste. The rocker in me really wants to choose "Prophet's Song," but I get the most enjoyment from "Seaside Rendezvous."
This song will take you back in time to a boardwalk on the East Coast dancing among the flapper girls. The "horn section" in the song is actually vocals by Mercury and Taylor, with production effects by Roy Thomas Baker. I'm sure there are others who sing this song out loud each time upon hearing it.
A Day at the Races (1976) While I believe John Deacon could have scored a second hit with "You And I" (he wrote "You're My Best Friend"), I'm choosing the song for which it was the B-side, the Brian May-penned "Long Away."
I really think this one could have been a hit, but the record company failed to promote it because they didn't feel it would be recognized as Queen without Mercury's vocals. While it does have the known Queen harmonies, May's vocals provide a softer sound that complements the jangly guitar style. I believe this song would have fared well on both AM pop stations and FM rock stations.
News of the World (1977) I referred to the first album's selections as a prize fight, but this one is a Royal Rumble. Between "All Dead, All Dead," "Get Down, Make Love," "Who Needs You" and "My Melancholy Blues" I will go with the latter as the last man standing.
"My Melancholy Blues" will transport you into a dark, smoky lounge with the spotlight on Mercury's piano, with Taylor in the shadows trading in the sticks for brushes and Deacon off to the side in the darkness. When I hear this song, I feel out of place unless I'm having a double shot of scotch and water. I'm sure every Queen fan also sings this one word for word when reaching the end of this album.
Jazz (1978) While I'm fond of the Deacon-penned "In Only Seven Days" (about a love affair, possibly along the Riviera), I'm going to have to go with "Let Me Entertain You." A concert highlight during Queen's 1979 tour, it's a quick romp through all the actions the band and their crew took in putting up their elaborate stage show at the time. Any band worth its salt would be wise to learn the lyrics to this one and follow accordingly.
The Game (1980) "Dragon Attack" was the only song from side one of the album not released as a single but is arguably the best track. Combining elements of rock guitar with a little bit of funk and heavy percussion sound; this song fits perfectly among their stadium-rock anthems. It continues to remain on some rock stations' playlists (XM's Boneyard, for example) despite never appearing on any Queen compilation.
Hot Space (1982) The direction of this album (at Mercury's request) resulted in two completely different sides. So while I could easily pick one from the rock side (the hard hitting, anti-gun "Put Out the Fire"), I'm taking the album's opening track, "Staying Power." This song features Earth, Wind & Fire's horn section and could still put feet on the dance floor today.
This was also the first Queen song to get a "remix," which was only available through 12" promotional releases so it could get play in dance clubs. Check out the performance from 2004's double-length CD/DVD Queen on Fire -- Live at the Bowl, which confirms how Queen could conquer any style they wanted, both live and in the studio.
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The Works (1984) The Taylor/May penned "Machines (Back to Humans)" is a strong rocker about machines eventually taking the place of humans. Verses alternate between Mercury (human) and a voice-synthesized Taylor (machine). Only Queen could use the word "parahumanoid-aryanized" in a song and have it work so smoothly.
A Kind of Magic (1986) While most may favor "Who Wants to Live Forever" from the movie Highlander, I'm going with a different track from the film. Other rock bands during this time rushed to release their album's lone ballad as a potential hit, but Queen quietly left the Deacon-penned "One Year of Love" to remain hidden on the album. Limited to single release primarily in France, it's since been covered by a number of European artists.
The Miracle (1989) Knowing at the time that this could well be their last album, "Was It All Worth It" was written as a reflection on the band's career. This song has all the traditional components of a straightforward Queen rocker, and confirms the opinion of most listeners with the concluding line, "It was a worthwhile experience."
Innuendo (1991) While it was Queen's third No. 1 in the UK, the title track from Innuendo is not well known in the States. This song is Queen ending their time with Freddie with a vengeance, a rock epic that evokes Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" breaks for a Freddie and flamenco guitar duet (performed by Steve Howe of Yes). It builds to a frantic climax, drawing in the whole band before returning to repeat the song's opening style in an explosive finish.
Made In Heaven (1995) The material for the posthumous release came from various sources, from unfinished tracks to reworked songs released on various Mercury and May solo projects. While the reworking of Mercury's dance track "I Was Born to Love You" (from 1985's Mr. Bad Guy album) makes an excellent rocker with the band backing it, the outstanding track on the album is "Let Me Live."
Here Queen returns to the gospel style reminiscent of 1976's "Somebody to Love," but this time features a real choir instead of the band's overdubbed vocals. Due to the limited material available with Mercury's vocals, May and Taylor each pitched in a complete verse, making it the one song in Queen's entire catalog with all three members performing lead vocals.
We can anticipate another album of hidden gems and re-workings later on this year, entitled Queen Forever. This time around, the unreleased material -- taken from Queen's '80s output -- reportedly includes a duet between Mercury and Michael Jackson. We'll have to wait and see if May and Taylor can do the similar justice to those nuggets as they did for those on Made In Heaven.
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