From 100 to 81…
This is why Queen are the best band in the world: we’re just into the top 100 and there are some seriously great songs here. A Day At The Races finally makes an appearance. Three undoubted Queen classics also feature in this particular collection, but three b-sides have yet to make their appearance!
100. Action This Day (Taylor), Hot Space, 1982
One of many songs – particularly from the ’80s – that came to life on stage, ‘Action…’ is a typically uptempo Roger song, with both he and Freddie sharing lead vocal. Notable for a saxophone solo, it is unfortunately rather let down by a horrible drum machine sound. Best moment: the synth/guitar break at roughly 2:19, leading into the sax solo.
99. I Want To Break Free (Deacon), The Works, 1984
One of Queen’s most recognisable singles, the original version on The Works is actually rather sparse. John’s synth additions for the single version immeasurably improved the song. The video is fondly remembered for the Coronation Street pastiche. Amazingly, the audacious recreation of parts of Nijinsky’s ballet, Afternoon Of A Faun, is almost always overlooked.
98. Modern Times Rock-‘n’-Roll (Taylor), Queen, 1973
Roger’s sole writing contribution to the first album and an early live staple towards the end of the set. The lyrics revolve around favourite Roger themes – rock-‘n’-roll and the coming generation. He takes lead vocal, though Freddie sang most of the song on stage, except for a raucous end section.
97. Gimme The Prize (Kurgan’s Theme) (May), A Kind Of Magic, 1986
Probably as close to heavy metal as Queen ever got, this is a guitar tour de force from Brian. A song that suited Freddie’s ‘shouty’ ’80s style. As on the Flash Gordon soundtrack, dialogue from the film is incorporated seamlessly into the song. Only the ‘fight’ sound effects mid-song date it a little.
96. Play The Game (Mercury), The Game, 1980
Although the synth intro announced the end of the ‘no synthesizers’ era, this is actually a fairly by-the-book Freddie piano-based love song. The video is awful. Best moment: the instrumental break at roughly 2:07 (as long as you ignore the image of the backwards-playing video that you’re visualising as you listen along).
95. Football Fight (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980
A hilariously camp and exhilarating slice of synth-driven pop.
94. We Will Rock You (May), News Of The World, 1977
‘…Rock You’ has, of course, become iconic over the last forty years as a stadium anthem and as one half of a pairing with We Are The Champions. Famously, it was written by Brian specifically for live interaction with the crowd, and it should be remembered that it was originally issued as the b-side to ‘…Champions’. After the rich and complex textures of the first five albums, it opened the sixth album in dramatically sparse fashion. Performed live it undoubtedly benefits from additional guitar and bass (most notably on Live At Wembley ’86) and, of course, the ‘fast’ version is another beast altogether – one of Queen’s best ever live songs.
93. Stone Cold Crazy (Queen), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
One of Queen’s earliest songs, though it only featured on the third album. Fast and furious – an early stage favourite.
92. My Life Has Been Saved (Queen), b-side, 1989 and Made In Heaven, 1995
It’s astonishing that the original version failed to make it onto the Miracle album – it is far superior to several tracks that made the cut. Both versions are great, though the later version omits some of Brian’s guitar. The lines “I read it in the papers / There’s death on every page” must have been unbearably tough for Freddie to sing – they are certainly unbearably tough to hear.
91. I Can’t Live With You (Queen), Innuendo, 1991
Brian reportedly said in 1991 that ‘I Can’t Live…’ had been a difficult song to mix; certainly, the version that appeared on Queen Rocks (with some instruments re-recorded) is much more muscular. Packed with great guitar. Best moment: “Through the madness, through the tears / We’ve still got each other for a million years” at roughly 3:10.
90. Let Me Entertain You (Mercury), Jazz, 1978
Another slice of fast-paced Freddie pop-rock, with typically lightweight though amusing, somewhat risqué lyrics (Mustapha, Bicycle Race, Let Me Entertain You and Don’t Stop Me Now – all Freddie songs from the Jazz sessions – have a great deal in common). The biggest puzzle was its placing on the original vinyl release of Jazz at the end of side one rather than as an opener.
89. Love Kills (Mercury), released 2014
The best of the ‘Queen Forever’ new tracks, this is a slowed-down version of one of Freddie’s best solo singles. The acoustic introduction works well, as does the big Queen sound at roughly 2:35. Queen + Adam Lambert performed a great version on stage in 2014.
88. Ogre Battle (Mercury), Queen II, 1974
After wind-like effects swirling left and right – the calm before the storm – the band unleashes a dense cacophony of sound and fury as backdrop for this tale of warring giants. One of Queen’s heaviest and most uncompromising songs.
87. Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Mercury), The Game, 1980
Lightweight (“disposable”, to use Freddie’s own word) pop, famously composed in ten minutes in the bath and the last mega-hit that Freddie wrote. The live version, the final section of which was far rockier, is vastly superior.
86. Dead On Time (May), Jazz, 1978
Another Brian extravaganza, like many of the songs on Jazz it suffers from poor production, deadening the instruments (other than the awful drum sound), particularly the interplay of the multi-tracked guitars.
85. Don’t Lose Your Head (Taylor), A Kind Of Magic, 1986
Fast-paced and packed with interesting ideas, this is one of the best uses of electro-synth sounds by Queen, with the added bonus of a Brian solo at roughly 3:39. The title is of course a play on the method of execution of the ‘Immortals’ in Highlander.
84. Let Me Live (Queen), Made In Heaven, 1995
The best of the songs created from the fragments left behind by Freddie. Despite obviously having little to work with (hence the fact that Brian and Roger sing much of the lead vocal), they constructed a rousing gospel-influenced track, making use (for the first time) of outside backing vocalists to create the gospel-choir sound.
83. I’m Going Slightly Mad (Queen), Innuendo, 1991
Another song where lyrics and music complement each other perfectly – particularly John’s playful bass and Brian’s solo. The Noel Coward-esque lyrics are supposedly the result of a late-night competition to conjure up ever more ridiculous euphemisms for madness. Also one of their most creative videos. Best moment: “Ooo ooo aaa aaa…” at roughly 3:01.
82. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (Mercury), A Day At The Races, 1976
A classic piece of Freddie piano-based pop with neat arrangements and multi-layered backing vocals. It’s unclear why an engineer (Mike Stone) was given a couple of lines to sing: Roger sang them on the partially re-recorded Top Of The Pops version. Best moment: Brian’s playful solo and the ‘countdown’ to dining at the Ritz at 2:17.
81. Dragon Attack (May), The Game, 1980
One of Queen’s better forays into dance-funk, primarily because there’s still plenty of guitar. It’s on Dragon Attack where Brian’s growing interest in (as he described it) making space for the rhythm arrangements to breathe is most evident. Great mini-solos, too, from Roger and particularly John. Best moment: the middle eight starting at roughly 2:40 (“She’s low down / Don’t take no prisoners…”).