Darkest Hour: Film Review

‘Darkest Hour’ offers us drama and tension aplenty, emotional highs and lows, and the usual cast of heroes and villains. In a welcome challenge to the ‘great leader’ myth, Churchill himself commits numerous tactical blunders, shows himself prone to wishful thinking, and is overcome by doubt and indecision – his own darkest hour. As the tension mounts, with Britain’s position seemingly hopeless and his critics ranged against him, his spirits reach their lowest ebb.

The year is 1940 and Britain is in dire straits. Abroad, the German army is sweeping across western Europe, a defeatist mentality paralyses the French top ranks, and the British army faces imminent annihilation at Dunkirk, probably to be followed by the invasion of Britain itself. At home, Churchill must negotiate a fragile coalition government, a divided Conservative Party, and rebellious and ambitious cabinet colleagues.

Darkest Hour, the 2017 film starring Gary Oldman that deals with Churchill’s first few weeks as prime minister in May 1940, inevitably resonates in this time of Brexit-related angst: the UK’s relationship with the European continent is currently under the microscope as never before in peacetime, with not a little hyperbolic talk about existential threats to our freedom and independence.

An example of a meme circulated on social media during the Brexit debate.

These tumultuous events of 1940 and Britain’s survival were, of course, exhaustively mined by Britain’s wartime propaganda machine, turning calamitous defeat and near-disaster into a form of national triumph. Ministry of Information shorts, such as Channel Incident (starring a young Peggy Ashcroft) and Neighbours Under Fire, trumpeted the indomitable will of the British people – the ‘Very Well, Alone’ mood of popular defiance also captured in David Low’s cartoons of the time and the ‘spirit of the Blitz’ in the face of the Luftwaffe’s aerial onslaught.

Widely circulated on social media in October 2018

I have discussed elsewhere the issue of ‘fake history’ and film – questions of historical accuracy and fidelity to the facts, the portrayal of people and events from the past, and the inevitable trade-off between historical ‘truth’ and entertainment. What makes Darkest Hour compelling viewing – beyond undeniable echoes in our current political travails – is the knowledge that those wartime propaganda lines about defiance and British exceptionalism have now been resurrected and shamelessly peddled by cheerleaders in the diehard Brexit camp to support their views about the Brexit negotiations, the opportunities and threats posed by a no-deal outcome, and our current crop of political leaders.

Darkest Hour includes virtually no scenes of actual fighting, though the reality of Britain’s perilous strategic position casts its shadow across virtually every scene. The focus of the film is essentially Winston Churchill, hailed by many – especially on the right – as our national saviour. In 2002 (Golden Jubilee year, of course), he was proclaimed the greatest Briton in a BBC poll, and ‘he’ featured prominently in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. To be fair, and perhaps in an indication of our changing national temper (or maybe just a reflection of the BBC2 audience), he lost out to Alan Turing and others in a 2019 BBC poll of the twentieth century’s greatest icon.

Churchill is arguably the most instantly recognisable figure from our past: the huge cigar, the V-for-Victory salute and the wobbly jowls delivering soaring oratory are etched into the popular consciousness. One effect of biographies and biopics (the good ones, anyway) is to flesh out and ‘humanize’ distant figures – to uncover something of the real person behind the myth. In Darkest Hour, we see glimpses of the husband and family man, the man of privilege baffled by the Tube map, the playful man giggling with the secretarial staff and (crucially) the man of doubt. His eccentricities and larger-than-life character are fully on display – dictating memos from his bed (and from the bathroom), consuming prodigious amounts of alcohol, berating his personal staff for the slightest of errors.

One cannot help but feel that aspects of Churchill’s personal conduct, long dismissed – perhaps even applauded – as quirky, eccentric and idiosyncratic, would in today’s #MeToo climate be condemned as unacceptable bullying and sexist behaviour. Films about personalities and events from the past nevertheless reflect the mood, norms and expectations of the times in which they were made. With diversity and inclusion society’s current watchwords, any film about events dominated almost exclusively by socially privileged white men will throw up interesting challenges for director and scriptwriter.

The secretary Elizabeth Layton is assigned a key role in the script.

In the film, a key role is therefore assigned to a woman, Elizabeth Layton. Though a lowly secretary, the script manoeuvres her close to the action and the locus of power, often involving her in intimate, one-to-one situations with Churchill (intimate in the sense that both can reveal hidden worries and doubts). Her role is as a proxy, a personification of the British public at large, their hopes and fears, their questions and concerns. She is fearful but resilient, curious to know more, and able to handle the unpleasant, unvarnished truth. Meanwhile, Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, is the steadying influence behind the scenes. More than just the dutiful wife, she gently admonishes the great man when he behaves like an ass.

Darkest Hour offers us drama and tension aplenty, emotional highs and lows, and the usual cast of heroes and villains (with, in this case, Neville Chamberlain perhaps somewhere in the middle). In a welcome challenge to the ‘great leader’ myth, Churchill himself commits numerous tactical blunders, shows himself prone to wishful thinking, and is overcome by doubt and indecision – his own darkest hour. As the tension mounts, with Britain’s position seemingly hopeless and his critics ranged against him, his spirits reach their lowest ebb. He becomes forgetful and – the ultimate catastrophe for a politician feted for his ability to communicate – struggles to find the words, before rediscovering his mojo with the help of the great British public in the controversial ‘Underground’ scene – controversial in the sense that it is purely fictional.

The George VI portrayed here is very different from the vulnerable king in The King’s Speech

The George VI presented to us is also of interest. Though the icy relationship between Churchill and the king thaws somewhat as the film progresses, the viewer will struggle to reconcile this monarch with Colin Firth’s portrayal in The King’s Speech. In the latter, he is warm, vulnerable and all-too-human. Here, he is remote, cold, bigoted and snobbish. The scene where he surreptitiously wipes his hand behind his back after it has been kissed by Churchill is particularly telling. Later, in an ironic turn, it is the king who urges the prime minister to listen to the voice of the people, precipitating Churchill’s journey of rediscovery on the Underground.

The role of arch-baddie is, however, reserved for Lord Halifax, the king’s confidant and political puppet-master, pulling Chamberlain’s strings in a bid to engineer a compromise peace with Hitler, thus preventing a German invasion and safeguarding the British Empire. He is calculating and scheming, refusing to take on the role of prime minister after Chamberlain’s resignation as the time is ‘not yet right’. The England (sic) he cherishes and seeks to preserve is that of the upper-class gentleman and country estate, a land of strict social division, of privilege and entitlement. Compare this with the portrayal of the ordinary Englishman and Englishwoman: patriotic, decent and resolute.

Films recreating events from the past must find imaginative ways to contextualise events, plugging gaps in the viewer’s historical knowledge and ensuring that the storyline makes sense. Here, for example, Churchill explains to someone who would have known the situation perfectly well that the king disliked him because he (Churchill) supported his (George’s) brother’s desire to marry Wallis Simpson. To establish the reasons for Churchill’s unpopularity with many Tories, we are offered a montage of politicians in whispered discussion, each with a gripe against Churchill: it is a ‘greatest hits’ of his errors and failings – serial infidelity to the Conservative Party, Gallipoli, India and the Gold Standard.

The House of Commons as theatre

The scenes in the Chamber of the House of Commons are pure theatre – the bear-pit atmosphere and the dramatic lighting, as if a solitary spotlight were picking out the speaker at the despatch box, the surrounding benches (front and back) almost in darkness – the more so to accentuate order papers furiously batting the air.

The debates themselves do not (inevitably) ring particularly true. For example, the two-day debate that led to Chamberlain’s resignation is here shortened to about five minutes. Labour’s Clement Attlee is forensic and withering – far too much so, if the recent biography by John Below is to be trusted. Crucially, the damning verdict of backbench Conservative MP Leo Amery, invoking Cromwell to the Rump Parliament – “In the name of God, go!” – is expunged from the record, as it wouldn’t serve the narrative, namely that Churchill did not have the Tory backbenches behind him and that his support came from the Labour benches. To the end, Chamberlain appears to command the loyalty of the Conservative MPs – a surreptitious wave of the handkerchief his signal to the backbench troops whether or not to show their support for the new prime minister.

Some of the points made in this article were also made in the article ‘Fake History’ and Film.

‘Fake History’ and Film

Elizabeth I meets Mary, Queen of Scots! Churchill rediscovers his mojo on the Underground! Homosexual genius Alan Turing is blackmailed by Soviet spy John Cairncross at Bletchley Park! Hmmm. Memo to self: ‘Films based on historical events are not documentaries. Stop judging them as if they are.’

The above are not happenings in an alternate reality but scenes from films about real people, their lives mediated through ‘Hollywood’ – just three examples of what we might call ‘fake history’ offered up for our viewing pleasure in well-known films released over the last few years about famous people and/or events. The buzz surrounding two recent films that focus on the lives of female monarchs from Britain’s past – Mary Queen Of Scots (about the rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I) and The Favourite (about Queen Anne) – has poured lighter-fuel on a debate that seems to smoulder away all but unnoticed before re-igniting whenever a blockbuster film portraying iconic figures and events from the past is released.

Fake history Saving Private Ryan
Though lauded for its realistic depiction of war, Saving Private Ryan has also been much criticised for ignoring the role of the British armed forces and those of other countries in the D-Day landings.

The usual suspects – lower case, not the Kevin Spacey film – have again been hauled in to take up their place in the line-up of cinematic shame: films such as The Patriot, Braveheart, Saving Private Ryan, all charged with the heinous crime of playing fast and loose with ‘the truth’. The only surprise is that nobody appears to have brought up Valkyrie, in which Tom Cruise comes within minutes of bringing down the Third Reich.

The debate about ‘fake history’ operates at a number of levels, with questions of historical accuracy morphing into arguments about how much fidelity to the facts actually matters and broader discussions about representations of the past.

At its simplest is a binary question, the answer to which is either ‘yes, this did happen, that’s accurate’ or ‘no, that didn’t happen, that’s not how it really was’. We’re not just talking feature films and television dramas, of course. Any self-respecting pub quizzer will doubtless remind us that, when Cassius declares in Julius Caesar that “The clock has stricken three”, Shakespeare had (deliberately or otherwise) penned an anachronism – mechanical clocks of that type were not around in the first century BC.

Playing ‘fake history’ is fun for all the family. BBC Bitesize (targeted at a young audience) recently ran an online article highlighting inaccuracies in eight popular films – the Alpine escape of the von Trapp family from the clutches of the evil Nazis in The Sound Of Music, the death of the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in Gladiator, the clothing worn by thirteenth-century Scots in Braveheart. And so on.

There are deeper issues involved, however – not least the rather important question of what we mean by ‘the truth’ – and unsurprisingly these trickier matters attract the interest of heavyweight journalists and academic historians alike. In this latest round, for example, Oxford historian and BBC4 regular Dr Janina Ramirez was commissioned to write a piece on The Favourite for The Sunday Times. The Guardian journalist Simon Jenkins set out his views in a typically forthright piece – ‘The new threat to truth: fake history films’. He accused film-makers of claiming “the right to mis-sell films as history”, sexing them up with invention, out of fear that “accuracy will not put bums on seats”.

This terrain encompasses all ‘texts’, not just headline-grabbing films about famous people and events found on the school history curriculum. Take two other recent films, both of which might well have come with some variation or other of the words ‘based on real events’ attached. And what is ‘based on real events’ exactly – a neutral statement, a caveat, a disclaimer, a cop-out?

Fake history Stan and Ollie
Stan And Ollie depicts Stan arguing about money with Hal Roach on the set of Way Out West, with Ollie caught in the middle.

The first, Stan And Ollie, uses a Laurel and Hardy music hall tour of Britain in the twilight of their careers as a vehicle for exploring the duo’s relationship. As a narrative frame, it works brilliantly well, though I don’t know enough about their actual story to make confident assertions about how accurate it all is. My gut instinct is to doubt the literal ‘truth’ of certain events depicted, such as the on-set arguments between Stan and Hal Roach and Ollie’s collapse in Worthing, and the accuracy of the portrayal of characters such as the scheming, oleaginous impresario, Delfont.

The second, meanwhile, I have discussed in detail elsewhere: the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a film that wields a knife with wilful abandon as it cuts the Queen story to shreds. Guitarist Brian May has spoken of his journey of understanding as an executive producer, ending (he says) with the realisation that a film is a very different beast from a documentary – but that both are valid artistic means of telling a story. He is, in effect, criticising those Queen fans unable to move beyond the film’s cavalier approach to the facts. That formula – ‘based on real events’ – is, if nothing else, an elastic one. Maybe that’s part of the problem: how exactly are viewers expected to know how literally to believe what is being portrayed?

Fake history The Exception Himmler Kaiser Wilhelm II
The Exception suggests that Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler met with Wilhelm II in 1940 and offered him the chance to return to Germany as Head of State in a ruse to flush out anti-Nazi monarchists.

Of course, should we so choose, we have the option of consulting Professor Wikipedia for (usually) in-depth analysis of the accuracy of this or that scene, portrayal or storyline. My immediate reaction after watching the excellent film The Exception, about Kaiser Wilhelm II in exile in Holland in 1940, was to reach for a biography of the ex-German emperor to clarify how much of it was true (answer: not much). But how many of us ever bother? It’s a fair bet that many film-goers and TV-watchers don’t give the matter a second thought and/or don’t particularly care whether a film is accurate or not – as long as they are entertained.

The business of films, in more than one sense, is first and foremost to entertain – fair enough. Self-styled “public historian, broadcaster, author, and historical consultant to Film & TV” Greg Jenner disagrees with the Simon Jenkins line quoted above, tweeting recently about the importance of historians engaging with pop culture:

Historical films are not “fake history”; they’re stories. They aren’t documentaries and nor do they try to be. So long as historians are able to publicly respond (which we do in droves) these films are helpful, not a hindrance, in stimulating public fascination with the past.

Greg Jenner

In other words, if films are stimulating public interest in the past, that’s surely a good thing, right? Jenner says that historians are taking part “in droves”. I accept that it would be churlish to ignore or downplay the tireless efforts of a wide range of academics and others (a big shout-out here to classroom teachers) to engage with the public via an ever-widening variety of platforms – from websites and podcasts to public lectures and TV programmes.

But a nagging question remains: beyond a stratum of enthusiastic, educated amateur history buffs – to borrow Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, “that theoretical construct, the intelligent and educated citizen” – how much actual purchase is there at grassroots level among non-history buffs? I refer, perhaps, to those who drink at that bustling yet ever so elusive pub, the Dog and Duck, spoken of in hallowed terms by politicians and social commentators alike, where issues of the day are discussed by ‘ordinary’ folk over a warm pint of beer or glass of wine.

I also accept that, although accuracy obviously matters a great deal in historical re-creations, it isn’t the be-all and end-all – and perhaps not even the most important element of a film. A film may include plenty of inaccuracies, even wholly fictionalised situations, and yet still be bloody good, as Stan And Ollie certainly showed (assuming the narrative isn’t all literally true). After all, most if not all the dialogue in every historical film is made up: who knows who said what to whom in reality? A great artist – actor, writer or director – uses their raw material – part-fact, part-fiction – to capture and convey the essence of a person or situation, hopefully revealing deeper or more complete truths. In that sense, even if some of it didn’t really happen, Stan And Ollie still stands up as an utterly delightful window into the world of Laurel and Hardy, funny, moving and sad – a warm-hearted, bittersweet film about friendship, fame and the inexorable passing of time.

I further agree that it is naive and simplistic to expect ‘the truth’ (singular). A ‘text’ – a book, a play, a film, a painting – is a representation (literally, a re-presenting) of the past, an authorial construct based at least in part on the selection and presentation of information. As the historian Anthony Beevor has argued persuasively, the price of supping with the Hollywood devil is stomaching a degree of creative licence for film-makers with regards to ‘what really happened’.

At its worst, however, this Faustian pact leads to oversimplification (not to mention ‘dumbing down’), serious distortion and the flattening of individuals and historical situations into one-dimensional caricatures. It filters out complexity, balance, nuance, ambiguity and paradox. It does not permit doubt, ambivalence and confusion. In other words, it comes at the expense of the stuff of reality and cheapens the study of the past. Ask John McDonnell, who foolishly accepted the request to reduce the life and career of Winston Churchill to a single word.

Films are also products of their time, reflecting the mood, norms and expectations of the day. However, unless handled skilfully by writer and director, they can end up seeming uncomfortably forced and contrived. Darkest Hour, the 2017 film dealing with Churchill’s first few weeks as prime minister in May 1940, is an intriguing case in this respect. With diversity and inclusion society’s current watchwords, any film about events dominated almost exclusively by socially privileged white men will throw up interesting challenges.

Fake history Darkest Hour Underground Winston Churchill
Darkest Hour includes an entirely fictional scene set on the London Underground.

In the film, a key supporting player is therefore a woman, Elizabeth Layton. Though a lowly secretary in the typing pool, she is manoeuvred close to the action and the locus of power, often involved in one-to-one situations with Churchill. Her role is as a proxy, a personification of the British public at large, their hopes and fears, their questions and concerns. She is fearful but resilient, curious to know more, and able to handle the unpleasant, unvarnished truth. Meanwhile, Churchill’s wife, Clemmie, is the steadying influence behind the scenes. More than just the dutiful wife, she gently admonishes the great man when he behaves like an ass.

A David Low cartoon from 1940. The caption read:”Very Well, Alone”. This mood of popular defiance was a feature of the fictional ‘Churchill on the Underground’ scene in the film Darkest Hour.

In the film’s ‘Underground’ scene – wholly fictional, of course – the passengers (a handy cross-section of the British people – men, women and children) are united, defiant and resolute. It is like a David Low cartoon brought to life, a re-creation of the mood portrayed in the official propaganda films of the time and later mythologised as ‘the spirit of the Blitz’. It is a version of history for the Brexiteers.

One of the passengers is a young black man, who appears to be in the company of a white woman – whether friend, lover or spouse is left unclear. While not wholly implausible in 1940, this depiction of relaxed attitudes to inter-racial relationships (and even friendships when involving people of the opposite sex) nevertheless feels anachronistic, and it is certainly very different from attitudes portrayed in the recent Rosamund Pike/David Oyelowo film set partly in late-’40s Britain, A United Kingdom.

And of course, as consumers of history – watchers of films, readers of books etc. – we sprinkle our diet with liberal (small ‘l’) helpings of our own beliefs, values and biases. With our relationship with the European continent currently under the microscope as never before in peacetime, and with much hyperbolic talk about threats to our freedom, Darkest Hour resonates in this time of Brexit-related angst. Would the ‘ordinary’, non-political, non-Eurosceptic viewer have felt this way about the film ten years ago, say?

Or take the films of Mel Gibson as both actor and director. Now something of a bête noire of the film industry and the wider public1, how much are people’s opinions of his work influenced by opinions of the man (drunk, misogynist, Christian extremist, anti-Semite are some of the labels attached to him)? Or, mutatis mutandis, re-read this paragraph, replacing the name in the first sentence with ‘Woody Allen’ or ‘Kevin Spacey’.

As a keen student of history, I feel protective of the people, events and circumstances of the past, and instinctively recoil at falsification, at bias and at individuals and their reputations being brazenly glorified or traduced. When I open a history book – especially on the many topics about which I know little or nothing – I bring to it certain expectations and assumptions. First and foremost, I want accuracy and fidelity to the facts. Secondly, I trust that the representations shown to me – and judgements offered – by the writer are judiciously reached, based on the best available evidence. I want to learn about three-dimensional characters, not black-and-white ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’. Where doubt about the evidence exists, I want it to be made clear that doubt exists.

Fake history Adolf Hitler Downfall
Bruno Ganz’s brilliant performance in Downfall was both celebrated and criticised for ‘humanizing’ Adolf Hitler.

Is it too much to expect all this of a film – and to be entertained as well? In the week of Bruno Ganz’s death, it is worth remembering what can be achieved. Though no Hollywood blockbuster, and perhaps known to many people only via much-circulated social media memes with joke subtitles, Downfall – and particularly Ganz’s electrifying portrayal of Adolf Hitler – demonstrates that films can indeed combine serious, well-researched history and gripping entertainment. More, please.

Queen Songs Ranked 20 – 01

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 21, scroll to the bottom of the page.

At last – cue the opening drum roll from Innuendo – we arrive at what this fan considers to be the twenty greatest Queen songs. The best of the best. It is surprisingly difficult to write anything about these twenty gems – especially the singles – as so much has already been said, not least about Bohemian Rhapsody, which – major spoiler alert – did make my final twenty. The list is heavily weighted in favour of the ’70s, with five of the tracks coming from Queen II and five from A Night At The Opera. I have written elsewhere about the problems of choosing a ‘best’ album – the four albums from Queen II to A Day At The Races are all quite exceptional. There is a fairly even spread of Freddie and Brian songs here (with one contribution from Roger), though Brian wrote all of the songs in my top three and sang two of the songs in my top ten. Enjoy.

20. Killer Queen (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Freddie’s song about a high-end prostitute has a lighter feel after the dense sound and full-on fury of much of Queen II. The penchant for witty lyrics and camp, theatrical delivery was typical of Freddie in the ’70s – think of Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon, Seaside Rendezvous and Bicycle Race. Their first big hit single, it’s often forgotten that it was actually a double-A side with Flick Of The Wrist (the one you won’t have heard on Tony Blackburn’s show, as Brian said). Best moment: the guitar solo – one of Brian’s favourites, so he has indicated.

19. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (May), A Day At The Races, 1976

After Brian’s billet doux to America (Now I’m Here) came this paean to Japan, written after two incredibly successful tours there. Wonderful from start to finish, the song starts conventionally enough (albeit with a chorus partly sung in Japanese), until Brian reaches for the power chords and Freddie delivers a sensational middle eight (“When I’m gone / They’ll say we’re all fools and we don’t understand…”). The climax is an exquisite multi-tracked choir effect, emphasising the inclusive message of the song. The HD mix featured on the 2011 remasters is sublime.

18. Nevermore (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

A short yet utterly delightful piano ballad from Freddie. The title is perhaps drawn from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. The piano playing is gorgeous, the words, beautifully sung, are tender and touching, and the backing vocals are magnificent. A rare example of where the BBC session version didn’t really work (an indication, perhaps, of how important the backing vocals are in the song). Best moment: the angelic choir sound at 0:58.

17. Innuendo (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Rolling, sweeping, majestic. Innuendo casts off the self-imposed straitjacket of the conventional four-minute pop-rock song that constrained the band’s creativity as mega-stardom beckoned in the ’80s. In its epic scale, Innuendo recaptures the youthful idealism and spirit of adventure of songs like The March Of The Black Queen and The Prophet’s Song. Like the rising of the sun and the incessant motion of the tides, music and lyrics combine to evoke a boundless, timeless universe – “…’til the end of time” indeed. Best moment: a toss-up between the sparse acoustic interlude at 2:45 and Brian’s magnificent guitar from 4:19 onwards.

16. Father To Son (May), Queen II, 1974

An appropriately guitar-rich epic, this is Brian’s loving tribute to his father, Harold, with whom he of course built the Red Special. The centrepiece is Brian’s sweeping, multi-layered solo, yet the whole song illustrates the prevailing Queen motif at that time – to fill every possible space with sound, right from the opening power chords after the final strains of Procession fade away. The Procession / Father to Son opening of the March ’74 Rainbow concert is possibly the greatest beginning to a live album ever. Best moment: Brian’s lines expressing the unconditional love between parent and child – “But the air you breathe / I live to give you”.

15. White Man (May), A Day At The Races, 1976

Another breathtaking exploration by Brian of the possibilities of two-part and three-part guitar harmonies, White Man is a snarling howl of anger and rage at the tragic fate of America’s native peoples – “the hell you’ve made” – all but wiped out by the onward march of European so-called ‘civilisation’. Freddie brilliantly conveys the pain and anguish in his throat-shredding vocals. Best moment: guitar and drums from roughly 3:02 and particularly Roger’s drums at 3:09.

14. The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

The original and best example of Freddie’s penchant for writing fast-paced quirky arrangements, accompanied by witty or unusual lyrics – Seaside Rendezvous, Mustapha, Bicycle Race and the operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody follow in the same tradition. Written around a notorious Richard Dadd painting and obviously the result of painstaking research (not something one would associate with later-era Freddie). Best moment: “…What a quaere fellow!”.

13. Radio Ga Ga (Taylor), The Works, 1984

A spectacular return to form after the misfiring Hot Space, Radio Ga Ga has achieved near-legendary status, not least as a result of its inclusion in the Live Aid set. Programmed drums notwithstanding (and a guitar sadly buried in the mix), it is a brilliant homage to the apparently dying world of radio – ironically, supported by one of their most ambitious and best videos – with great bass from John and an anthemic, show-stopping chorus. Best moment: “So stick around ‘cos we might miss you / When we grow tired of all this visual”.

12. Seven Seas Of Rhye (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

After the prolonged, meandering opening to their first single, Keep Yourself Alive, their second single took them to the other extreme – delivering everything bar the kitchen sink in a spellbinding opening thirty seconds. A brilliantly crafted slice of rock (and one of their more ‘glam’-sounding efforts at a time when ‘glam’ was dominating the charts), with typically (for early-era Freddie) obscure yet compelling lyrics. Best moment: the snarling guitar at 1:51 after “Then I’ll get you!”.

11. Don’t Stop Me Now (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

Freddie’s hymn to the hedonistic lifestyle. An exceptional piece of commercial ‘pop’ music, comfortably the stand-out track from the Jazz sessions and the closest Queen should have veered in the direction of ‘disco’. Unlike (it seems) many fans, this fan prefers both the ‘long-lost guitars’ version from the 2011 re-releases and the ‘revisited’ version from the 2018 movie soundtrack, which offer a more ‘traditional’ Queen sound. Best moment: John’s bass at roughly 1:31.

10. The Prophet’s Song (May), A Night At The Opera, 1975

In some respects a companion piece to Bohemian Rhapsody from the same sessions, this is probably the most gloriously sprawling, ambitious and experimental song the band (in this case, mainly Brian) attempted – from the opening notes of the toy koto onwards. Mystical themes, delightful guitar harmonies and bizarre vocal effects combine to deliver eight minutes of bewildering brilliance. Best moment: the power of the bass-drum-guitar combination after “Listen to the madman!” at roughly 5:51.

09. Somebody To Love (Mercury), A Day At The Races, 1976

Freddie’s nod to Aretha Franklin and the gospel sound, this is a suitably over-the-top follow-up to Bohemian Rhapsody. A brilliant vocal performance from Freddie, wonderful gospel choir arrangements involving Freddie, Brian and Roger, and a great overall sound. It also translated exceptionally well to the stage – particularly the closing section of the song. Best moment: Freddie’s vocal combining with Brian’s guitar for “But everybody wants to put me down…” from 1:45.

08. The Show Must Go On (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Like These Are The Days Of Our Lives, this song captures the sad and reflective yet defiant mood of the time, with the band writing and recording in the shadow of Freddie’s approaching death. The music is magnificent, particularly Brian’s guitar and John’s bass, and somehow Freddie delivers a truly stunning vocal performance. Some of the lines are – with the benefit of hindsight – unbearably sad, not least “Inside my heart is breaking / My make-up may be flaking / But my smile still stays on”. Best moment: a strong contender for the best lyrics Queen ever wrote – “My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies / Fairy tales of yesterday will grow but never die / I can fly, my friends”.

07. Good Company (May), A Night At The Opera, 1975

Almost four minutes of utter originality and genius, courtesy of Brian, beginning with the minimalist ukulele opening and concluding with the full jazz-band sound, all of which (drums excepted, obviously) was created in the studio on the Red Special and other guitars. Has the guitar ever been used to such stunningly original effect? Overlooked too are Brian’s wonderfully witty lyrics, particularly the way he cleverly weaves multiple uses and meanings out of the word ‘company’. Best moment: it has to be the jazz-band effect.

06. In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Freddie was at his creative peak on the first four albums, and ‘…Lap Of The Gods…Revisited’ is another magnificent piece of writing straight out of left-field. A brilliant way to end the Sheer Heart Attack album, it was also used as a magnificent show-closer until 1977, accompanied by industrial quantities of dry ice, and was (for this fan at least) an even better finale than We Are The Champions, which replaced it in the live set. Best moment: the long “Wo wo la la la” final section of the song.

05. Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…) (Mercury), A Night At The Opera, 1975

As the elegant notes from Freddie’s piano make way for Brian’s snarling guitars, a sense of menace and unrestrained fury grabs the listener by the throat and doesn’t let go. Freddie’s diatribe aimed at their former management company is a brilliantly unsettling opening to the band’s ‘Sgt Pepper’, as he hurls the insults and heaps on the abuse in line after bitter line. Best moment: it can only be “But now you can kiss my ass goodbye!”.

04. Bohemian Rhapsody (Mercury), A Night At The Opera, 1975

For many, of course, Queen’s magnum opus. What more is there to be said about this song about which so much has been said and written? Startlingly original, certainly in terms of the singles charts – and yet what is magnificent about Queen is that many of the ideas in Bohemian Rhapsody are foreshadowed in their previous work. A complete one-off…and yet so typically Queen. Magnifico, indeed. Best moment: the operatic section, if only for the sheer audacity.

03. ’39 (May), A Night At The Opera, 1975

The finest of Brian’s many wonderful songs about absence, loss and the passage of time. More fitting than the rather upbeat on-stage delivery by Freddie, Brian’s sombre vocal perfectly matches the mood of the song. Exquisite folksy acoustic guitar throughout, supported by bass drum, double bass and tambourine. Best moment: the ethereal backing vocals, especially (but not only) at 1:37.

02. White Queen (As It Began) (May), Queen II, 1974

Queen’s finest power-ballad. Romantic and poetic, it is sung beautifully by Freddie, with backing vocals that are haunting and gorgeously ethereal. The acoustic playing is gentle and warm, matched by Roger’s subtle percussion. Brian’s guitar orchestrations are, as always, sublime. The BBC session version – particularly the interplay between guitar and piano – is possibly even better. Best moment: Brian’s soaring solo from 3:38.

01. Brighton Rock (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Possibly the finest five minutes in rock music: Brighton Rock is, for this fan at least, Queen’s greatest song. It incorporates so much that makes Queen unique and utterly, utterly extraordinary. It features great lyrics, as with White Queen, both romantic and poetic: “O rock of ages, do not crumble, love is breathing still / O lady moon shine down, a little people-magic if you will”. It has great lead and backing vocals – not least the drop from falsetto to ‘normal’ on the final line of the verse. Above all, it showcases the wonderful originality and inventiveness of Brian’s guitar playing, and the thrilling interplay of guitar, bass and drums. One can only wonder at the time it took to record the song. Best moment – all of it, obviously, but at a push: guitar, bass and drums at 2:25.

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 120 – 101

Click here for numbers 100 – 81

Click here for numbers 80 – 61

Click here for numbers 60 – 41

Click here for numbers 40 – 21

Queen Songs Ranked 40 – 21

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 41, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Another selection of twenty incredible Queen songs, almost the best of the best and drawn fairly evenly from the ’70s and later. This collection features the three outstanding tracks from The Miracle and no less than four tracks from their debut album, as well as the standout tracks from Flash Gordon, Hot Space, A Kind Of Magic, News Of The World and The Game.

40. Hammer To Fall (May), The Works, 1984

Brian’s most directly anti-war song, written at the height of the ‘second’ cold war – though on stage it was Roger who wore a t-shirt bearing an explicitly anti-nuclear message. It begins with a thumping guitar riff and doesn’t let up. It would have been an obvious way to end their comeback-of-sorts album, The Works, until Is This The World We Created…? came along late in the day. Best moment: the musical break at roughly 1:58 leading to a (for ’80s Queen) lengthy guitar solo.

39. A Kind Of Magic (Taylor), A Kind Of Magic, 1986

By the mid-’80s, Roger was proving that he could write mega-hits too – though Freddie apparently re-worked the original idea somewhat. An utterly infectious piece of uptempo pop, it transferred effortlessly to the stage and featured a quite superb ending. Brian’s playful guitar is utterly delightful in the studio and on stage. One of the better twelve-inch remixes from the ’80s. Best moment: “This rage that lasts a thousand years…” at 2:35.

38. Breakthru (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

An irresistibly infectious beat propels this song along: no wonder the video was set aboard a train. This song showcases John and Roger at their finest. There are two ideas here merged into one, tacking Freddie’s ‘A New Life Is Born’ onto the main song (apparently one of Roger’s). Best moment: the final chorus from 3:30.

37. I Want It All (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

The Miracle was arguably Queen’s patchiest album, but I Want It All delivers in spades with a welcome helping of full-throated guitar and several blistering solos from Brian. Great drums, too, from Roger. The anthemic sound captures the ‘I want it all’ lyrical sentiments. Best moment: Brian’s vocal interlude (“I’m a man with a one-track mind…”) leading into an extended solo, with great backing from John and Roger.

36. These Are The Days Of Our Lives (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Roger’s gentle meditation on the passage of time – an enduring theme of his, though written now from the perspective of approaching middle age rather than of happy-go-lucky youth. The song is, of course, forever bound up with the death of Freddie and particularly the final video footage, in which he stands metaphorically naked before the camera, allowing the world to see the ravages of his illness. Truly heartbreaking to watch. Best moment: Brian’s guitar solo.

35. Vultan’s Theme (Attack Of The Hawk Men) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980

34. Battle Theme (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

The rebellion against Ming and the attack on Mingo City are here brilliantly brought to life in four blistering minutes. A driving beat from Roger and John accompanies Freddie’s synthesizer before Brian’s full-on guitar onslaught: this is heart-stopping stuff to accompany the onscreen heroics. The two pieces were briefly incorporated into the live set at the end of Brian’s solo. Best moment: “Flash!” at roughly 1:45 of Battle Theme.

33. We Are The Champions (Mercury), News Of The World, 1977

A classic that – along with We Will Rock You – has gone on to capture the imagination of the world over the last forty years. Exceptionally lyrically daring at the time of its release (when Queen were hate figures for the punk-obsessed music press), the world has come to accept that the focus of the song is a collective ‘We’ – be it a Queen audience, a sports crowd or people in general. As Brian has pointed out, ‘…Champions’ starts small and ends very big in typical Freddie style. Musically, it is straightforward – its power coming from the words and the anthemic chorus. On its release, ‘…Champions’ was accompanied by a great ‘live’ video (with an ‘alternative’ version now produced) – shot in front of fan club members – far better than (say) Fat Bottomed Girls, filmed a year later, which comes across as pedestrian and by-the-book in comparison. Best moment: Brian’s guitar in the final chorus, starting with the extraordinary elongated note at 2:41.

32. My Fairy King (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Was this the first Queen song ever played on the radio – track one of the first BBC session, broadcast in February 1973? It’s arguably also the first song to feature the complex vocal and musical arrangements that became such a feature of the early Queen sound. Mystical, mythological and biblical themes were common in Freddie’s early lyrics: here he borrows from the poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (“…And honey-bees had lost their stings / And horses were born with eagles’ wings…”). Piano-led, rather than guitar-driven, this was an exquisite foretaste of what was to come. Best moment: the delicate piano break at roughly 2:14 (“Someone, someone just drained the colour from my wings…”).

31. Was It All Worth It (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

A high-point on which to end the patchy ‘Miracle’ album, this feels like an (at times tongue-in-cheek) valedictory reflection on the vicissitudes of the rock-‘n’-roll life set to a thumping riff. Here the synthesizer is also used to wonderfully surreal effect. Best moment: the synth intro and opening riff and then the closing riffs at 5:05.

30. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos) (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

A typically dark, moody and magnificent Brian affair. Sweaty and claustrophobic – probably written as Brian recovered from serious and prolonged bouts of illness in ’74. The closing minute or so is utterly brilliant and original. One story holds that the ponderous, doom-laden drumbeat was described by Roger as like ‘a stormtrooper in stilettos’ – hence the song’s subtitle. Best moment: the harmonies on “She makes me need / She is my love / She is my love” at 0:57.

29. Great King Rat (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Another early masterpiece. Harder than My Fairy King, here the guitars do the heavy lifting – it includes a brilliant multi-tracked solo from Brian. The biblical allusions are typical of early-era Freddie. There’s great percussion too from Roger buried away somewhat throughout the track – for example at 0:51. Best moment: when temptation beckons – “Now listen all you people…” – at 2:43.

28. Love Of My Life (Mercury), A Night At The Opera, 1975

Attention now focuses almost exclusively on the ‘acoustic’ version performed live – a pivotal audience-participation moment in the show with, on recent tours, an ‘appearance’ by Freddie. It’s a shame that the original is somewhat overlooked – a quite sublime ballad, infinitely superior to the slush that normally passes for a love song. There’s so much to enjoy, not least Brian’s harp and the tender vocal from Freddie. Best moment: the exquisite piano runs from 2:32 accompanying Brian’s delicate guitar.

27. You And I (Deacon), A Day At The Races, 1976

The most hidden of John’s hidden gems – to add insult to injury, it was released as a b-side to Tie Your Mother Down. This is John’s writing at its absolute peak, which could (and arguably should) have been a single. In roughly four minutes, it encapsulates the whole ‘A Day At The Races’ sound – an attractive radio-friendly melody, great guitars, Freddie’s driving piano, nice bass runs, a thick drum sound and lush vocal backing arrangements. Best moment: that exquisite guitar at 2:49.

26. Save Me (May), The Game, 1980

As Mack dragged the Queen sound into the ’80s, it seemed as if – with Sail Away Sweet Sister and Save Me – Brian was fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the ’70s. Reminiscent in some ways of the magnificent White Queen, there are lots of trademark early Queen sounds here. A groundbreaking video at the time. Best moment: the short acoustic solo at 2:24 could have come from Queen II.

25. Under Pressure (Queen/Bowie), Hot Space, 1982

It really shouldn’t have worked – a collaboration more or less from scratch, a semi-drunken jam, rock-star egos loose in the studio – and yet it does, magnificently so. Both acts subsequently did it justice on stage – though, frustratingly, never on the same stage at the same time! Best moment: “Can’t we give ourselves…” at 2:36.

24. Liar (Mercury), Queen, 1973

Another one of the very earliest songs, of course, and a fan favourite – a bona fide Queen classic. One of the longer Queen songs, it goes through several mood changes, though retaining a hard-rock edge throughout. Great drums from Roger and featuring a number of guitar solos. On stage, a rare example of John singing (he shared Freddie’s microphone). Best moment: the end section – particularly Roger’s drumming, which enabled him to look suitably moody and heroic when performed on stage.

23. The March Of The Black Queen (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

It’s impossible to listen to Bohemian Rhapsody and not hear echoes of ‘…Black Queen’. The most over-the-top track on Queen’s most over-the-top album. The listener is left gasping at their sheer arrogance: it feels as if every unused musical idea was added to the mix. It over-reaches and almost keels over under the weight of its grandiosity; yet, it is utterly audacious and quite magnificent. Best moment: “I reign with my left hand / I rule with my right / I’m lord of all darkness / I’m Queen of the night” from 4:22 (the section that featured in the medley on stage).

22. Keep Yourself Alive (May), Queen, 1973

Iconic in so many ways – first session, first single, first track on the first album. A mesmerising, meandering opening – the gradual build-up of instrumentation until the first verse kicks in. How many singles include the words “belladonic haze” and a drum solo? As Brian has noted, it’s not a little ironic that, on stage, the song took on a ‘good-to-be-alive, get-’em-out-of-their-seats’ quality: the lyrics are in fact somewhat darker (as one would expect with early Brian). Best moment: the long introduction – the beginning of an incredible journey for us all.

21. Who Wants To Live Forever (May), A Kind Of Magic, 1986

Written for the Highlander storyline (apparently, it was sketched out in Brian’s head within twenty minutes after seeing rushes of the film), the emotional power of the song was of course given added poignancy with the news of Freddie’s health. A rare example of where orchestra and rock band complement each other and combine with great dramatic effect. Good use, too, of two vocalists – Brian’s initial voice is vulnerable and naked whereas Freddie soars. Best moment: the power chords and Roger’s drums (presumably) at 2:50.

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 120 – 101

Click here for numbers 100 – 81

Click here for numbers 80 – 61

Click here for numbers 60 – 41

Click here for numbers 20 – 01

Queen Songs Ranked 60 – 41

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 61, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Queen’s finest non-album release features in this magnificent selection (at number 50), as do tracks from most of their albums. Innuendo and News Of The World both feature three times. No album released in Freddie’s lifetime has yet made its last appearance. Of the tracks listed 50 – 41, only two date from 1980 or later – and one of those has a ‘classic’ ’70s Queen sound!

60. Don’t Try So Hard (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

A simple, delicate ballad, this song is taken to quite another level by Freddie’s stunning vocal – truly astonishing when one considers his undoubted physical frailty at that time. Superb understated use of synthesizers too. Best moment: “Oh what a beautiful world / this is the life for me…” at roughly 2:02.

59. The Hero (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

It’s a shame that The Hero is rather let down by what was apparently some last-minute, seat-of-the-pants production – the ‘joins’ between the different sections of the song are a little glaring. Nevertheless, after a blistering reprise of the Battle Theme, the core of the song (from roughly 0:50 to 1:40) is an outstanding slice of hero-saluting heavy rock. It was used as a brilliant set opener in 1982. Best moment: “All you gotta’ do is save the world!”.

58. Staying Power (Mercury), Hot Space, 1982

Along with Back Chat, this was by far the best of Queen’s experiments in dance-funk. It’s baffling that one of these two songs was not released as the Hot Space lead-off single, if the band really wanted to announce their new musical direction. Packed with quirky ideas and with good use of the stereo mix, the horns blend in well too. There is Internet chatter that (along with Body Language) this was largely a Freddie studio creation; certainly, there is little or no space for Brian and Roger. As usual, the live version was far rockier – and far better. Best moment: the horn-led instrumental break at 1:42.

57. Machines (Or ‘Back To Humans’) (May/Taylor), The Works, 1984

Quite unlike anything else in the Queen canon – and showing a welcome willingness to jettison traditional forms and structures in a manner reminiscent of their early albums – the conflict in the lyrics between humans and machines seems to be mirrored by the interplay between guitar/bass/drums and Fairlight synthesizer programming sounds. Best moment: the recurring hammer blows of guitar, bass and drums, beginning at 0:46 (used to bring the band to the stage on the Works tour).

56. You Take My Breath Away (Mercury), A Day At The Races, 1976

Almost a solo Freddie effort, this is a beautifully naked and tender love song. On stage it was performed with just piano and voice – and for the early performance at Hyde Park, Freddie sang falsetto parts. Best moment: the exquisite final line – “To tell you when I’ve found you / I love you”.

55. Bijou (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Brian’s simple yet devastatingly effective inversion of the traditional song structure. Thus his beautifully mournful guitar ‘sings’ and Freddie’s vocal plays the part of the solo. Again, the synthesizer is nicely understated. It is perfectly situated on the album, leading into the magnificent ‘The Show Must Go On’. Best moment: Freddie’s brief vocal, the words again taking on a whole new significance in light of his illness – “You and me / We are destined, you’ll agree / To spend the rest of our lives with each other…”.

54. Keep Passing The Open Windows (Mercury), The Works, 1984

A fantastic piece of pop-rock, with a great driving bassline from John and stirring, uplifting sentiments from Freddie (“Get yourself together / Things are looking better every day”) – far better than his earlier Don’t Try Suicide. It would also have been a better choice for third ‘Works’ single than It’s A Hard Life – working on the (dubious) assumption that all four band members were ‘entitled’ to one single each. Best moment: John’s bass kicks in at 0:20.

53. Ride The Wild Wind (Taylor), Innuendo, 1991

A great uptempo beat drives this hymn to life in the fast lane – lyrically it’s favourite Roger territory. Great drums throughout, too, and restrained use of synthesizers, adding lush textures rather than dominating the music. Best moment: Brian’s guitar sounds epic at roughly 3:00.

52. Mustapha (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

It would take something special to prevent Let me Entertain You being placed as side one track one on Jazz – and Mustapha was certainly it. A delightful slice of left-field nonsense from Freddie. It’s not easy to disentangle the lyrics – some in English, some apparently in Arabic and Persian and some gibberish. Mustapha earned its place in the live set by popular demand. The song is let down (as so often on Jazz) only by the production: the ‘epic’ Queen sound has well and truly gone and the drums, in particular, have lost their natural depth, sounding artificial, tinny and dull. The instruments sound compressed and lifeless (except for a brief segment starting at 1:20 when the sound ‘breaks out’ and makes full use of the available ‘space’, repeated at 2:33).

51. One Vision (Queen), A Kind Of Magic, 1986

We of course know more about this song’s creative development than probably any other Queen song due to the fact the recording process was filmed by the so-called Torpedo Twins, regular Queen collaborators at the time. Recorded in the afterglow of Live Aid, One Vision wears its internationalist humanitarian sentiments on its sleeve. It’s a great riff from Brian. Best moment: Roger’s thudding bass drum in the introduction.

50. See What A Fool I’ve Been (Arr. May), b-side, 1974

Queen’s finest non-album song. There are two excellent versions available. The original b-side recording – with blistering multi-tracked guitars and Freddie at his most outrageously camp – and the BBC session version, more closely aligned with the way the song was performed on stage and with alternative lyrics. Best moment: “Oh tantrums – it don’t feel the same…Now hit it – like that!”

49. Bicycle Race (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

Straight out of the tradition of eccentric Freddie songs (The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, Bring Back That Leroy Brown, Seaside Rendezvous), this is a smorgasbord of quirky musical ideas, time-signature changes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (marred only by the rather banal lyrics of the chorus). The instrumental version (released in 2011) is a great listen too. Best moment: “Bicycle races are coming your way…” at roughly 1:00 and the accompanying piano.

48. Spread Your Wings (Deacon), News Of The World, 1977

Overlooked for Queen’s Greatest Hits, this terrific John Deacon song remains one of their finest hidden gems, though its placing on the magnificent side three of Live Killers has perhaps earned it a wider audience over the years. It was resurrected but quickly dropped for the 2017 Queen + Adam Lambert News Of The World fortieth-anniversary tour, with Brian claiming that the song didn’t quite take off with audiences as well as they had hoped. The track contains some great incidental piano and acoustic guitar. The BBC session version includes a superb uptempo final section that for some reason was not performed on stage. Best moment: the long outro from 3:29.

47. Bring Back That Leroy Brown (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Arguably the first song to show off the band’s willingness to dabble in radically different musical styles and pastiche, ‘…Leroy Brown’ is an indicator of what was to come. A joy from start to finish – especially Brian’s ukulele-banjo. Best moment: a toss-up between the musical break at roughly 0:49, leading to John’s double bass solo, and Brian’s ukulele-banjo solo at 1:57.

46. Long Away (May), A Day At The Races, 1976

A Brian song – one of many – about absence, longing and loneliness. Of the four members of the band, he was clearly the one most troubled by life away on the road. Certain Queen songs suited Brian’s vocal, exemplified perfectly here: “For every star in heaven / there’s a sad soul here today…”. There’s a great jangly 12-string guitar sound throughout. Best moment: the short multi-tracked solo at 1:47.

45. It’s Late (May), News Of The World, 1977

One of Brian’s tales of emotional upheaval, reimagined around three ‘scenes’ and set to a thumping guitar-based rock backdrop. Brian’s solo leading into an extended musical break is exceptional – as is the closing section. The alternative version released in 2017, also a delight, contains more up-front piano from Freddie. Best moment: Brian’s multi-tracked solo, starting at 3:29, and the long riff at 3:50, leading into the uptempo rock-‘n’-roll section.

44. All Dead, All Dead (May), News Of The World, 1977

Eschewing the lush arrangements of their earlier material, the song is a model of stark simplicity – piano, minimal guitar and Freddie on backing vocals. One of the unexpected surprises of the 2017 fortieth anniversary News Of The World box set was the version with Freddie on lead vocal. It was nice to have the mystery of the opening lines, which I love, solved. For me, they perfectly capture the bittersweet quality of the memories of those you have loved who have passed away: they “haunt” you but you never want to forget them (“How long can you stay…”).

On balance I think I prefer the Brian version – though that might just be because of its familiarity and its ‘polished’ quality. Of the four, he consistently wrote the most intensely personal lyrics, often about absence and lost love. Here he seems to sing his own poetical, old-fashioned words (“ado”, “fleeted”) with immense authenticity, even though he doesn’t have Freddie’s expressiveness. Best moment: Roger’s drum and John’s bass after 2:29 (which isn’t in Freddie’s demo version).

43. Princes Of The Universe (Mercury), A Kind Of Magic, 1986

Similar in many ways to The Hero (lyrically, certainly), this is a rare slice of hard rock from ’80s Freddie, packing a wealth of ideas into three-and-a-half frantic minutes, with time-signature changes aplenty. A great vocal from Freddie, a huge drum sound and truly epic guitars from Brian. Best moment: the backing vocals at 1:00.

42. Sail Away Sweet Sister (May), The Game, 1980

It felt at the time that Brian was the guardian of the traditional Queen sound, as the band moved in a radically different direction. ‘Sail Away…’ is another emotional epic with tasteful use of acoustic guitar and synthesizer. The downbeat ending from 2:47, particularly John’s bass, is great. Best moment: Freddie’s middle-eight, ending with the traditional Queen backing chorus at 1:57 and Brian’s multi-tracked solo – classic ’70s Queen.

41. I’m In Love With My Car (Taylor), A Night At The Opera, 1975

So much has been written about this song over the years – they even poked fun at it in the movie script (though Roger has always had the last laugh – the large royalty checks continuing to arrive as the original b-side of Bohemian Rhapsody). It’s the quintessential Queen song about fast cars, set to a rolling beat and featuring Roger’s best ever vocal performance, backed by typically lavish backing vocal arrangements. Best moment: the backing vocals at 0:59 and again at 2:10 and 2:22.

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 120 – 101

Click here for numbers 100 – 81

Click here for numbers 80 – 61

Click here for numbers 40 – 21

Favourite Album: Mathematical Logic or Gut Instinct?

Inspired by a blog I came across recently (unfortunately I can’t find the link but there are loads of such blogs around), I have spent the last few days compiling my personal ranking of Queen songs, and I am just in the process of writing it all up, beginning with 185 – 161. I had in fact already started all of this when the Classic Rock readers’ poll listing came out – I am looking forward to comparing my ranking with theirs in due course. At the moment, I am just thinking about what my rankings are telling me about my favourite/least favourite Queen albums.

So I now have a database of 185 Queen songs (I explain here what I did/didn’t count as a ‘Queen’ song) – each one numbered from 185 (least favourite) to 01 (favourite). I decided to see if a bit of elementary mathematics (it would need to be) could help me formulate a ‘definitive’ ranking of albums. I was intrigued as to whether it would confirm what ‘gut instinct’ has always told me, which is roughly something like this:

1-2 Sheer Heart Attack & A Night At The Opera (usually ‘Opera’ at 1 but it seems to alternate in my mind)
3 Queen II
4 A Day At The Races
5 Queen
6-8 News Of The World, The Works, Innuendo
9 The Game
10 A Kind Of Magic
11-12 Flash Gordon OST, Made In Heaven
13 Jazz
14 Hot Space
15 The Miracle

I worked out the mean score for each album (the old-school ‘average’ – add up all the individual items and then divide by the number of items). This is what I got (mean score in brackets):

1 A Day At The Races (45.5)
2 A Night At The Opera (57.2) – but it was 47.5 without God Save The Queen
3. Queen II (63.4)
4. Sheer Heart Attack (67.2)
5. Queen (68.8)
6. Innuendo (78.3)
7. A Kind Of Magic (80.3)
8. The Works (87.3)
9. News Of The World (88.2)
10. The Game (91.9)
11. Jazz (100.3)
12. Hot Space (103.5)
13. Made In Heaven (113.1)
14. The Miracle (115.7)
15. Flash Gordon (138.3)

The big surprise there is that A Day At The Races came out the fairly comfortable winner. I have exceptionally fond memories of the album – it was the first one I ever bought – but I have never seriously considered it my absolute favourite.

I scored the tracks on A Day At The Races as follows: 9, 15, 19, 27, 46, 56, 61, 68, 72, 82. So consistency wins out, at least by this mean measure. I have of course always seen it as a very ‘solid’ album: there is nothing at the very top (the highest is 09 – Somebody To Love), but there is also nothing lower than 82 (Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy).

Ten very good tracks – the epitome of ‘solid’ – whereas a ‘great’ album that includes perhaps twelve or thirteen tracks may still include a couple of weaker songs which pull the overall average down. For example, I scored A Night At The Opera: 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 28, 41, 78, 102, 109, 135, 164. It has five songs in the top ten but the ‘weaker’ songs bring the average down.

I should perhaps make clear that I don’t dislike God Save The Queen (number 164), but I found it an interesting headache where to rank short songs that I really like (such as some of the Flash Gordon songs but also songs like Dear Friends, which was at 141) and the God Save The Queen and Wedding March (170) traditional arrangements – part of a discussion for another time about what criteria we might use to rate a song.

The other thing that stands out for me from the mean list is that I seem to rate the individual elements of A Kind Of Magic higher than my gut sense of the album as a whole. Conversely, I like Flash Gordon as a soundtrack but that doesn’t come through when broken down on a track-by-track basis. The cold logic of mathematics, I suppose. It’s the old adage about the whole being bigger than the sum of the parts: the numbers are struggling to express how I feel about an album as an overall listening experience.

I then ranked them according to the median (list the individual items and the median is the one in the middle). Supposedly this is good for filtering out a small number of outliers that dramatically skew the average and therefore gives you a better sense of where the bulk of the numbers are. This is what I got:

1. Queen II (23)
2. A Night At The Opera (35) – 28 without God Save The Queen
3. A Day At The Races (51)
4. Sheer Heart Attack (65)
5. Queen (67)
6. Innuendo (72)
7. A Kind Of Magic (80)
8. The Game (84)
9. News Of The World (94)
10. The Works (99)
11. Jazz (101)
12. Hot Space (107)
13. Made In Heaven (116)
14. The Miracle (135)
15. Flash Gordon (152)

So this calculation yielded slightly different results. A Day At The Races is closer to where I would instinctively have put it. The big surprise was Queen II coming out top. When I look at how I scored the tracks, I find that it is an album very much of two halves (and I don’t mean the two sides, Black and White): six absolutely fantastic songs and five merely ‘good’ songs. It’s the very opposite of the consistency of A Day At The Races but the good tracks are so good (five in the top twenty) that it ends up winning.

This is how I scored Queen II:

02 – White Queen (As It Began)
12 – Seven Seas Of Rhye
14 – The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
16 – Father To Son
18 – Nevermore
23 – The March Of The Black Queen
88 – Ogre Battle
112 – Some Day One Day
115 – Procession
145 – Funny How Love Is
152 – The Loser In The End (sorry, Rog)

Great fun to do – and I will be doing a lot more analysis in the next few days and weeks.

By the way, Brighton Rock was number 01.

Queen Songs Ranked 80 – 61

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 81, scroll to the bottom of the page.

It was the last album to make an appearance (at 82), and here three more classics from the consistently high-quality A Day At The Races appear in this magnificent selection of Queen songs. There is still one non-album track yet to feature – as well as three tracks from the Flash Gordon soundtrack. The album Made In Heaven makes its final appearance. Three tracks featured on Greatest Hits are listed, but nothing from Greatest Hits II.

80. Pain Is So Close To Pleasure (Deacon/Mercury), A Kind Of Magic, 1986

The best of the Freddie/John disco-funk collaborations, ‘Pain…’ has a distinctly Motown feel and some great falsetto vocal from Freddie. As so often, Brian’s guitar adds an unmistakeable Queen sound. The remix released as a single in North America is a salutary reminder that remixes are usually best avoided. Best moment: the solo, leading into the middle eight: “When your plans go wrong…”

79. I Go Crazy (May), b-side, 1984

Another of Brian’s rockier efforts that sounds as if it’s a one-take run-through with additional guitars on top. He’s actually quoted as saying that the others were “ashamed” of the song, hence its appearance only as a b-side. It’s certainly raw and unpolished, but that fits the mood of the song. Best moment: the ‘crazy’ ending from 3:09 onwards.

78. You’re My Best Friend (Deacon), A Night At The Opera, 1975

One of John’s gentler songs (presumably written for his then new wife Veronica) and his first hit single. The electric piano (played by John) was yet another addition to the Queen sound. The lush vocal harmonies are great. Compare the thick, warm drum sound to anything on the Jazz album. Best moment: any of the backing harmonies – but particularly from roughly 0:56 when lead and backing vocals split into separate channels.

77. Jesus (Mercury), Queen, 1973

An overlooked gem from the first album. Notable for Freddie’s Bible-themed lyrics and for great vocal harmonies. The centrepiece, however, is Brian’s extended solo – an early home for his experiments with guitar harmonies and a harbinger of future guitar wizardry. A version of Jesus was one of the songs recorded at the now legendary De Lane Lea session.

76. Who Needs You (Deacon), News Of The World, 1977

A gentle Latin-tinged musical feel combines with acerbic, dog-eat-dog lyrics to great effect. When Radio 1 did their weekly album-chart rundowns in ’77, Who Needs You and Spread Your Wings were the two songs regularly played. The 2017-released early take is also great. Best moment: the acoustic solo.

75. Rock It (Prime Jive) (Taylor), The Game, 1980

After his relatively sub-standard contributions to Jazz, Roger hit a real purple patch (he must have been writing and recording his solo album at much the same time). Rock It is (as the title suggests) a straightforward, no-nonsense rock song, but it benefits immensely from Mack’s production. It sounded even better live (on the rare occasions it was played). The rising synth from about 3:56 sounds like the drone used at the start of their live shows at the time. Best moment: the extended musical break from “We want some prime jive…” at roughly 3:06.

74. Las Palabros De Amor (The Words Of Love) (May), Hot Space, 1982

Just as Queen’s success in Japan had inspired Brian to write Teo Torriatte, so their ground-breaking South American tour in 1981 presumably inspired ‘Las Palabros…’. The song was also a comment of sorts on the Falklands War – Queen were massive in Argentina, and, at Milton Keynes, Brian refers to it as “our song of peace”. For the first time in five years, the band also appeared on Top Of The Pops in a pre-recorded slot. In a hilariously stilted performance, Freddie wore a tuxedo while Brian mimed the synthesizer ‘swirls’ on Freddie’s grand piano. Like their other Hot Space singles, it was ignored for Greatest Hits II. Best moment: the guitar and “whoo…hoo” at 3:23.

73. I Was Born To Love You (Mercury), Made In Heaven, 1995

Originally the lead-off single from Freddie’s solo album, this has an irresistibly uptempo beat, perfect for Brian’s guitars. It’s not hard to see why Queen + Adam Lambert introduced it into their set. Best moment: Roger’s drums at 3:50, heralding the long outro.

72. Drowse (Taylor), A Day At The Races, 1976

A somewhat left-field effort from Roger – and one of his best early-period Queen songs – the laid-back feel of the lyrics is perfectly complemented by the slide guitar, evoking long, lazy summer days (it was presumably written in the long hot summer of ’76, of course). The middle eight (“Out here on the street / We’d gather and meet…”) is particularly good. Best moment: Roger’s vocal at 2:22 – “the lights and the fun”.

71. Back Chat (Deacon), Hot Space, 1982

One of their more successful disco-dance efforts – again, sounding better played live. It’s baffling why this wasn’t chosen as the lead-off single from the album, as opposed to Body Language. Brian tells the story that he had to fight to get his ‘angry’ solo on the final mix: John originally wanted a hardcore disco-funk sound with no guitar at all. Back Chat was their first 12” remix – actually one of the better ones, as most of them were decidedly ordinary. Best moment: the short synth break at 1:52, leading into the guitar solo.

70. Flick Of The Wrist (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Freddie explores territory – musically and lyrically – that he returned to even more successfully with Death on Two Legs the following year. The guitar solo is appropriately vicious. Hard to believe that this was one half of a double-A sided single. Best moment: “Prostitute yourself he says / Castrate your human pride…

69. Heaven For Everyone (Taylor), Made In Heaven, 1995

The best of the re-interpreted solo songs, this is a favourite with many fans. The pseudo-reggae feel is certainly an unusual sound for Queen. The version on the first Cross album is great too. Best moment: “What people do to other souls…”

68. The Millionaire Waltz (Mercury), A Day At The Races, 1976

Successfully appropriating yet another musical style – this time a waltz – and overlaid with typically lavish arrangements, particularly from Brian. It’s always great to hear John’s bass prominent in the mix (in this case during the introduction). Best moment: piano and guitar in waltz time at roughly 2:50. The sound of Brian’s guitar is quite exquisite at 3:19 to 3:24.

67. Doing All Right (May/Staffell), Queen, 1973

Thanks to the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, the whole world now knows that this was originally a Smile song. Listening to it afresh, it’s a delight to hear Freddie’s delicate vocal, particularly in the opening lines – a stark contrast to the macho style that became his trademark in the ’80s. On stage, Brian used his delay technique to great effect during the ‘heavy’ bits. Best moment: the two guitar breaks.

66. Need Your Loving Tonight (Deacon), The Game, 1980

Another of John’s hidden pop-rock gems (somewhat unfairly overlooked, nestling between two ‘classic’ singles). With its great opening riff, ‘Need Your Loving…’ sounded particularly good on stage when it (briefly) featured towards the beginning of the set. It sounds like some nice acoustic guitar (from John, perhaps?) behind the main guitar. Best moment: what sounds like Freddie’s “let’s go” at 1:37 before the middle eight and Brian’s soaring solo.

65. Lily Of The Valley (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Delicate, beautiful and understated – almost a companion piece to Nevermore on Queen II (yet to feature in this list!). Typically gorgeous early Freddie lyrics – obscure and veiled at times, but poetical and enriched with literary and historical allusion –“my kingdom for a horse” referencing Shakespeare’s Richard III, for example. Best moment: the backing vocals at 0:52.

64. Fat Bottomed Girls (May), Jazz, 1978

In stark contrast to Brian’s usual lyrical preoccupations with leaving and absence, this is an in-your-face celebration of the on-the-road, rock-‘n’-roll lifestyle (lyrically more Roger’s usual territory). The song is badly let down by the production (the guitars sound dull and lifeless): on stage, this was quite magnificent (as shown by the version from ’79 released on the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack). Best moment: Roger’s bass drum during the opening section of the song, before the whole band comes in.

63. A Human Body (Taylor), b-side, 1980

It’s quite astonishing that A Human Body didn’t make it onto The Game – it’s far better than Roger’s own Coming Soon and certainly than Freddie’s Don’t Try Suicide (though in the latter case one wonders whether band politics would have permitted Roger to have three songs out of ten feature on the album). Some at least of the guitars are almost certainly played by Roger. Best moment: Roger’s vocals in the long outro from about 2:57 alternating between left and right channel.

62. Now I’m Here (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

A somewhat unlikely choice as single (there are much more obviously chart-friendly songs on the album), this is – unusually for Brian – an upbeat reflection of life on the road – specifically America. ‘Peaches’ is apparently a reference to a girl he fell in love with over there. It worked brilliantly as a set opener on the Sheer Heart Attack world tour and became a staple of the live show until the end. Best moment: the repeat effect used on Freddie’s voice (“Now I’m here / Now I’m there”), which was cleverly exploited on stage via use of a roadie dressed to look like Freddie.

61. Tie Your Mother Down (May), A Day At The Races, 1976

Another raucous set opener courtesy of Brian – the easiest song to come onto the stage to, so he has said – and (also like Now I’m Here) a very odd choice of single. One of the singles that didn’t make the Greatest Hits album, in the UK at least. It did, however, feature on Greatest Flix: unlike many of their ‘live’ videos, the video for Tie Your Mother Down is excellent – showcasing to the maximum their stunning light show at the time. Best moment: the harmonies on “all” when they sing “Give me all your love tonight” at the end of the chorus (for example at 2:04).

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 120 – 101

Click here for numbers 100 – 81

Click here for numbers 60 – 41

Queen Songs Ranked 100 – 81

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 101, scroll to the bottom of the page.

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. The first song from A Day At The Races finally makes an appearance (at 82). Three undoubted Queen classics also feature in this particular selection, 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 significantly improved the song. One of their best ‘concept’ videos (as opposed to a ‘live’ performance of the song), it is of course fondly remembered for the Coronation Street pastiche. As a result, the audacious recreation of parts of Nijinsky’s ballet, Afternoon Of A Faun, is almost always overlooked. Best moment: the additional synth on the single version after the solo, starting at 2:35.

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, when he and Roger shared vocal parts. Best moment: the guitar solo.

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 much more aggressive ’80s vocal 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. Best moment: the guitars at 0:25.

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 pretty awful, though it is highly praised in some undiscerning quarters (this comment once appeared on the official website: ‘It is an utterly enthralling four minutes, and among the band’s best loved and certainly most memorable films’). 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. Best moment: the opening synth. The demo version – without synths – is great too.

94. We Will Rock You (May), News Of The World, 1977

‘We Will 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 first songs (possibly emerging from Freddie’s ’60s band, Wreckage), though it only featured on the third album. Fast and furious, it was an early stage favourite. Surprisingly, it re-emerged in the Queen + Adam Lambert era – perhaps because it has been covered and played regularly by Metallica and so has gained a wider hearing beyond the traditional Queen audience. Best moment: the multi-tracked guitars from roughly 1:22.

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). If nothing else, the line “We’re only here to entertain you” alluded to Freddie’s desire to distance himself from what he had referred to as the band’s ‘too serious’ approach in the early days. Brian’s guitar is great throughout. The biggest puzzle was its placing on the original vinyl release of Jazz at the end of side one rather than as an opener. Best moment: the lines “We’ll give you crazy performance / We’ll give you grounds for divorce”, with Freddie’s piano barely audible in the mix.

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, this “fable” of battling giants and mysterious auguries (“When the piper is gone and the soup is cold on your table”) features fantastical, Tolkien-esque lyrics from Freddie, typical of that era. The 1975-1977 tours featured Freddie appearing to cause magical explosions around the stage during the instrumental middle section. Best moment: Brian’s guitars at 2:02.

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. Released as a single in October 1979, this was the first time fans heard the clean, Mack-produced sound. The live version, the final section of which was more uptempo and guitar-heavy, is far superior. Best moment: though he was apparently kept away from much of the recording, it has to be Brian’s solo, played on a Telecaster.

86. Dead On Time (May), Jazz, 1978

Another Brian extravaganza, it is a shame that, 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. The reason for the ‘Thunderbolt courtesy of God’ sleeve note. Best moment: the solo starting at 1:48.

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. Best moment: the verse sung by Freddie.

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 – though made under the most emotionally difficult of circumstances. 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. Dragon Attack is one of the songs where Brian’s growing interest in (as he described it) making space for the rhythm arrangements to breathe is clearly 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…”).

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and the ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 120 – 101

Click here for numbers 80 – 61

Queen Songs Ranked 120 – 101

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 121, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Twenty great songs, which nevertheless just miss out on a Top 100 placing due to the exceptional quality of the Queen canon. Some incredibly tough choices here – including the appearance of a bona fide Queen classic. Amazingly, tracks from A Day At The Races are yet to feature – their most consistently good album, in my view, if not necessarily their best (though that’s another matter, which I have discussed elsewhere).

120. Get Down Make Love (Mercury), News Of The World, 1977

In some respects, the antithesis of the over-the-top, multi-layered production so typical of the earlier albums, this is Queen at their most stripped back: the utter emptiness at roughly 3:18 is truly arresting for any fan of the early material. Hot space, indeed. Also notable for Freddie’s risqué lyrics. The song stayed in the live set for five years, a showcase for Brian’s harmonizer effects and vocal gymnastics from Freddie. An early take (without harmonizer) released in 2017 is also terrific, with its feeling of spontaneity and exploration.

119. Made In Heaven (Mercury), Made In Heaven, 1995

At the time my favourite track from Mr Bad Guy, this reworked version makes the original sound somewhat insipid. A gorgeous melody and soaring vocals, given added emotional power by the Queen sound. It would arguably have been even better without the synth backing in the verses, instead giving the piano more prominence in the mix. Best moment: Brian’s guitar at 1:19.

118. Is This The World That We Created…? (May/Mercury), The Works, 1984

An audacious way to end their ‘return-to-form’ album after the sound and fury of Hammer To Fall. Written months before Band Aid and Live Aid, of course, it is a deliberately simple and sparse arrangement. Lyrically, it is a long way from Freddie’s exhortation for us to drink champagne for breakfast, and for some the lines “Somewhere a wealthy man is sitting on his throne / Waiting for life to go by” will ring hollow. On stage, keyboard backing was added to the second verse, but the simplicity of the original arrangement works best. Best moment: “Is this the world we devastated / Right to the bone?”

117. Dancer (May), Hot Space, 1982

One of those songs – like Dragon Attack – that was pieced together from a jumble of semi-formed ideas. That’s not the only similarity between the two: both are guitar-heavy Brian creations, and both sit as track two on their respective albums. The programmed drums and synth bass sound horribly dated, but the multi-tracked guitars are, of course, great, particularly during the long outro from, say, 2:49. The German Wikipedia site tells us that the spoken words towards the end of the song are “Guten Morgen, Sie wünschten geweckt zu werden”, apparently best translated as “Good morning, this is your wake-up call”.

116. Mother Love (May/Mercury), Made In Heaven, 1995

Like most of the songs on Made In Heaven, Mother Love packs a mighty emotional punch. Reputably, the last song that Freddie recorded – he did not survive to finish the final verse, which Brian sang. The middle eight is immensely powerful and it is impossible not to be moved by the final section of the song featuring echoes of Freddie, beginning with Wembley ’86 and ending with Goin’ Back, one of his very first recordings as Larry Lurex and lyrically apposite.

115. Procession (May), Queen II, 1974

How often does a song title so perfectly capture the mood of a piece of music? Regal, stately, majestic…a perfect way to open the album.

114. Misfire (Deacon), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

The first of John’s songs to feature on a Queen album, this is a delightfully catchy pop song. Presumably he played all those guitars while Brian was recuperating in hospital and away from the studio.

113. Flash’s Theme (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

Cartoonish and tongue-in-cheek (“Flash – aah!”), it marries perfectly with the mood of the film, and Brian still manages to utter an eternal romantic truth: “No one but the pure in heart will find the golden grail”. Ming’s sinister utterance at the beginning – and the delivery by Max von Sydow – is pure genius: “I like to play with things awhile – before annihilation!”

112. Some Day One Day (May), Queen II, 1974

After Freddie’s death, the limitations of Brian’s singing were obvious, but here his sensitive voice is perfect for the dark and sombre lyrics (“No star can light our way in this cloud of dark and fear / But some day, one day…”) – and a gorgeously affecting vulnerability is evident in his delivery of “we’ll come home”. Not the last time that Brian will speak of a longing for home. A fine blend of acoustic and electric guitar, and an early example of Brian’s penchant for guitar orchestrations. Best moment: the electric guitar backing each chorus and the ‘angelic’ chorus at the end of the second verse at 1:42.

111. My Melancholy Blues (Mercury), News Of The World, 1977

An intriguing slice of introspective Freddie, evoking a drunken late-night, jazz-lounge feel. It features Roger on brushed drums and little or no guitar, except bass. A daringly downbeat song with which to close the album – they tried it again with considerably less success with More Of That Jazz the following year. Best moment: it’s just great to hear John’s bass throughout.

110. Too Much Love Will Kill You (May/Muskers/Lamers), Made In Heaven, 1995

Undoubtedly a powerful ballad and a fan favourite from the Made in Heaven album, this is possibly a rare example (for Queen) of where less would have been more – ‘less’ in this case being something akin to the version on Back To The Light (the vulnerability in Brian’s voice captures the mood of the song, as does the acoustic solo at roughly 3:21). It’s a tough call. Both versions are great, and the line “I used to bring you sunshine / Now all I do is bring you down” is truly heartbreaking.

109. Seaside Rendezvous (Mercury), A Night At The Opera, 1975

A deliciously camp, music-hall-inspired vaudeville pastiche, showcasing the versatility, inventiveness and sheer audacity of the group – Freddie, in particular. Best moment: the ‘instrumental’ interlude.

108. Another One Bites The Dust (Deacon), The Game, 1980

Adored by many, sung by millions in sporting stadiums to this day – to some, it is the song that tempted Queen into thinking they could conquer the disco-dance world and led directly to their musical nadir – Hot Space. The bassline is certainly memorable, the arrangements are undeniably sparse and the drum sound is bone dry, but it’s worth remembering that this was not their first foray into this musical territory (its antecedents can be heard in Get Down Make Love and Fun It). Nor was it originally marked down as a single. The ‘…Dust’ scene in the recording studio in the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic is unintentionally hilarious: Jim completes his paperwork in the corner as the band bicker, John produces his killer bassline, plucking a polished set of lyrics out of the ether for Freddie to sing, and another Queen classic is born. Best moment: the opening da-da-dum-dum-dum.

107. Put Out The Fire (May), Hot Space, 1982

Brian’s anti-gun song – a relatively rare chance on Hot Space for the band to rock out. A strong riff and a scorching guitar solo, ‘Put Out…’ is perhaps marred only by the jarring ’80s drum sound and by the rather shallow and simplistic first-person lyrics (again, typical of ’80s sensibilities – or lack thereof). The listener cannot help but feel that the writer of White Man might have found a more elegant way to convey his laudable message. Or maybe that was the point. Best moment: the opening of Brian’s solo at 1:58 and the rhythm guitar beneath it.

106. It’s A Hard Life (Mercury), The Works, 1984

Another of Freddie’s piano-based meditations on the vicissitudes of love (à la My Melancholy Blues and Jealousy), the piano-guitar interplay is reminiscent of the live version of White Queen (As It Began) and the general feel is of the early albums (a huge compliment!). A song that didn’t quite seem to work live. Best moment: Freddie’s stunning opera-style opening – “I don’t want my freedom…”

105. The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980

Short and sweet, indeed – gorgeous, gorgeous falsetto from Freddie.

104. In The Lap Of The Gods (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Although at heart a relatively by-the-numbers piano-based song, it is packed with quirky arrangements (the backing vocals are extraordinary) and features a truly ‘goosebumps’ opening – a magical way to open side two of the original vinyl release.

103. Leaving Home Ain’t Easy (May), Jazz, 1978

Another of Brian’s songs about absence and longing, this time set to a nice acoustic backing. The treated vocals in the middle-eight section to represent the abandoned partner’s forlorn pleas – “Stay, my love…” – are great. Best moment: the multi-tracked vocals at 0:52 – “endless games”.

102. Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon (Mercury), A Night At The Opera, 1975

Audaciously positioned between the viciousness of Death On Two Legs and the driving I’m In Love With My Car, ‘Lazing…’ is yet another deliciously camp and bohemian slice of Freddie whimsy.

101. In Only Seven Days (Deacon), Jazz, 1978

A light, slight but classy effort from John – with narrative-style lyrics a million miles away from the cold cynicism of If You Can’t Beat Them and Who Needs You. Best moment: the piano intro.

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 140 – 121

Click here for numbers 100 – 81

Queen Songs Ranked 140 – 121

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185 – 141, scroll to the bottom of the page.

This is starting to get hard now. Although we are still some way off the top 100 – or even the halfway point – there are no ‘fillers’ here: this collection is made up of twenty good, solid Queen songs. Some of them are what I would categorise as nearly-but-not-quite: there’s definitely something there, but the overall song doesn’t quite make it to the stratosphere. As you would expect, most of the non-album tracks are now accounted for…though not all.

140. Calling All Girls (Taylor), Hot Space, 1982

A ‘hybrid’ guitar sound (sort of semi-acoustic), built on an uptempo beat, drives this song along – it sounded even better performed live (it featured in the set list for the ’82 US and Japanese tours). ‘Calling…’ is, however, let down somewhat by bland lyrics and puerile humour (assuming that it’s the sound of a record needle we hear at roughly 1:43 ‘scratching’ the vinyl). Best moment: the guitar in the chorus – for example at 0:55.

139. Delilah (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

A lightweight slice of Freddie-inspired whimsy with a playful synth-led tempo. Nice guitar from Brian, especially mimicking the miaow of a cat. Sometimes, something seemingly incidental and buried away in the mix just captures the ear – here it’s the piano at 0:25.

138. You Don’t Fool Me (Queen), Made In Heaven, 1995

More than a decade after the release of Hot Space, this is one of Queen’s better efforts to capture a ‘disco’ sound (not least because of the absence of programmed instrumental backing). It is nevertheless immeasurably enhanced by terrific guitar from Brian – bringing to mind the Eddie Van Halen solo on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Best moment: the scorching guitar at 2:43.

137. Son And Daughter (May), Queen, 1973

A real spit-and-sawdust, blues-infused effort from Brian, this was a different beast on stage (and will feature a lot higher in my rankings of Queen live songs), a showcase for his guitar solo before Brighton Rock came along. The lyrics are frankly a puzzle. Listen carefully and there’s some great bass from John. ‘Live’ versions of the song featured on two BBC sessions, one of which includes a great of-its-time spoken line from Roger: ‘steel yourself – this is valid’.

136. Scandal (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

One of the better efforts from the Miracle sessions (and one where the synth treatments enhance the song for once), Brian’s screaming guitar captures the pain in the lyrics. Best moment: “It’s only a life to be twisted and broken…” at 2:12.

135. Sweet Lady (May), A Night At The Opera, 1975

Another of Brian’s rockier efforts, this has a great opening riff (sounding even better when played live), solo and frantic outro. The lyrics were mocked by ‘Roger’ in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie during a band ‘tiff’. Best moment: the guitars at 1:57

134. Khashoggi’s Ship (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

After a false start with Party, Khashoggi’s Ship – real drums, raw guitar, no unnecessary synth treatments – brings The Miracle to life, marred only by the interlude at roughly 1:30. Like some of the b-sides from the Miracle sessions, it sounds like it might have been recorded in a single take (which is not a criticism).

133. Jealousy (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

One of Freddie’s piano-based reflections on the pain of love, it also features great bass from John. Oddly enough, Brian’s brief acoustic contributions seem a little out of place. Best moment: John’s high bass notes at 1:38.

132. The Night Comes Down (May), Queen, 1973

Remarkably, it is the original demo from the legendary De Lane Lea session that made it onto the first album, as the band supposedly felt they were unable to improve on the feel of the song in subsequent takes. Now remastered, of course, it sounds great – and such a mature sound, with typically dark and introspective Brian lyrics. Best moment: the end of the song, building to an unbearably tense climax.

131. Soul Brother (Queen), b-side, 1981

Although this sounds like a tongue-in-cheek, one-take throwaway from the ‘Game’ sessions, it is actually surprisingly effective and an unexpected bonus when Under Pressure was released. It’s the sound of the band enjoying themselves and each other’s playing. Best moment: “When you’re under pressure…” at 1:20.

130. Cool Cat (Deacon/Mercury), Hot Space, 1982

With a suitably relaxed and laid-back sunny-days vibe, this is by far the best of the John & Freddie funky collaborations. John’s bass is fabulous and Freddie’s vocals are great too. The version with Bowie’s incidental vocals has rightly not seen the official light of day.

129. The Miracle (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

A classic nearly-but-not-quite song. On the one hand, satisfyingly complex arrangements (and a song that Brian often raves about), and a departure from the standard song structure. On the other hand, embarrassingly utopian, peace-on-earth lyrics (“That time will come / One day you’ll see / When we can all be friends”). Best moment: the closing minute or so, starting when John’s bass kicks in 3:49 (and despite those final lyrics!).

128. A Winter’s Tale (Queen), Made In Heaven, 1995

It’s easy to see why there is a ‘cosy fireside’ remix (referencing a line in the song). For all its charm, A Winter’s Tale’s real emotional power undoubtedly comes from the knowledge that Freddie wrote the lyrics in the face of approaching death. The lines are a bit clunky in places; under normal circumstances, they would surely have been edited and polished somewhat. Nevertheless, this is a far more satisfying seasonal song that their ‘official’ Christmas single, Thank God It’s Christmas. Best moment: “It’s all so beautiful / Like a landscape painting in the sky” at 2:49.

127. All God’s People (Queen/Moran), Innuendo, 1991

Apparently, this song was originally intended for the ‘Barcelona’ album, hence the writing credit for Mike Moran. It’s very obviously two interesting song ideas spliced together (a technique they had used before – Breakthru, for example). Best moment: when ‘Part 2’ kicks in at roughly 1:49.

126. Fight From The Inside (Taylor), News Of The World, 1977

As shown by the demo version released in 2017, this is almost exclusively Roger, including lots of his trademark riffs and vocal sounds. The instrumental version, also released as part of the News of the World box set, is great. Best moment: the guitars bouncing around the mix, for example during the introduction.

125. Headlong (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Obviously, a favourite guitar riff of Brian’s (he references it on stage to this day). One of those songs where the lyrics perfectly capture the mood of the music (and vice versa). Best moment: a toss-up between the sound of Brian’s guitar at roughly 2:45 and “Oop diddy diddy / Oop diddy do”.

124. Sheer Heart Attack (Taylor), News Of The World, 1977

Apparently written at the time of the Sheer Heart Attack sessions in ’74, it would be interesting to hear a demo recorded at that time, as this ’77 version comes close to a full-on punk sound (an obvious response from Roger to the then-current music scene). The rhythm guitar on the demo version released in 2017 sounds more natural.

123. Mad The Swine (Mercury), b-side, released 1991

An unexpected delight on its eventual release some thirty years or so late, Mad The Swine comes from the earliest sessions but failed to make it onto the first album. Another example of Freddie’s penchant for Bible-inspired lyrics from that period. That apart, it’s hard to envisage where it might have been positioned on the ‘Queen’ album – certainly Roger’s percussion is more apparent in the mix than on other songs of the time – or what it might have replaced. Best moment: the wonderful break at roughly 1:38 (“And then one day you’ll realise…”).

122. If You Can’t Beat Them (Deacon), Jazz, 1978

One of John’s hidden gems, this is a great guitar-led song, which really came to life on stage, though it was unjustly omitted from Live Killers. Best moment: the multi-tracked solo and the long outro.

121. Tenement Funster (Taylor), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

All the usual Roger trademarks are here, lyrically (girls, growing up, cars and rock-‘n’-roll) and musically – it certainly sounds like Roger on rhythm guitar, though the soaring guitar solo is surely from Brian. Best moment: the aforementioned solo, following on from “I’ll make the speed of light out of this place”.

Click here for an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted, and to see numbers 185 – 161

Click here for numbers 160 – 141

Click here for numbers 120 – 101