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 let down a little by last-minute, seat-of-the-pants production – the ‘joins’ between the different sections of the song are rather 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 this was not released as a single, if they 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 – though there is sadly 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 Freddie’s 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 great uptempo bass 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 single than It’s A Hard Life – working on the assumption that all four had 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. It 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 was seemingly destined to remain one of their most brilliantly lustrous hidden gems, though its placing on the magnificent side three of Live Killers ensured that this was not quite the case. The track contains some great incidental piano and acoustic guitar. The BBC session version includes a quite 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.
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